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.

 

 

 

 

Review : Cantina Tollo’s new sustainable range of Abruzzo wines. And why sustainable is more than organic.

Cantina Tollo launched a new line of sustainable wines for the on-trade in April. In this article I review those wines, but I also elaborate on what sustainable means for Cantina Tollo. And that is more than the environmental part of it.

Cantina Tollo is a co-operative from the Abruzzo region in Central Italy. If you are keen on cycling you may remember Cantina Tollo as shirt sponsor (1996-2002) of the team which included Mario Cipollini, Danilo di Luca and other well known cyclists.

They are also known, however, as a producer of consistently good wines with a good price-quality ratio. My first acquaintance with Cantina Tollo was in 2016 when I tasted their MO Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva 2011, which I liked very much. It was very smooth and elegant, perfectly balanced. A real pleaser, and sold at just over 10€. This wine keeps piling up the awards and has received five consecutive Tre Bicchiere of the Gambero Rosso wine guide since the 2011 vintage. The last MO I had was the 2015, which confirmed all the goodness I remember from the 2011. Luscious black and red fruit, noticeable but well-dosed wood, and refreshing acidity. An attractive and harmonious wine, and at a democratic price.

So I was very excited to taste the samples I received from Cantina Tollo of their newly released line of sustainable wines for the on-trade. These wines are certified organic and vegan, which means no animal-derived products were used, such as cow manure or fining agents based on animal proteins. Moreover, efforts were made to make the packaging sustainable with the use of recycled cardboard, recycled paper for the labels, and capsules without pvc.

You may think that they are a bit late to jump on the bandwagon of organic wines, but in fact they have been making organic wine since the 1980s. The difference of the new line with the other organic wines is that the new wines have undergone a stricter selection, and the best quality grapes go into this line.  

The thing I like the best, however, about these new wines, is that sustainability goes beyond the environmental aspect and includes a socio-economic part as well. The odd 50 members of the co-operative who farm organically are offered a price for their grapes that reaches almost double the price of non-organic grapes. Cantina Tollo also offers them a contract that protects them from unforeseen circumstances. So even if yields were low because of bad weather or diseases, for example, the growers will still get a good price. In a region such as Abruzzo, which is still a big producer of bulk wines that are sold at bottom prices, this is a very welcome incentive not only to work organically but also not to convert to other crops, or simply not to move away from the region.

In terms of appearance much attention was given to the styling of the bottles. Cantina Tollo chose a format that represents the bottles that were used in the end of the 19th century by producers to bottle their own wine. While they certainly catch the eye, the downside of this type of bottle is that they are relatively heavy (ca. 500g). This is an issue that was given a fair bit of attention recently by well-known wine critics, such as Jancis Robinson, so this is something Cantina Tollo will have to address. As Commercial and Marketing Director of Cantina Tollo, Andrea Di Fabio, explains, however, they are aware of the issue and intend to look for solutions for future vintages.

In terms of the wines there are 5 different offerings, all singly variety, and all made of local grapes.

Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 2019

Very expressive, lemony nose with a hint of almond. While the mouthfeel is quite round, the acidity makes this is a refreshing wine. This is definitely not a thin Trebbiano, of which there are still many unfortunately. There is real substance here and considerable length with a pleasant lemon zest bitterness that lingers for a while.

This is a not a very complex wine, but really well made as the kind of wine you want to have in an ice bucket next to you when you have a fritto misto or a warm goat cheese salad.

Passerina 2019, IGP Terre di Chieti

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Subtle nose with white peach and a green herbal note. This Passerina is not as aromatic as the Trebbiano but the nose is delicately perfumed. No fruit bomb but rather driven by its mild and well integrated acidity. This wine is fresh, dry and structured in a way that reminds me somewhat of a Verdicchio. In a previous article I lauded the gastronomic qualities of Verdicchio because of those characteristics, and this Passerina seems to have the same quality of being an subtle and elegant wine that will accomodate many dishes. White fish dishes will do well, but also Oriental food is a good match. The soy and fish sauce flavors of the ramen soup we had with it paired beautifully with the Passerina.

