Friday, July 31, 2009

Visiting passionate winemakers in Friuli and Tuscany

I am just back from a few days of visit to wine producers that have been among the most interesting and rewarding since I started to show an interest in the world of wine and on which I will report in a comprehensive way in a few weeks.

I have spent my "wine holidays" mostly in Friuli not only because I believe that it is a particularly well suited area for the vine in Italy, but also because I strongly believe in the great human and professional qualities of the people of that region which is duly reflected in a good number of peculiar wine producers who are among the most inspired, rigourous and "pure" that the wine world can offer.

It is difficult to transcribe how I felt the "purity" of these artisan winemakers. Some of the words that I heard most often these days have been "natural" and "simple". These were the most common words these men and women used to describe the wine process they applied from the vineyard through the vinification process to the bottle.

"Natural" meant first of all a process where the nature and its bio-diversity are respected and where the man tries simply (easier to say than to implement...) to let the nature doing its course.

Pronounced by winemakers like (following the strict chronological order of my visits) Nicola Manferrari (Borgo del Tiglio), Enzo Pontoni (Pontoni), Michele Moschioni, Serena Palazzolo (Ronco del Gnemiz) and, not from Friuli but Tuscany, Gianfranco Soldera from Case Basse, these words have a real meaning and their wines are the proof (in many different ways, like the detailed reports of the visits will show) that all these winemakers have been pursuing a personal objective of quality without compromising to the commercial taste.

I come back from these visits with more humility, knowledge and curiosity and especially with a strong commitment to support these winemarkers and build upon the ideas, comments, suggestions that I heard all along these days to continue my research in a wine world that need people like them.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Notes from Vinexpo 2009

Vinexpo 2009, the important bi-annual rendez-vous for world wine in Bordeaux, is over.

As many have noted, it has been most likely (and many hope) an year of transition. The economic crisis was clearly visible both among the stands of the producers (many, important, absences) and in the public (some mentioned 10% less compared to 2 years ago). The budgetary restrictions have reduced the room for manoeuvre and, while there are some signs of recovery at world level, this will only start to appear towards the end of 2009 and it was then almost inevitable for Vinexpo to suffer from the bad economic moment. The absence of the American market was also visible, and many in Bordeaux are suffering due to the key reference of this market for the bordelais.

I noted in particular that all those producers, mostly small producers who were organised with consortium or other local organisations, who did not prepare well in advance the fair with previous contacts and rendez-vous suffered enormously from the diminution of customers (importeres, distributors etc.). I noted this not only for foreign, for example Italian or Spanish producers, but also for French wineries. A fair like Vinexpo needs to be well prepared in advance, either by the organisations (consortium..) or by the the producers themselves. The power of attraction of the fair, notably when fewer visitors are there, is not enough to make substantial business.

A last note with regard to a missed opportunity for the Italian wine: the parallel event "Italissima" which was organised outside Vinexpo (on the other side of the lake, besides the Palais des Congres). The event had all the cards to play a key role: a palette of important Italian producers, a list of intersting tastings guided by Michel Bettane and Enzo Vizzari and the enthusiasm of the producers present there. Unfortunately, the event suffered strongly from the conflict engaged with Vinexpo, which not only refused all kind of advertising (understandable but from my view not clever, since these events are also useful for the main fair), but put many obstacles (blocking bottles, sending controls for authorisations...). It is a pity, first of all for all those producers who suffered for this, that this occasion has been partly lost (to be noted that most guided tastings were sold out). And even more because I tasted great wines from those producers that I had the oportunity to visit: Roberto Voerzio and his great Barolo's and Barbera Annunziata; Borgo del Tiglio and his complex and rich white wines; San Leonardo and the balance of his bordelais wine; Vajra and his traditional barolos ; Albino Rocca with the balsamic barbaresco; Ca' del Bosco and the class of Franciacorta.

I tasted many other good wines at Vinexpo, but I just want to mention a few of them. First of all a tasting of the production of Kracher, the Austrian winery of the late Alois. I enjoyed greatly the tasting which confirmed the general high level of the whole collection, with a preference for the Grande Cuvee Nouvelle Vague number 6, a fantastic rich and balanced Trockenbeerenauslese. The tasting with the maison Chapoutier has also been very enjoyable, notably for the magnificent quality of all their Cote-Rotie La Mordorée and Hermitage Le Meal and Sizeranne. I also enjoyed a pleasant tasting with the Italian producer Gaja, covering both the Tuscan appendix (Pieve Santa Restituta at Montalcino and Ca'Marcanda at Bolgheri) and of course the main winery at Barbaresco. I only spent a small visit to the Champagne, where I appreciated the wines of Philipponnat, starting with a good Dosage Zero and finishing with the elegant and perfumed "Clos de Goisses". A last word on some burgundies that I enjoyed during the fair, notably the Chablis Le Clos 2007 of the Maison Faiveley, the Pouilly-Fuissé "Vers Cras" 2006 of the Chateau de Beauregard and the Vosne Romanee 2002 of Kerlann.

