A few Franciacorta recommendations for your end of year sparklers

In a couple of months we’ll be popping our sparkling wines again to celebrate the end of yet another year. Unless you live in Italy, chances are slim you will be drinking Franciacorta. In 2019 Italy was responsible for 88,7% of sales in terms of volume. It’s those other Italian bubbles, Prosecco, that are all the rage internationally. And yet, Franciacorta was traditionally always hailed as the “quality” spumante from Italy. I remember during my sommelier training that it was introduced as the Italian “Champagne”.

Such comparison is problematic in several ways. First of all, it creates expectations : people will want their Franciacorta to smell and taste the same as Champagne. Not great for building your own identity. Secondly, it puts these wines in direct competition with Champagne. And as Champagne is still the reference in sparkling wine for many people : “why buy Franciacorta if you can get the “real deal” for the same price?” Indeed, the better Franciacortas are sold in Europe in the same price range as most big brand Champagnes, which is between 30 and 40€.

The comparison with Champagne is not too far-fetched, however. Both are made with the same method : the second fermentation in bottle, called “metodo classico” in Italy. Also, most Franciacorta is mostly made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the main grapes for Champagne production. Pinot Blanc is also allowed and a new grape, Erbamat, is allowed since 2017 to add freshness, but neither of those are often used.

The Consorzio of Franciacorta, who represents the producers and who is also responsible for the marketing, realizes that Franciacorta needs to get rid of its eternal comparison with Champagne. In 2020 they launched a marketing campaign under the slogan : “Very Italian, very Franciacorta”. The true essence of Franciacorta is “that of an Italian lifestyle par excellence, recognized all over the world”. Franciacorta is also recognized as a “Destination Partner” of Michelin. The Italian version of the restaurant guide will be presented in Franciacorta for the coming three years. The Consorzio even ordered research into the history of Franciacorta, which resulted in a book that is freely available on their website, and for which wine critic Kerin O’Keefe wrote the English resume. It is argued in the book that mention was made in the 16th century already of a sparkling wine in the Franciacorta area. Or as Kerin O’Keefe describes it, “wines that weren’t entirely still”. While the research was undoubtedly well conducted, it is quite a stretch to link modern day Franciacorta to those “lively” wines from centuries ago, as they were by no means produced in the same way as they are now. In fact the history of Franciacorta as we know it, dates to the 1960s with Guido Berlucchi being credited for producing the first Metodo Classico Franciacorta in 1961, the year that is still mentioned on their flagship sparkler.

What does all this give in the glass?

I tried a series of Franciacorta to get a better idea of the flavor profile and the quality. I also wanted to see if the comparison with Champagne is actually relevant or not.

One of the things that came out pretty clearly was the difference in profile between the cheaper Franciacortas (roughly under 20€) and the more expensive ones (aften above 30€). The cheaper Franciacortas were often relatively simple. Pleasant and uncomplicated, fresh and fruity, but not really reflecting the characteristics of a “metodo classico” sparkling wine. Much more character and complexity was found in the premium bottles.

When it comes to the aroma and flavor profile, it is hard to pin Franciacorta down on a few characteristics. But what came out quite clearly is that there is more to Franciacorta than being a Champagne imitation. In fact most Franciacortas had a fruit profile that was riper than the classic apple and pear fruit that is to be found in Champagne. Apricots were often found in the nose, as well as flowery aromas in the entry level wines. In the more expensive ones, there would often be strong toast aromas and sometimes wood, something that is still relatively rare in Champagne.

In terms of quality, the results were rather mixed. The cheaper Franciacortas were rather simple, although not necessarily unpleasant. But even in the more expensive range there were bottles that just did not convince. Some of them displayed an outspoken bitterness in the finish, bringing the wine out of balance.

So based on the bottles I had, it is difficult to come to a clear conclusion. Complex wines with character featured next to uncomplicated, not unforgettable bubbles. As a Champagne lover, I feel there is more consistency in the quality of Champagne than there is in Franciacorta. The good thing, however, is that the top performers were shining. These were attractive wines with a lot of character and a clear identity of their own.

These are my favorite ones :

Terre dei Trici 2015 Pas Dosé, Cascina San Pietro

100% Chardonnay. No dosage. Very attractive nose with apricot, peach and obvious toast aromas. The ripe fruit and the toast give a creamy touch to this sparkling wine, which is kept fresh by the lavish and very refined bubbles. The finish is rather dry, giving way only here that there was no dosage. Highly recommended, especially if you consider the price. At just over 20€ you get an exciting sparkler.

Dosaggio Zero 2015, Arcari + Danesi

This is mostly Chardonnay, which spent at least 30 months on the fine lees. No dosage. Gorgeous nose with plenty of minerality and delicate flower and citrus aromas. This a sparkling wine that is all about elegance and structure. Not a fruit bomb, but finesse, with very refined bubbles that create tension and make you grab your glass for more. This retails just above 30€. If you can get this Franciacorta, then you must give it a try. You will not regret it!

Museum Release 2007 Saten Brut, Ricci Curbastro

This is a Saten, the traditional term used in Franciacorta for a 100% Chardonnay. The Museum Release spends at least 65 months on the fine lees. The nose is expressive with ripe apple, a hint of apricot, strong toast aromas and even a hint of spicy wood, even though the technical note does not mention any wood being used. The bubbles are sumptuous and dynamic. At 40-45€ this is not cheap, but it is a sparkling wine that gives alot of everything and makes a big impression. It probably also is the one in this selection that will seduce Champagne drinkers the most.

Brut, Monsupello

90% Pinot Noir, 10% Chardonnay. The color is surprising, as there is an obvious pink hue that gives away that this wine is made of Pinot Noir. There is also a hint of red fruit in the nose. The abundant and fine bubbles make this a refreshing sparkler. At around 20€ this is not especially complex but it’s a satisfying apéritif that goes down all too easily.

The top wines of Cantina Tramin in Italy’s Alto Adige

I received a few samples from Cantina Tramin, an Italian cooperative in Alto Adige, also called Südtirol in German. Cooperatives are still often perceived as making cheap, inferior wines, so I was happy to receive some of their top wines in white. Cooperatives can produce genuinely good value for money wines, but others also have ambitions in the “premium” segment. As is the case for Cantina Tramin.

I had the pleasure of talking to Wolfgang Klotz, Director Marketing and Sales of Cantina Tramin, and Willi Stürz, their winemaker. In a mountainous region like Alto Adige working together is almost a necessity. “Alto Adige has 5000 hectares, and 5000 growers,” says Wolfgang, “so that gives a good idea of how fractioned Alto Adige is”. Without cooperatives it would probably not be economically viable for many to grow grapes. “But as a member of the cooperative it is. Many people would otherwise grow apples, for example. Or just move away to other regions where it is easier to make a living.” I remember hearing this as well when I spoke to the people of Cantina Tollo, who are based in Abruzzo, another mountainous region where it is hard to make a living in the countryside. Another example of the social impact of Cantina Tramin is the price guarantee that wine growers get : “For the high-end wines we want to have perfect ripeness of the grapes, which means harvesting later than for other grapes.” As chances of hail or heavy showers are higher in the mountains, there is always the risk that the grapes will be damaged if they are left in the vineyard until October. “But we cover that risk,” says Wolfgang. “The growers who are selected to provide the grapes for the topwines of Cantina Tramin are paid the full amount, no matter what happens.” This means that the growers can let the grapes hang until the ripeness is reached that Willi Stürz wants, withouth losing a part of their income if a storm destroys the harvest. So while the growers have a guaranteed income, Cantina Tramin gets the quality of grapes they want.

