Archive for New Discoveries

Dec
10

A Carignan Tasting at SommCon (San Diego)

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SommCon is an en masse gathering of sommeliers & other wine professionals.  The one held this past November was in San Diego, California & featured 3 days worth of panel discussions, presentations & educational seminars.  One of the most interesting presentations I attended was– “Carignan–it’s just not for blending any more“–by Geoff Labitzke, Master of Wine & Brian Lynch of Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants.

My fascination for the Carignan grape variety has really grown over the years.  As the title of the seminar suggests it was typically used as a blending component rather than a featured, stand alone bottling.

The first Carignan based red wine that caught my fancy was from Domaine de Fontsainte & their Corbières red in the late 80’s/early 90’s.  I found it to be so delicious, tasty, food friendly & gulpable.  Shortly thereafter, when tasting other Corbieres red wines from their neighbors, I was rather put off by the over use of Syrah to their blends & I was thankful to have experienced the Fontsainte rendition first.  Subsequently I also took a fancy to their “Réserve La Demoiselle” bottling (the Carignane planted in 1904).  These 2 wines opened a whole new thought for me on what Carignane could offer.

A short time later, my next Carignan experience was produced by the Pellegrini family (California) back in the early 1990’s.  I found it to be tasty, interesting & quite food friendly though very unique, rambunctious & virile.  It was also quite a great value for what one got in the bottle.  This wine showed me what was possible in California, especially from the Sonoma & Mendocino wine growing areas.  (I have since found 2 other interesting Carignane based red wines out of California worth checking out–Folk Machine “Parts & Labor” & the Neyers Carignan “Evangelho Vineyard”)

In both cases, I found Carignan not to be showy or as outgoing as those wines produced from Syrah, Grenache or Mourvedre grape varieties.  It had its own set of characteristics.  I especially liked old vine renditions as Carignan seemed to be quite a conduit of character & vinosity from the old vines to the wine in the bottle, at least in certain cases.  It really was those cases that greatly peaked my interest.  After Fontsainte, I discovered that importer Kermit Lynch added other Carignan driven wines to his fabulous portfolio, including old vine Carignan dominated bottlings from Sylvain Fadat at D’Aupilhac, Maxime Magnon, Leon Barral, Vinci & Les Milles Vignes.  Each offer something special & compelling.

With Carignan, there were also some to be found out of Spain’s Priorat region that are also interesting.

So, I was quite anxious to see what Geoff & Brian would offer at this tasting seminar.  They did NOT disappoint.  Geoff sought after & collected some interesting renditions from Mexico, Sonoma, San Diego, Chile, Spain AND Tunisia of all places!  Brian brought & shared 4 true Carignane superstars from his portfolio–Maxime Magnon “Campagnes”; Domaine D’Aupilhac “Le Carignan”; Vinci “Rafalot” &  Les Milles Vignes “Dennis Royal”–each wine featuring 80 to 100 year old Carignane vines, their fruit & very masterful grape growing & winemaking. It was quite an insightful gathering of wines & tasting & I was overjoyed.  Thank you guys for this fabulous opportunity! 

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Dec
09

Sardinian Wine–Part 4–Cagliari

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We stayed in southern Sardegna for a couple of days, based in the city of Cagliari.  Eventhough it was quite a surprisingly large city, there were many things to visit & see.  Cheryle & my cousin Mike had planned to take a walking tour to see the sights. 

At dinner one night at a very hip restaurant the server recommended 2 wines to us  for our meal, one of them was the Miniera Nero from Enrico Esu.  He was the same vigneron recommended to us by Giovanni Montisci.  (Yes, another instance where a true vigneron recommending another vigneron to us).  PLUS, his wines were of the Carignano del Sulcis appellation!  (I have been intrigued by this appellation in southwestern Sardegna for some time, because they still have own rooted vines.  How many places in the winegrowing world still have own rooted vines?)

Giovanni Montisci had given me Enrico Esu’s cell number & I tried calling.  It however became apparent he spoke no English.  When we got back to the hotel, I asked the hotel manager to call on my behalf to see if I could get an appointment to see him the next day–again just hoping to see & walk his vineyard with him.  Enrico said yes!

The next morning I went.  (Cheryle & Mike stayed back to do an already confirmed & paid for walking tour & let me go anyway).

It was an hour & half drive away.  As I drove, the contour of the countryside was mainly flat & the roads wide & easily navigable.

Enrico told me to meet him at a very highly recognized hotel, just outside the town & things went without a hitch. 

Enrico Esu was a pleasure to meet & hang out with.  He is down to earth, charming & was very patient with me & our language challenges. He is also a true vigneron & I was truly honored & inspired to walk vineyards with him.

His estate vineyard was a 15 minute drive away.  Again, I would never have found this site on my own as there are no signs or markings.  The vineyard is just off a modest street of a perimeter housing area. 

The vineyard is but 12 hectares–very sand dominated, with a coal bedrock 2 meters below the surface.  His vines are own rooted (Franc de Pied)–40 to 60 years in age–95% Carignano, with small amounts of Monica, Cannonau, Carenisca & Bovale. 

