Showing posts with label Chianti. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chianti. Show all posts

Monday, February 9, 2015

Old-School Italian Minus The Straw Basket

We finally got around to a little something left under the Christmas tree by an old and dear friend during the holidays.  He's a guy I used to work with side by side - er, voice by voice - back in the day when he and I did traffic on the ones - or twos, or threes - who can remember?  Thanks to the sort of fate-twisting in which the radio business seems to specialize, he now works voice-by-voice with my wife, doing traffic on the fives - I think it’s the fives, anyway

If Chianti still makes you think of a lackluster table wine more valuable for the straw-cased bottle that contains it, you should sample some wines from that Italian region.  There’s not a straw basket to be found.  No wax drippings down the side of the bottle, either.  I still think of our friend in that straw-bottle-Chianti kind of way - he is old-school.

Ruffino, though, has been around for years.  Here’s the way they tell their story: "In 1877 when cousins Ilario and Leopoldo Ruffino embraced their passion for winemaking by establishing a small winery in the town of Pontassieve, near Florence, the region already had a centuries-old tradition of growing exceptional wine grapes.  Even so, the two Tuscan natives felt certain that much of the area’s greatness had yet to be revealed.  Tuscany had been heaped with good fortune: mineral-laden soils, the cooling influence of the Mediterranean Sea, the dry summers that wine grapes favor.  And all those luscious, sun-drenched hills.  Ruffino was one of the “first major wineries with vineyard estates in Italy’s three most renowned wine-producing regions – Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Their Riserva Ducale was first released in 1927.  The Chianti Classico wine is named to honor the Duke of Aosta, who traversed the Alps to try the Ruffino wines.  He liked them so much he named Ruffino as the official wine of the Italian royal family.  The wine contains 80% Sangiovese grapes, with the remainder being a mix of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  All the grapes come from the Tuscan Chianti Classico region, from Ruffino’s Santedame, Gretole and Montemasso estates  It is aged for two years in oak, then another three months in the bottle before release.

Riserva Ducale is a medium-dark red, with cherries on the nose that are joined by oak spice and lavender.  The acidity plays a huge role in the mouthfeel of this wine, with red fruit and spice flavors.  A bit of red licorice shows on the finish.

The tannins are fairly healthy, too, and that acidity makes me want a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. If I were to burn the roof of my mouth, however, that same acidity could cause problems.  Careful with that hot meatball.

The wine was darker and smoky tasting on the second night the bottle was open.  More savory notes crept in, but not to the detriment of the fruit or the acidity.  It's no showstopper, but it is sturdy and reliable - old-school, you might say.  Like an old friend, there is an easy familiarity here.  Also like an old friend, you can count on it in a pinch.



Monday, July 28, 2014

Italian Wine With Italian Food

Everybody loves a good wine value, and I find great values over and over again in the wines of Italy.  The Italian restaurants of Los Angeles - there are so many great ones - are particularly adept at finding wines that offer a lot of quality for the money.

When you drink wine in a restaurant, especially by the glass, there simply is no way to think of it as a deal.  So today’s wine - at $9 a glass on the wine list at Da Pasquale in Beverly Hills - may not look like such a great deal at first glance, but it sure does taste like one.  And, considering that you can find this jaw-dropper for under ten bucks a bottle, the value is definitely there.

The 2011 La Maialina Chianti - named “Little Pig” to honor a centuries-old Tuscan pig breed - is crafted by respected Tuscan winemaker Attilio Pagli, who now also creates wine in Argentina’s Mendoza region.  This wine offers a great expression of the Sangiovese grape and yet another good reason to pair Italian wine with Italian food.  The grape's acidity makes for a perfect meal accompaniment.

The wine has a medium ruby tint and beautiful aromas of cherries and roses, hot from the sun, dominate the nose.  Tobacco notes come forward after it has been in the glass a while.  On the palate, there is more great cherry expression, also turning darker with time.  Great tannins, nice acidity and a medium-full mouthfeel make for a wine that’s easy to drink and pairs well with food.  It was particularly nice with my lasagna Napolitana.


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Friday, April 4, 2014

Going Italian At Whole Foods: Verrazzano Rosso Mini Tuscan

Attention Whole Foods shoppers - through April, Whole Foods Market shines the WFM spotlight on Italian wines at great prices.  The grocery chain is also hosting a pair of virtual tasting events to help spread the word about their great Italian value wines.  Get the details on the wines and the April 10th virtual tasting event on Twitter here.