So what does this give in the glass? I tasted 5 whites that were selected to showcase the quality and style of Cantina Tramin’s high end wines.

Stoan 2019, DOC Alto Adige

If the name of this wine makes you think of “stone”, it is because it means exactly that. German is the main language in this region of Italy, and “stoan” is the local dialect for the German word “Stein”. This wine is made mostly of Chardonnay (65%), with Sauvignon blanc (20%), Pinot blanc (10%) and Gewürztraminer (5%) and is aged for one year in large casks. This blend may seem peculiar, but for Willi Stürz this was a logical choice : “At some point we thought : why not make a blend with the grapes that represent our region?”. And the blend actually works very well! The nose is very expressive, with apricot, fresh pear, a hint of aniseed, but also a bit of minerality that adds refinement. On the palate this wine is nicely round and creamy. The Sauvignon gives a touch of freshness, that counterbalances the ripe, exotic fruit. In the end there is a slight almond bitterness, giving a welcome contrast. Everything comes together so naturally in this wine. In a time where terroir and variety expression have become very important in the view of wine critics, this wine shows that skillful blending is still an art in itself.

Unterebner 2019, DOC Alto Adige

This is a Pinot gris, fermented in oak (25% in small tonneaux and 75% in large casks) with 12 months of further aging on the lees, again in large casks mostly. “People choose this wine because it is Unterebner, not because it is Pinot gris.” says Wolfgang Klotz. Indeed, Pinot gris doesn’t get positive press in general. “Few people invest in Pinot gris. In Alto Adige the advantage is that vineyards are not allowed in the valleys, where it can become too hot. The vineyards are on the slopes of the mountains, so we always have good cool temperatures during the nights. Nevertheless, most producers here will produce Pinot gris in stainless steel, to make clean and crisp wines.”

It’s clear that Cantina Tramin wanted to make everything but a crisps palate cleanser. Just after opening the nose starts off with very pure aromas, such as fresh pear and minerality. After a while the wood becomes more apparent, also on the palate, almost in a Burgundian way. This is definitely a Pinot Gris with a lot of substance and volume. Just as in the Stoan, there is a combination of creaminess and freshness that combines really nicely.

I was eager to taste this wine on the second day as I was curious how it would evolve. In fact, the evolution was quite impressive. The wood had nicely integrated, which brought the minerality and the fruit of this wine to the forefront. The elegance and balance of the Unterebner as showcased on day 2 makes it worth to give this wine a little more time.

Pepi 2020, DOC Alto Adige

This Sauvignon blanc takes its name from the first letters of the two sites the grapes come from : Pinzon and Penon. The latter is on the east side of the hills and is a cool site, which gives a typical Sauvignon expression and freshness. Pinzon is on the west side of the hills and gives riper grapes and a more exotic fruit expression. The fermentation happens in stainless steel tanks, after which it matures for six months in big barrels.

Sauvignon blanc can rarely hide that it is Sauvignon, and also here the aromas readily point in that way. But there are definitely no grassy or vegetal aromas here, rather attractively fresh peaches. On the palate this wine is graceful and light on its feet. Very refreshing and inviting, this wine will be a great partner for hot summer days.

Nussbaumer 2019, DOC Alto Adige

Cantina Tramin is a specialist of Gewürztraminer. The Nussbaumer is made and aged entirely on stainless steel. 30 years ago it had almost disappeared in Alto Adige, but now it is back and Cantina Tramin has several Gewürztraminers in the premium segment.

The nose is very aromatic and rich with roses, coreander, green herbs, and aniseed. After a bit of air there is also a subtle hint of minerality that gives extra complexity. The wine is creamy, round and sufficiently fresh. Although Cantina Tramin makes this Gewürztraminer in a dry style, it is not bone dry. There is a bit of residual sugar that gives a hint of sweetness.

Gewürztraminer is not an easy grape to get right. It can lack acidity, have very high levels of alcohol, or bitterness in the end. There is none of that in this Nussbaumer. “We let the grapes ripen until they almost burst. That is why there is no bitterness here. And yet the acidity is good, because of the altitude of the vineyards (300-500m).” Not everyone likes Gewürztraminer, but if you do, then this Nussbaumer offers much complexity and depth.

Troy 2017, DOC Alto Adige

If the previous wines are the “premium” segment of Cantina Tramin, then you could this Chardonnay their “super premium” wine. The vineyards are situated between 500 and 550m altitude, the yields are kept very low (35 hl/ha) and, just as with their other wines, Cantina Tramin goes for full ripeness of the grapes, while keeping good acidity for freshness. The fermentation is done in small oak barrels, followed by 11 months of lees aging. An additional 1,5 year of aging in stainless steel tanks makes the wine pretty much ready to drink when it comes on the market.

The nose starts off with attractive aromas of apricot and pear. There’s a bit of vanilla here as well that makes a nice combination with the ripe fruit. But it’s on the palate that this wine really reveals all its power. There are two elements that make this wine very special : the first is the flavor intensity. This is something that is rarely talked about when discussing the quality of wine, but in my experience high flavor intensity is a quality that I only find in top wines (and sweet wines, but that’s a completely different story). The second is the density, again something that I associate with top wines. Troy has both these aspects, not to mention a very long finish. This is a wine that makes a big impression. Definitely not a Chardonnay for the faint-hearted, but a wine that makes a statement.

This changed dramatically on day two, however, with the wine that had shed most of the oak and the density, only to gain in finesse and elegance. There was even a bit of minerality that made the nose very intriguing and attractive. The oak played a support role, rather than being one of the prominent features. A completely different appearance of this wine. But both versions are very neat renditions of what Chardonny has to offer, and allow you to play with the time of opening : you can enjoy this wine in its youth to savour the richness and density, or you can wait a few years to allow for more subtlety to develop.

Conclusion

This line-up made it very clear that cooperatives are perfectly capable of producing top wines. It’s also nice to see that there is a clear vision behind these wines : the choice to go for optimal maturity leads to wines with full and rich flavors, while maintaining their freshness. Clever wine making by Willi Stürz.

Then there is the social aspect of working as a cooperative : garantueeing the price for the grapes, offering technical expertise and ultimately contributing to the possibility for local growers to be able to make a living in a region where grape growers would otherwise struggle. Not something every wine drinker might care for, but nice to know for those who do.

Chiaretto di Bardolino : 10 great summer sippers

The summer season is coming, so the Consorzio di Bardolino presented the new vintage of Chiaretto, the local rosé, as part of the Anteprima Campaign. In fact, I should say Chiaretto di Bardolino, as is it officially called now. Bardolino is perhaps most known for its light and fruity reds, very much in the style of its bigger neighbor Valpolicella. But Bardolino is also Italy’s biggest producer of rosé, with 12 million bottles of Chiaretto per year. That’s twice as much as that other known Italian rosé, the Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo. Chiaretto has nothing to do with Cerasuolo, however. As the name suggests (Chiaretto comes from the Italian word chiaro = light) the color is pale pink. But it hasn’t always been like this. In fact, it’s only since 2014 that the decision was made to change the style of the rosé. Before the rosé was made with skin maceration (or “saignée”, the French word for “bleeding”), which gave a darker hue to the wine. Now the grapes are pressed with minimal skin contact, resulting in a fashionably pale pink. The reason for this is very simple : pale rosé sells better! Having said that, there still was quite a bit of variation in the color of the samples, as you can see below.