Well, possibly a note regarding a guided tasting where some Italian "bordelais" wines met the real bordelais. There was a clear loser, a Sassicaia 1998 that well defines the not great moment that this winery has been living recently. Concerning the winners, I was happy to see that San Leonardo 2001 (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet franc and Merlot) was standing well and "different" in front of wines like Chateau Pape Clement 2001, Chateau Trotanoy 2000 (the perfection of a Pomerol, balanced and so round that I was missing some angles) and Mouton Rothschild 2005.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Casanova di Neri tasting - an overview of the winery

Giacomo Neri is the man of all success of the recent years in Montalcino.

He has been able, though investments, a modernisation of his winery and the adoption of more "international" approach to winemaking (notably the use of small barriques) with the key contribution of enologist Carlo Ferrini (who is also advising Castello di Brolio) to achieve the highest recognition, notably in the American market where Wine Spectator has elected his Brunello Tenuta Nuova 2001 (see picture where Giacomo Neri shows a magnum of this wine) best wine of the year in 2006 and has given 100 points to his Brunello Cerretalto 2001, thus recognising at the same time the extraordinary success of the 2001 vintage in Tuscany.

This has then prompted to the general attention a winery that was created by the father of Giacomo, Giovanni, in 1971 (first production of brunello in 1978) and that expanded over the years to the current 36 hectares of vineyards in various parts of the territory of Montalcino from the original location (and still current winery location) at the East of Montalcino (down the road Montalcino-San Quirico d'Orcia). Other vineyards can be found in Castelnuovo dell'Abate (Pietradonice), South-East of Montalcino (Cerretalto) and at Sant'Angelo in Colle (Cetine).

The tasting last week offered the opportunity to try both the two 2001 Brunello's that were getting so much attention and also the other key wines of Casanova di neri in the recent successful vintages of 2001 and 1999.

Apart from the basic brunello which is still aged in the traditional large Slavonian oak barrels, the other major wines of the winery, the two Brunello cru's Tenuta Nuova and Cerretalto, and the supertuscan "Pietradonice" are aged in small French barriques.

You will find detailed tasting notes by François, who was participating to the tasting, in the blog of the Grand Jury Européen, while I will give some general impressions on the wines.

In general, apart from the first two wines, that are still following a traditional winemaking process for Brunello (I found the 1999 more "rustic" but pleasant, while the 2001 is more balanced and round), the wines of Casanova di Neri follow a modern approach, with strong extraction, density, dark color and power, while at the same time presenting a well integrated tannic structure. The Tenuta Nuova cru, in particular the 2001, appears to be more powerful and riped, with the use of barriques being more evident. The Pietradonice 2003 that we tasted (supertuscan 90% Cabernet sauvignon, 10% sangiovese), reflected strongly the torrid climate of the year 2003 in Tuscany, with astringency and an unpleasant bitterness, despite the solid structure.

The Cerretalto cru clearly emerges, with more personality and finesse, mineral and balsamic notes with a strong spicey nose (I remember tasting a very good 1997 some years ago), but it seems to me very far from the level of complexity that I expect from a "perfect" wine (if any, objectively speaking). In addition, while I recognise that it is a classy wine on its own, it lacks the more polyedric and angular elements that chacterise Brunello, for example in its more traditional expressions like Biondi Santi, Poggio di Sotto, Cerbaiola or Case Basse.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Miani Tocai - Another face of Friuli

I have been waiting for two months to receive a bunch of wines that included a large number of Miani (Tocai, Chardonnay and Merlot) and yesterday, just after the arrival, I immediately opened a bottle of Tocai 1999.

Enzo Pontoni, the owner of Miani winery, is a peculiar producer from Friuli, a land famous for its white wines produced close to the Slovenian border (Collio e Colli Orientali) and increasingly also recognised for the production of red wines from Merlot (here acquiring a strong terroir expression with tangy taste with marasca cherry) and indigenuos grapes such as pignolo, schioppettino and refosco.

Miani is located in the area of Colli Orientali and produces tocai, sauvignon, chardonnay, ribolla gialla, merlot and the Calvari (a refosco from a small vineyard of 0,9 hectares that is his cult wine).

But Enzo Pontoni is largely considered to be a "cult" producer, a man with such an extreme attention and care in the vineyard that the yealds in his lands has been reduced to the limits. The man himself is considered a very reserved person, who is entertaining a very respectful relation with the terroir and his environment.