You can search the hashtag #WFMWine on Twitter to see how much fun we all had on the previous virtual wine tasting on March 13th.  We hope you can join us on Twitter on April 10th!

Today we sample one of the wines to be featured on the April tasting event.


Twitter Tastings

Thursday March 13, 7:00-8:00 p.m. CT:

Banfi Principessa Gavia Gavi 
Ruffino Orvieto Classico
Gran Passione Rosso
Donnafugata Sedàra

Thursday April 10, 7:00-8:00 p.m. CT:

Presto Prosecco
Caposaldo Pinot Grigio
Monrosso Chianti
Verrazzano Rosso


Verrazzano Rosso Mini Tuscan $15.99

Castello di Verrazzano is in the northern part of the Chianti Classico D.O.C., with its limestone-rich soil imparting a luxurious minerality to the wines made there.  Wines have been made there, by the way, since the 1100s, while the castle itself dates back to the seventh century.  With a timeline that long, you might think they would have plenty of old vines on the property.  That's not the case, though.  Their farming technique has them "renewing" plants so that the average age of the vines us only twelve years.

If the estate's name looks familiar, maybe it's because it's the name of the famous navigator and explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano.  He was born in the castle in 1485.  As an adult, Verrazzano explored much of the east coast of what we now call America.  So grateful for his work was New York City, they named one of their big bridges after him.  They even start their marathon on it every year.

The Verrazzano Rosso Mini Tuscan 2012 is made in a way similar to that of Chianti: a blend of 80% Sangiovese grapes and the rest a mix of red Canaiolo grapes and white Trebbiano and Malvasia varieties grown in the Greve district.  Aging takes place over ten months, in large Slavonian oak barrels.  The Mini Tuscan's alcohol content is only 12.5% abv, and the restraint is appreciated.  The wine comes bottled with a stylish, black artificial cork.  Mini Tuscan, I suppose, is a humorous homage to the Super Tuscan label used by maverick Chianti producers who wanted to put Bordeaux grapes in their wines and Bordeaux prices on the sticker.

This wine's medium ruby color and sweetly floral, slightly spicy nose are inviting enough, while the palate shows pretty cherry, currant and pomegranate. Nice acidity and a soft tannic structure fit together well.  There us a hint of tartness and a bit of cranberry on the finish, which I like quite a bit.  The aromas and flavors are great, the structure is wonderful.  With the flavors and spices, plus great acidity and a medium mouthfeel, I thought it would be a great wine for a Thanksgiving feast - even for a backyard barbecue.  Put it on ice for a little bit to give it a chill and you've a nice, easy-drinking red for the summer.



Friday, March 28, 2014

Going Italian At Whole Foods: Monrosso Chianti

Attention Whole Foods shoppers, this month and next, Whole Foods Market shines the WFM spotlight on Italian wines at great prices.  The grocery chain is also hosting a pair of virtual tasting events to help spread the word about their great Italian value wines.  Get the details on the wines and the April 10th virtual tasting event on Twitter here.

You can search the hashtag #WFMWine on Twitter to see how much fun we all had on the previous virtual wine tasting on March 13th.  We hope you can join us on Twitter in April.

Today we sample one of the wines to be featured on the April tasting event.


Twitter Tastings

Thursday March 13, 5:00-6:00 p.m. PT:
Banfi Principessa Gavia Gavi
Ruffino Orvieto Classico
Gran Passione Rosso
Donnafugata Sedàra

Thursday April 10, 5:00-6:00 p.m. PT:
Presto Prosecco
Caposaldo Pinot Grigio
Monrosso Chianti
Verrazzano Rosso


Monrosso Chianti  $13.99

The Castello di Monsanto website tells the story of Aldo Bianchi, who swooned over the views available on the Tuscan property he bought in 1960.  His son, Fabrizio, swooned over what was in the cellar - bottles of Chianti.  He and his wife worked to build the winery and plant new vineyards, and through the years the company has brought their winemaking techniques into modern times.

Their Monrosso Chianti is made of 80% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo and 5% Merlot grapes.  It carries an alcohol number of 13.5% abv and is bottled under natural cork.  The grapes come from the Chianti Colli Senesi region, south of Chianti Classico in the Siena hills.  Produced in stainless steel tanks, the wine is then aged a year in Slavonian oak barrels which, according to the winery, gives sweeter and less aggressive tannins.