Pale rosé is nowadays inextricably linked to the Provence in France. But there where Provence rosé often has rather ripe, almost sweet fruit, Chiaretto di Bardolino tends to be crisp, fresh and bone dry. They are not the most fruit forward pinks, although there is mostly a bit of citrus fruit there. The main feature of the Chiaretto is its freshness! And that immediately explains what makes it so attractive for summer sipping. The acidity in these wines is very refreshing, which makes them great for aperitivo, or for an al fresco lunch. Chiaretto is a favorite drink of tourists around Lake Garda, and in fact the match with the fish of the lake is ideal, as it is sweet water fish, giving a rather delicate taste and structure.

The wines

I tasted 50 samples of Chiaretto, almost all 2020, with a few exceptions. In principle the main grapes are Corvina and, to a lesser extent, Rondinella. Other grapes are grapes allowed, such as Merlot, but despite the fact that some of the wines indeed had other grapes in the blend, the consistency of the taste profile was remarkable : fresh and crisp rosé. Not immensely aromatic and also no fruit bomb, Chiaretto is made to be refreshing and inviting.

In general the quality was consistently good. Below I recommend 10 wines, but I easily could have listed many more that would provide an enjoyable summer drink. The 10 wines I chose have more to offer, however, than the hallmark freshness of Chiaretto. I rewarded the wines that showed a little bit more interest, in the form of more pronounced fruit or fresh herbal aromas. I also payed attention to the balance, as the acidity in some was so pronounced that it became unenjoyable. But those were really the minority. In fact, I daresay that that the consistency of the wines is so high that you can be pretty safely buy a bottle and know what you’re going to get. This is my slection of those that had more to offer than the standard crispness and freshness :

Seiterre – El Salgar, Chiaretto di Bardolino 2020 ❤️

I have a top 5, but if I had to pick one out as my favorite, it would be this one. Very attractive rasberry color, clearly a bit darker than most others. Attractive nose of redcurrant and green, minty freshness. Really nice on the palate with that redcurrant coming back and even a hint of blackcurrant. The balance is impeccable with well integrated acidity. There is more to this Chiaretto than the usual freshness. The red fruit and the green herbs give this wine an additional element that provides more interest. I thouroughly enjoyed this wine!

Guerrieri Rizzardi – Keya, Chiaretto di Bardolino Classico 2020

There is a lovely hint of minerality in the nose with a green fresh element, inviting you to take a sip. The palate is somewhat surprising as the aromas suggest a lean and tight rosé. In fact, there’s more volume here than in most others, which makes this rosé also a good companion for dishes with more character. A bouillabaisse springs to mind. The acidity is nicely integrated and overall the balance is really good. There is something distinguished about this wine.

Vigneti Villabella – Chiaretto di Bardolino Classico 2020

The nose immediately attracts my attention, with red fruit and a bit of herbal freshness. Good balance with the green herbs giving more depth. Everything is fresh, but the acidity is mild, which makes for a very pleasant rosé.

Vitevis – Cà Vegar, Chiaretto di Bardolino 2020

Probably one of the palest pinks in the line-up. The nose is appealing with citrus and a hint of smoky minerality. This is lovely on the palate with citrus fruit against a fresh and yet mild background. You will want more than just one glass.

Poggio delle Grazie – Chiaretto di Bardolino (organic) 2020

Subtle but attractive nose with a bit of smoky minerality. Very nice balance on the palate with the typical salivating acidity of Chiaretto, but also good volume, which makes it more than just refreshing. The mouthfeel is really pleasing. This rosé would feature nicely on a restaurant wine list to accompany mediterranean styled fish dishes.

I reserve a special mention for a maverick in the line-up that performed on the same level as the others in my top five, but that was just too different to include it there with the others :

Villa Calicantus – Chiaretto di Bardolino Classico (biodynamic) 2019

The color is remarkable, as it has a very orange hue. The nose gives evolved aromas with dried fruit, brown apple and even a bit of honey, which is admittedly a bit awkward between all those fresh and crisp Chiarettos. On the palate, however, this is extremely fresh, with a nervous acidity that offsets the dried fruit. There are even tannins lingering in the background. Although this is definitely a bit of an oddball rosé, I cannot help liking it, as there is real complexity here. The contrast on the palate is challenging, but rewarding. During the Anteprima presentation there were questions about this wine, but Angelo Peretti of the Consorzio left no doubt about whether this wine should be accepted as Chiaretto : “yes, of course, this is also a typical Chiaretto. It has that typical freshness, just like the other Chiarettos”. I can only agree about the freshness. But it is obvious that this is not your typical summer sipper.

And the four runners up to complete my top 10 :

Bennati – I Gadi 2020, Chiaretto di Bardolino

One of the more darker colored rosés, almost raspberry color. Attractive nose, with a hint of florality, rose hip, and rather ripe redcurrant. The attack is fresh and the acidity is nicely integrated. A juicy and well-balanced rosé.

Lenotti – Decus, Chiaretto di Bardolino 2020

Not very aromatic but rather subtle nose with an attractive hint of minerality. Very juicy and pleasant. Perfect for a hot summer evening while chattering away with friends.

Casaretti – Rosa dei Casaretti (organic), Chiaretto di Bardolino Classico 2020

Very pale, onion skin color. Fresh but not very aromatic nose. Quite elegant and balanced with a certain pine tree freshness that gives a nice touch to this wine. There’s even a subtle hint of cedar wood.

Le Morette – Chiaretto di Bardolino Classico 2020

White peach and a hint of smoky minerality. This is very refreshing and juicy. Really pleasing on the palate with well integrated acidity. A no-brainer for a summery picnic.

To conclude : A few tips on the serving temperature. It is suggested to serve Chiaretto really cold if you have it as an aperitif. I found, however, that the wines showed more interest when served a bit warmer than served straight out of the fridge. These wines are already not the most aromatic, so letting them warm up a little bit will help to bring out the aromas. And the lively acidity helps alot to keep that freshness in there, even when the wine warms up a little. So there is really no reason to be afraid that your rosé will flat.

I wrote this piece in between the showers and hail storms, which is a little odd when the topic is rosé. But hopefully the weather gods will bring change soon. And when they do, make sure that bottle is well chilled. Salute!

Le Macchiole’s Paleo and a vertical of the Bolgheri Rosso

Bolgheri has a special place in my memory. We were on holidays in Tuscany in 2010 while my wife was pregnant of our son. It was also the time that my interest in wine started developing, so even though we were not based anywhere near Bolgheri, I still managed to convince my wife to head there and drive along the Strada del Vino, lined with majestic cypress trees, just to see the grounds where some of Italy’s most famous wines come from. The owner of a B&B in Liguria, where we were staying on our way to Tuscany, had glitters in his eyes when he heard where we were going. The way he spoke of wines such as Sassicaia and Ornellaia was with great reverence, but also a certain melancholy. Already then these were wines that fetched prices that occasional wine drinkers found undecent. So it was with great delight that we found a wine bar in Bolgheri where you could actually taste Sassicaia from a wine dispenser. 15€ for a quantity that allowed my wife and I each one sip.

