Sometimes you just have to taste to believe how unique and delicious a new wine can be. We received a few recently for review and were delighted to experience the distinctive features of each – a red and a white from Italy and a red from France.
A beautiful red from Masciarelli called Marina Cvetic Merlot IGT Terre Aquilane, is made with Merlot grapes grown in the Chalky soils of Ancarano, Abruzzo, Italy. Aged 12 months in barriques, and 24 months in the bottle, the bouquet is full, intense and complex. Flavors are fruity, flowery, and spicy – particularly, ripe red berries, blackberries, dry flowers, violets, and vanilla. Serve this luscious creamy red with lamb, barbecued meats, game, and rich cheeses. SRP ~$24.
Château Greysac, Medoc Cru Bourgeois 2011 comes from the Medoc hamlet of Begadan, located north of St. Estephe. Originally built in the 1700s, the property first belonged to the late Baron Francois de Ginsburg. Today, the chateau’s characteristic style is one of great aromatic finesse combined with precise sumptuous fruit flavors that develop in elegance and complexity over time. A rich blend of 65% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Petit Verdot, this wine is aged 12 months in oak with stirring on the lees for three months. A deep ruby garnet color with red berry flavors and subtle notes of spice and bell peppers. Serve with any meat, poultry, wild mushrooms or strong cheeses. SRP ~$24.
Frescobaldi Pomino Bianco 2016 DOC. Made with Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco grapes blended with small amounts of other complementary varieties from Tuscany, this white wine has a unique flavor and a delightful freshness. Matured four months in stainless steel and one month in the bottle, it has a straw-yellow clear color and a flowery nose – frangipani and jasmine aromas mixed with fruity notes of apricot and quince. In the glass, notice exotic scents of tropical fruit and fresh cardamom. The flavor is lively, with a balanced structure and persistent finish with a slight aftertaste of ripe raspberries. An easy-drinking white that’s delicious as an aperitif or with vegetarian antipasti or large fish such as salmon. A very good value at SRP~$13.
It’s always a joy to have the winemakers of France come to Chicago, and particularly delightful to taste the wines of Bordeaux in our fair city. After their recent New York event, Somm’ Like It Bordeaux, Vins de Bordeaux held a tasting at The Herbarium at Bad Hunter that proved enlightening and enjoyable for industry experts and media.
As with many grape-growing lands, two rivers – River Garonne and Dordogne – flow through Bordeaux. One way to categorize their red wines is to note that those from the Left Banks tend to blend their local grapes with Merlot, while wines from the Right Banks tend to blend with Cabernet Sauvignon.
Bordeaux wines come from 65 different appellations, many of which you’ll recognize: Cotes de Bordeaux (“cotes” denotes hillsides that overlook the right banks of the Garonne and the Dordogne Rivers), Saint-Emillion, Pomerol & Fronsac, Medoc and Graves.
The Bordeaux region as a whole produces dry whites (11% of their production) that are fresh and vibrant with good natural acidity. Bordeaux sweet whites are made from grapes affected by botrytis. They’re medium- to full-bodied and are produced mainly in Sauternes and Barsac in the southern part of Bordeaux.
Below are a few of the many standouts at the tasting:
Surprise: Moscato d’Asti from Italy’s Piedmont region is worlds away from what “moscato” meant to most American 20 years ago – which was generally an over-sweet wine without the balance of appropriate acidity. Just plain cloying to drink.
There are versions of Moscato being made in Sicily and other parts of Italy, but the magic of Moscato d’Asti comes from the strict regulations of the DOCG designation. No extra sugar can be added, for example. And fermentation must be natural, not from injected gas. Because standards are so strict, every year is declared a vintage.
Today 4000 companies in Piedmont grow grapes on 27,000 acres of mostly hillsides to create the light, low-alcohol, floral white naturally sweet wine with a touch of bubbles. The natural fermentation sets it apart from the simplicity of Prosecco, which bears no comparison to the complexity of this Moscato d’Asti. Some say this Moscato has similarities to complex yet lightly sweet German wines like Riesling and Gewurtztraminer.