Since I have not met Enzo Pontoni (but I hope very much that I will enjoy this priviledge in the future), I prefer to tell you my sensations of the Tocai 1999 that I open after leaving it for a few hours to cool down.

First the impressions in the glass, a strong yellow and an onctuosity that leaves large tears in the glass. I literally dig my nose into the glass and try to find the aromas of the wine but it is not an easy wine, one of those that explodes his fruity/floral aromas once opened. It is a wine that needs time and curiosity, it opens step by step, and at a first glance provides only a reserved mineral flavour.

It is a wine that does not need and most likely, like its mentor, does not like an easy drinker, who is going to abandon it after the first disappointment.

But you only need to wait, and I know that wine lovers have this patience, and then it reveals growing aromas that, while keeping a strong minerality, develop a creamy taste of nuts, almond and strong, very strong and crispy white flowers. This takes some time, and I have not yet pour ed the wine. It is a 10 years old Tocai, but like a good old white Burgundy to which I can easily compare the sensations, it gives the impression to be there to stay and live for decades.

In the mouth the attack is strng, the acidity keeps the wine well together and guarantees its longevity and the sensations of power, great structure and finesse, an extreme elegance that accompanies the wine during the long time that it remains in my mouth.

It takes time before I plunge into the wine again, the structure and body of this wine does not allow to drink it like I would do for a lighter wine. I imagine this wine with an important fish, or also with a fantastic ham from San Daniele de Friuli, which has a stronger taste than the Parma ham.

I am curious to open the other bottles that I have bought, not tonight, but soon. And to visit Mr. Pontoni, whenever it will be possible.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

What a stunning Greek wine: Ghi ke Uranos

Yesterday I organised a blind surprise tasting that my wife arranged for Laurine, a friend who is getting married as part of her all-day hen party. Eight friends (rigourously all women, since it was a hen party) attended the tasting, where I chose wines from some of the countries that Laurine likes the most.

I selected myself all wines, except for a Greek red wine that was gently offered by a Greek-Belgian friend who was at the tasting.

I have to admit that my knowledge of Greek wines is very limited. Despite being the place where the culture of wine developed in the ancient times, Greece has not built a strong reputation for wine in the last decades, and is known outside its borders mostly for white wine and of course for its retsina.

I then had to search for information regarding this wine in order to prepare the presentation. I started to look in the net and first I found some info on the grape, Xinomavro, considered one of the best indigenous red grape of Greece, with good acidity, tannic character and aging potential and cultivated mostly in the north of Greece.

During my research on the producer, Apostolos Thimiopoulos, I found a reference in an interesting wine blog in english on Greek wines, Elloinos. In a post the German blogger , Markus Stolz, described a dinner he had with Apostolis Thimiopoulos and my attention focused on a detail: the two of them opened during the dinner a bottle of Bruno Giacosa Barolo Falletto 1999. Since Bruno Giacosa is one of the best (and highly traditional) producers in Piemonte and his wines are not easily available (and quite expensive), I was surprised and of course very intrigued to discover more about this wine, his producer and also this side of Greece that for me is still unknown.

Well, and here I quote the blog Elloinos which is a very precious source of info on interesting greek wines, Apostolos Thimiopoulos is a very committed producer, who strongly believes on the potential of Xinomavro grape and the strong terroir of the area of Naoussa in the north of Greece for this grape. He has been producing only this wine, Ghi Ke Uranos (meaning "Earth and sky") starting in 2004 and during the recent years he has been very successful, notably with export to the US.

My expectations were then growing and I decided to put this wine (a 2006 vintage) towards the end of the tasting. After pouring the wine, I felt a sense of purity in the aroma, a bunch of dried flowers together with pure black fruits. An overall sense of elegance and complexity from the beginning. And then in the mouth there was an immediate match with the first sensations: complexity, structure, acidity and a very good lenght. The sensation of a real terroir wine, expression of a strong attention in the vineyard. A complex wine with a good potential for aging well.

I will be looking to find some bottles, even if the limited production and availability in Belgium will make it difficult. Most likely I will have to use my Greek network. And I start to think about paying a visit to the region to explore the world of Xinomavro grape.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Italian Pinot Noir tasting: some differences in style, a good overall quality

On April 30th the tour of Italy tasting was focusing on the world of Italian Pinot noir.

While the USA have started to build a reputation for pinot noir during the last twenty years (California - Russian River and Carneros for example - Oregon and Washington) and then virtually everybody interested in wine knows about these wines, the pinot noir of Italy has experienced a great difficulty in crossing the frontiers, despite having built a solid experience of more than a century of cultivation of the grape in Alto Adige (Alps, north of Italy).