Medium dark in color, Monrosso Chianti has dark fruit aromas on the nose with separate floral and savory angles running through it.  A slight funkiness really offers an attractive note, while oak spices are in plentiful supply.  The palate shows blackberry, plum and cherry flavors with a nice level of acidity and gentle tannins.  On the finish, the plums come forward to take their place in the spotlight.  Possessed of a rustic character, it's an "everyday red" you can pair perfectly with pasta or pizza.


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Friday, May 3, 2013

Italian Wine Class: Chianti Tasting Event


The Chianti tasting event, staged in April 2013 by the Consorzio Vino Chianti, was a nice event, really nice.  Nice people, nice wine - really great wine, actually - and a nice, fancy Beverly Hills locale to call my home base for a couple of hours.

Forty Tuscan wineries pouring their best juice in a swanky hotel is not a sucky way to spend an afternoon.  It was just the good stuff.  There were no squatty bottles swaddled in straw baskets, waiting to be emptied out and covered in candle wax by a sorority sister.  Everything was nice.  Except that I now have to write about Italian wine.  It's not, unfortunately, my strong suit.

I love drinking Italian wine - I even love tasting it at events where I spit out every sip I take.  Understanding the intricacies of Italian wine classification, however - and boiling it down to a clearly digestible morsel - is the stuff from which migraine headaches are made.

The Chianti region is a good representation of the state of Italian wine classification.  I see a listing of the subregions of Chianti and it makes my head spin to read it.  The thought of actually trying to disseminate that information literally chips away at my will to live, and I’d really like to make it through the night.

Geography, history

Briefly, the eight subregions of Chianti are Colli Fiorentini, Chianti Rufina, Chianti Classico, Colli Aretini, Colline Pisane, Montespertoli, Montalbano and Colli Senesi, which is the largest of the sub-zones and includes the Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano areas, just to throw a little curve into the mix.  By the way, there are peripheral areas not included in the subregions, and the wine made from those regions is simply called “Chianti.”  This is usually about where the road starts to blur for me.

Chianti has certainly been through a lot of changes.  The wine of Chianti was a white wine in the 14th century.  Some 400 years later the blend was dominated by a red grape called Canaiolo, with Sangiovese and Malvasia playing second and third fiddles, respectively.  An 18th-century Italian statesman came up with a Sangiovese-based version of Chianti, and it was adopted by the Italian government.  Now, Chianti must contain at least 80% Sangiovese and is sometimes allowed as a 100% varietal wine.

Many of the small producers at this Chianti tasting event are looking for distributors.  After tasting their wines, I can't hide my surprise that they aren't already represented.  Importers should check the list below for undiscovered delights.

The Best Table

The highlight of the event was the table occupied by Campo del Monde.  Stefano Mantellini poured me through four wines, each better than the previous one.  His Chianti 2008 and Chianti Riserva 2008 are both blends of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon.  The former spent three months in oak, while the Riserva saw ten months in wood barrels.  His Chianti Superiore 2007 is made up of Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Abrusco grapes which are organically farmed.  The nose on this wine is very intense - almost Port-like - and has wonderful acidity and a tart finish.  The Chianti Riserva "Ruschieto" 2006 is all Sangiovese and is aged in steel tanks.  The savory flavor is a knockout and the acidity is made for food pairing.

I thought that a Riserva Chianti had to be aged in wood, but Mantellini told me it's the Chianti Classico region which has that restriction placed upon it.  Chianti does not, and he takes full advantage of that loophole with his "Ruschieto."

Vin Santo

After he poured me through his list, he waved his hand over a bottle with a wax seal on it and told me to come back later and make it my last wine.  I did.  It was a Vin Santo aged for seven years, a wine his family has made for decades.  Mantellini carefully scraped the wax seal away from the Port-style bottle, wiped the cork, opened it and ceremoniously poured a delight.  The nut-brown wine made of dried grapes smells of raisins and caramel and offers notes of coffee and toffee on the palate.  Another taster beside me could only utter, "God," as he walked away.  It is a heavenly sip.

Another exceptional Vin Santo came from Villa Artemino.  It's the color of scotch, with a nose like whiskey and a beautiful, semi-sweet taste.

