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.

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Donnafugata ‘Ben Rye’ Passito di Pantelleria

On the dry, wind swept isle of Pantelleria, closer to the coast of Tunisia than Sicily, Donnafugata crafts one of the best sweet wines of its class, from the Zibbibo grape: “Passito di Pantelleria.

On the dry, wind swept isle of Pantelleria, closer to the coast of Tunisia than Sicily, Donnafugata crafts one of the best sweet wines of its class, from the Zibbibo grape: “Passito di Pantelleria.” Named Ben Rye, Arabic for Son of the Wind, it clocks in at about 14% abv from year to year, with a golden hue and absolutely intoxicating nose of apricot and almond. If you are a fan of Sauternes you owe it to yourself to find a bottle.

– 2012 Ben Rye 375ml  –

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Rich, vibrant golden color with a shimmering intensity. The nose is all apricot marmalade, with a background nuttiness that keeps you guessing. The palate is similar, with a rich glycerol texture and that coats the palate all the way back and lingers for a minute or more. Notes of orange peel, and butterscotch emerge with some time. The acid is just enough to keep it lively but make no mistake, this is a dessert. Likely this will evolve and hopefully show some other elements, but right now the fruit is so dominant, and hedonistic that you can scarcely imagine how.

– 2008 Ben Rye Limited Edition 750ml  –

Bottled as part of an anniversary for the winery, 2008 was a stellar year for the Passito. They made a careful selection of lots to remain in barrel longer, with additional bottle aging at the winery. The result is a far deeper color than younger regular releases I have tried, almost mahogany. Slightly oxidative notes of caramel, but awash in its intoxicating aromas of dried peaches and apricots, sweet baking spices and even a pleasant medicinal aspect. Great emphasis on butterscotch and orange peel than younger bottles too, reminding me slightly of lighter styles of Vin Santo. Acidity and sweetness were in balance, which was a relief as that was my chief worry with trying a older bottle.
Nectar of the gods for sure.

Find the “best” Thanksgiving wine, by embracing contradictions

So I have decided to leap into thanksgiving talk a bit early, and go over this well covered but confusing topic: that is how to choose a wine for Thanksgiving. There are as many options in the world of wine there are people. The true question of what to serve at Thanksgiving is actually two separate questions that I will try to break down clearly: What wine goes well with Turkey and the standard accompaniment  , AND how to serve wine for a larger group with varying tastes.

 

For the traditional thanksgiving fare, Turkey is in the fore, yielding some difficult flavors and textures to work with. Turkey tends to soak up pretty any flavor you match with it, which makes it easy to run roughshod with a bold wine. The fixings tend to be quite full flavored and rich. So delicate flavor that won’t overwhelm, and enough food friendly acidity is key. Hence, the full bodied white or light red. I will also cover some great outliers that will satisfy the fans of big California red wines.

To start as people lounge around a kitchen, the smells antagonizing the stomachs, start with Sean Thackrey’s Pleiades XXIV (22$), it’s light enough for an aperitif, but could pair with a lighter meal too. For a crowd that appreciates the earthier, tarter wines that transform a meal, you could choose a nice Southern Italian Etna Rosso, even Palari’s Faro (70$) from that volcanic region if you wanted to spend a little extra. The impeccable balance and intense minerality make it one of the best food reds I can think of.

If you have to have that classic Pinot Noir and nothing else will suffice (or keep your guests in line) Oregon’s Cristom makes Pinot at several price points (20-40$) that will satisfy any group. Also look at Soter’s North Valley Pinot Noir (20$) from Northern Willamette. Its robust and earthy and can stand up to anything short of Pumpkin pie and sibling rivalries.