It is true that it may be easier to compete with the most revered indigenuous grape of France from several thousand kilometers (like US or New Zealand) than from a few hundreds, but while the reference for pinot noir still remains the Burgundy of the Côte d'Or (and of course the Champagne, the largest producer of pinot noir grape), Italy is producing several pinot noir that profit from a very appropriate climate and soil in the valley of the Adige river. In addition, in Italy pinot noir is largely cultivated in Franciacorta (province of Brescia, west of Lago di garda), producing traditional wines on the basis of the "methode champenoise". But the tasting was focusing on red vinification and not on franciacorta, and then the reference was clearly the Alto Adige area.

The tasting confirmed the good quality of the pinot noir produced in Alto Adige with some excellence, notably the Barthenau Vigna s. Urbano 1997 of Hofstatter, a wine that has been appreciated by the whole panel and combines power and elegance with a perfect evolution. I have read with pleasure the impressions of Franco Ziliani on this wine in 2001 and I am impressed to see how the wine has maintained after eight years most of the elements reported there (notably sweet tannins, great structure, impressive lenght and elegance).

Another wine that has performed very well at the tasting was the Pinot Noir Sanct Valentin 1999 of San Michele Appiano. An impressive nose for this 10 years old pinot noir with still small red fruits and pleasant tertiary aromas of earth, mushroom and cedar sustained by a perfect acidity, balanced structure and good lenght.

The Pinero 2000 of Ca' del Bosco is a difficult wine to judge. In this case, some of typical elements of Pinot Noir, both with regard to the colour, aromas and taste cannot easily be found and the style appears much more extracted compared to the other wines of the fight. The colour is dense and deep, the nose is extremely spicey and penetrating, with some sweet elements of chocolate and moka. The mouth appears rather tannic, with some bitter notes and good lenght. Overall a very atypical pinot noir far from the tradition that, while not corresponding to my style of pinot noir, exhibits a strong personality.

Pinot Nero Muri gries Riserva 2005 was an appealing wine, not particularly complex but with a good aroma of red fruits and cinnamon. The taste shows a strong start with well integrated tannins and good lenght.

The Pinot Nero from Tiefenbrunner, a Lincticlarus 1997, was showing sweet red fruits at the nose, with some evolution. On the palate, the wine was not showing strong tertiary aromas but a rather sweet taste, with a not very long finish that was most likely a sign of a rather evolved wine, because the same wine tasted better in past experiences.

The first wine of the tasting was a Pinot nero 2002 from Pojer e Sandri, a producer from a lightly southern area of the Adige valley. This pinot nero had "musty" scents (I would use the term "vinoso" in Italian) with some red fruits. On the palate there is a good freshness with no great complexity (note that this wine is not a "riserva" like the other wines tasted).

I left at the end the "outsider" of the tasting, which was tasted blind like the other last four wines of the tasting. I was rather curious to see the reactions of the participants to a pinot noir that exhibits a very original personality (reflecting well the character of his producer) and a wine that I like particularly. However, today, the Burlemberg 2002 of Marcel Deiss (Alsace) was not performing very well (I had a perfect bottle one month ago and was very impressive), despite having been opened and decanted for 2-3 hours. The barnyard, animal nose that characterises this wine appeared here rather unbalanced and did not find a proper place subsequently. On the palate the wine appeared to be unstable, not very pleasant. A possibly off bottle for a wine that, while clearly not making usually the uninanimity, represents a great interpretation of pinot noir in Alsace.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Vinitaly 2009: wine notes (1)

Vinitaly, for those who never heard about it, is the biggest wine fair of Italy (and most likely one of the biggest of the world), an impressive circus that I have been regularly visiting for many years with a spirit sometimes similar to those of the children going to an enormous free playground.
It is, in fact, a much more serious business-oriented event where more than 4000 exhibitors renew their business contracts, present their wines and (for some of them) enjoy discussing about their wines and the passion for producing them.
This year Vinitaly seems to have reached new records, with more than 150.000 visitors (and not all of them wine connoisseurs...I avoid the fair on sunday due to the rough assault of the crowd to the stands) and the atmosphere did not give the impression of being in the middle of an economic crisis.