Generally considered a fresh wine, you won’t find many older vintages of Moscato d’Asti. Though you might find a bottle here and there that has stood the test of time for a few years, up to 5 or so. Part of the reason for the freshness is that producers don’t bottle the wine until it’s been ordered. They actually use fine-tuned technology to maintain the fresh, non-alcoholic juice at 2 degrees below zero Celsius until it’s time to bottle. Once an order is placed, winemakers gradually raise the temperature of the juice until fermentation sets in, then watch it carefully until the perlage – bubbles – are just right for the maker’s vision.
Climate change is affecting how the Piedmont Moscato winemakers do their work. They are having to pick earlier and anticipate in the near future having to grow their grapes almost exclusively on the hillsides where it’s cooler than in the valley, has more light and cooler nights.
Most of these winemakers suggest enjoying their wines as apertif or even as a midday refreshment. Remember the study that said office workers who consumed a glass of wine at lunch tended to perform better, come up with more creative solutions, and generally be in better moods? It’s true, people. Come on, live a little!
Here are a few wines that struck a chord at this event:
Saracco Moscato d’Asti DOP 2016. Surprisingly delicate, complex and slightly fizzy rather than bubbly. Fun to drink with dessert or alone, as a pleasant mid-day break. Remember – delicate bubbles, low alcohol (generally only 5%) and extremely aromatic. A treat.
Coppo Moncalvino Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2016. Moscato represents one of the most important indigenous grapes to the Piedmont region. And Moscato d’Asti has higher acidity – to balance the natural sweetness – than almost any other sweet wine, which keeps the flavors interesting and complex. This particular wine is fresh and aromatic with floral notes and peach and pear overtones.
Marenco Vini Scrapona Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2016. This wine has a heady combination of aromas – almost reminiscent of musk oil – that translate into a deliciously rich flavor. The winemaker said, “We are all about preserving the distinctive aromas of the Moscato grape.” One part of achieving that goal is to allow no irrigation; the wines are made with whatever moisture nature provides. This particular wine is substantial enough to pair well with a wide variety of foods: from tempura and spicy foods, to light cheeses, to desserts and fruits of multiple varieties.
Vignaioli di Santo Stefano Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2016. A bouquet of elder flowers, lime and peach. A little sweeter than the others with a delicate rather than a bold aroma. Suggestions to pair: sweets, cakes and ice creams plus some cheese or fruits like figs or melons.
La Caudrina Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2016. Aromatic with a delicate flower scent, sweet yet lightly acidic. Perfect for dessert, with dry bakery such as Panettone (a fruity bread) or Easter Coloma. Refreshing anytime as a low-alcohol option. Only 5% alcohol. Lively and pleasant.
Chablis. Remember how that was practically the only white wine we knew of back in the 70s? I always liked Chablis; didn’t know or care at the time that it was made with Chardonnay grapes – and still is today. So it came as a surprise to me that I didn’t like the original heavily oaked Chardonnay wines that came from those same grapes. Happily these days, the oaking craze has settled down quite a bit.
To my further surprise, years ago when I was searching out a white burgundy, a favorite of mine, I finally realized many of those bottles were labeled Chablis – and learned that the Chardonnay grapes used to make them are grown in Burgundy. For a good discussion of this slightly confusing situation, read Eric Asimov of the New York Times on Chablis.
William Fèvre is known for producing exceptional Chablis wines that are excellent expressions of the ideal growing conditions in their Grands Crus terroirs. In this Champs Royaux 2015 you’ll taste the minerality of the sea and the chalky soils typical of the area – which makes it a perfect pairing with oysters. Winemakers notes: Fresh bouquet of citrus and white fruits, very slight oak finish, fresh and supple,
Some experts claim Chablis is the only wine that pairs perfectly with oysters. I’m not going to argue with that or the recommendation of consuming oysters, grilled fish or sushi with this one. But I also think it has enough structure to stand up to roast pork with a light sauce or even a creamy beef Stroganoff. It’s a white wine with backbone, like some white burgundies I’ve had. At $25 a bottle, you can be proud to present this as a host/ess gift or just as a treat for yourself.