His winery is small.  I was quite surprised at how small it really is.  It used to be their family’s house, where his father was raised.

 

His total wine production typically is only between 400 & 500 cases a year!  That’s it!  I was sad to hear for 2018, he lost 70% of his crop due to rain & subsequent mold & mildew issues.  I was astounded & sad at the HUGE amount of affected grapes still hanging on the vines as we walked about.  I wonder how he can survive such a devastating loss.

In 2018, he produced a scant 200 liters of a rosato.  It was still fermenting when I was there.

Nero (mostly 40 to 60 year old vine Carignano)–no stems, 15 months in stainless.  The 2016 had a real wildness in its core–intriguing & rustic–grapey, provocative, structured & quite masculine & savory.  I really liked it.  I found his Carignano reds were so very different from the Cannonau based wines I had been tasting previously on our Sardegna trip.  It seemed to have more acid & a more tannic grip.

Serucci (60 year old vine Carignano)–Serucci is the winery’s crown jewel.  no stems. Fermented in plastic tubs & the 2015 spent 15 months in his old 225 liter Santadi used barrels.  (2016 was only 12 months & 2017 was in 500 liter old, Capichera used barrels for 12 months).  Typically only about 50 to 65 case production.  We tasted the 2015 & it definitely had more mojo, structure, grip & I found a real artisan feel & soulfulness to it.  I loved this wine!  Yes, he is a true vigneron.

Visiting Esu reminded me of my early days when I first visited France’s Rhone Valley for the first time & visiting the likes of Verset, Clape & Gentaz, because of the small, true artisan, one man show operation & its grass roots approach both in the vineyard & the “winery”.  Enrico’s wines are not as noble, but they are artisanal, personal & therefore touching & they certainly moved me.  Thank you so much for the great, inspirational visit Enrico!  Definitely one of the best wine stops for me on this 2 week trip.  I will work hard to get some of these wines to Hawaii.

After the wine tour, Enrico & I went to eat at his childhood friend’s neighborhood restaurant right by the sea.  The food really hit the spot–octopus, sea anemone, fish, tuna, mussels, pasta with bottarga–fresh, well cooked & classically Sardinian.  If you are in the area, you should plan on a stop there. 

Dec
08

Sardinian Wine–Part 3–Mamoiada

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To be candid, the winery I was most anxious to visit during our 2 week trip was Giovanni Montisci of Mamoiada, Sardegna.  I had tasted 3 of his wines previously & was astounded at how “otherworldly” each was.  It was like when I first tasted the Luigi Clos Nicrosi from Corsica back in the 80’s.

Mamoiada is located “in the heart of Sardegna’s mountainous interior“, a roughly 2 1/2 hour drive through very winding, often narrow roads through the rugged countryside.  Because of the wines & the drive I had visions of visiting somewhere reminiscent of the old days, just like back in the 80’s visiting Clape, Verset & Gentaz in the Rhone Valley of France for the first time–old wood, very rustic, converted garage-like wineries with earthen floors handed down from the generations before each, & all stuck in time. 

Upon arrival to Mamoiada, I was instead very surprised at how settled & westernized it looked.  It still was small & very neighbor-ish, but much more modern than what we had experienced in Corsica.  Giovanni’s home (with his winery located below in his what would be for most, the 2 car garage & the small downstairs apartment) featured a modern fountain (seemingly from an upscale garden shop) with a small front yard of artificial turf AND a remote opened & closed gate.  This was WAY different from what I day dreamed about. 

His winery was meticulously clean & very well organized.  I was just amazed at how small it was & understood there can’t be too much wine available, especially for us out here in Hawaii.

Montisci ferments some wines in large plastic tubs which reminded me of Chris Whitcraft & his plastic bins back in the day.  Giovanni’s were just covered with plastic sheets. 

Giovanni owns & farms but 3.5 hectares of vines, most of it 60 year old vine Moscato & Cannonau up in the hills just above his town (2200 feet in elevation), all organically farmed. The chilly nights encourage slow, ripening times.  The soil is sandy, granitic clay & the vineyard somehow has a very special feel to it.  (I got similar vibes from Laurel Glen’s Sonoma Mountain estate vineyard back in the late 80’s/early 90’s on my first visit).  It is much more than just vines & soil & I could understand the wines much differently.  (This is really not just a romantic notion).  I tasted the grapes still on the vine & they were so different than any of our other stops on this trip.

The grapes are harvested by hand & sorted in the vineyard.  All of the fermentations are spontaneous (wild yeasts) & done in 1000 liter tanks.

Biancu “Modestu” (100% Moscato–60 year old vines–500 to 600 case production)–grapes macerate on the skins for 5 days, wild yeast fermented then aged in 225 liter OLD oak for roughly 6 months, vinified dry, 100% malolactic.  Every time I taste this bottling, now, 4 vintages worth, I scratch my head in wonderment, because it is so unique & interesting–lemon verbena, lemon, lime, star fruit nuances with a honey backdrop.  Full flavored with a unique lush, unctuality/thickness/viscosity–masculine, savory & stony, expansive.