Characteristics 

Certain descriptive words kept appearing in my notes - cherry and smoky came up a lot - but the one I couldn't get away from was "great acidity."  Chianti is a Sangiovese-based wine, and that's a particularly good grape for acidity.  It's what makes Chianti such a good wine to pair with food.

Many of the producers at this event poured wines which were aged in stainless steel or cement.  These wines showed a wonderful freshness and, even though some were rather young, were ready for a prime-time food pairing.

Fattoria Le Sorgenti Chianti Colli Fiorentini "Respiro" 2011 prompted a "wow" moment for me.  Smoke, smoke and more smoke on the nose, with a dark and smoky palate - from a wine aged in steel tanks.  Marco Goracci said his lower-elevation vineyard yields the Sangiovese for this varietal wine.

Fattoria Poggio Capponi poured a 2011 Chianti which is a blend of Sangiovese, Colorino and Canaiolo aged in cement.  It's beautifully fresh on the palate.

I would never have guessed the Fattoria Valacchi Chianti 2011 was aged in steel, not oak, with the smoky red fruit it offers.

Three-to-four year-old wines were the rule, although a couple with some years on them sneaked into the room.  The Azienda Agricola Casale di Giglioli Chianti Riserva 2004 was silky smooth on the palate and aromatic, too.  The 2010 is still young, but is well on it's way.

The Castello di Oliveto Chianti Riserva 2010 has two years in the barrel and shows an incredible savory note on the nose and palate.

La Querce Chianti "Sorrettole" 2011 puts Merlot in with the Sangiovese and Colorino.  It has a smoky black cherry palate in which the supporting grapes really shine.

Here are the wineries which are in need of an importer.  They all poured remarkable Chiantis at this event.  An importer looking for a rising star may want to dig into this list:

Az. Agr. San Gervasio
As. Agr. Corbucci
Castello di Oliveto
Fattoria di Casalbosco
Fattoria Lavacchio
Fattoria Le Sorgenti
Fattoria Valacchi
Podere Alberese
Soc. Agr. Venatoria Tacinaia
Streda Belvedere
Tenuta Bossi - Marchesi Gondi
Terre di San Gorgone
Villa Travignoli


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Monday, August 2, 2010

A NIGHT OUT ON MELROSE AVENUE


Piccini Chianti

The Los Angeles restaurant, Bulan Thai Vegetarian Kitchen, was the starting point for quite an enjoyable night of friends, food and wine.  Tricia and Rob met us at Bulan, where we ate fantastic appetizers until we were stuffed – and until it got so loud that we were literally shouting at each other to be heard over the racket!  The ladies strolled down the street to Frankie's to stake out some spots at the bar, while Rob and I took care of the food bill.  At Frankie's, we laughed and enjoyed the company of our bartender, Adam, who contributed wine facts, baseball stats and music to our evening.  Some guy named Craig drifted in and out of the scene fairly quickly, and that was probably for the best.  He didn't realize the ladies were spoken for.

At Bulan, we brought our own – a rosé and a sparkler which are both French – and at Frankie's I sampled a few reds from their by-the-glass list to finish the evening.

The rosé is La Vieille Ferme, Recolte 2008.  I had previously enjoyed their white wine.  This pink - from Côtes du Ventoux - is produced by Jean Pierre Perrin – of Chateau de Beaucastel fame - and stands at 13% abv.  The wine is a blend of 50% Cinsault, 40% Grenache and 10% Syrah.  It shows a good strawberry red color in the glass which is quite reminiscent of a Spanish rosado.  Strawberries on the nose lead to a full mouth which is also dominated by strawberry, raspberry and some great earthy notes.  It's a dry rose – not bone dry, but it pairs very well with Thai food.

We also had Parigot Cremant de Bourgogne at the table.  The 100% Pinot Noir bubbly has a lovely, earthy nose and notes of toast and berries.  It's very bubbly and lightly hued in a soft pink.  The fruity taste and effervescence make it quite refreshing and palate-cleansing.

At Frankie's, Adam the bartender provided me with a memorable Chianti and a few samples of some less-than-memorable reds.  He also got an assist for taking part in a time-honored bar tradition: the sports dispute.  Rob and I were wondering who was the first baseball player to earn $100,000.  Adam hit the cell phone and informed us it was Joe DiMaggio.  That's only partially correct.  Joltin' Joe was the first American Leaguer to get a six-figure salary, in 1950.  Hank Greenberg hit that mark in 1947, though, with the Pittsburgh Pirates of the National League.  The wines Adam had to offer were a mixed bag, too.