During my 3-day visit to the fair I moved across the Italian regions and, while I did not even achieve one third of my objectives (every year the same frustration, but also the joy of spending more time discussing longly with great people and tasting some excellent wines), I was still able to have a good overview at the Brunello di Montalcino 2004/Rosso 2007, visiting a good bunch of excellent producers from Friuli, spending some time in Alto Adige, moving across Tuscany, stopping at Zaccagnini a few days before the earthquake hit Abruzzo (and the wine delegation leaves Verona) and finally having a wonderful time tasting all of the wines of Roagna.
The following are the notes taken during these days and put together a couple of weeks after the fair. I have my notes in three parts, the first is focusing on the wines of the North of Italy:
I Clivi. (Friuli) I visited i Clivi on the morning of friday, at my arrival at the fair. I have actually been looking to taste the wines of Ferdinando Zanusso for some time after reading some reports of friends and bloggers. I discovered there that Ferdinando, in addition to being a very friendly and serious producer, has behind him some important experiences, notably as responsible for the World Food Programme in Mogadiscio, a place not suited for the faint of hearth. I Clivi produces two "Friulano" (ex Tocai): Brazan, with grapes of an old vineyard from Cormons and Galea, equally an old vineyard but from the area of Corno di Rosazzo.
I tasted the Brazan 2005 and Galea 2005, both showing a good nose, not explosive but elegant followed by a nice freshness on the palate and medium lenght. Ferdinando let me then try the Galea 1999 and I could appreciate the good evolution of his wines: the 1999 was showing a richer nose, while on the palate there was a higher complexity and structure with very good lenght.
I was also impressed by the quality of the Malvasia 2005, with strong and crispy aromas while showing a good body, with balsamic scents and nice lenght. Next time I will try also their Merlot that was not available at the stand.
Vosca. (Friuli) Francesco Vosca is, like many of the area, is a family run winery, which is producing most of the wines under the D.O.C. Collio and Isonzo and is located in Cormons. His wines are in general rather light in structure but pleasant to drink. I have tasted both the Friulano 2007 and 2008 and I preferred the latter,which, while maintaning a nose of citrus (agrumato) and mango, shows more lenght and body. The same happened with regard to the Malvasia, where I preferred strongly the 2008, showing a pleasant elegance and good acidity. I did not appreciate particularly the Sauvignon 2007 and 2008 that I found a bit unbalanced and green.
Colle Duga. (Friuli) The winery, which is conducted by Damian Princic, is located at Cormons along the Slovenian border. I appreciated particularly: Collio Bianco 2008 (a blend of Friulano, Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Malvasia which spends a short time in barriques), which opens with elegant exotic fruits (papaya) and has good structure and lenght; Sauvignon 2008, with a good nose of kiwi and explosive in the mouth and good lenght; Merlot 2007, showing a typical earthy nose of marasca cherry with good balanced and lenght. A bit disappointing the Friulano 2008, not particularly expressive and rather short.
Franco Toros. (Friuli) I have been drinking so many times the wines of Franco Toros (including at Vinitaly), one of the best producers of Cormons, that I was rather surprised to find on this occasion that they were not at all ready for being tasted here. It is true, we all know that some of the wines coming to Vinitaly for the tastings are "forced" into the bottle a few days before the fair and this particularly true for the white wines of the harvest preceding the fair (in this case 2008), but this was particularly true for the wines of Franco Toros this year. While I could clearly recognised on the nose the perfumes and aromas that I like so much on his Pinot bianco (one of the best of Italy!), Friulano, Sauvignon and Pinot grigio, I had great difficulties in judging wines that were clearly unbalanced and with an acidic taste due to the recent bottling. I can only note that the Pinot bianco, on the nose, was showing very well with aromas of dried fruits, elegance and good crispness. The Merlot 2004 did not impress me much, not very expressive on the nose and on the palate lacking personality even if very well balanced.
Gigante. (Friuli) The vineyards of Adriano Gigante have an extension of 12 hectares in the area of Corn di Rosazzo (Colli Orientali). I have tasted three Friulano and I have found the 2007 rather "light" and not very expressive, while the 2008, more structured and expressive (notably a nice citrus nose) and in particular the "Storico", showing a very good nose, sligthly "fume".