Rosato “Barrosu”–(100% Cannonau–60 year old vines–500 to 600 case production)–grapes macerate on the skins for several hours, wild yeast fermented & then aged in 225 liter OLD barrels for 6 months, vinified dry & 100% malolactic.  This is a very heady, masculine, savory, stony, BIG rose with almost an earthy-oxidative-“orange” style & an old oak mouthfeel.

Cannonau di Sardegna “Barrosu”–(100% Cannonau–60 year old vines–500 to 600 case production)–I would say, this is a beast–masculine, rustic, surly, savory with much bravado & structure, but still very juicy, pliable (not hard) with lots of depth, layering, virility, vinosity & resounding character.  It certainly catches my attention every time I have tried it.  Fermentation lasts 20 to 30 days & is aged for 1 year in 1500 & 2000 liter Slavonian botti.

Cannonau di Sardegna “Barrosu” Riserva “Franzisca” (100% Cannonau–90 year old vines–200 to 250 case production).  I believe 2010 was the first vintage the word “Franzisca” (in homage to Giovanni’s wife) appeared on the label.  It was previously labeled as Riserva.  This is something totally “otherworldly”–profoundly lavish, wildly rustic, vinous, totally about character & savoriness with a pine needle nuance intermittently present.  I have never had a wine like this before that’s for sure.   Fermentation lasts 20 to 30 days & is aged for 2 years in 1500 & 2000 liter Slavonian botti.   We tried the 2018, 2016, 2015 & the 2007 (labeled as Cannonau di Sardegna “Barrosu” Riserva) which was the finest wine we had on this trip, by far! 

Afterwards, we had lunch together at his childhood friend’s restaurant, right in the center of town.  REALLY good Coriscan “country” styled foods.

Thank you Giovanni for a great visit.  I am a total believer!

Our wine & food adventure traveling up, down & traversing through Corsica sadly came to an end.  It was a great trip to say the least.

Our next adventure was explore the island of Sardegna just south.  We caught a ferry, leaving Bonifacio, Corisca & arriving to the port of Santa Teresa di Gallura in the north part of Sardegna.  After renting a car in Olbia, we drove to our hotel in Castelsardo, an hour & 40 minutes away.

It was immediately apparent Sardegna was very different–much flatter, warmer & we now drove on highways.

After a brief stay & a very good dinner in Castelsardo, we headed the next morning to see 2 wineries. 

The first was Vigne Rada.  Vigne Rada is located less than an hour outside the city of Alghero on the north end of the island. There really wasn’t a lot of road signs & GPS got us to the general area, but we eventually had to call for someone from Vigne Rada to meet us & take us to the winery.  As we followed, it became real apparent we would not have found the winery otherwise.  Even stops to stores in the area to ask for directions didn’t help.  We quickly learned this winery is just too small & even the immediate area locals were not familiar with it or its location.  The area was flat & each parcel seemed to be acres in size & so very different that what we saw in Corsica.  It reminded me of going out to Waimanalo & seeing all of the farms out there. 

Patriarch Luigi “Gino” Bardino started the winery with the support of his 2 sons & their first harvest was 2012.  They own vineyards in 2 distinctly different areas–“Monte Pedroso, where the winery is located & features sandy, clayey alluvial soils with lots of riverbed stones & quartz; & the sloping Cubalciada site & its clay, limestone & some chalk soils“.

Like Gino, the founder, the wines of Vigne Rada are honest, unpretentious & straightforward” AND are quite food friendly & really deliver quality for the dollar.

Vermentino de Sardegna “Stria” (100% Vermentino)–“fermented & aged for 3 to 4 months in stainless steel on the fine lees which are regularly stirred“.  2016–we really liked the stony undertones & its fresh, pure, liveliness & personality.  He also opened & shared a bottle of their favorite to date–2012–nutty, lanolin nuances with a seamless flow from beginning to end & still had a very vibrant core.  The edges were just seemingly rounder because of the additional bottle age.

Cannonau di Sardegna “Riviera” (100% Cannonau)–“destemmed & lightly crushed.  Fermented in stainless, then 70% aged in stainless for 10 months & 30% aged in 225 liter & 500 liter OLD oak for 3 to 4 months“.  2016–Grenache like fruit, graceful, elegant & suave.

Alghero Cagnulari “Arsenale” (100% Cagnulari)–“destemmed & lightly crushedFermented in stainless, then 70% aged in stainless for 12 months & 30% aged in 225 liter & 500 liter OLD oak for 4 to 6 months“.  2015–pungent, seemingly wild, savory & more masculine-more like Carignano.

Isola dei Nuraghi Passito “3 Nodi” (Vermentino)–botrytis infected grapes left to dry on the vine until mid October.  Fermentation in stainless for 40 to 50 days.  typically 210 g/l residual sugar.

Dec
03

Corsican Wines–Part 6–Bonifacio

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Our visit to Corsica ended in Bonifacio, a city located in the southern tip of the island.

Bonifacio sits right on the sea & represented a very different look & feel to our Corsican experience. 

I was blown away on the drive into the city, as the surrounding cliffs are laden with limestone.  This was a very stark difference to all of the darker, granite based soils we witnessed throughout much of the drive traversing through the wild countryside & mountainous terrain prior.

