Experimenting with the blind tasting order

If you have organized a blind tasting before, chances are high that you will have prepared wines from white to rosé ro red, and from light to heavy. To start with white before red makes perfect sense of course. Although you might come across wineries in Bourgogne who will present their reds before the whites, in Meursault for example. And I have experienced myself that to have a white, rosé or sparkling wine after a series of reds can be nice and useful to “cleanse” your palate, especially if the reds are quite powerful and tannic. But in general white goes before red.

When you come to the order of the reds , things can get slightly more difficult. The basic idea is to start with light and move gradually to more powerful and structured reds. The reason for this this is pretty obvious : if you have a young, structured Bordeaux before a Burgundy, you might miss some of the nuances of the latter. Especially the build up of tannins in your mouth makes it difficult to appreciate the structure and the quality of the tannins of a lighter wine. Chewing on bread and drinking water in between wines will help, but in general you will try and build up from light to powerful.

One issue, however, that I have come across regularly in tastings, is the contrast between ripe and fresh in red wines. What do I mean with that? Let’s take the example of Burgundy again : if you follow the basic guidelines, you will want to start with the Burgundy (so a pinot noir) before you move to wines with more body/alcohol or wines with more tannins. My experience is that it works, as long as you stay in the same category of “freshness”. If you move from a Burgundy to a Loire Cabernet Franc and then to a Bordeaux, for example, that will perfectly work out. It’s more difficult when you move from a fresh, cool-climate style of wine to something riper. The last time I experienced that was when I had a glass of Valpolicella Superiore after I came home from a tasting of Loire Cabernet Franc. The Valpolicella came across as sweet, something I had not experienced when I drank that wine before. Normally I would perceive the fruit of the Valpolicella as ripe, but in balance with the acidity. When I had it after the Loire Cabernet Franc, I perceived it as sweet, round, and lacking tension. We’re talking about the same wine!

So when I had a blind tasting at my place last week with two Burgundy lovers, I decided to experiment a bit with the order. I reckoned that if I put the riper wines before the  fresher, more elegant wines, the riper wines would show well and there would not be a negative effect on the fresher wines that followed.

These are the red wines I gave :

  1. The Lacrima di Morro d’Alba Superiore 2016 of Stefano Mancinelli. (in my previous blog post you can read that these are very aromatic wines, with loads of ripe fruit)
  2. The Valpolicella Superiore 2014 of Roccolo Grassi, also relatively ripe, but very nicely balanced.
  3. The Barolo Ascheri 2015 of Reverdito, a very typical Barolo with ripe red fruit, and strong tannins.
  4. The Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes 2012 of Charlopin, the most elegant in the line-up with nice strawberries, relatively ripe though for a Burgundy.

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I gave the wines in this order. And as I had hoped for, the Italian wines were appreciated at their true value and were even lauded for their freshness. My two companions being absolute Burgundy lovers, I knew it was not obvious that they would like the Italian wines, especially the Valpolicella, which was the same wine that I found sweet after a Loire Cabernet Franc. So the experiment was successful! Almost…

If I could re-do the tasting, I would probably change one thing. I would put the Barolo last instead of the Gevrey-Chambertin. You can probably guess why : the tannins. The Gevrey was ready to drink and did not have very strong tannins. The Barolo, however, had tightened up a couple of hours after opening. The wine was actually very balanced and accessible just after opening the bottle. A few hours later the tannins had become quite prominent, very much typical Barolo tannins. And that made the transition to the Gevrey less smooth than I had wished.

That goes to show that reversing the order will not always work. I would not start with a very structured Australian Shiraz to finish with a fragile Burgundy. But you can play with the order of a couple of red wines in your line-up. If both wines have a tannin level that is more or less equivalent, and one has riper fruit than the other, then try putting the riper one first. And let me now if that worked!

 

 

 

 

Lacrima : why you should get to know this unique grape

Obscure and forgotten grapes, they have something that appeals to me. Probably because of my curiosity and my constant urge to explore and discover new things. Or maybe also because of my sympathy for the underdog vs the big star. Unfortunately, many obscure grapes are obscure for a reason : because the acidity is too high, the wines too tannic, or the grape prone to disease. But here and there, there are hidden gems that can add a new tune to your song book. I believe that Lacrima, a blue grape from the Marche region in Italy, is such a grape worth being discovered.

