Tag Archives: Italian wine

Siepi Chianti Classico wines shine

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Sieti Chianti Classico 2012 (photo: Mazzei Winery)

Luxury wines are in a category outside the experience of the average person in America, and perhaps in most countries. Chicago did get a chance back in 2021 to taste a few of these elegant wines, thanks to Palm Bay importers. Winemaker Francesco Mazzei brought some of his Siepi winery’s Chianti Classico treasures here to Chicago. The vertical tasting, with vintages from 2005 through 2012, was a remarkable experience..And I started this blog post a long time ago and never finished. So even though Acadia (see below) is closed, these wonderful wines are still worth writing about.

All the Siepi vintages were made with Merlot and Sangiovese grapes, yet all were different. He said Merlot is bigger than Sangiovese and produces less acid, but growing in the Chianti region of Tuscany it acquires the character of Chianti. He talked about the season and the harvest for each of the Siepi vintages – fascinating stories of battling frost, drought, storms and global warming rising temperatures.

Francesco said Mazzei’s farming is 99% organic because conditions naturally permit that, and their bigger concern is using sustainable growing practices. “It is about trust,” he said, “and respecting nature. Wines are moody.” Time and oxygen change wines as they age and, in Siepi’s case, makes for wonderful results. He said in a way, it’s unfair to compare vintages to each other since that is not the way people traditionally enjoy wine.

He also pointed out the difference between an intellectual versus a physiological appreciation of wine. Perhaps saying, in effect, people are moody, too. How and where and under what circumstances you taste a wine can have a powerful effect on how you perceive it.

The venue for the tasting was the former two-Michelin-starred Acadia Restaurant, 1629 S. Wabash, now closed, in an out-of-the-way area of South Loop.  I remember how remarkable the setting was: Flower boxes on stands marked the site of the restaurant (dinner-only service Tuesday through Sunday) on the otherwise-semi-empty street. Not promising, but once inside, you basked in the rich but sleek-and-simple decor. The cuisine, paired with three additional non-Siepi wines from Mazzei, was a delightful surprise. Sad to know this restaurant gem is no longer with us.

The green garlic/ramp soup was delicately flavorful, rich and creamy and served with flowers and flourish. Tasting the perfectly cooked farm egg yolk as it spilled over the truffled crispy potato basket was a distinct pleasure.  The wines paired beautifully with the dishes, and the service was unobtrusively excellent.

Read more about all the Siepi vintages here. Read about the many other Mazzei wines here, some as affordable as $15 (e.g., Belguardo Rose 2015 – light and easy to drink).

A couple of the standout Siepi vintages include:

Siepi 2007 – an outstanding vintage that produced excellent quality grapes, well-balanced with soft tannins and concentrated antioxidants and anothcyanins (which contribute to color and stability in a wine – good for aging).

Siepi 2011 – a difficult year with good rainfall but extreme heat and sun. Even the oak leaves were turning from green to brown in the summer.  The fight they put up ended up producing a lovely wine.

Siepi 2012 –  a challenging year with late frost and snow and a dry summer. Production overall was down by nearly 30%, but the quality is high with just a touch of sweetness. This is a good one to age if you have a cellar.

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Italian winemakers bring passion and wines to Chicago

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Map of Grandi Marchi regions
Map of Grandi Marchi regions

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
Cabreo Il Borgo Toscana IGT 2013, from Ambrogio e Giovanni Folonari Tenute, another big name in the Italian wine industry. This wine, which is always made with 70% Sangiovese and 30% Cabernet, is a stunner. Aged 16-18 months in French oak and 6 months in bottle. 50,000 bottles.
Other respected members of the Istituto, many of which also grow their own olive oils and feature guest accommodations, include: Alois Lageder, Biondi Santi Tenuta il Greppo, Ca’ del Bosco, Carpene Malvolti, Donnafugata, Gaja, Jermann, Lungarotti (www.poggioallevigne.it/ and www.3vaselle.it/), Masi Agricola, Mastroberardino, Michele Chiarlo. Pio Cesare, Rivera, Tenuta San Guido, and Umani Ronchi.
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4 white and 1 red Italian wines – Romagna Heart of Italy

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English: location of Emilia-Romagna in Italy
English: location of Emilia-Romagna in Italy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They’ve been growing grapes and making fine wines in Romagna in Italy since the time of the Roman Empire. All the wines from this area are DOC (Controlled Designation of Origin) or DOCG (Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin) – designations granted only to the best certified quality wines in Italy.  Romagna produces about 20 million bottles of this certified wine and exports 35% of it to other countries.