The 2 main gathering areas of the city is down by the sea & its boat docks & the other up on the hill surrounding the citadel.

In the center, up on the hill, we walked around during the day, to check out all of the recommended restaurants & their menus, as we needed to plan dinners for our 2 nights there.  On our first night we ate at a cute, cozy, highly recommended eatery, but I must say, the over all experience was underwhelming.  As we walked back to our hotel, I would look in at the other restaurants of the area & then looked at their menu postings on their boards.  I can’t say, I was too excited.

The next morning, we headed out early to see Clos Canarelli, as theirs was by far the best wines of the area that we had tasted.  It was quite the visit. 

On the way home, we took a slight detour to Porto Vecchio, a seaport along the eastern coast.  There, we found a small, terrific, out of the way restaurant named A Cantinetta & had a terrific lunch.  It was memorable because it was good Corsican food–unpretentious, well prepared & definitely hit the spot.

Driving back to our hotel, I was quite full, since we seemingly ordered & try everything on the menu.

I remember thinking, in comparison, I didn’t relish eating at any of the restaurants we walked by up on the hill the night before.  The menus pretty much looked the same & geared more to the tourists.

We all agreed to instead eat in our hotel that night.  Hotel food?  On the last night?  We recalled that Yves Canarelli mentioned that our hotel served really good pasta.  He said the chef was really good, so we stayed in & went down to eat pasta that night. 

Well, Yves was right.  The was pasta was really good & well cooked.  It wasn’t Corsican by any means, but the food really hit the spot nonetheless.

The winelist was VERY small & was comprised of familiar, “standard” names we saw on many winelists during our visit.  I asked the manager what would he drink if he was eating dinner & he pointed to a wine—one that was the most expensive on the list….& by far.  (of course, I thought).  I was not familiar with the winery, but ordered it nonetheless.

It turned out to be a really solid, interesting, eye opening red wine, which was REALLY different from anything we had had during our visit to Corsica.  Amongst the ripe, dense fruit, there was uplifting minerality….I thought limestone!  The label said Buzzo Bunifazziu & it was from Bonifacio!

I asked the manager if he could look up the wine online to find out what grape variety was used to make this wine.  He couldn’t find too many details, but he did get an email address.  So, here we were sitting in a restaurant at 9:00pm at night & me emailing the winery to see what the grape variety was.  Not even 10 minutes went by & I got a reply…..Minestellu.  I got up & went to the front desk to ask the night manager to contact them & ask where the winery was located.  We had to catch a ferry to Sardegna the next day around 12:30pm & I was hoping there might be a chance to stop by & see them.

Thierry Buzzo replied & said he would swing by the hotel around 8:30am the next morning, take me to his vineyard & drop me back off at the hotel, all within the time restraints.  Are you kidding me, I thought?  Ok, I am game!, the wine was that good.

The next morning Thierry was right on time & off we went.  (Cheryle & Mike stayed back to do some last minute shopping & walking around the town).

The vineyard & winery was but 15 minutes away.  I realized while driving there, I would never have found it driving alone.  There are no street addresses or signs & their place is really down a pretty low keyed road & area.

I was greeted by Vincent Buzzo (Thierry’s father) & Angelica Santori (I believe the associate winemaker & a graduate of the wine school in Montpellier.  She also thankfully spoke English quite well).

 

Their winery was quite small & their estate vineyards was but 10 hectares in size.  Portions of their vineyards were hard argilo-calcaire bedrock with a thin layer of clay topsoil & other parts the topsoil was black (I surmise of volcanic origin).  Although this project was 3 generations old, they really started upping their game by planting 7 hectares in 2010 & some in 2017 to a handful of native, heirloom grapes vines–Vermentino, Barbarossa for white & Niellucciu, Sciaccarellu & Minestellu for red wines.

I was really taken by their wines.  They were not as standout-ish as those of Arena, Abbatucci or Canarelli, but they were solid, well crafted & really showcased the calcareous soils they were grown in.  I think this winery has a lot of potential & can’t wait to see what happens as their vines get older & they better understand what their vineyards want to say.  I would also add that the key to how they progress will largely be based upon the involvement of Angelica Santori & her development.  While the Buzzo’s may own the land, it was obvious Angelica was the main cog here in making things happen & their wines’ quality. 

We quickly tasted through several of their wines–

Vermentino1/2 fermented in stainless, 1/2 in 228liter barrel (1, 2 & 3 years old), 100% malolactic & 6 to 7 months on the lees.

Barbarossafermented in stainless, 5 months on the lees.

RoséSciaccarellu, Niellucciu & Vermentino–direct press, NO ML.

Niellucciu100% Niellucciu, NO stems, stainless

Minestellu100% Minestellu, NO stems, stainless

This is a winery to keep an eye on.

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Dec
02

Corsican Wines–Part 5–Figari

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Corsica proved to be a very amazing food & wine adventure.  Driving from north to south & traversing the very mountainous island & navigating the perversely winding, narrow roads was harrowing & tiring, BUT, seeing hours upon hours of remote, seemingly untouched countryside reminded us that Corsica is thankfully not yet completely westernized, especially in the northern parts..