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Pecorino 2019, IGP Terre di Chieti

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Very delicate and shy nose with green herbs and a bit of aneth. On the palate this is again nicely balanced with good freshness against a round backdrop. This is definitely not the type of Pecorino that is made in the style of a Sauvignon Blanc, as those exist as well. The character of this one is more in line with the Passerina, dry and fresh, and will therefore be a versatile food companion. Sea fruit, oysters and mussels will all make a good match.

Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo 2019

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Bright and aromatic, the freshly cut red fruit and minerality jump out of the glass. This invites very much for a sip. Absolutely not a characterless rosé like there are so many, but a wine with a fresh core and subtle red fruit, a combination that is difficult to resist. The mesmerizing, dark pink color completes the picture of the perfect wine for a sun-drenched lunch that lasts until it’s time to have dinner. Lovely! 

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2019

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Fresh cherries with a herbal, peppery element. Lovely fruitiness, with mild acidity that keeps everything nicely fresh. The tannins are a bit grippy but ripe. The wine was aged in cement tanks, so this is a pure rendition of the grape. Don’t let this fool you in thinking that this is a light, fruity wine, because there is considerable structure here. Cantina Tollo managed to combine accessibility with character. Not always easy to find that balance.

This wine will be a great match with grilled meat. The match with our (attempt of) homemade pizza was decent, but this wine can, and wants to, handle more than that.

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When asked whether the decision to go for cement tanks was a conscious choice in terms of the style of the new line, Andrea di Fabio explained that Cantina Tolla was never big on wood. A recent tasting of their top wine, the Cagiòlo 2012 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva, confirms this. Whereas Montepulciano is a grape that tends to get heavy oak treatment, the wood in this one was very discriminate with beautiful cedar tones. Also the Cagiòlo is a very well-made and balanced wine that will seduce many palates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bright side of planet Valpolicella

The red wines of Valpolicella, Italy, are very diverse. From very light to more dense and even big and bold, not to forget sweet, Valpolicella has something to offer to almost every palate. And yet, when quality is considered, most people turn to Amarone della Valpolicella, the famous wines made of partly dried grapes, and to Valpolicella Ripasso, often called “baby Amarone”, made of “basic” Valpolicella and then put on the lees of the Amarone in order to give more body and concentration. The production of Ripasso has exceeded the production of normal Valpolicella already by 50%. And that while Ripasso only got formal DOC recognition 10 years ago.

It is easy to understand why : these big and bold wines, especially the Amarones, boast high alcohol levels, full body, and sturdy tannins and have a slightly sweet undertone. This is a style that appears to be very popular in Asia, and despite signs that the market there may be slowing down somewhat, the global demand for Amarone and Ripasso keeps going strong, boosting the production, and consequently, the planting of new vineyards. According to data of the Consorzio Valpolicella, the number of hectares in Valpolicella has been rising ever since 1997 from 4902 ha to 7596 ha in 2015.

The popularity of Amarone and Ripasso has cast a shadow on the lighter Valpolicellas in a way that enthusiasts of elegant, fresh and juicy wines rarely consider Valpolicella. The reputation that some may still know of Valpolicella as a cheap pizza wine does not particularly help either. That is why this article is a hommage to those unashamedly light and juicy Valpolicellas and the more concentrated and even complex Valpolicellas Superiore that would surprise many, if given a chance. That other side of planet Valpolicella is translucent red and totally worth being explored.

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The bright side of planet Valpolicella

Valpolicella (Classico)

“Basic” Valpolicella (Classico if made in the Classico heartland) could hardly be more different than Amarone. It boasts fragrant, fresh red fruit, redcurrant, strawberries, cherries, and often has a slight herbaceous touch as well as a bit of pepper here and there. These wines are the epitome of Spring and Summer. The freshly cut red fruit of a Valpolicella deserves a slight chill to emphasize the vibrant acidity, as it is the main element to give texture. Tannins rarely make a meaningful appearance here.

Valpolicella sometimes gets cited amongst wines that are compared to Pinot Noir. That comparison probably stems from the fact that Valpolicella is light, tranparent, fresh and boasts red fruit. Despite those similarities there are very few of the list of wines below that actually echo Burgundian Pinot Noir. If a comparison is needed, Beaujolais is a more apt one. While comparisons with Pinot Noir are well intentioned, they also create expectations that Valpolicella cannot and should not live up to. If Pinot Noir is about complex layers of aromas, depth and length, then Valpolicella is all about delving right into it and indulging in the fresh fruit that bursts out of the glass. If Pinot Noir was a rose, then Valpolicella would be a daffodil.