I remember thinking : is this it? the great Sassicaia? In hindsight, it probably was the youngest vintage on sale, so close-knit and not very aromatic, and with a quantity like that, you’re literally not going to taste much. But at that time, it did not stimulate me to further explore Bolgheri and it was with great pleasure that I delved into Italy’s treasure trove of indigenous grape varieties.

The opportunity arose for a new look at Bolgheri when I was invited to attend an online tasting of Le Macchiole’s Bolgheri Rosso and their flagship wine, Paleo, a 100% Cabernet Franc. Le Macchiole was founded in 1983 by Eugenio Campolmi and his wife, Cinzia Merli, and is located a few kilometers from the coast. The first wine that appeared under the name of Le Macchiole was the Paleo in 1989. First made as a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese, they decided to add Cabernet Franc in 1993 to become a monovarietal wine in 2001. The exceptionally hot summer of the previous year had led the winery to add more Cabernet Franc to give more freshness and acidity. The result was so good that they decided to fundamentally transform the wine into a 100% Cabernet Franc, the first winery in Bolgheri to do so. And with great success, as the Paleo is a wine that receives much critical acclaim.

The Bolgheri Rosso of Le Macchiole is a blend of mostly Merlot and varying amounts of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, depending on the vintage. As Cinzia Merli, who leads the estate since her husband passed away in 2002, explains : the Bolgheri Rosso should not be seen as the “entry level” wine. It is made to stay true to its Bolgheri origins as a Tuscan expression of a blend of French grape varieties. What is quite remarkable about the Bolgheri Rosso is the lack of new oak. 20% of the grapes is aged in cement, the rest is put in 2nd, 3rd and 4th passage barriques.

The tasting was an interesting opportunity also to compare vintages; as we tasted the 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019 of the Bolgheri Rosso alongside the Paleo 2017.

Bolgheri 2015

Attractive cherries and cherry pith, with a hint of dried flowers. There’s a subtle layer of dark spice underneath, clove perhaps, that gives extra depth. On the palate the wine has good substance which is kept nicely fresh against a backbone of ripe tannins. In general the mouthfeel of this wine is rather soft and silky, but there is a dynamic quality that adds liveliness and makes the wine quite exciting. This wine is really good and enjoyable now, but has many years ahead of itself.

Bolgheri 2016

Sommelier Eros Teboni, who led the tasting, proposed the 2016 alongside the 2015. Both are outstanding vintages, but 2016 has that extra oomph and is generally considered as one of the best vintages of the last 10 years. The wine does not fail to demonstrate that it has that extra edge. Just after opening, there is something flowery, ethereal almost. With a bit of air it gains extra volume and offers salivating juicy cherries. Again there is lifting vein of acidity that makes every sip so refreshing. With extra time in the glass there’s also black pepper coming through in the nose. No hard edges or whatsoever, everything is just perfectly balanced.

Bolgheri 2018

The next pair we tasted was the 2018 vs the 2019. The summer of 2018 was very hot and there was little rain, making it very important to leave enough leaves on the vines for extra shade and to keep works on the soil limited to avoid ground water from evaporating. The nose of the 2018 is quite frivolous. An initial lactic touch blows off to make place for cheerful violets and cherries. The wine is quite supple and has a little less depth than the others, but its smoothness makes it ready to enjoy already now.

Bolgheri 2019

The 2019 is a bit shy upon opening. The nose is a bit hesitant but all ingredients are there with dark cherries, a hint of pepper and again that dark, spicy layer underneath the fruit, just as the 2015 had. A little bit of pine freshness gives a nice lift. As can be expected from such a young wine, everything is quite concentrated. And yet, the hallmark frehsness and silkiness of Le Macchiole’s Bolgheri wines are also present here. Interesting to add, by the way, that the 2019 had opened up considerably when I re-tasted it on day 2, so a few more years will be good to add extra aromatic appeal.

Paleo 2017, IGT Toscana

Blueberries and brambleberries, graphite and noble cedar wood, it is clear that this is a very different ballgame than the Bolgheri Rosso. The nose is incredibly refined and fresh with a hint of green herbs, but not a single trace of Cabernet Franc’s typical bell pepper aromas. The balance and elegance of this wine is impressive. Despite its youth everything comes together beautifully already now with pure and fresh fruit and incredibly fine tannins. There is a kind of restrained power in this wine that makes it so attractive to enjoy already now, but also for many years to come. The finish is long and makes you grab for another sip. This wine is definitely in a league of its own.

Just one suggestion if you want to enjoy this wine now : open it a couple of hours in advance to give it some air. There is a bit of new oak just after opening that will blow off and make place for all the nuances that this wine has to offer.

CONCLUSION

Le Macchiole has done an outstanding job with these wines. What I particularly liked in the line-up was the consistency. Despite the very different profiles of the Bolgheri Rosso and the Paleo there is a clear vision that transpires of elegance and freshness in all the wines we tasted. The Bolgheri Rosso is probably the opposite of a bombastic wine, with silky fruit and freshness, while the Paleo is simply one of the best Cabernet Francs I’ve ever had.

The great thing with the Paleo is that it has carved out an own identity for Cabernet Franc. As Cinzia pointed out : there is no 100% Cabernet Franc in Bordeaux, and Cabernet Franc in the Loire is very different, so there’s no real comparison to be made with the wines from France. Indeed, the Paleo was perfectly ripe and had no trace of the green and unripe notes that you can sometimes have in French Cabernet Franc. It ripens perfectly in the Mediterranean climate ànd can handle the heat better than Merlot. It is therefore no surprise that other wineries in Bolgheri have followed suit and also started making 100% Cabernet Franc.

On a personal note, this tasting definitely aroused my interest to have a closer look again at the wines of Bolgheri.

MonteRosola : putting Volterra on the wine map

I received samples from a relatively new winery in Tuscany, called MonteRosola, which started activities in 2015. The winery in Volterra was bought by a Swedish family, who runs an investment company back home. If you’ve been to Tuscany, then chances are high that you know Volterra. It’s one of those beautiful, dramatic hill-top towns that are so typical for the region. But the fact that it attracts many tourists every year, doesn’t mean that it has a strong reputation when it comes to wine. As a matter of fact, Volterra is more or less a stretch of no-man’s land in between famous wine producing zones such as Bolgheri in the west and Chianti in the east. So setting up a winery in such an area is a bold move, especially if you have high ambitions like the Thomaeus family.

The Swedish owners left nothing to chance. The winery is impressive, with ultra modern equipment and the capacity to host big celebrations. With the rolling countryside hills in the background, everything is set up to provide a luxurious “Tuscan” experience. For the wine making, they called upon Alberto Antonini, a wine consultant who formerly worked as technical director at Col d’Orcia and head wine maker at Antinori.

MonteRosola has a range of wines with on the one hand the typical Tuscan varieties Vermentino and Sangiovese, and on the other a more international line with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Viognier. The price of the latter category clearly follows a « Super Tuscan » approach.

The samples that are reviewed here are the Vermentinos and the Sangioveses.