The Piccini Tuscany Chianti 2008 was a delight, showing a nose of violets and minerals.  It's extremely smooth with good tannins and strong finish.  The blend is 95% Sangiovese and 5% Ciliegiolo.  Big cherry notes and a nice smokiness that lingers on the finish really make this wine stand out.  They call this DOCG wine “Chianti Orange,” and it is a considerable source of pride for Tenute Piccini.  Winemaker Antonella Conti gets a big thumbs up from me for producing this fantastic wine.

The Kenwood Vineyard wines Adam poured were not as impressive.  Their Zinfandel – blended with 8% Petite Sirah – has a black cherry streak a mile wide and a ton of spice flavors.  I found it be a bit fake tasting and overdone, though.  The Kenwood Cabernet Sauvignon has small amounts of Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec in the blend.  Pencil shavings on the nose with currants and plums on the palate were nice to find, but they couldn't lift the wine up above average. 

Saturday, July 3, 2010

BORGHI VIN SANTO DEL CHIANTI 2002


Borghi Vin Santo del Chianti

Vin Santo wine is about as close as I'm likely to get to a religious experience. The Italian traditional wine - the wine of the saints - was made in small batches for family and church use for centuries. Many wine regions in Italy produce their own versions of Vin Santo, using a variety of local grapes. It didn't become a commercially exported product until the 1970s.
Grapes for Vin Santo are harvested by hand and hung from rafters to dry - this may take three months or so. Once dry, they are pressed and the juice is placed in small oak or chestnut barrels -caratelli - to ferment for up to 10 years, even longer. The wine is produced in sweet, dry or semi dry types.
The type I'm drinking - Borghi Vin Santo del Chianti 2002 - is a dry type, produced from a blend of 70% Trebbiano Toscano Bianco and 30% Malvasia del Chianti Tuscany. This dry white wine - brownish amber in color, actually - is a single vineyard and single vintage wine which is aged a minimum of three years in those little caratelli barriques. It's a strong wine at 16% abv.
It smells a lot like sherry to me. The alcohol is prevalent on the nose and the aroma of raisins cuts through the heat. On the palate, this Vin Santo tastes of dried fruit - not a surprise - and has a delicious sweetness, like caramel. It's a dry wine, to be sure, but it has a wonderful sweet edge to it. The finish lingers forever and leaves the sensation of an Irish whiskey, if you'll pardon the ethnic juxtaposition.
I may not buy much of what the Catholic church is selling, but drinking Vin Santo is pretty close to finding religion in a bottle.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Terrabianca Campaccio Toscana 2005


After a trip to the Santa Monica Farmers Market, we stopped in to a restaurant familiar to us from its fantastic Larchmont Village location.  La Bottega Marino in West Los Angeles also serves great Italian cooking.  If you're worried about authenticity, don't.  Their chef is from Naples.  My spaghetti Bolognese was so good that my wife - of Italian heritage - was tasting it from my plate.  Her meatball sandwich met with her approval and mine.  She took home half of it and I was the beneficiary of it later in the day.

The only complaint I have is that their by-the-glass wine list is a bit skimpy.  As a matter of fact, the Piemonte Barbera I ordered was out of stock.  The waiter offered me a Tuscan blend at the same price - nine dollars - and I gladly accepted. 

Terrabianca Campaccio is a Tuscan blend of 70% Sangiovese and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon.  The winery is in the heart of Italy's Chianti Classico region, and the 12 clones of the two varieties were produced 40% in that region and 60% in Maremma. 

Some soapy looking bubbles around the edge of the glass after pouring dissapated quickly.  The wine has a dark purple color waith an earthy blackberry scent and a trace of pencil lead.  The structure is quite nice.  Its dark, earthy aroma is borne out on the palate, too.  The fruit presents itself strongly in this brooding, full-bodied drink. 

The Terrabianca paired very well with the bolognese, as if it had been made for it.  Oh, I suppose it probably was.  Great food and great wine are enough to make me want a return visit to La Bottega Marino.  Throw in some of that Billie Holiday they were playing during our lunch, and that return visit could be a reality by the time you read this.