Valpolicella (Classico) Superiore

Valpolicella and Valpolicella Superiore are often considered as one style. While the DOC regulations do not impose big differences, in practice the Superiores tend to be a bit fuller and more concentrated. It is also in the Superiore category that you can find wines with real ambition. In the list of recommended wines below, the Superiores of Marion and Roccolo Grassi are good examples of wines that are absolutely unfit for the “fun wine” label that Valpolicella often gets. So the tiered system of Valpolicella really makes sense.

There where Valpolicella is made either with fresh grapes or with grapes that were dried for a week or so, the Superiores sometimes already undergo a few weeks of drying to concentrate the juice. Also wood aging is not uncommon at the Superiore level. As is often the case, many of these choices depend on the winery and the style of wine they wish to make. One thing that is sure, however, is that the comparison with Pinot Noir no longer goes here. While the comparison with Beaujolais still holds for some of the Superiores, others will be more complex and structured. Again others will echo some of the characteristics of an Amarone,  boasting maraschino cherries and a warmer mouthfeel. The variety amongst the Superiores is rather big, but they will invariably be fuller and more concentrated than the normal Valpolicellas. That may sound evident, but in many wine regions “Superiore”, or “Supérieur” in France, does not necessarily mean much in terms of taste or style.

Below you will find a list of recommended wines. The ones with the title in red are particularly worth looking out for.

Valpolicella (Classico)

Valpolicella Classico 2017, Montecariano

Very light color. The nose has the whole range of red fruit on offer with redcurrant, raspberries and red cherries. This wine did not age on wood, but there is a certain smokiness that adds complexity. Also the fruit is layered from fresh to ripe, creating depth. This is really lovely. While most of the Valpolicellas in this list are attractive, this one is more than that, it is complex.

On the palate it has more volume than you would expect based on the nose. There is good, refreshing acidity here and the tannins are kept in the background. This juice is really enjoyable.

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Rêverie 2017, Valpolicella, Zymè

Slightly lactic upon opening, but this blows off fast. There’s loads of ripe cherries and some raspberry as well. Not the most complex nose, but the fruit is very attractive and inviting.

The ripe/fresh contrast makes this wine very playful and exciting. Again a Valpolicella with an extremely light color, but don’t let this fool you, as there is good substance here. Only 12% alcohol by the way. Slight bitterness in the end.

This is the kind of wine that makes a creamy Camembert sandwich a feast!

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Valpolicella Classico 2018, Bonacosta

Slightly lactic just after opening. The wine needs a bit to open up, but after a short while you are treated to floral aromas and even a whiff of raspberry. In the background there’s a bit of thyme as well.

This wine is very smooth and creamy, and full of fruit. It is perhaps a little fuller and rounder than some of the other Valpolicellas in this list, but the acidity makes this wine very digestible. Everything comes together very nicely already at this young age. No need to wait, this is instant pleasure. If you like Beaujolais, you will want to try this as well. And at 8,50€, this is a no-brainer.

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Valpolicella Classico 2018, Rubinelli Vajol

The color gives away that this is not a blockbuster. If this Valpolicella were to stand next to a Tavel rosé, it would be difficult to tell them apart. A bit of reduction after opening, but this fades away with a couple of swirls. The dominant aroma is redcurrant but there is a nice green, herby touch here that spices things up in a way that nutmeg does with potato mash.

The wine is very fresh with frivolous red fruit and well integrated acidity. While tannins are normally very light or even absent in these light Valpolicellas, the powdery, but ripe tannins here give your taste buds a friendly pat on the back. Slightly chilled, this wine goes down dangerously fast. This is a such a fun and easy-drinking wine.

Valpolicella Classico 2018, Allegrini

Very fruit-forward nose with candied red fruit, but also violets and black pepper. In the same way as Bonacosta’s Valpolicella the style is very reminiscent of a Beaujolais.

The wine is kept very fresh with vibrant red fruit and a nice acidic lift. The tannins are ripe and well integrated. This is such a pleaser! Frivolous, light on its feet, and highly quaffable.