Mastia 2018, IGT Toscana Rosso

Sangiovese blend. Ripe and generous cherry fruit on the nose, with a hint of florality just after opening. The generosity of the fruit is also reflected on the palate and there is a bit of heat noticeable, both contributing to a very round mouthfeel. A layer of powdery tannins makes for a grippy texture and there’s a slight bitterness in the ending. The balance is not quite right yet here.

Crescendo 2016, IGT Toscana Rosso

100% Sangiovese. Brambleberry, blueberry, and prominent but attractive Bordeaux-style cedar wood. There’s also a hint of leather against a pleasantly smoky background.

There’s a lot going on in the mouth with the forest fruit that opens the scene for a boisterous mix of fresh acidity and relatively muscled tannins. The latter again have that powdery quality, like in the Mastia, but they are better integrated here. The spiciness of the wood and the texture of the tannins beg for more bottle aging, but the balance is right and the classiness of this wine is already obvious now. Everything is in place for this wine to become really outstanding in three or four year’s time. The « international » style will perhaps not appeal to those who seek for “pure” Sangiovese, but the fact is that this is a really good and rather elegant wine.

Cassero 2019, IGT Toscana Bianco

Vermentino. Very lemony nose with candied lemon and lemon pith, and a bit of pear. Vermentino often has a tell-tale bitterness in the finish, but here it is already present on the mid-palate. This full-bodied white is definitely not an easy summer sipper, but rather a wine to accompany a meal. I had it with several different creamy cheeses, and that worked well. This is a characterful Vermentino, and in a region where a lot of bland whites are made, that’s a good thing.

Primo Passo 2018, IGT Toscana Bianco

Vermentino. Quite subtle nose. Attractive, fresh and smoky nose with pear and apricot. Beautifully cool, almost mineral, with a hint of aniseed in the backdrop. The freshness is also clear on the palate with a precise vein of acidity. That Vermentino almond bitterness is there but it is well measured and adds a bit of structure in the finish. Vermentino is not the easiest grape to get right, but this one is spot on!

Conclusion

MonteRosola definitely has something to show. It’s great to see, by the way, that ambition doesn’t come with bombastic wines, as they move from rather full bodied entry-level wines to more refined and elegant wines in the higher price range. And a little surprising, also, to see how good the whites are. Tuscany is a famous wine region, but the fame is made with the reds, not the whites. So to see them taking Vermentino to a really high level with the Primo Passo is great.

Palmento Costanzo : a future reference for Etna wines?

When I was offered to try the services of WineJump, a platform that allows you to buy wines in Europe straight from the winery, the first thing I noticed was that they have a very big offer of Italian wines. My litmus test for Italian wine shops is to see how many wines they have from Le Marche, a wine region that produces top white wines (Verdicchio) and underestimated reds (Lacrima di Morro d’Alba anyone?). Turns out they have 7 pages with wines from Le Marche… Pretty impressive choice!

But my curiosity about the wines of Palmento Costanzo got the better of me. It’s been quite a while since my post on Etna Rosso, and I was curious about this relatively new winery. They’re based on the northern slopes of the volcano, near Passopisciaro. where several famous wineries are based, such as Graci and Frank Cornelissen. Palmento Costanzo is one of many wineries to have arrived since 2000, many of which came with ample resources. Palmento Costanzo does not seem to be an exception, as the winery was bought in 2011 by Mimmo Costanzo, owner of a big construction company in Catania. The pictures leave no doubt about the investments that were done to build a very modern winery. The ambition level also speaks from the price setting of the wines. The most expensive wine in the range is a pre-phylloxera wine that hits the 100€ mark. So it’s with high expectations that I tasted 6 of their wines.

The whites

It is mainly the red wines of the Etna that receive all the attention, and I must admit that the few Etna Biancos that I tasted before did not do much to change that for me. I was ready, however, to be proven wrong.

Mofete 2019, Etna Bianco (70% Carricante – 30% Cataratto)

Pop and pour : the word that comes to mind after the first sniff is “crystalline”. The nose is very pure and cool. There’s a subtle scent of flowers and sage. This wine is particularly linear, and I mean that in a positive way. If you’re familiar with the wines of the Etna, then this does probably not come as a surprise, but still, it’s so counter-intuitive to come across such a cool and linear wine from an island in the Mediterranean. I had Chablis recently that was not as tight as this Etna Bianco! The 12°C alcohol is an apt illustration of the character of this wine.

Half a day later : more fruit has appeared, with apricots that make this wine more expressive and perhaps more approachable. The acidity is still prominent, however, without being excessive. This is an attractive, cool-climate wine. Yes, from Sicily.

Bianco di Sei 2018, Etna Bianco (90% Carricante – 10% Cataratto)

The price tag of the Bianco di Sei is 10€ higher than the Mofete, and some wineries then make the mistake of making an ambitiously wooded version of the entry wine. In this case there is no wood involved, but 10 months of lees aging, which normally gives added volume and roundness to a wine.

The nose is rather reserved, but again very fresh, just as the Mofete. There is a big difference in terms of volume, however, as this wine definitely has more body. There where the Mofete has an almous nervous tension, the Bianco di Sei has a friendlier way of introducing itself without, however, losing its coolness and vibrant acidity. There is a bit of fennel and an intriguing herbal fresh note that oddly reminds me of pine resin. This is a beautifully balanced wine with a very distinctive character.

The reds

Mofete 2017, Etna Rosso (80% Nerello Mascalese – 20% Nerello Cappucio)

Pop and pour : Beautiful flowery and ethereal aromas rise from the glass. These quickly make space, however, for ripe red fruit that balances between raspberries and cherries. There’s a certain generosity here that comes with the ripe fruit and that’s continued in the mouthfeel, which is rather round and and a bit fluffy. A slight bitterness in the end wraps it up for day 1.

Day two : no more raspberries, but black cherries now, with a bit of allspice. The generosity of day one has made place for more precision, and a more slender frame that also brings out the tannins, although they are still very civilized. Drinking this wine now will certainly provide a lot of immediate pleasure with the ripe fruit, but if you can give this wine an extra year or two you will be rewarded with more definition and elegance.

Nero di sei 2017, Etna Rosso (80% Nerello Mascalese – 20% Nerello Cappucio)

Pop and pour : a little bit shy in the beginning, but then beguiling aromas of redcurrant come out of the glass, very ethereal and refined. While the wine seems a bit fragile at first, it gains in volume with a bit of air, and there’s a very interesting savory element that adds to the red fruit, with curry powder and black pepper. Very intriguing. The balance is really nice with good acidity that keeps the wine very succulent.

Half a day later : the red fruit has turned into attractive cherries, with aromas that are reminiscent of a luscious Sangiovese. Quite different from what it was just after opening, but just as enjoyable. There’s definitely plenty of time left to drink this wine, but you can also just happily pop the cork and enjoy this wine.

Contrada Santo Spirito – Particella 466 – 2016, Etna Rosso (90% Nerello Mascalese – 10% Nerello Cappucio)

Palmento Costanzo have three “Contrada” wines. Santo Spirito is the name of the Contrada, but they have further divided the vineyard in three parcels – which received the numbers 464, 466 and 468 – as they felt each parcel gives a different expression of Etna Rosso.