 

But Poultry being Poultry, your guests might clamor for chardonnay, while a lean Chablis would cut through the stuffing and a fine Mersault would impress, more flavor and body is going to serve you well for a white wine, so go with an Oregon Chardonnay from Big Table Farm (45$). The humble farmers at Big Table are out Burgundying Burgundy with this 2013 bottling featuring full lush notes of lemon meringue and crushed gravel. Best of all it doesn’t need to be served ice cold, and will improve as it warms up on the table in front of the family. You can also go out on a limb and pick up an outstanding Verdicchio from either Villa Bucci (20$) or Fattoria La Monacesca (30$). Classico or Riserva, These wines have all the minerality and structured you need for each and every course.

 

So these light reds and full whites cover a lot of territory in taste and food, but there are plenty of full ripe red wines from California for those who just don’t give a s%&t about what goes well with Turkey, and I would be remiss if I ignored that demand. What’s going to taste good and get everyone prepared for a long holiday season? Limerick Lane from Sonoma has made waves with their old vine Zinfandel, but its their outstanding Syrah/Grenache (30$) blend that is a force to be reckoned with. It is decadent, its ripe, and can be drunk alone or with the meal. Across the Atlantic, the previously reviewed (here) Domaine du Gour de Chaule Gigondas (25$) is a nice old world alternative with rustic acidity and herbaceous aromas. You could go a step further with another high level offering from Sean Thackrey, either his Petite Sirah (45$) or even his Pinot Noir (45$), which is fairly full bodied as well.

 

Maybe at this point you are shouting at the screen, “Rory! I have 25 people coming over, I can’t serve them these wines, they’ll drink me to the poorhouse!” Ok first, I occasionally feel that way with just one guest (me), but there are wines abound that you won’t feel bad about serving (or paying for). My favorite options are the Felsina Chianti (16$), which is earthy, fruity and infinitely variable, or Planeta La Segreta (11$) from Sicily, with its rustic minerality and sun drenched fruit.

Whatever your go-to wine is for thanksgiving, you’re going to end up balancing the needs of a group of family member’s and the meal that they are gathering around. When in doubt, open two. Good Luck.

 

New-Age Australian Wine, is this the real life?

Like many who walked these roads before, I had my share of Yellowtail back in…let’s call them the good old days. While the attractive price and

easy style drew me to it, the other side of that double-edged wine was that my own opinion of Australia and wine was pretty well perverted. As far as New World wine regions go, Australia sort of led the pack in Ultra-big high alcohol wines. Between those knockouts and the jug wine behemoth of Yellowtail the Australian wine scene was as barren as the outback…right?

Well I’ve had my words handed to me on a plate haven’t I? In my glass tonight is a 12.8% Grenache/Syrah blend called The Green Room from a small family winery Ochota Barrels. What is surprising is not just the ABV on a wine from a hot climate, made from high-alcohol grapes, but that the texture still manages to be quite lush and rich, but instead of gobs of fruit we smell baked blueberry and damp earth, and Instead of toasted oak I smell lemon-grass and black pepper.

Now the wine suffers a bit on a technical level, with some tartaric acid precipitate near the end that had to be filtered off, but the style and quality of the fruit is unimpeachable and it means I’ll take a closer look at Australia from now on.

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Price 37$

Cellar Rating- *1-5 years

Food pairing – Chicken with an earthy sauce, Game, grilled veggies

Affordable Bordeaux: a nod to the elephant in the cellar

My goal, when it comes to wine, is to seek out solid age-able wines for not insane amounts of $$. The Bordeaux region of France could not be more antithetical to that aim. But I would be remiss if I passed on the opportunity to explore one of the last great values from a classified chateau.

 

So enter Chateau Cantemerle, a fifth growth Bordeaux in the Haut (high or upper) Medoc on the left bank of the Gironde. Catemerle is so far one of only two additions or changes to the 1855 French classification of its vineyards, and it was added less than a year later after someone realized it was left off by accident. The importance of classification is an evolving discussion particularly given the Bordeaux merchants success in marketing their products worldwide, leaving any reasonable value in Bordeaux wine to the unclassified producers. Catemerle produces a Bordeaux Superior and a second wine (shown above) that still manage quality red wines from a ranked Chateau for between 30-45$ depending on the reputation of the vintage (don’t get me ranting on the grand silliness of Bordeaux futures).