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Ca’ Fiui 2017, Valpolicella, Corte Sant’Alda (biodynamic)

Fairly intense and rectilinear nose of sour cherries. This is not a wine that will keep you searching for all the different aromas, but the precision and finesse of the nose is attractive.

The acidity that was suggested in the nose manifests itself clearly on the palate and creates the backbone for the cherry fruit. While this wine is dangerously easy to drink, there is a more serious side to this wine. The substance suggests aging potential, which is rather unusual for this category of Valpolicellas. Would be nice to try again in a couple of years.

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Valpolicella Classico 2016, Villa Spinosa

This is the odd one out. There where Valpolicella tends to boast red fruit, the Villa Spinosa had a very surprising nose with blackcurrant and even liquorice. There is some red fruit, but rather in the background, and a “wild” touch that’s hard to pin down. The hallmark acidity of Valpolicella contrasts nicely with the dark fruit. Tannins are hardly noticeable. Simple, but perfectly enjoyable with a selection of soft cheeses.

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Novarè Corvina 2017, IGT Verona, Bertani

This is technically speaking not a Valpolicella as it is made exclusively of Corvina, while this grape is only allowed up to 95% of the blend (with a minimum of 45%). But in terms of style, it fits right in here with the rest. Red fruit and florality in the nose, and a lovely mineral undertone. This is very light, juicy and fresh, the tannins staying discretely in the background. Uncomplicated, but very enjoyable on a summer afternoon. Impossible to keep the glass full.

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Valpolicella (Classico) Superiore

Valpolicella Superiore 2015, Marion

Very surprisingly rich wine, full of pepper, cinnamon, ginger, and also cherries and strawberries. The nose is complex and has enough to keep you sniffing for a while.

The wine is rich and juicy but does not lack freshness. The balance is just right and there’s good length as well. This is obviously a different register than the Valpolicellas described above. Unfortunately, also the price tag is from another level (available around 30€ in Europe). Given the quality of the wine, however, the price is defensible.

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Verjago 2016, Valpolicella Superiore, Domini Veneti

Immediately after opening this is a real pleaser with cherries, a touch of wood, and fresh, red fruit. This is almost like a synthesis of Burgundy, Bordeaux, Loire and Northern Rhone. The fruit is ripe, but there is great tension in this wine, with a beautiful combination of creaminess and vibrant acidity. The wood influence decreases the longer the wine is in the glass, to make place for a whiff of minerality. There is a sense of restraint that contributes to the elegance of this wine. Also the fact that there is a certain degree of concentration that does not hinder the airiness is really exceptional. Especially considering the price tag (under 15€). You need to drink this to believe it.

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Valpolicella Superiore 2014, Roccolo Grassi

Quite ambitious nose, with cedar wood reminiscent of a Bordeaux. Very dense and edgy tannins. Difficult to enjoy. On day two, however, a much more balanced picture with pepper, cherries, iron, and a hint of mint. On the palate there is also red fruit coming through, and in general the wine is nicely fresh and mildly structured with ripe tannins. The Bordeaux connection is not completely gone yet, but it’s on the Cabernet Franc side of things. Serious wine that still needs a few years to reach its peak, but its performance on day 2 makes it hard to be patient.

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Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2015, Le Calendre

Ripe red fruit, thyme, and a whiff of leather. There’s considerable depth and complexity here. The fruit is ripe, but the acidity keeps it well in balance. There is clearly enough substance to cellar this wine for a couple more years, but there is no reason not to open this wine either. The style is somewhat reminiscent of the Valpolicella Superiore of Marion. Maybe without the wow-factor, but also without the price tag, as it is available at less than half the price.

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Valpolicella Superiore 2015, La Bandina

From the first whiff it is clear that this is not a summer quaffer. Abundant dark cherry, accompanied by liquorice and leather. There is a nice smoky touch here and some pepper and clove in the background.

If the nose suggests an opulent wine, the first sip leaves no doubt that the contrary is true. The acidity is beautiful and is part of the picture that is constructed around a tight backbone of ripe tannins, the cherries being rather in the background. There’s a subtle touch of wood that adds to the attraction of this wine. Also no sign of the 14,5% alcohol. Still tight-knit, the wine will benefit from a few years of cellaring. But the wait will be rewarding.