There where the Mofete and the Nero di Sei opened with red fruit before evolving towards black fruit, this one immediately opens with cherries, appearing a bit riper, and also more structured, with tannins that are present, but pleasantly ripe and still very much playing a supportive role rather than taking the forefront. Again everying is nicely balanced, nothing is overdone. While this wine is attractive already as it is with lots of luscious fruit, I expect it to develop more nuances and layers with a few years more in the bottle.

Contrada Santo Spirito – Particella 468 – 2016, Etna Rosso (90% Nerello Mascalese – 10% Nerello Cappucio)

The nose is very subtle and complex, with enticing redcurrant. In general I agree that we should not over-compare, but this wine begs a comparison with great Chambolles. This is a nose that really takes me in and that does so from the very start, so no need to wait until it opens up. People looking for big and bold will not be impressed by this 468 as this is very much a light-footed wine, but if that is your game, than this wine really delivers. Everything is in the right place, with tender fruit, refreshing acidity, and subtle tannins. There’s also a hint of blood orange that adds to the complexity of the wine. With a price-tag of over 40€, this is definitely not cheap, but I daresay that Palmento Costanzo’s ambitions resulted in a top notch Etna Rosso here!

Conclusion :

The consistent quality of the wines of Palmento Costanzo is remarkable. Although this is a relatively young winery, they seem to have found a clear identity for their wines, with their hallmark balance and freshness. And that is true, by the way, both for their white and red Etna wines. The Particella 468 left a big impression, but the Nero di Sei also deserves a special mention with its intriguing savory notes.

Palmento Costanzo is perhaps not a household name yet in the Etna, like Benanti, Graci, Tenuta delle Terre Nere and others, but with the ambitions they have and the quality they offer, I see them offering stiff competition.

Tasting Le Grand Clos 2010 of Loire’s wine maker of the year : Yannick Amirault

Yannick and Benoît Amirault were recenlty voted wine makers of the year in the Loire region by the French Guide Hachette. Father and son are based in Bourgueil where they make almost exclusively red wines of Cabernet Franc, both in the Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil and Bourgueil AOPs.

That made me curious to open my last bottle of Le Grand Clos 2010, a wine that I’ve had two times before, the first time in 2013 and the second time in 2016. It never made a big impression on me so I was a little surprised by the news of Guide Hachette. In 2013 I described it as a very classic Loire Cabernet Franc with cherries, a slightly green touch and a hint of coffee. The tannins were well integrated. A wine I could intellectually appreciate but that did not evoke many emotions. In 2016 I had it in a difficult phase because I remember rather rough tannins and I wondered at that point whether this wine would ever reach a good balance. Maybe I should have drunk it young on its primary fruit?

I’m glad I kind of forgot about my third bottle. Unfortunately, before I could taste it, I had to struggle with the cork that broke in two. That’s the kind of thing I would expect with a 20 year old bottle perhaps, but a 10 year old? Rather not. Anyhow, I received instant gratification when I could finally sniff the aromas. I was dumbstruck. What I smelled was the bouquet of a top Bordeaux, with really attractive and pure forest fruit, classy cedar wood and sigar box. Was this the wine that failed to impress me on two previous occasions? I’ve experienced it so often now that a wine transforms from an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan, sometimes even in one day’s time, and yet I cannot stop feeling amazed every time it happens. The balance of the wine had greatly improved with beautiful fruit, perfectly integrated wood and tannins that are still there but have become approachable and that provide structure and backbone. The wine evolved still in the glass and became more “Loire” than “Bordeaux” after a while with a certain frivolity in the fruit that I never could have predicted. What a joy!

On Amirault’s website this wine is described as having an “aristocratic” approach and a dense tannic structure. Its peak is predicted at 5 to 10 years of age. On the basis of this vintage I would rather say at 10 to 15 years. It’s clear that this wine still has many years ahead of itself. And, not unimportantly, this wine is still affordable (for as long as it lasts). You will find this wine under 20€ on certain French web shops. So the only thing you need to enjoy it, is patience!

Warsaw’s exciting wine places (II) : Kieliszki na Próżnej

This post wasn’t supposed to come so late after the previous one. I had a good reason, however : I have a new job. Yay! That has kept me pretty busy lately, and that is why the second leg of my Warsaw stories took a while. But I insist on sharing my experience with Kieliszki na Próżnej with you, not only because I tasted a few great wines there, but also because this is a great little story about passion for wine.

Kieliszki is the Polish word for glasses and Próżna is the name of the street in Warsaw where this wine bar/restaurant is located. From the outside this place does not look extraordinary but on the inside the interior is a nicely done renovation of an old house in an industrial style. My wife and I discovered this place a few years ago when we went there for diner. I remember being very impressed as that was the first (and only) time that I was in a restaurant where all the bottles on the list were to be had by the glass, thanks to Coravin. Wine drinkers’ heaven basically.

When I was there in August, I went for a few kieliszki, or glasses, on the terrace, and had the pleasure of talking to Sommelier Patryk Nowak. He explained that the COVID-19 pandemic obliged them to stop offering everything by the glass. The varying number of clients and the prospect of a potential lockdown made it difficult to continue their by-the-glass policy. Not that it stopped them of having an amazing list of wines by the glass, for that matter. With 22 whites, 11 orange wines, and 26 reds by the glass, you’re spoiled for choice. The wines on offer are an eclectic mix between international references and avant-garde wines. Amongst the Champagnes I saw Krug, Philipponnat, Dom Pérignon, but also Selosse for example.

When I told Patryk that I was in the mood for a refreshing red, he answered : “Sure, but if that’s alright with you, I’d first like to share a white that we discovered recently and that blew us away.” I love it when that happens. When you feel someone’s passion for wine and the willingness to share it with another wine geek. The wine Patryk let me try was The Hermit Ram, a skin-fermented Sauvignon Blanc from New-Zealand, a wine with an intriguing nose of tropical fruit and floral aromas, but that lacked a little bit too much acidity for my palate.

Instead of letting me choose one red off the list, Patryk came out with no less than four different bottles I could try before I chose. I first went for the 7 Fuentes, a red wine of Suertes del Marqués, a remarkable winery in the Spanish volcanic island Tenerife. This blend of Listán Negro and Tintilla is part of the winery’s “Village wine” range. Very fragrant, with loads of strawberries and a hint of minerality. The freshness of this wine was just perfect for the hot weather. Great balance also, and perfectly ripe tannins. Right up my alley!

The second red I had was a step up or two in terms of structure. No surprise considering it was a Priorat But not just any Priorat. The Planetes de Nin of Nin-Ortiz is a Garnacha aged in amphorae and with very low levels of sulphite. There was a bit of barnyard in the nose, but also graphite and pure red fruit. The wine had great volume, with tannins that were clearly there but ripe. A luscious red, almost baroque for my standards, and yet elegant at the same time! I would love to re-try this at home, because there was a lot to be found in here.

Just one more thing I really liked about my visit : when Patryk came out with the 7 Fuentes, he noticed the wine was too warm. So he poured a bit in a carafe and put in on ice to chill it before he served it, also letting me try at several moments to see what was my preferred temperature. Bravo! Serving a wine too warm, especially one like the 7 Fuentes, can simply ruin the experience, no matter how good the wine. So it was great to see so much attention being spent on the serving temperature.