Le Due Terre. (Friuli) I have to make a mea culpa for having spent so much time to taste the wines of Le Due Terre but I have to admit that I have been lucky to have enjoyed my first time with her. Le Due Terre is a tiny producer (only hectares around the main property) that follows natural winemaking approach which enable them to produce four excellent wines while maintaining very moderate prices.
Their Sacrisassi bianco 2006 (a blend of Friulano "Tocai" and Ribolla Gialla) offers a rich and unctuous nose followed by a strong attach and great lenght and presence. It enjoys 10 days of maceration on the skins and 20 months in used barriques (450 lt). The Pinot nero 2006 is very elegant (with no barnyard notes) with an alcoholic nose ("vinoso"). It is very pleasant on the palate with soft tannins and good lenght. The Merlot 2006 is powerful and slightly tannic, while showing a cherry aromas with the minerality that characterizes typical of the merlot from Friuli. Finally, the Sacrisassi rosso 2006 is the top of their production, very elegant but powerful aromas combined with great structure on the palate and impressive lenght. This is a wine with good aging potential.
Sutor. (Slovenia) What I like about Vinitaly is that when sitting at a stand that is shared among several producers it is often possible to make great discoveries. This is what happened with Sutori, a Slovenian producer that is creating a set of impressive wines. In particular I appreciated the Burja 2007, a blend of Ribolla, Malvasia and riesling where it is possible to identify each varietal aspect, from the aromatic elements of the Malvasia to the freshness of Ribolla and the the typical mineral and hydrocarbons nose of the Riesling. I also tasted the Sauvignon 2006, with good aromatic nose and acidity and the Pinot Nero 2007, the less impressive of the whole set, with a light bitterness.
Primosic. (Friuli) Primosic has been acquiring a certain renown for the great efforts he spent to promote the Ribolla beyond the Friuli. Most recently, he promoted with Porsche a literature prize across Italy. For a Ribolla sympathizer as I am, this effort is extremely welcomed. I like the freshness, lightness and the expression of the poor soil that one can really feel in a glass of ribolla. I tasted both the Ribolla 2008, a good expression of Ribolla, with a clean and fresh nose and good lenght and the Ribolla Riserva 2006, where one feels a slight boise/fume aspect (8 months spent in wood) that I do not associate with the ribolla character. The Klin 2006, a blend of Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Ribolla and Picolit shows an expressive and elegant nose of pear and peach. The wine in the mouth is powerful and very long.
Villa Russiz. (Friuli) The performance of the wines of Villa Russiz has been more disappointg than usual. The Friulano 2008 was the best of the three wines that I tasted, showing white flowers but a rather nervous nose, while in the mouth there is a good balance. The Sauvignon 2008 and the Merlot 2007 (the "Sauvignon de la Tour" were not present) were not particularly expressive and in the mouth they were both characterised by a very light structure.
Rottensteiner. (Alto Adige) The Lagrein Riserva 2006 (which is in fact the basic lagrein) is a pleasant but rather simple wine, while the Lagrein Griser Select 2006 is a perfect example of Lagrein at its best, with deep nose of marasca cherry, and a very good taste slightly sweet and juicy with a good body and lenght. The Gewurtztraminer passito 2007 has a good nose of almond, figues and a good balanced sweetness even if not particularly powerful.
Terlano. (Alto Adige) While at the beginning I was planning to try only a bunch of wines (including the Lagrein Porphyr) here, after the as often super quality of the first wines I could not stop. Starting from the Terlaner 2008, a wonderful blend of Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay and sauvignon, nose exceptionally perfumed and complex and such a freshness, power and lenght in the mouth. Every year I am amazed by the quality of this wine. The good series continue with two more white wines: the Sauvignon Quarz 2008, elegant wine with very good aromas, the Gewurztraminer Lunare 2008, a perfectly balanced wine. And then I tried the Lagrein riserva Gries 2006, showing a good nose of marasca cherry with a good balance and progression in the mouth and the Lagrein Porphyr 2006, a monster of Lagrein, with an impressive, deep nose of riped marasca cherry, while in the mouth the great elegance was perfectly paired by an impressive lenght.
Cantina di Bolzano. (Alto Adige) I quickly tasted the Lagrein taber 2007, with a good nose of black fruits and wild cherry nose. However, the wine was rather short and light in the mouth.
Andriano. (Alto Adige) The Lagrein Tor di Lupo 2006 has a good nose of marasca cherry but does not impress particularly in the mouth and is not very complex.