If you find it, that is. Lacrima is made in the region around the village of Morro d’Alba, hence the name of the denominazione : DOC Lacrima di Morro d’Alba. The fact that it has its own DOC classification might suggest that there is a substantial production. In fact, the DOC Lacrima di Morro d’Alba only counts 6 villages, and there are only a few dozen producers who make wine from this grape. On top of that there are several things that can lead to confusion. The most obvious mistake is to confuse with the village of Alba in Piemonte, where Barbera d’Alba is made. Sometimes Lacrima is also mixed up with Lacryma Christi, the name of red and white wines in Campania, further south in Italy, made from completely different grapes. So from a marketing perspective, not the easiest sell!

So why is it worth looking out for Lacrima? Its unique selling proposition is its special aroma profile with aromas such as roses, violets, dark cherries, and cinnamon. While there are of course other grapes with one or two of these aromas, it’s the combination of all these aromas that make it really quite unique.

In terms of structure and mouthfeel, there is alot going on. If the ripe fruit is the main driver of these wines, there is almost invariably a strong acidity that cleaves through the fruit. And more often than not you will also find ripe tannins that provide a firm backbone to the wine. The frivolous fruit that you get from the first sip can easily mislead you in thinking that Lacrima is a simple fruit-driven type of wine. The better Lacrimas, however, have a certain level of complexity and ageing potential. It is difficult to make a comparison with other grapes, but some aspects, the floral aromas for example, might remind you of a Cabernet Franc or even a Gamay « on speed ». But comparing with other grapes does not really honor the rather unique profile of Lacrima.

It is also a grape that is not easy to work with. Lorenzo Marotti-Campi of the eponymous winery said in Monty Waldin’s Italian Wine Podcast that “you need to be a bit of masochist to work with Lacrima“. His tenacity pays off, however, as he was rewarded with “Tre Bicchieri”, the highest rating of Italy’s wine guide Gambero Rosso, for his Orgiolo 2016, the first Lacrima ever to receive the highest score : “We noticed the desire of some districts to set in motion a ‘virtuous cycle’. […] And it’s in this light that readers should interpret the first Tre Bicchieri for a Lacrima di Morro d’Alba“. During the summer I had the pleasure to visit the Marotti-Campi winery and I can attest that the Orgiolo is indeed of a very high level. But I also had other Lacrimas that were on a par with the Orgiolo. So if this illustrates that ‘virtuous cycle’ that Gambero Rosso was mentioning, I can only conclude there was probably never a better time to look out for Lacrima! The moderate price tag of these wines should definitely not stand in your way either.

Here’s a few Lacrimas I can wholeheartedly recommend :

9 (Nove) 2015, Luigi Giusti

This is a Lacrima without added sulfites. No wild aromas, but a very beautiful nose with sour cherries and roses. There is plenty of red fruit here with red currant and cherries, and a very refreshing acidity. There is a purity here that is really attractive, and which gives this wine a very high drinkability factor.

Orgiolo 2017, Marotti-Campi

Some Lacrimas can be very expressive. The Rubico, the entry-level Lacrima of Marotti-Campi, is such a fruit bomb. The Orgiolo, however, is more refrained and subtle, with black cherries and a subtle smokiness. There is really a nice level of complexity here. Everything is beautifully balanced and composed.

Lacrima di Morro d’Alba Superiore 2015, Quota 33

Not the most known producer, but the Superiore deserves its place in this list. The entry-level wine is already a good deal as well with a very ethereal nose but somewhat rustic tannins. The Superiore is more refrained, with cherries, pine trees, forest fruit and cinnamon. Very fruit-driven in the beginning, but then come the acidity and the tannins that make this wine very much a 3D-experience. This is definitely not a wine for the faint-hearted and it can easily spend another 5 years tucked away in a dark corner.

Lacrima di Morro d’Alba Superiore 2014, Stefano Mancinelli

This wine perfectly illustrates the unique profile of Lacrima : cotton candy, rose-hip, black cherry. Fruit-driven start with ripe tannins and the acidity that come up in the mid-palate. Everything comes perfectly together here. This is an elegant and balanced wine.

New Etna Rosso finds

It’s about two years ago now (time flies!) that I took a closer look at Etna Rosso and recommended a few wines I liked. As I like to explore new things, I haven’t had Etna Rosso for a while, but recently I felt like going back to these intriguing wines. What I already mentioned in my previous post about Etna Rosso is confirmed in the wines I had this time as well : there is not one profile for Etna Rosso. Terroir and vintage are usually elements that are given to explain the differences, but my impression is that the style of the winery is just as important.