 

2009 Les Allees de Cantemerle

Price: 20-25$

Where to Buy: Wine Searcher

Cellar Rating – *2-8 years  90pts

The second wine of this Chateau is an approachable on release, but I had to include this 2009 because it is still readily available and an incredible chance to try a mature good value Bordeaux. It is much less age-worthy and structured than its big brother and as such is now showing some awesome cedar and dried mushroom notes with a fine cocoa finish. Still some dark fruit left but generally old-world. This is a weeknight wine, but it’ll start some conversation for sure.

 

2010 Chateau Cantemerle

Price: 45-50$ (30$ less for 2012)

Where to Buy: Wine Searcher

Cellar Rating: *** 10+ years (the 2012 is more ** 5-10 years)  93pts

 

The flagship Bordeaux Superior of this Chateau is a wonderfully balanced and approachable wine that can still age gracefully for 10 years or much more for those who prefer the smoother, less fruit forward characteristics of mature wines. 2010 was a fantastic vintage for age-worthy wines, and for those who want something more approachable should look at the 2012 But its a nice, rich wine today with rich impenetrable blue fruits, jammy yet still with savory streak to balance the palate.

I love Cantemerle because at <50$ it is far far more affordable than most classified Bordeaux, and especially for the 2010 vintage, it is a wine that can go for a long long time. In other less structured vintages its an even better value and the 2012 is currently available too. 2015 is lining up to be an equal to 2010.

60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot.

A Response to a WSJ Article on Millennials and Wine

Why is it morally better to be the generation paying hundreds of dollars for 100pt Napa Cabernet, than to chase down mediocre wine because it has a compelling narrative or a rare grape? Trends are trends, markets change and evolve, and while they are often driven by the newest generation to come of age, they are chased by people of all ages.

 

Lettie Teague of the Wall Street Journal posted an article last week taking a look at how a new generation of technology enabled drinkers might be shaping the wine industry. After touching on some interesting ideas ‘confirmed’ in an unscientific focus group, she came to an odd conclusion:

“[T]o truly claim their position as the most powerful consumers in the world, [millennials] need to develop a broader context and a deeper understanding of the entire world of wine…”

One thought tugged at my brain as I came to the end of her WSJ ‘post.’ Teague rather bluntly seems to conflate the natural trends of a rapidly evolving marketplace with her own broad-stroked criticism of an entire generation. Try as she might to give an analytical yet personal touch to her piece, she can’t avoid coming off as whiny and bigoted. When a Gen X blogger writes this cynical clickbait aimed at millennial bashing snobs, who is really exemplifying the worst qualities of a generation?

Reference: http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-millennials-are-changing-wine-1446748945

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Maybe it is unfair to bash a WSJ ‘blogger’ because of her unscientific and brash claims about millennials, after all in the modern age everybody online can publish an opinion. But her article came off as a digital age equivalent of “can you believe kids these days?!” and that she writes for the WSJ seemed incredible. The article is riddled with such beautifully ignorant generalizations such as “I bought wines that millennials were purported to like” (purported by who?) and “a millennial might answer ‘Yaaaasssss!’”(I just can’t even…). Her world-view seems dominated by a couple quotes from two young wine directors (her expert witnesses) and some new data released by Wine Opinions. But Teague is not able to make these anecdotes and data match and instead falls back on the former to make whatever claim feels right for her.