As we headed through the southern half, everything seemed to slowly change & the towns became bigger & more developed, the terrain flatter & the weather warmer.

After our stop at Pero Longo in Sartène, we headed to the city of Bonifacio, which would be our home base for the last 2 days on the island. 

The first morning there we headed east towards Figari (actually just outside the village of Tarabucetta) to visit another highly revered vigneron–Yves Canarelli.  Yves is another champion of native, indigenous vines–Vermentinu, Bianco Gentile, Niellucciu, Sciaccarellu, Minustellu, Genovese, Carcaghjolu Neru (& Biancu), Paga Debiti, Barbarossa, just to name a few.  (He also has small amounts of Grenache, Cinsault & Syrah planted–which may have been there before his arrival in 1993).

Interestingly, Yves grows his vines in 3 separate areas–33 hectares in Figari (granite based with red alluvial soils); Sartène (REALLY old vines grown in granitic soils) & has 5 hectares in Bonifacio (limestone base).

Canarelli is also vehemently about organic & biodynamic farming & this style of farming is greatly aided by the constant, relentless coastal winds that comes in from the Gulf of Figari. 

Upon arrival, we were blown away at how “state of the art” his winery looked.  There were many kinds of oak vessels, concrete vessels & 2 kinds of amphorae.  Yves, although very much into wild yeast fermentation & using whole cluster, is nonetheless very deliberate & precise in his winemaking & is continually tinkering with what to ferment in & how to make his wines more interesting, while still showcasing Corsican character & integrity.

Wine wise, Clos Canarelli has three main, differentiating sub-labels–

Corse FigariBlanc (Vermentino)–partial malolactic & aged in large foudres/older neutral barrels; Rosé (Sciaccarellu, Niellucciu & Grenache–for finesse)–whole cluster fermentation, direct press, partial malolactic & 100% stainless steel; & a Rouge (typically 80% Niellucciu, 15% Syrah & 5% Sciaccarellu)–100% destemmed, fermented & vinified in large foudres for 14 to 18 monthsRouge “Alta Rocca” (Sciaccarellu, single parcel planted in 1997)–typically 4 week fermentation in stainless & then aged in foudres for 24 months.

Vine de France (wines not fully adhering to the government restrictions.  I call it Yves doing his thing to make the best wines he can)–Rouge “Costa Nera” (Carcaghjolu Neru)–100% destemmed, fermented & vinified in large foudres for 14 to 18 months; Rouge “Tarra d’Orasi” typically 500 bottle production–(1/2 hectare, single vineyard–field blend–Sciaccarellu, Minustellu & Cinsault–vines, 140 years in age in Sartène )–100% destemmed, fermented & vinified in large foudres for 14 to 18 months; Blanc “Tarra d’Orasi”–typically 500 bottle production–(1/2 hectare, single parcel–typically 70% Vermentinu, 30% field blend–Genovese, Carcaghjolu Biancu, Paga Debiti & Barbarossa–vines 140 years in age in Sartène )–fermented in stainless & aged 24 months on the lees.  100% malolactic; Blanc “BG” (Biancu Gentile)–fermented on lees in concrete eggs. Blanc “Tara di Sognu” (in Bonifacio–limestone soils)–2016 100% Vermentino–barrel fermented & aged for 6 months in new, 600 liter barrels, 100% ML, 6 months on the lees (no stirring); 2017–80% Vermentino, 20% other native grape varieties–Genovese, Riminese, Biancu Gentile, 100% malolactic, 6 to 8 months on the lees (no stirring & aged in 600 liter new barrels for 6 months. Rouge “Tarra di Sognu”  (in Bonifacio–limestone soils)–2016 (50% Carcaghjolu Neru, 40% Sciaccarellu & 10% Minustellu)–NO stems, aged for 16 months  foudres & large ovals.

Corse Figari “Amphora” (wines done is amphora–one specifically for white wine & a different one for reds)–Blanc (Vermentino, planted in 1997)–2/3’s must & 1/3 whole cluster, fermented & aged in amphora for 3 months & 3 months in old barrels with no sulfur used during the vinification & bottling.  100% malolactic; Rouge (typically 80% Niellucciu, 10% Sciaccarellu & 10% native vines)–100% destemmed, fermentation in amphora for 4 to 7 weeks (no sulfur used during the vinification & bottling), aged in stainless & old oak barrels for 7 to 9 months.

Vin de France Muscat MPG–Clos Canarelli also has .7 hectares of Muscat a Petit Grains (planted in 1997)–& produces a vendange tardive, non muted sweet wine, harvested at roughly 18% potential alcohol, fermented in barrel to 15% alcohol & aged for 2 years in older oak barrels.  typically 45 grams per liter residual sugar.

The Clos Canarelli wines deliver in the “sweet” spot–they have impact & appeal, they have integrity, they are intellectual & they have class–& are therefore the rage in mainland France & also is meteorically growing in popularity amongst the sommeliers of America.

Thank you Yves for an incredible visit.