Too see so much passion for wine was invigorating and made me decide I definitely want to come back here, corona permitting, for lunch or diner. And a few kieliszki of course.

Warsaw’s exciting places to drink wine (I) : Ale Wino

With my other half being Polish, I’ve been going to Poland once or twice a year since 2003. Poland might not be a country you spontaneously associate with wine, but just as everything in this country things have evolved fast. Year after year new skyscrapers appear on the Warsaw skyline. Modern infrastructure connects the big cities and you drive from Berlin to Warsaw in under 6 hours nowadays. So it is no surprise that also in terms of gastronomy Poland has not stayed behind. Cities such as Poznan, Krakow and Warsaw boast trendy restaurants in a wide range of cuisines and most restaurants have a decent and diverse choice of wines by the glass. Of course, growing pains exist. During my last visit to a decent restaurant I was served a glass of white wine that was only just put in the fridge and therefore lukewarm. You can also run into unexpected things such as semi-sweet pinot noir, still a remnant of the sweet wine that was imported from other communist countries in the 70s and 80s. But nowadays, you should be able to get a decent glass of wine when eating out in Warsaw. And what’s more, there are are a few wine bars/wine restaurants that are truly exciting.

Sommelier Damian Zakrzewski

Two places in Warsaw have completely won me over and will even cater for the biggest wine freaks : Ale Wino and Kieliszki na Próżnej (more about the latter in the next post), both are restaurant ànd wine bar. I was in Ale Wino for the first time in 2016, three years after the opening of this place that is hardly visible from the street. I remember the food was delicious, very much modern crossover cuisine, but most of all I was impressed to be offered a Bairrada of Dirk van der Niepoort during that visit. These elusive Portuguese reds are still somewhat of a rarity outside Portugal, so the crew at Ale Wino made a great first impression on me by serving this wine.

You have to like their concept, however. There is no wine list, but you can stroll through their wine racks and tell them which wine you want. Or you let the staff suggest a food wine pairing, which is what I normally do. Staff will always inform whether you have certain preferences and you are also given a little pour to taste, so even if you don’t like the wine, you can simply ask for another suggestion! Great wines that I have discovered there are Greywacke’s Sauvignon Blanc, the Hungarian white “Oreg Tõkék Bora” of Kreinbacher in Somlò, the old vine Carignan of Chile’s Garage Wine Co, and most recently a Sauvignon Blanc of Tement, a winery from Steiermark, Austria’s hotspot for Sauvignon. A daring but confident selection of sommelier Damian Zakrzewski, reflecting his will to work mainly with wines from Central European countries next to a number of international references.

Last month I had the pleasure of having lunch again at Ale Wino and I had a chance to chat with Damian. He explained that they like to work with small importers who focus on small producers. The fact that some of these bottles are not available in large quantities means that there is much rotation on the shelves, giving clients the opportunity to discover new wines. The trend of natural wines has not passed unnoticed at Ale Wino so there are natural and biodynamic wines on offer, but not only. Damian wants to make sure that there is something that fits everyone’s taste, so he offers “both schools” of wine making.

Also Polish wines are on offer. “The popularity of Polish wines is increasing. Climate is changing and Polish wines are getting better and better. Especially white wines have a good reputation while reds need a bit more time to be accepted by the guests. They are lighter in texture, rather fruity and not very structured because some of the vines are still really young”, Damian explains. “And we are still learning!” The major downside according to Damian is the price : “Polish wines are not an easy sell because they are quite expensive. They face stiff competition from nearby countries like Austria and Germany who offer excellent value for money. Polish guests are interested in drinking local wines but in restaurants they cost about 30-50€. And those are good quality wines, but nothing outstanding.”

While Polish wine still has a way to go, there is no lack of really good and interesting wines from Central and Eastern Europe and Damian does not hesitate to showcase them whenever he can. So if you are up for a bit of discovery, do not hesitate and go to Ale Wino. The food is at a consistently high level and the wines will not fail to surprise you.

Do the Garnachas of Sierra de Gredos live up to the hype?

The Garnachas of the Sierra de Gredos, a mountain range in Central Spain, have been getting a lot of love in recent years from wine critics, such as Jancis Robinson, Eric Asimov and Luis Guttiérez. My main encounters with Grenache, as the grape is called in France, are with the wines of the Southern Rhône. And although I have drunk wines from that region that I appreciated, most had the typical heat and alcohol that Grenache is often associated with, and that I don’t like in wine. The Garnachas of the Sierra de Gredos, however, are hailed as “Burgundian”, meaning wines that are light, fresh, and delicate. This description piqued my curiosity very much, so I decided to find out for myself what all the excitement is about.

The Sierra de Gredos is located less than a hour’s drive west of Madrid and the vineyards start from 600m altitude, avoiding excessive heat. The grapes often come from old vines that are planted mostly on granite soil. In fact, while Sierra the Gredos is used as a common denominator for these wine, it is not a Denominación de Origen, the official DOs being Mentrida, Madrid and Cebreros. As the latter only exists since 2017, the wines there were classified before as Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León.

I purchased a selection of Garnachas of some of the top producers in the Sierra de Gredos : Comando G, Daniel Gómez Jiménez-Landi, and Bernabeleva. I was also able to find some older vintages of Bodega Jiménez-Landi, the family estate where Daniel Jiménez-Landi was working before he decided to start on his own. The wines of that estate are from 2007 and 2008, a period during which Daniel was still working there. So that makes for an interesting comparison.

American wine merchants K&L describe the wines from the Sierra the Gredos as “Garnacha for Grenache haters”. Since I am not a big fan of Grenache, that was basically my starting point for these wines : do they  convince me in terms of freshness? And are they really “Burgundian”?

Comando G

This is probably one of the best known wine projects in Spain nowadays. Daniel Gómez Jiménez-Landi, Fernando García (who also makes wine for Bodega Marañones), and originally also Marc Isart of Bodegas Bernabeleva, started in 2008 with old vine Garnacha to make wine in a Burgundian way, what for them means focussing on terroir. Their wines have received critical acclaim and their top wines nowadays fetch prices that are also very Burgundian.

La Bruja de Rozas 2017, DO Vinos de Madrid

IMG_5661This is their entry-level wine that can be found around 15€ in European webshops. The nose is really beautiful, starting with earthy aromas that evolve to a more flowery bouquet and raspberries. There is also a touch of iron and green herbs. Nebbiolo comes to mind.

On the palate the wine is somewhat rounder than expected. There is no immediate heat to speak of, but the acidity is not prominent either. The tannins are fine and give aging potential. The wine ends on a slightly bitter note that will not please all palates.

After a glass or two the wine becomes heavier and there is a bit of heat that starts to become noticeable in the end. This wine is definitely not without interest, but I wonder how this wine is in a cooler vintage like 2016.

Rozas 1er Cru 2016, DO Vinos de Madrid

One step higher, this is the self-declared “premier cru” of Comando G, which retails at around 30€. The wine starts very timidly and only opens up modestly after a while with roses, redcurrant, white pepper and rosehip. Despite the fact that the tannins are finely grained, they take up a rather prominent place and make this wine somewhat austere at this point. While the vintage suggests a cooler wine, the acidity is not playing first fiddle, and again there is a slight bitterness in the end.