Pruviniano 2017, Valpolicella Classico Superiore, Domini Veneti 

Pure cherries and very high acidity just after opening. Half an hour later the wine has opened up nicely with a mineral undertone to the cherries. There’s also a bit of cinnamon and redcurrant in the background.

The start is very fresh with vibrant acidity, underlying minerality, and a hint of bell pepper, not unlike a Loire Cabernet Franc. The tannins are present but they are soft and mostly in the background. The salinity in the finish is really interesting and underscores the freshness of this wine. This is a rather subtle style of Superiore that makes you want to sniff your glass again and again. At just above 10€ (in Europe) this is an absolute steal.

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Trying Orange and non-Orange Wine with Jamie’s kinda Niçoise Salad #winePW

Today I join the Wine Pairing Weekend bloggers in their dive into skin-contact white wines, aka orange wines. These are wines that are made from juice that macerated on the grape skins, resulting in a darker hue, more volume, and noticeable tannins in the wine. The wineries who make this style of wines often swear by minimal intervention, and their wines are called “natural”. If you’re a regular on social media, you will undoubtedly have witnessed fascinating debates (I admit it is with some irony that I say this) on what constitutes a natural wine, or whether natural wine should be certified, and so on. Rather than participating in the controversy, I find it more interesting to highlight the fact that this makes for a highly original style, which in my experience often stands out because of the freshness and the purity of fruit. That is if they do not reek of barn, and other funky smells that unfortunately still occur in some of these wines. Orange wines in particular are often said to be versatile when it comes to food pairing. So, not having extensive experience with orange wines, I got very excited about this Wine Pairing Weekend theme and decided to step in with a little experiment…

I found an Italian winery that actually makes both styles, traditional and orange, of the same grapes. At Draga winery, situated in the north-east of Italy near the border with Slovenia, they have a Ribolla Gialla that is made in the traditional way, while there is also an orange Ribolla Gialla, released under the named Miklus, the name of the family who owns the winery. On his website The Morning Claret, Simon J Woolf talks to Mitja Miklus, who is currently holding the reins at Draga. Miklus describes the orange wines as “his” wines, the style he wants to make, and apparently they are very popular in Japan in China. The Draga series is produced for the Italian market, as there is more demand for the traditional style in Italy according to Miklus.

I chose both the Ribolla Gialla “Natural Art” 2014 and the traditional Ribolla Gialla 2018 to pair with Jamie Oliver’s Griddled Tuna kinda Niçoise Salad because of the meaty structure of the tuna, capable of absorbing tannins, and the very fresh dressing based on basil. I chose both wines, firstly to fully appreciate the difference between the wines, and then of course also to judge which one would fit best with the tuna. Honestly, though, I expected this to be a walkover for the orange wine. Little did I know at that point…

But first a closer look at the wines :

Miklus Ribolla Gialla Natural Art 2014, IGT Venezia Giulia

First impressions just after opening and coming straight out of the fridge : ouff, what’s this?! There’s a lot of vinegar-like and oxidative aromas coming out of the glass. The first suggests volatile acidity, which is an aroma that can come from an oxidative style of wine making, creating an environment in which the lactic acid bacteria who are responsible for these off aromas, can develop. There is also a very pronounced curry aroma, which makes me think of a vin jaune, an oxidative style of white wine from the Jura, France.

After half an hour the wine fortunately opens up with a more pleasant bouquet of exotic fruit, curry, honey and cedar wood. There’s no obvious trace anymore of the volatile acidity, but the nose is still “lifted” with a touch of freshness. With the temperature now only just below room temperature the full-bodiedness of the wine becomes very clear. This wine has great volume, is bone-dry and has pleasant tannins. The acidity is lively and well integrated. The wood is more prominent than I had expected and carries the very long and satisfying finish. I find this definitely an interesting wine, with a good deal of complexity. But it’s not an easy one. Something they obviously realize at Draga’s as well as the website clearly states: “This wine requires a lot of experience”…

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Draga Ribolla Gialla 2018, DOC Collio

If there was one word I had to choose to describe this wine, it is “shy”. There is a little bit of (browned) apple in the nose, a hint of florality perhaps. Again very dry, and the acidity is rather mild. Apart from a slight almond bitter the finish is very short. A very light and rather neutral wine.