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Nov
28

Corsican Wine–Part 4–Sartène

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The visit with Jean-Charles Abbatucci in Ajaccio took 6 1/2 hours.  It was supposed to be only 20 minutes.  We were running late & I was especially anxious because I didn’t relish driving & navigating the narrow, harrowingly winding roads of Corsica at night.  After all, our next destination, the city of Bonifacio in the southern tip of Corsica, was still a considerable drive away.

When we told Jean-Charles we were headed down to Bonifacio, he said his trademark phrase–“NO problem!”  He then added that along the way, we should stop by to see his friend Pierre Richarme, a true vigneron in Sartène, located roughly halfway between Ajaccio & Bonifacio.  The look in his eyes was one of respect, so we thought how can we argue with a vigneron recommending another vigneron?  He, after all, only recommended ONE AND, he doesn’t do so lightly or casually.  It really is a statement of respect.  So, off we went.

I was quite thankful that the roads seem to widen as we headed south.  The hills also seemed more rounded with less height.   It also seemed warmer. 

Finding Pierre Richarme was another interesting mini adventure.  Following GPS, we drove to a winery in Sartène, but no one was there.  There really wasn’t an address anywhere to be found, so we weren’t sure if we were actually in the right place.  Up the hill, we could see a residence, but we didn’t want to barge into anyone’s private residence.  So, after a while, we headed back out.  We stopped to take a break.  Imagine our surprise when someone drove up.  It’s Pierre.  Thankfully Jean-Charles had called him to advise him of our possible visit.  We followed him to the tasting room/restaurant, which was just down the road, again with no signage.

Pierre seemed like a very warm, nice guy.  He watched us very intently & we communicated well, considering he spoke very broken English & we no French. 

His domaine is 24 hectares of vineyards (2HA-Vermentino; 8HA Sciaccarellu, 10HA Niellucciu & 4HA Grenache), all biodynamically farmed.

His wines, over all, were tasty, interesting & very pleasurable, in fact, some of the better wines we had during our trip.

He uses a lot of concrete during his winemaking, with some oak.

His 100% Vermentino (Serenite) is wild yeast fermented, 6 months on the lees–pure, fresh, lean, uplifting & quite lively.  I would buy it.

He produces another 100% Vermentino (Le Lion de Roccapina)–6 months in 50% new oak, 50% 600 liter demi-muids–modern, grander, clove, spice & FRAMED.

HarmonieRosé–100% Sciaccarellu, direct pressed rosé–masculine, hearty, savory, darker colored.

Le Lion de Roccapina Rosso–80% Niellucciu, 20% Sciaccarellu, NO stems, 10 months in oak, 40% new–masculine, structured & well framed.

Equilibre–interestingly Pierre chose to next serve us this lighter, more forward, fruity red wine–40% each Niellucciu & Sciaccarellu & 20% Grenache, all fermented in concrete.  Quite the change-up–lighter colored, more transparent & fruity though with a savory edge.

Espirit de la Terre–80% Sciaccarellu, 20% Niellucciu–10 months in oak, 40% new.  seemingly riper, more plump, lower acid. 

XX Cuvée–100% Sciaccarellu, 10 months in oak, 40% new.  Now, this was a wine to behold.  It totally rocked!  (In fact, when we tried this wine later with Carlo Deperu of Deperu Holler on Sardegna, Carlo was over the top thrilled at tasting this wine!).  It is masculine,  uber savory, vinous & quite soulful!

Thank you Pierre for a wonderful visit!

Jan
04

A Different Slant on Bubbly

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‘Tis the season for bubbly. Here is your chance to taste four very special, unique wines, yes, a completely different slant of what bubbly can be! This certainly proved to be an eye opener for many. 

Airole Lambrusco “Marcello”–We start this tasting with a sparkling (fizzy) red wine—100% Lambrusco Maestri, grown at 750 to 1000 feet in elevation overlooking the Po Valley in Emilia Romagna. Tasty, brimming with vitality, delicious, exuberant fruit & a wonderfully refreshing fizz.  This is a wine to enjoy.  Something to refresh.  Something to quench the thirst on an especially warm day.  Served well chilled, we also think this is a terrific choice with an assortment of salumi & cheese.   (By the way, this one of the most highly acclaimed Lambrusco—International Wine Challenge—2016 Gold Medal/ 2011 Best Sparkling Red Wine; 2011 VinItaly—Grand Gold Medal just to name a few). 

Gregoletto Prosecco “Sui Lieviti” (Italy)The category of Italian Prosecco now is one of the top wine imports into the U.S., & they range in price from $7.99 to $22 a bottle.  How does the average wine buyer know which one to buy?  Well, here is one that will set the bar for you on what true Italian Prosecco can be!  Gregoletto was in fact selected as SLO Foods—“Winery of the Year”. This avant garde winery ages their wines on lees for more complexity and bottle as such. A completely different perspective on what Italian Prosecco can be! The sui lieviti bottlings represent the history of this region before the Champagne method was invented. The secondary fermentation continues in bottle over an indeterminable amount of time, in fact each bottle is slightly different. Vino vivente! Living wine!” 