Here are three Etna Rossos I can wholeheartedly recommend :

ER 2014, Etna Rosso, Theresa Eccher

2014 is considered a difficult year for Italy, but things turned out relatively well for Sicily. Decanter’s Michael Garner describes the Etna Rossos of this vintage as balanced and perfumed, delicious to drink young. Theresa Eccher’s ER is very light in color. There is already some evolution here, the red fruit no longer being the freshly cut fruit that was probably there a couple of years ago. A hint of coffee, cedar, and a fresh, leafy herbaceousness give this wine an elegant and fresh profile. This is a very light type of Etna Rosso, for sure not one that is built to last. If the comparison with Burgundy is one that you often hear for Etna Rosso, then it is certainly applicable for this one. If you have this vintage, drink up, it’s in a nice spot now, and will not get better.

Nero Nibali 2015, Etna Rosso, Vino Nibali

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Very aromatic, the ripe red fruit comes floating out of the glass. There is a spiciness that reminds me of curry powder, and a hint of barnyard that adds to the complexity of the wine. A touch of noble cedar wood makes it complete. At this stage the wine is still very much fruit driven, but there is a structure behind it all that the ER of Theresa Eccher did not have. The tannins are ripe and give a bit of bite, which I like. Despite that, the global feeling I have here is one of satin softness. The savoury spiciness sets this wine very much apart from Theresa Eccher’s Etna Rosso. Beautiful!

Archineri 2012, Etna Rosso, Pietradolce

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Very ripe nose, with dried fruit, plum, spices, cigar. Very luscious wine, with also a hint of black chocolate in the background, kept sufficiently fresh by a good acidic backbone. The ripe/fresh contrast is quite big, but it works out well, the two keeping each other nicely in balance. If I didn’t know what this was, I might have guessed this was a Brunello… 2012 was a very hot vintage, so this could explain the very ripe fruit here. I am curious to try other vintages of this wine. Being able to deliver a wine in balance in such a hot vintage clearly proves craftmanship!

Conclusion :

Three different styles but three lovely wines. It was nice to reconnect with these volcanic wines and to see that the quality of these randomly bought bottles was very good . The focus on Etna wines these days does not only reflect a hype, but also the fact that this is simply a region that produces great wines.

Reviewing James Suckling’s The Miracle of Alto Adige

On 22th of March, the Miracle of Alto Adige was released, a documentary produced by James Suckling and his son Jack about this wine region in the north of Italy. On 29th it was released for the general public on his website. I was pretty excited about this documentary and eager to see it. I’m a big fan of audiovisual productions about wine. Probably because I’m not the most avid reader there is, but also because the treshold is lower than reading a thick book. After a long day at work, I find it quite relaxing to watch a documentary or listen to a podcast. On the train for example, since I spend at least two hours per day commuting.

One of the series I really enjoyed watching, already quite a few years ago, was Jancis Robinson’s wine course. When I started getting interested in wine that was the perfect introduction for me to the subject. It was very educative and had a good mix of factual information, beautiful images of the world’s best known wine regions, and interviews with key winemakers. When I heard about James Suckling’s documentary about Alto Adige, I expected something similar. I was particularly happy to see that someone like James Suckling chose a fairly unknown region like Alto Adige. I might be wrong, but I think of him as a critic who has a preference for “big” wines, while I know Alto Adige as a wine region that’s especially known for somewhat lighter and fresh wines. Anyhow, it’s a region that doesn’t get a lot of attention, even among lovers of Italian wines, Tuscany and Piedmont still being the go to regions for many.

The documentary starts off with very impressive footage of the mountainous area. The images, shot by drones and helicopters, are really breathtaking, immediately driving home the point of the “miracle” of Alto Adige. That probably should not come as a surprise, the director of the documentary being James Orr, known for popular Hollywood movies such as Three Men and a Baby, and Sister Act 2. The scenery is the perfect introduction to the winemakers of the region, including top winemakers such as Alois Lageder and Elena Walch, but I was happy to see also a few cooperatives such a Cantina Tramin. They only get a few minutes each to talk about their experiences with wine making in the region. After all, the documentary is only 23 minutes long and that seriously limits the possibilities of what you can show. If you want to showcase 6 wineries, well then there’s not an awful lot of time left to show or tell anything else.

Unfortunately this means that you don’t get to know much about the region in general : where is it situated? what kind of wines are made there? and which grapes are used? Particularly the last question is of interest, I find, because Alto Adige is home to a few indigenous grapes such as the well-known gewürztraminer, but also less well-known, but not less interesting, grapes such as schiava and lagrein. Especially lagrein is a grape that I find interesting. It produces medium-bodied, sometimes floral, but mainly spicy, peppery red wines,  reminiscent of syrah. Alas, no word about lagrein or any wine of the region for that matter. It makes you wonder a bit about the point of this documentary. Perhaps James Suckling has a personal preference for the wines coming from Alto Adige? Well, again, you won’t find out by watching this documentary! James Suckling is not to be seen anywhere. You only hear him saying a few lines at the beginning of the documentary.