Les Cretes (Val d'Aosta). Les Cretes is an important reality of the Val D'Aosta and a founder of the Federazione Italiani dei Vignaioli Indipendent (FIVI). The Petite Arvine 2008 has a good floral nose while in the mouth the wine is tangy and with good acidity. The Chardonnay 2008 is very fresh and crispy with a good complexity and lenght. The Cuvee Bois 2006, the most famous wine of Les Cretes, is very impressive, showing structure and lenght well sustained by a perfect acidity. The red wines are not at the level of the white: Pinot Nero 2007, with a good nose of barnyard and small fruits, but a certain bitterness in the mouth; Fumin 2007, with good intense aroma of red fruits but a rather light structure; Torrette 2007, a pleasant wine with good fruit aromas and light structure.

Monday, January 26, 2009

What is the real cost of Petrus? The Revue du Vin de France analyses the cost of wine production...and an Italian producer accepts the challenge.

In its January issue the "Revue du Vin de France" investigated on one of the best kept secrets on earth....the cost of wine production and the relation with prices, notably for famous wines.

The magazine has selected some of the most desired french bottles (Chateau Petrus, Dom Perignon and a Roumier cru) and a low-price bottle to investigate what is their cost and comparing this with the retail price.

The results are extremely interesting from several points of view: first of all it is clear that the costs of production and vinification are rather limited even for the most important wines and even (and including also other costs for the producers: administrative cost, machinery depreciation, marketing/publicity..).

For example let's take Chateau Petrus, one of the most expensive wines on the planet and a bottle that not many people can experience in life. The magazine has analysed the various elements of the cost of a bottle of Petrus and the final cost of a bottle of Petrus turns around 30 euros (of which 10 euros only for the bottle and the etiquette, a special anti-fraud etiquette). 30.000 bottles of Petrus are produced each year. The 2005 vintage was sold by Petrus at 450 euro and can be found now at 4500 euros at retailers. The wine represents then an enourmous source of profit for the Moueix family who owns Petrus, for its combination of moderate production costs, high price and a good number of bottles produced per year.

If we take Dom Perignon, the most famous cuvée of Moet Chandon, the total cost amounts at 17-22 euros (with a largest share for advertising, 5-10 euro, entirely different from Petrus, which does not spend on publicity and focus on the character of rarity and exclusivity). Due in particular of the enourmous number of bottles produced (5 millions per year) at non prohibitive final price (the bottle leaves the property at 75 euros and has a retail cost of 130 euros), Dom Perignon is a golden toy for Moet Chandon.

In both cases (but obviously in particular for Chateau Petrus and for other expensive wines), it is clear that the final retail price has no relation with the cost of the wine, and that we are in presence of a marketing operation that is simply making some wines less accessible and...much more profitable for a few producers.

But....we knew all this and this is not the key issue of the investigation of the Revue du Vin de France. What is really impportant is to have started the discussion about the cost of wine production and this will have an impact in particular for wines which are more accessible and are not managed by a speculative market but with prices decided by the producers.

What is the reaction of wine producers?

An Italian wine producer, who is running an interesting blog and is particularly involved in various aspects of wine policy, Giampaolo Paglia of Poggio Argentiera, has taken the challenge and has profited from this opportunity to ensure transparency about his costs of production and also his selling prices (a key issue in order to understand the final price of wines, where intermediaries foten take a large part). Here in his blog, Giampaolo Paglia unveils the cost of some of his wines (highly prized by most Italian wine guides), with great details for each cost item.

Giampaolo Paglia has done a great job and an immense work in favor of transparency, both for unveiling his production costs and his selling prices. In particular in a moment of crisis, where consumers do not want to pay excessive prices for wine bottles, it is important that other producers follow Giampaolo Paglia's example. There is the need to establish more trust between consumers and producers and also to put more responsibility on the shoulder of the rest of the chain, notably wholesalers, final retailers and restaurants.

With regard to the latter, Giampaolo Paglia proposed to print the selling prices on his bottle's etiquettes. This would allow even more transparency.

Provocation? Perhaps it is if we know how un-transparent is the price system and how much in particular restaurants charge wines. But it is a very good provocation indeed and would provide in particular Belgian consumers with a greater power not to accept the standard practice in belgian restaurants to multiply the price of the wine by 5-6 times (in Italy the situation is different: have a look at the wine list of Ristorante Bovio in Piedmont and you will see that you can afford a good bottle for 20-25 euros and a barolo for 50 euro, usually twice the basic price).

Friday, January 23, 2009

Prosecco reaches Obama's inauguration: but what is the future for prosecco?

That Prosecco was a growing star in America it is evident just by jumping into one of the many wine-bars in Manhattan where after work large crowds of young people in their 30's drink and chat lively with glasses of prosecco animating the evening.

But watching the new President of the United States drinking prosecco during an inauguration party represents one of the highest recnognition of the growing status of our best export wine.

During the last years the success of prosecco has become irresistible: 150 millions bottles produced each year, 29% export growth in 2008 (98% export growth to the UK, 650.000 bottles exported to China in 2007). This success is also reflected in the the cost of the lands in the area of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene that covers the DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) Prosecco di Conegliano e Valdobbiadene. Buying lands in the DOC area now is more expansive than in the area of Montalcino (>500.000 euro per hectare for Prosecco).

But Prosecco, despite the existence of a specific DOC (created in 1969 and now covering 4700 hectares and producing 50 million bottles), is suffering from a major problem: the wine is simply called with the name of the grape and then prosecco can be produced and commercialised with this name in all countries. This is a major difference in comparison with other wines belonging to the same typology (sparkling wines) such as "champagne", "cava" or, to remain in Italy, "Franciacorta". All these wines have duly protected their name and do not have references to the grapes in the "denominazione".

While prosecco is a grape which is native of the area covered by the DOC between Conegliano and Valdobbiadene (in the province of Treviso, North-East of Italy), only one third of the actual production now falls under the DOC, while the rest is produced in the rest of Veneto and Friuli (in the area between Treviso and Slovenia).