Ruggeri Prosecco Vecchie Viti(Italy)–As the category of Italian Prosecco continues to grow, I am sure we will see the concept of SUPER Prosecco also grow, both in production & in popularity too.  Perhaps some produced by method champenoise, perhaps some fermented or aged in French barrique barrels, certainly old vine cuvees or perhaps some incorporating a dollop of Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco or even Pinot Noir.  The question then would be, will it still be typical of Italian Prosecco?  Just so you have a starting point to compare others to, here is a standout Prosecco produced from a smattering of 80 to 100 year old vines! 90% Prosecco, 6% Verdiso, 2% Blanchetta & 2% Perere and six months on the lees for complexity. We will delighted to see how refined & airy this cuvee is, with sublime vinosity & tiny, flirtatious bubbles.  

Raventós I Blanc Brut Rose “De Nit” (Spain)If you are looking for a sparkling wine, but cannot afford the prices of Champagne, here is one to consider.  Yup.  Sparkling from Spain!  In fact, in my opinion one of the very best houses!  This family has been farming their land for twenty one generations! The vineyards are rich in fossilized marine soils and the grape growing (mostly Xarel-lo with some Monastrell blended in) and precise, detailed winemaking.  Bravo!  PLUS, it is uniquely still AND thankfully Spanish.

This is actually Part Three of our post on the wines of Santorini.  I was so taken by this particular wine project, its visionary, dedicated patriarch & his whole mission of growing & producing wines in as natural way as he can…..we thought this one needs its own post.

As I had mentioned on a previous post, while at Gaia winery on Santorini, the very enthusiastic, highly professional winetasting room host, Melina, after our taste of the Gaia wines, handed the keys of her own car to her friend & told her to drive us to Art Space.  She did mention this was an art gallery, who also happened to make wines……my kind of wines, as she put it.

Art Gallery?  Part time winemaker?  I didn’t know what to expect.   

When we drove to the spot, our driver wasn’t even sure if this was it.  (There is but one very small, plain sign, almost un-noticeable, that she finally saw that confirmed we were there!)  I can honestly tell you my apprehension really grew at this point, as we were far removed in location & a considerable wait for any taxi or driver to come.

After a short time (which seemed like an eternity to me), a gray haired, bearded, wily man came out to greet us.  (It turned out this was owner/winemaker Antonis Argiros himself).  He then took us down to his labyrinth of caves ranging from 30 to 40 feet below, with 21 feet thick pomice walls & ceilings creating a cool, quite remarkable space.  The first few tunnels were decorated with many paintings, separated now & then with sculptures & other artistic pieces.  Yes, this is a really cool looking art gallery, BUT, I couldn’t help but wonder, what am I doing here? 

Then, I saw a concrete hole in the ground & some other winemaking/distilling equipment here & there, all cleaned & neat.  It became apparent, that his space allowed him to have a vertical vinification system (or was it created for that & the art was used to fill in the spaces.  Since he spoke no English, I didn’t know)–3 levels–designed to use natural, gravity flow.  Now, I knew we were on to something. 

He also showed us pictures of the old days–1861 when it started–as well as pictures with him as toddler; how they grew grapes & how they dried the grapes for their vinsanto bottlings.  Since he spoke no English & me no Greek, it was another way to communicate.  As our time together went on, I got a growing sense & appreciation of his fiery passion & his mission.  He was something special & I grew more & more intrigued at the possibilities.

By the time, we sat to taste his wines, he had asked someone to come & interpret for us.  The first wine he poured was produced from the indigenous Aidani grape variety–2014 (organically grown grapes from 70 year old vines, 24 hours skin contact, wild yeast fermented, no ML, 7 months on the lees–looking like an “orange” wine–unfiltered, unfined, coppery color, unusual fruit, slight oxidative taste & showing a distinct bitterness & alcohol in the finish).  I thought it was good, in fact the best Aidani based white wine we had had on the island so far, with real character & mojo.  Sensing our fascination, he then disappeared & came back with a taste of the still fermenting 2017 (with 10% Assyrtiko)–still displaying unusual fruit–quince, starfruit, peach skin, minerality, & still had the same mojo & character to its core.  One could readily see this was some kind of winemaker, whose wines touched me much more so than the other wines we ran across on Santorini.  The defining moment of this visit, however, proved to be the third wine–2015 “Saint August” (98% Assyrtiko, wild yeast fermented, 7 months lees contact).  My notes include–“copper tinge, unique fruit, nutty, full of character, heart, minerality/salinity, surprisingly sublime, seamless, holds 14.5 alcohol surprisingly well“.  This wine really moved me!  I was quite stunned, as the wine was quite unique & idiosyncratic–to the point where I don’t think too many wine lovers would embrace its wildness, its “orange” wine nuances & its completely atypical character. 

At that point, the game changed.  I inexplicably & surprisingly got chicken skin (something that has happened only a few times over the years, especially on a first visit like this).  Because of my obvious reaction, at least partially, I could also see Antonis change.  His demeanor became softer, more like a father talking about his children AND his eyes blazed with excitement & his passion clearly was showing in all its glory.  We definitely connected at that moment.  I made a new wine friend, halfway across the world.

He then disappeared & came back out with a sample of the 2017, which was still fermenting.  I was amazed, despite how hazy, unpolished & fizzy it was, the wine still showed the minerality/salinity, structure, seamlessness, mojo & obvious winemaking mastery of the bottled wine. 