I won’t hide that I find this documentary a bit of a missed opportunity. James Suckling uses his popularity to draw the attention to a less-known wine region, such as Alto-Adige, and that’s great. But he does not use his knowledge or tasting experience to share his insights, or to let us in on a few talented but yet undiscovered wine makers for example. Nor do we really learn anything about Alto Adige. Pity…

Well, let me give you at least one lagrein to look out for then! It’s the Staves, a Lagrein Riserva of Weingut Kornell. This is a wine that is defined by its pureness, its elegance and yes, the black pepper that could lead you to northern rhone syrah. In its youth the wood can still dominate the fruit a bit, but I drank the 2012 and the wood is perfectly integrated now. I found this wine just under 30€, so quality also has its price in Alto Adige, but what you get in your glass is definitely worth the money.

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So, if you watch The Miracle of Alto Adige, then treat yourself with a nice peppery lagrein or a flowery schiava. They go well with the beautiful scenery.

A few Taste Bud-worthy Barberas

Barbera is probably not the sexiest grape to write about. It’s not the kind of trophy wine you see on top of wine tasting lists. And yet, it’s one of Italy’s most-planted native grapes. You can find it in many regions but it’s in Piedmont that it shines. Or should I say, tries to shine? I suppose nebbiolo will probably always be the first grape that springs to mind when you think of Piedmont. But nebbiolo and barbera are two very different grapes and produce very different wines. Nebbiolo is late ripening, while barbera is earlier ripening (still later than dolcetto though). Barbera wines are often very dark, while nebbiolo is very transparent. And barbera is low in tannins, while nebbiolo tends to produce very robust and tannic wines. The only thing they have in common is the high acidity. So all in all, despite the fact they are grown in the same area, there is very little common ground.

The reason why I find barbera interesting, however, is because it occupies a place where you don’t find many other grapes. Just think of the usual suspects in red : cabernet sauvignon or franc, merlot, syrah, grenache. Or popular Italian grapes, such as sangiovese, nebbiolo, and montepulciano. None of them really has the same characteristics as barbera. Barbera’s ripe but juicy black cherries, its freshness and virtual absence of tannins make barbera worth investigating. On top of that, barberas are normally not too expensive and can be enjoyed while young. The acidity of the grape is also a grateful partner for tomato based sauces. Think bolognese or puttanesca sauces with pasta. For me that’s comfort food with comfort wine. Perfect for those evenings when you want to treat yourself with a nice meal without having to spend hours in the kitchen…

I focused a bit on barbera in the past few months to explore the grape. In general I found that I prefer the Barbera d’Asti over the Barbera d’Alba. In Alba we are in Barolo territory, so it’s nebbiolo that is in the spotlight here. It’s therefore no wonder that wineries choose to use their best vineyards for nebbiolo, as Barolo can be sold at much higher prices than any barbera. In Asti things are different, because barbera does not have to share the attention with nebbiolo. In general I found that Barbera d’Asti is a bit more full-bodied and with more pronounced acidity than Barbera d’Alba, the latter being a bit warmer, rounder. Of course it’s difficult to generalise not having tasted dozens of barberas from Alba, but the Albas I had were not from obscure unknown wineries, so I suppose they were representive for Alba.

The second conclusion I draw from my experience is that barbera is a winemaker’s grape. Despite my feeling that barberas are best when they are juicy and fresh, some were very modern, with very strong wood aromas, obviously more geared towards an international palate. Those are not bad wines per se, but they loose their unique selling proposition. However, the grape allows it, contrary to  terroir grapes such as nebbiolo or pinot noir, which need very cautious extraction and use of wood.

So here’s a few barbera’s I can recommend…

If you’re looking for good, textbook barbera :

Tre Roveri 2011, Barbera d’Asti Superiore, Pico Maccario

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The nose is loaded with ripe dark cherries, yet at the same time it has a spicy freshness. The fruit is evolving towards dried fruit, showing a bit of evolution. The wine is rather full-bodied, but has the typical barbera acidity that keeps this wine fresh, nicely covering the 14% alcohol. Actually, this wine was best on day two, showing more elegance and perfect balance. So no hurry here.

If you want to show off :

Vigna Scarrone 2012 Barbera d’Alba, Vietti

Beautiful, well integrated nose with cherries and a whiff of  chocolate. Elegant and complex, with multiple layers and very long finale! No doubt that barbera transcends its peers here, but it also costs more than 30€. That’s a price point where the competition with premium wines from other grapes starts getting really tough. I know that that is comparing apples and oranges. But in the end, isn’t that what everyone does? Nevertheless, great effort.