But the main problems may come from abroad. Several countries have started planting prosecco grapes, mainly in Brazil, Argentina, Australia. In Brazil about 1000 hectares are now planted with prosecco (often with Italian investments) and sold at cheap prices. Another issues is the recent experiment of Austrian and German producers to import grapes from the prosecco area and bottle them as "Rich Prosecco", a product they plan to start to sell to the USA soon (in the picture Paris Hilton advertising for Rich prosecco).

The producers of the original prosecco area may then soon lose their golden baby and suffer international competition from other countries....and Obama's publicity may then have an adverse effect.

In order to tackle the problem, the producers of prosecco in Italy have started preparing to defend their product and work towards protecting the prosecco by creating a new "denominazione" that would cover the various areas in North-east of Italy where prosecco is now produced. 2009 will be the year of their offensive, even if it is not yet clear what strategy will be used.

An option may be to refer to the small village of prosecco, which is located a few kilometers from Trieste, close to Slovenia (from which the name appears to originate, coming from "proseku", which means "deforested area"). However, this area can hardly be identified today as an area of prosecco production and is 150km away from the DOC area. Other possibilities include referring to a regional area, but this would hardly cover the entire territory where prosecco is grown today.

This would be in any case only a first step, since the "denominazione" may be initially protected only in the EU area (and with countries with which the EU has concluded specific agreements), but would hardly ensure protection in the short term in Brazil or USA.

Prosecco may become the victim of its success....maybe. In the meanwhile, the objective for the Italian producers is to reach the levels of production of champagne (in 2007: 339 million bottles): an ambitious project.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Gaja meets bloggers on the future of Brunello

Today at 10am Angelo Gaja (in the picture at his winery in Tuscany-Bolgheri), an iconic figure for Italian wine and whose wines from Piedmont have acquired cult status (and prices..), animated with a group of 20 bloggers (I was also invited but unfortunately unable to join) an open discussion at his Barbaresco winery on the future of Brunello, after the long discussions the took place last year regarding the terms of reference (Disciplinare) of Brunello and the possible violation by some producers (here you can read my views on this issue expressed last summer).

The way the discussions took place (you can read the entire live transcription here as reported thanks to the great work of Antonio Tombolini) cleared the doubts that some bloggers, including myself, had casted on the initiative, due to initial instructions that the results should not have been divulgated.

In reality, the success of this initiative in my opinion resulted from the open format that it took and the report done live by Antonio, in pure "blogger style".

First of all I would like to pay tribute to Angelo Gaja, who clearly exposed his public ideas regarding the Brunello (but that I believe he would also apply to other DOC and DOCG) and first of all decided to organise an event for "bloggers" (in the sense both of blog writers and blog followers). This recognizes the role that the world of blogs (which is now a major expression of the civil society) plays in modern society as an open arena for expression of opinions.

Italy in particular has an articulated and very engaged network of wine bloggers, very much involved not only in the aspects of evaluation of wines but also in the most intricated aspects related to regulations, policies, cultural identity. This meeting may well represent an impulse for the future for the organisation of more events in this direction (and Vinitaly next March could be a good opportunity to organise a meeting of wine bloggers in Verona...hope to see a good reaction on this).

Regarding the content of the discussion, it was a good exchange of views even if no new elements emerged. Gaja agrees that the extension of the area cultivated for brunello in Montalcino has also covered lands not suited for a 100% sangiovese brunello (as the "Disciplinare" requires). His view is that due to the high investments done there the producers should have the right to produce a brunello with the inclusion of other grapes than sangiovese but that those producing 100% sangiovese should be granted special recognition. Clearly the position of Gaja is twofold: on the one side he believes that it may be possible to produce for a very small number of wine lovers a high level wine that may or may not respond to a strict regulation (his cru "Sori Tildin"and "Sori San Lorenzo" are not under a DC/DOCG system), but on the other he believes that a producer is not profitable only on that basis but needs to target the "commercial consumers", that pay less and want an "easier wine", and for that reason he believes that adding other grapes to the sangiovese is more appealing and may allow to sell easier brunello produced in less favourable areas.

The discussion, however, did not touch two important elements: firstly the question of the culture of wine and the link of a denomination like brunello with sangiovese and its tradition (Patrizia Simonini raised this issue in a question but this was not duly followed); second the impact of the EU reform of wine names that will enter into force in August 2009 and wil simplify the system and oblige Italy to re-define its system of IGT/DOC/DOCG (for example the risk that "denominazioni" like Sant'Antimo and Rosso di Montalcino may disappear with important commercial consequences).

An important event that I regret deeply to have missed but was happy to have followed live online.