This is a wine that is lauded by many wine critics, but I had expected more freshness. Maybe I also caught the wine in a difficult moment right now? I would like to try a few other wines of Comando G before making up my mind, but their top wine Rumbo al Norte 2017 sold out at around 250€, having become more than twice as expensive in two years time…

Daniel Gómez Jiménez-Landi

Las Iruelas 2014, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León

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This is a vino de parcela, or a single vineyard wine. Very reductive just after opening, but luckily this blows off quite quickly. Redcurrant, a green herbal touch, rosehip and a hint of white pepper. While the aromas are rather delicate, this wine is fuller and rounder than the nose suggests. The acidity is good, not prominent, but just right. From the second glass the tannins start to be more obvious, but they are finely grained. The wine ends on a bitter note. 

This is a wine with interest, but it is somewhat shy and fails to really attract. Not unimportant at a 50€+ pricetag. The 2017, by the way, is sold at almost 100€. 

Cantos del Diablo 2015, DO Mentrida 

Also a vino de parcela. Beautiful ethereal aromas of peony, rosehip and redcurrant. The structure of the wine is the main feature here with again a rather round mouthfeel, good supporting acidity and high quality tannins that tickle your tong like black pepper. There is a bitter touch in the end, but it’s refrained and adds to the 3D feel of this wine. 

This Cantos del Diablo is in every aspect the better wine in comparison with the Iruelas. While the latter failed to convince completely, this one hits the bullseye and justifies its 50€+ pricetag. Again a price hike, however, of +50% for the 2017 vintage.

Bodega Jiménez-Landi

This is the winery of the family of Daniel Jiménez-Landi. The wines I was fortunate to lay my hands on are from the 2007 and 2008 vintages. Interestingly enough, Daniel was still working at the winery at that time. He split ways with his family because he wanted to pursue his own vision of wine making, so these wines are very interesting to compare the old-style Daniel with the new-style Daniel.

El Reventón 2008, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León

Nicely integrated bouquet with a subtle touch of liquorice, flowery aromas in the background, well absorbed wood, white pepper and a hint of smoke. Aromas of underbrush start to come through, signalling the evolution in this wine.

The start is very fresh with tart cherries and racy acidity. The fruit is smooth and so are the tannins. The acidity, however, is really quite dominant and defines the wine from beginning until end. After an hour or so the wine starts to come more into its own with more balance and a fruit profile that is somewhat reminiscent of an Italian Sangiovese. 

Interesting wine with a huge fresh-ripe contrast. Very different ballgame than the current wines of Daniel Jiménez-Landi. 

El Reventón 2007, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León

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Smokey nose with ripe cherries and blueberries. Very obvious wood aromas with cocoa butter and chocolate spread. There is a bit of heat noticeable as well. On the palate the style is very similar to the 2008 with loads of silky fruit and again that hefty acidity that races through the wine.

Despite the acidity the heat also comes through on the palate, making this wine less digest. This is by no means a Burgundian Garnacha, but a style that is closer to Châteauneuf-du-Pape. More balance on day two, however, so still quite a few years left for this wine.

Cantos del Diablo 2008, DO Mentrida

Very intense, aromatic nose with black chocolate, ripe cherries and obvious wood. The first impression is reminiscent of modern interpretations of Hermitage, such as the one of Domaine Ferraton. The nose changes quite fast, however, and becomes very evolved with dead leaves, underbrush and a hint of cheese. A bit of red fruit peeps through as well after swirling the glass.

The hallmark acidity is very obvious again, but it is more integrated than in the other wines and it actually carries the finish beautifully. The tannins are an attractive feature in this wine, as they are very ripe and provide great texture.

The 2008s are obviously subtler than the 2007 here. Still, all three wines are a far cry from what Daniel Jiménez-Landi makes today. 

Bodegas Bernabeleva

Another winery that receives much critical acclaim for their Garnachas. Head winemaker Marc Isart was briefly part of the Comando G project, but now also runs his own little side project called La Maldición, funnily enough focused on Tempranillo, not Garnacha.

Navaherreros 2017, DO Madrid

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A little shy just after opening, but the wine opens up quickly and then the aromas start flying out of the glass. The nose is dominated by cotton candy aromas. Luckily there is a more ethereal touch underneath that provides a bit more subtlety. The balance is nice  with an acidic lift that makes the cherry fruit really juicy and fresh. The tannins give just enough structure to avoid that this wine goes down all too easily.

This is a great summer quaffer at less than 15€. Really nice to enjoy slightly chilled on a summer’s day. Nothing Burgundian about it, however. If a comparison needs to be made, Beaujolais would be a much more suitable one. The website of Bernabeleva does not mention anything about carbonic maceration, but the website of American wine merchants K&L mentions partly carbonic maceration for an older vintage of their Arroyo del Tortolas. The cotton candy in this Navaherreros strongly points in the same direction.

Carril del Rey 2016, DO Madrid

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Much lighter in color than the Navaherreros. While there is no cotton candy here, there is strawberry jam, cherries and again that nice ethereal touch. On the palate there is more substance than the nose and color suggest, with red juicy fruit, kept nicely fresh by the acidity. Hardly tannins to speak of and the end is rather short.

That lip-smacking, juicy fruit and freshness again make this wine very attractive and dangerously easy to drink. At double the price of the Navaherreros, however, there was perhaps a little more complexity to be expected. 

Conclusion

It is clear why so many people are excited about these Garnachas from the Sierra de Gredos. They are indeed very different from most other Garnachas/Grenaches I’ve tasted before.

Of the wines in this line-up Comando G and Daniel Gómez Jiménez-Landi are clearly the ones who pushed things furthest with their very light-colored and delicately fragrant wines. While it is obvious that they search for a very pure expression of Garnacha, not everything I tasted was entirely convincing. In fact, the Cantos del Diablo was the only wine that really made me tick like Burgundy can.

It is not difficult to see why their wines are constantly called “Burgundian”, with their lighter color, lighter body and red fruit here and there. But there are also very clear differences. If Comando G and Daniel Jiménez-Landi make the most “Burgundian” wines, the acidity is moderate rather than lively, and their wines have a relatively round mouthfeel rather than Burgundian tension. Ironically, the wines of Bodega Jiménez-Landi, and to a lesser extent the wines of Bodegas Bernabeleva, had more freshness and  higher acidity, but were not anything like Burgundian Pinot Noir.

Impossible to say whether this selection of wines is representative of all Garnachas in the Sierra de Gredos, so I will not draw binding conclusions. It is clear, however, that there were quite big differences between the four wineries in the selection. A review of wines from the Sierra de Gredos by Ferran Centelles does not immediately change that impression of diversity, with descriptions ranging from floral and toasty/oaky to extremely ripe and port-like aromas.

As is often the case the image of a region is mainly influenced by its frontrunners. In this case Comando G and Daniel Jiménez-Landi are the ones who are covered profusely by the  international wine press and who undoubtedly contribute to the image of “Burgundian” Garnachas. Since their own success is still relatively recent it remains to be seen whether other wineries will be able to surf the same wave and if that will result in similarly styled Garnachas. Fow now the choice outside Spain is relatively limited. More choice, and more competition, would not be a bad thing, as the prices of Comando G and Daniel Jiménez-Landi are skyrocketing. At least that is something that is clearly Burgundian.