Another way is to identify an importer that you trust. And it’s good, too, if that importer can also direct you to locations where you can buy the wines they import. And that’s exactly what Pasternak Importers do. First, they select a winery in a specific location. Then they do the taste-testing to make sure the vintage or the blend meets their quality standards. Imagine trying to pick out your own wines from thousands produced in a region, the dozens or even hundreds of wines produced by a particular winemaker! Even master sommeliers, who get paid to do this stuff, have to study diligently and practice for long periods of time before they can do their work of informed recommending.
Pasternak deals in wines in the affordable category and all the way up to premium and even luxury wines – French, Italian, and more. You can search their portfolio by region, varietal or brand, and they have an extremely handy “Find Our Wines” widget that lets you locate multiple places you can find the wines you decide to try. Just put in your zip or city and state – country? – and click to see who carries what you’re looking for.
Recently Pasternak shared a few of their wines in several price categories for review purposes. A few notes about them below:
Valdo Rose Brut, A lovely medium pink bubbly that’s perfect for company or just for fun. Called a “Best Buy” in Wine and Spirits 8/16 issue. SRP $16
Thomas George Estates Estate Chardonnay. Aromas of star fruit, lemon, banana and hazelnut characterize Russian River Valley Chardonnay. Subtle flavors of citrus zest and custard express themselves among stronger notes of stone fruit. The finish lingers long with a nice fullness. SRP $30
Thomas George EstatesEstate Pinot Noir. Wine Enthusiast says: “Raw earth and black tea combine for a classic take on the variety, high-toned in wild strawberry and red cherry. Tightly wound, it opens in the glass, staying light but with texture and body, a floral wine with just enough weight.” SRP $43
Marchesi Fumanelli Terso Veneto IGT. The blend of 50% Garganega, 50% Trebbiano Toscano makes a beautiful white wine. Intense, nutty, and toasty aromas on the nose. The palate is concentrated and powerful with lemony freshness and bready notes. A striking wine with flavors of acacia, lime blossoms and fresh apricots. Amazing acidity. SRP $40
Marchesi Fumanelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC. Brilliant ruby red color, with a pleasant aroma of dark cherry and mature forest fruit. Dry and velvety on the palate, with a hint of bitter almond. Enjoy the touch of sweet vanilla and the soft tannins. A well-structured wine with a soft, intense, long and persistent finish. A beautiful, rich and robust red to love with your Christmas tenderloin roast beef or your finest Hanukkah braised brisket and latkes. SRP $30
Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rose. Strawberry and wild cherry fruit flavors, with a touch of richness on the mid palate. Dry, crisp acidity and a creamy texture and long finish. 90 points from Wine Enthusiast in 2015. SRP $22
Alessio Planeta grows the grapes and makes the wines at Planeta Winery, and he came visiting Chicago recently to introduce them to industry professionals. Held at Naha Restaurant, 500 N. Clark, the event featured many of Alessio’s favorites paired beautifully with a three-course meal prepared by the superb culinary team at Naha.
The first course, an item from the regular menu, was organic carnaroli risotto with confit duck, Delicata squash, wood-grilled onions, and a delightful embellishment of crispy curly kale – we’d love to know how they get that crunch while keeping the gorgeous deep color of that green!
Second came a roast quail with a “hash” of Brussels sprouts, spaghetti squash and slab bacon, served with soft-cooked polenta and frosted Marquis grapes and sage. Dessert was a lovely composed dish of Italian blue cheese, shaved pear and pea shoot salad, macerated black figs and seeded ficelle (all their breads were excellent). Creative and delicious combinations.