Romagna is known for its deep, dark Sangiovese reds and many white wines – from dry to aged dessert types. Since most of the winemakers are very small, they needed to band together to promote themselves. So 250 small winemakers and 200 partner wineries worked to form Consorzio Vini di Romagna. They brought some of their fine wines to Chicago recently during the Simply Italian Great Wines tour 2014.  Below are four of their white wines and one red I recommend:

Whites

Romagna Italian whites and Sangioveses
Romagna Italian whites and Sangiovese reds – part of the Simply Italian Great Wines tour

4 stars Romagna Albana DOCG Secco Progetto I 2013 – from Leone Conti Societa’ Agricola. Lovely white wine, dry and warm with aromas of yellow fruit, golden apple skin, wet rocks, oak and vanilla. Good with starters, first courses of fish and roasted white meats. Four stars and a great value at ~$15. This wine won over a Sauterne in a blind taste test.

4 stars – Romagna Albana DOCG Secco I Croppi 2013 – from Celli SNC di Sirri & Casadei Societa’ Agricola.  Rich, round, fresh, elegant with aromas of yellow pulp fruit and scents of apricot and melon. Four stars and another great value at ~$15. Good with noodles, grilled fish and white meats.

4 stars – Romagna Albana DOCG Secco Alba Della Torre 2013 – from La Sabbiona S.S. Azienda Agricola. Dry, warm and harmonious, with a finish of burnt almond. This is a beautiful wine with intense fruity and floral notes and a whiff of peaches. Another great value at ~$15. Good for starters, fish, especially grilled fish, but really it would go well with your whole meal.

5-star beauty – Romagna Albana DOCG Passito 2010 – from Bissoni Raffaella Alessandra Azienda Agricola.  Creamy, slightly sweet, but rich and complex, with persistent tannins and aromas of apricot, dried figs, almonds, ripe dates and scents of rich fruit and spice mixtures. It’s a dessert wine, so go ahead and splurge at $45 retail. Serve it with almond pastries, and/or mature Pecorino or blue cheeses with honey or jam.

One red I recommend is the Romagna Sangiovese Doc Superiore Riserva Nonno Rico 2010 from Azienda Agricola Alessandro Morini “Poderi Morini.” Delicately soft, smooth and fresh with notes of thyme and oregano along with scents of plum, cherry, vanilla and licorice with a finish of ripe rose. Doesn’t it just make your mouth water? A good value at ~$20. Serve with filet of beef or other rich meats.

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Trentino – Fine wines from grapes grown in harmony with the mountains

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I tend to love Italian wines. And Italy has done more to make me enjoy white wines – they are really good at those – than anything else. Had a chance recently at the Simply Italian Great Wines tour 2014 to taste some beautiful white wines and a couple of lovely reds from Trentino, the northernmost wine-growing area of Italy.

Smaller wine growers have a hard time marketing outside their region, since costs can be prohibitive. So, many Trentino winemakers got together to extend their reach out to the rest of the world with their delicious wines. The “Vini del Trentino” consortium has 120 members and represents about 7500 winemakers.

Trentino produces more than 120,000 tons of grapes each year – equal to more than 21 million gallons of fine wine. But the region has so many different microclimates that you’ll discover many distinctive flavors and fragrances among those products. Grapes grow in vineyards located either on the valley bottom, on the hills, or on the Dolomite mountains. Ninety percent of the vineyards in Trentino make D.O.C. wines – that’s Italy’s own method of controlling quality. Here are a few I found 4-star or better:

Whites

  • Trento DOC Cantina D’Isera Brut S.A. (sparkling) (~$12) – 100% Chardonnay. Citrus and peach notes.
  • Trento DOC Cesarini Sforza Tridentum Brut 2009 (~$27) – 80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Nero. Full and rich.
  • Trentino DOC Pinot Grigio 2013 (~$18) – 100% Pinot Grigio. Intense fruity aromas, including ripe pear.

Reds

  • Trentino Superiore DOC Marzemino D’Isera Etichetta Verde 2011 (~$10). Delicate, violets, fruits of the forest. This one can be aged two to three years after purchase. Great value.
  • Teroldego Rotaliano Superiore Riserva 2011. Robust red, notes of raspberries, plums and chocolate. This is a fabulous wine – 5 stars – and the price reflects it (~$31).

For more information, visit www.vinideltrentino.com.

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