Personal anecdotes can be called up and molded for any purpose. For instance, my experiences with Boomer/X Generation diners while a Sommelier at an upscale establishment, showed a huge lack of “broader context and … deeper understanding” of the wine they drink; those with money ordered what was the most expensive or well known, and those without ordered the cheapest or the second cheapest, and both tended towards whatever regional identiy was part of their cultural comfort zone (napa cab, Provencal rose, Moscato). But is that a sign of moral degradation? And more importantly, is that a feature of just one generation? Choosing a wine based on what you are familiar with or what is in your price point is no more ignorant or wrong than choosing a wine because of a nice story or because its the next big ‘discovery.’

The ability of an entire generation to exert a powerful economic impact has little to do with their intelligence or understanding.  I would observe it is only natural within a large segmented industry for “gaps in knowledge” to occur based on a consumers personal interest and investment in an industry. Teague’s shallow examination leaves any kind of critical understanding behind in favor of routine generation bashing.

 

I want to step back a little to the entire approach that Teague and other major new outlet bloggers share. The silliness behind these trending articles, now picked up and flung far and wide by WSJ, NYT et al, is exacerbated by plain sloppiness. Teague claimed her focus group supported the Wine Opinions research, yet that same research claimed “[Millennials] all like Moscato”, which none of her group did, and none of them found the wine from the “obscure grape” with “hipster cred” compelling, which happens to be the whole crux of Teague’s broad-based critique! As for Moscato, that wine has absolutely no compelling story and is certainly not a rare undiscovered grape. Its popularity has certainly exploded recently (thanks Nicki Minaj), just as white Zinfandel and sweet Lambrusco did before…in the 1970s, driven by boomers. Ascribing the ebb and flow of trends in cheap sweet bubbly to a critical fault that can be pointed to in a single generation is a rookie mistake by a writer who probably feels left behind herself. Teague’s research and anecdotal claims clash in every paragraph as she attempts to force both into a clickbait worthy narrative.

After all, why is it morally better to be the generation duped into paying hundreds of dollars for 100pt Napa Cabernet, than to chase down mediocre wine because it has a compelling narrative or a rare grape? Trends are trends, markets change and evolve, and while they are often driven by the newest generation to come of age, they are chased by people of all ages. My parents and grandfather are far more likely to go looking for a wine that is dry farmed, bio-dynamically grown, and featuring an elegant label with extensive backstory on it than they would have 30 years ago. I hope we can roundly reject the ageist hate mongering that these articles stoke and just like what we like in peace.

 

Domaine du Gour de Chaule – Gigondas

Domaine du Gour de Chaule – Gigondas

In the southern Rhone river valley there are the many and the well traveled Red Rhone Blends of Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre etc. Of my many goals here, this is a great wine to explore the lesser known neighbors of the world’s great wine regions. The small AOC appellation of Gigondas is considered a sibling of the Chateauneuf-de-pape (along with Vacqueyras) and no less capable of producing beautiful wines.

A Grenache forward blend, the 2011 Domaine du Gour de Chaule imported by Rosenthal (an importer of family/independent wineries whom I put tons of faith in) is an excellent mid-priced (31$ at an overpriced market) example of what the Mediterranean climate of the southern Rhone can produce for your dinner table.

An inky, semi-opaque purple color, the wine bursts out of the bottle with an almost California intensity of fruit, yet within 30minutes settles down with herbal notes of thyme and a savory mineral streak. It’s easy to see why the wines of the hotter Rhone valley have done so well transplanted in California. The palate is still somewhat ripe (for those that prefer to drink their wines young, today is the day!) yet it is just beginning to show hints of mature aromas of mushroom and leather (with some time to breathe). This is definitely the most new world region of France with the alcohol reaching 14.5%! While lesser wines of the Southern Rhone should not be aged more than a few years, this one can be held on for up to 10 years from the vintage no problem. Those who like their wines with strong tannin and ripe fruit shouldn’t forget about it for more than a year. Others will find their patience rewarded with a complex, herbal wine with fantastic acidity and balance.

Price 30$

Cellar Rating- *2-5 years

Food pairing – Roast Chicken (with a robust sauce and accompaniments), Braises/Grillades, BB-Q