Antonis then disappeared again, this time coming out with a 2013 “St August” (which when the “interpreter” finally came, noted that he last opened this wine on his BIG birthday, meaning it was something truly special).  Well, it was something truly special.  This slightly aged version again had the minerality/salinity, structure, seamlessness & mojo, but with a unique nuttiness, peach skin & insane etherealness.  I was absolutely taken by this wine, the grape growing & the winemaking genius of Antonis Argiros.  “Chicken skin visit!”.

Antonis was kind enough to give us the remainder of the 2013 to take back to the hotel so we could taste it again later, after it had aired.  I could more clearly see then, it was not a white wine for everyone’s palate.  Quite candidly & realistically, probably just a few would really get the genius behind his wine, even more so, because the wine is VERY tasty, but not really delicious, charming or truly noble.  I later asked myself, was I just caught up in the moment? 

To that, I would reply–quite candidly, it is possible & probable.  Still, I must add, I don’t get chicken skin like that too often.  (I, in fact, recall less than 10 times previously over the years).  Secondly, I don’t need someone to sing a song pitch perfect.  I just want to someone to sing from the heart AND that it moves me.  That was the case here.  Furthermore, this visit reminded me of what true artisan can mean.  Antonis grows & makes wines like no one else I have encountered.  Lastly I met a very special, new wine friend on the other side of the world AND, I will treasure meeting him & tasting his wines forever.

Thank you Antonis!  Aloha, my friend.

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Dec
02

Wines of Santorini, Greece Part Two

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This is Part Two of our visit to wineries on the Island of Santorini.

Domaine Sigalas–founded in 1991, Sigalas is certainly one of the most heralded in all of Greece.  Paris Sigalas is not only celebrated by the international press, but we found how highly revered he is within his country.  As I noted in an earlier post, we had not set up any winery appointments prior to traveling to Greece.  It was so serendipitous how things worked out for us on this trip, especially winery wise.  Yes, we visited a wine bar in Athens named Vintage & had a fabulous winetasting experience with their resident wine sommelier Effie Anastopoulou, a VERY knowledgeable, charming, welcoming, consummate wine professional.  After tasting several top notch Greek wines with her, she asked if we would be visiting any wineries during our stay in Greece, to which we replied, nothing scheduled yet.  But I said there were at least one winery I had in mind to see–Sigalas in Santorini.  Her eyes lit up & she beamed I used to work there!  She helped us to get an appointment there, a private wine tasting & an audience with Paris Sigalas himself.  Thank you so much Effie!  Sigalas not only produces some stellar wines, but they are always looking to do things better, which means continual experimentation & evaluation.  (They, for instance, train some of their vines along the lines of Burgundy–see picture— versus the traditional koulara style).  I view Sigalas as very scientific in its approach versus the more renegade charge of Hatzidakis.   The wines were therefore, quite pure, minerally, well crafted, stylish & classy.  There is no doubt his Assyrtiko white wine sets the standard for others to aspire to be.  What a great visit!

Hatzidakis–Haridimos Hatzidakis started his namesake wine project in 1996 when he took & worked a small half hectare parcel roughly located at 1200 feet in elevation.  This parcel had laid essentially fallow & unattended since 1956.  Currently the Hatzidakis winery organically farms more like 10 hectares in Pyrgos Kallistis, Megalochori, Akrotiri & Vourvoulos, ranging in elevation from 100 feet up to 1200.  Haridimos represented the New Age of winemaking in Greece, someone who thought & played “out of the box”, & was helping usher Greece, its winemaking & resulting wines into a new era.  It was really sad that we lost him & his genius a couple of months ago.  Wines & Spirits magazine–“He was quiet, hard to draw out; the wines, on the other hand, weren’t shy at all: they were big, rich and concentrated. He raised them organically and vinified them without added yeasts or enzymes and a minimum of sulfur, often in old barrels. They were, on one hand, a throwback to older times; on the other, they spoke of an obsessive attention to farming and a commitment to low yields that could only happen today, when an international audience clamors for wines like these“.  Although, Hatzidakis was respected for championing indigenous Santorini grape varieties such as Aidani (white) & Mavrotragano (red).  It was, however, his work with the Assyrtiko (also indigenous), especially old vines & single vineyards (specifically the Mylos & Louros “Vignes Centenaires”  bottlings) which won his acclaim & his cult like following, internationally.  Assyrtiko de Mylos (the proper name) is very ripe, old vine Assyrtiko grapes of a single vineyard in the village of Pyrgos Kallistis–wild yeast fermented, 8 months on the lees & bottled unfiltered & manually with minimal sulfur.  Assyrtiko de Louros Vignes Centenaires” is 100% old vine Assyrtiko from the village of Pyrgos Kallistis at roughly 360 to 750 feet elevation.  The wine is also wild yeast fermented & spends 24 months on its lees in old barrels & is regarded as their crown jewel.  For me, I would also add that his Assyrtiko grappas (VERY limited) are worth seeking out.  It is really quite a blaze of glory in its category.  His former wife, Kostantina Chryssou, looks to keep the legacy going forward.

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