Nizza 2011, Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza, Dacapo

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Picture courtesy of the Associazione dei Produttori del Nizza

This is a barbera from the subzone of Nizza which was in 2011 still a part of the denominazione of Barbera d’Asti, but exists separately as DOCG Nizza since 2014. Before that barbera could still be complemented by 10% other grapes. Now it is 100% barbera.

The wine is a bit evolved and the nose has become a nice bouquet where everything has blended beautifully together. The morello cherries stand out, together with a bit of coffee. The ripe fruit is balanced by a razorsharp acidity that might be over the top for some, but I like it. I had it with ragu alla bolognese and that went very well. But mind you, this is more than just a simple spaghetti wine!

If you’re looking for a good price quality ratio :

Soliter 2016, Barbera d’Asti, Pescaja

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This is a barbera that can be found around 10€ and it gives very good value for money. It’s a modern barbera, the wood is still very noticeable, but then again it’s also a very young wine. Beautiful ripe cherries as well and a hint of black pepper. This is a very smooth wine that makes you grab the bottle as soon as your glass is empty. Dangerous stuff!

Piova 2014, Barbera d’Asti, La Montagnetta

Another pleasant easy-drinking barbera at around 10€. Graphite, black cherries, chocolate, and a hint of rose. Quite ripe and round, and the wood is very present. Good and lively acidity that give this wine freshness. Very modern style, but pleasant wine.

So these a couple of barberas that I liked. I did not post all the barberas I tasted here in order to avoid a too lenghthy post, but I started using Vivino to post my tasting notes there, so if you’re interested in the other barberas I tried, you can find them there if you go to my profile.

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

If it’s Sicilian, it’s gotta be fishy!

Have I told you already I like Italian food? If I haven’t, punch me. I love Italian food! Whenever I have a proper Italian dish, I can’t help wondering how something fairly simple can taste so wonderful. Not that all Italian dishes are easy to make, but many classics are. And when they’re done well, they make me drool.

From time to time I have a go at making a few of these dishes at home. A recipe that gave me great satisfaction is the ragù bolognese of TV chef Antonio Carluccio. This recipe gives me the feeling I’m eating something authentically Italian. Many people in Belgium chuck in a lot more in the sauce, and I used to do so as well. And that’s ok. Everyone has his or her own way of making spaghetti sauce and many of these versions are also really yummy. But try Carluccio’s recipe for once. It’s pretty good stuff and actually not so difficult to make!

But the ragù bolognese is not the dish I want to talk about in today’s 1+1=3. I want to talk about a Sicilian dish : the pasta con le sarde, or pasta with fresh sardines. Continue reading “If it’s Sicilian, it’s gotta be fishy!”

Pear meets flint

Only three days left before I go to Burgundy for a weekend of pinot noir showers and sucking snails out of their shells. But a promise is a promise. I told you I would come back to you before I go to Burgundy with a hidden gem from Italy. And it’s a white one for that matter! I still hear people saying from time to time that Italy does not make good white wine. I agree that Italy is mostly known for its majestuous reds, but wouldn’t it be weird, to say the least, that a country that challenges France for the biggest wine production, and that has an enormous diversity of autochtonous grapes, did not produce good white wine?!

Friuli is a region that some of you might already know as a region that produces elegant whites. But the wine I want to share with you today comes from Campania. That is not another family member of Donald Trump, but the region around Naples. That’s pretty far south to make white wine, you might think. And yet, this is a region that actually produces more than one white that merits your attention, such as Fiano di Avellino and Falanghina. But today’s wine is a Greco di Tufo, Loggia della Serra 2015, produced by Terredora Di Paola : the nose is absolutely breathtaking with ripe pear, but it’s especially the minerality, the flint, that adds a layer of finesse and playfulness. A little bit of je ne sais quoi, to use a beautiful Italian expression… The acidity in this wine balances the ripe fruit so beautifully that it is literally mouthwatering, making you grab your glass instantly for more. If you can find this wine, do try it out! You will not be disappointed, nor will you be bust, as this little beauty only costs around 12€…

The people behind this wine are no strangers. Terredora is one of the most well-known wineries in Campania, created by Walter Mastroberardino in 1993. If this name rings a bell, don’t look too far. Walter is the brother of Antonio Mastroberardino, who leads the winery Mastroberardino, probably the most important winery of the region. Walter and Antonio went their separate ways after a dispute, and Walter named his winery after his wife, Dora di Paola.

If only all family feuds led to such great results…