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Would anyone at this point expect the second wine to be the better match with the grilled tuna? You wouldn’t, would you?

Jamie’s Griddled Tuna kinda Niçoise Salad

Jamie Oliver’s take on the famous Salade Niçoise is a very loose one, with fresh, grilled tuna and a dressing with basil giving a fresh lift to the dish. Fresh tuna is already very chunky, but grilling gives it even a more meaty feel.

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The pairing

I thought the powerful and outspoken tastes of the orange wine and the tuna would keep each other in balance, but alas. Instead of a beautiful marriage, the two behaved like wrestlers in a ring where there is only place for one to come out victorious. The strong, spicy character of the Miklus did not work at all with the charred and salty flavors of the tuna. And the cedar wood cursed with the lemony fresh basil dressing. While one and one can sometimes be three, this pair went for a fight to the death.

I didn’t see that one coming!

As if that wasn’t enough, the traditional Ribolla Gialla started singing like a nightingale. What I first perceived as mild acidity, became a vibrant and zingy backdrop for the tuna salad in a way that reminded my of my experiences with Verdicchio. Although I regard Verdicchio as a higher quality grape, it behaves in the same way as this Ribolla, namely as a great food partner, not very expressive but capable of accompanying many dishes and supporting them with a fresh backbone. The palate-cleansing quality of the Draga Ribolla worked wonders in comparison to the overpowering orange Ribolla.

Normally the experiment would have ended here in a quod erat demonstrandum kind of way. What had to be proven, was proven. But since it wasn’t, I was piqued and felt an urge to re-try the orange Ribolla with a different dish. By coincidence I was offered a second chance the next day when we had a improvised stir-fry beef dish. The slices of beef were marinated in yakitori dressing and the chillies gave a nice heat to the dish.

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We tried the rest of the orange Ribolla with it, and this time it was bullseye! The wine beautifully echoed the spicy and hot character of the stir-fried beef. Instead of a ring fight, this combination felt very natural and balanced.

No wonder they like this Miklus Ribolla Gialla in Japan and China.

Wine Pairing Weekend Posts

Have a look below to see what other bloggers pair with their orange wines.

  • Camilla of Culinary Adventures With Camilla is “Diving into the Skin Fermented Wine Pool of Two Shepherds Winery”
  • Wendy of A Day in the Life on the Farm presents Donkey and Goat Skin Fermented Roussanne; A Baaaaad Ass Wine”
  • Andrea of The Quirky Cork takes up “Turkish Amber Wines and Fast Food”
  • Lori of Exploring The Wine Glass asks “Orange you glad I have wine?”
  • Jeff of FoodWineClick offers “Wine 201: Orange Wine Primer”
  • Jill of L’Occasion has us “Thinking Wine: The Engaging World of Orange Wine”
  • Linda of My Full Wine Glass is “Revisiting NY Finger Lakes Skin-Contact White Wines”
  • David of Cooking Chat proffers “Cauliflower Bacon Spread with Orange Wine from Georgia”.
  • Gwendolyn at Wine Predator is featuring “Orange Wines from CA and Italy by Accident and on Purpose Paired with Shrimp curry #WinePW
  • Lauren at The Swirling Dervish shares “He Said, She Said: Ryme Cellars and the Tale of Two Vermentinos”
  • Susannah of Avvinare serves up “Orange wine from Slovenia’s Movia Paired with Homemade Sushi”
  • Katrina Rene of The Corkscrew Concierge wonders “Is Orange (Wine) the New Everything Wine?”
  • Nicole at Somm’s Table is “Cooking to the Wine: Kabaj Rebula and Chicken w/Mushroom Escabeche and Lentils”
  • Rupal, the Syrah Queen advises us that “Radikon Orange Wine – Not Just For Hipsters”
  • Martin at ENOFYLZ Wine Blog, is serving up “A Cadre Of California Skin-Contact Wines Paired With Ethnic Fare”

Twitter Chat (#winePW)

You can join a Twitter chat on Saturday, May 9th 8:00 am PST/11:00 am EST/5:00 pm CEST (Brussels time) as we explore skin-contact white wines and food pairings. Just follow the hashtag #winePW.