Each course was paired with a different vintage of Planeta Santa Cecilia Nero d’Avola – 2011, 2007 and 2005 – all four-star quality. You could feel his love of his work when Alessio said, “Wine is the most honest labor of any product in the world.”
He also said that if your favorite wine vendor doesn’t carry any of these wines, you can get Binny’s or Eataly to bring them in for you. Below are some of the elegant and delicioius wines produced by Alessio Planeta and his team.
Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG 2014, a lovely dry red blend of 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato grapes that are macerated 14 days on the skin. The resulting blend is fresh and smooth and goes well with fish. SRP ~$24
Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG 2007, produced with a combination of indigenous varieties Nero d’Avola and Frappato. A unique wine with flavours and aromas of cherry, strawberry and pomegranate due to the particular soil and climate in which the grapes are cultivated. SRP ~$24
Nocera Sicilia DOC 2015, 5-star, 100% Nocera, grapes that grow only in the northern part of Sicily. These vineyards are surrounded by the sea – in fact, sometimes appear to be floating above it. Here they grow in alluvial soils where warriors once fought their battles. No SRP – why?
Nero d’Avola Nocera Sicilia DOC 2014. easy to drink Aromas of floral, plum and chocolate that are typical of the Nero d’Avola grape. At first smell, the aroma seemed a bit off, but the wine was very drinkable. SRP ~$26
Noto Nero d’Avola DOC 2012. At first smell, the aroma seemed a bit off, but soft tannins, high acidity make it good to drink now and good to age for several years to come.
Santa Cecilia Noto DOC 2011. 5 stars. 100% Nero d’Avola. This year 2011 was a good vintage all around in Sicily, Tlhis is Alessio’s favorite vintage.Blackcurrent flavor typical of this area. SRP ~$45 Alessio said he prefers higher acid to softer tannins.
Santa Cecilia Noto DOC 2010. 100% Nero d’Avola. Less warm, more rain in this area today, where it used to be very dry in the late 90s. A quintessential expression of Sicily’s noble Nero d’Avola grape.
Joining together to co-market your wines in the U.S. and around the world – it’s the thing to do these days, especially in Italy, where the dozens of different growers/winemakers in every area of the country have for decades or even centuries been producing their own uniquely terroir-driven wines. In the case of Grandi Marchi – also known as Istituto del Vina Italiano di Qualita – nineteen different winemakers/wineries banded together and came to Chicago recently to promote their products to industry professionals and members of the media. Below are a few of our best-rated selections from the wines showcased by the Grandi Marchi consortium.
Iselis, Nasco di Cagliari DOC 2015, from Argiolas winery. Production: 51,000 bottles made of 100% Nasco grapes in Sardinia and aged 20% in French oak. Aroma of yellow blossoms and tropical fruits with light mossy notes. Mellow and expansive on the palate with a very long, pleasant finish. Nice texture; great with food. @ArgiolasWinery
Il Tascante Sicilia DOC 2012, from Tasca d’Almerita. Small production (6500 bottles) rich red, made with Nerello Mascalese grapes from the oldest vines of the estate. Aged 18 months in Slavonian oak and 16 months in bottle. This area of Sicily yields wines subdued in color with an extremely rich tannic structure and unique aromatic intensity. @TascaWine
Villa Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2012, from Marchesi Antinori Winery in Tuscany. 90% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet, aged 60% in casks and 40% in oak barrels and 12 months in the bottle. 500,000 bottles. Antinori is famous for big, beautiful red wines and this one’s no exception. Winemaker notes: Intense ruby red in color. On the nose red currants and raspberries blended with aromas of cherries. Light oak notes fuse with spicy sensations, cinnamon and candied fruit. Well-balanced, with typical Sangiovese light and tonic acidity along with silky and vibrant tannins on the finish. Fruity and lightly oaky sensation lingers on the aftertaste. @AntinoriFamily