“We are born at a given moment, in a given place and, like vintage years of wine, we have the qualities of the year and of the season of which we are born”…..   Carl Jung


If you regularly buy or enjoy Chateau Petrus, Margaux or Lafite-Rothschild for daily enjoyment, odds are you’re not following Wine Mizer anyway. But if you enjoy Bordeaux wine – or want to try some and are more like the average consumer - today’s post is for you.  At the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tasting in Chicago on January 23, I relished tasting the white, red and sweet wines from the 2015 vintage. These were actually barrel samplings that were bottled for the trade show. I still have a few 2005, 2009 and 2010 aging and am always impressed with how they have developed over the years. Even the 2004 that I bought as “futures” redeemed itself with time in the bottle.
What particularly struck me about the 2015 vintage is how drinkable the wines are now. Sample after sample, right bank (Merlot dominated) or left (Cab dominated), fruit dominated both the tannins and acidity. If you don’t have a cellar or the interest to age wines, this is important. Even better, I think 2015 will be regarded as the best vintage since 2009-2010 so it should be regarded as an opportunity to either stock up on the vintage or to try tasting Bordeaux wine and learning why it is considered the benchmark of blends. Wine Spectator in their June issue
ranked the left bank 2015 vintage 92-95 points; the right bank 94-97 and Barsac &

Sauternes 94-97. Finishing with the sweet, botrytized whites of Barsac & Sauternes

at the tasting, what so often appeared – almost s a theme throughout the region - was

a freshness in the wine’s finish and mouthfeel: light notes lifting the mouthfeel of a

necessarily rich wine and displaying classical French finesse. 

Despite the somewhat fruit forward nature of this vintage, the reds have more structure than 2007 and should cellar well, giving the vintage a benefit to both the experienced appreciator of Bordeaux wines and those newly introduced.   

A Votre Sante!
....................... Jim

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“Our jobs as marketers are to understand how the customer wants to buy and help them do so.” – Bryan Eisenberg

I’M NOT A FAN OF THE LABEL.  The style is intended to grab your attention.  But it too will soon get lost among the growing number of labels with paintings of distorted faces on wine bottles.  Then perhaps L.E.D. type sparklers will be attached to wine bottles. Sensitivity pads in the floor of the retail store can remotely set them ablaze as you walk by.  And like some greeting cards, songs can be played from each bottle as you open it.  Eventually, labeling will again welcome useful information and an identity. But in the meantime, you’ll need to often look to the back label if you want to know what’s inside the bottle and who made the wine. 

This 2016 “Young Carignan” from Coturri Winery is a case in point. Grapes are from Mendocino County.  The winery is in Glen Ellen (Sonoma County).  The wine is not fined or filtered and is organic.  The alcohol is 14.2%.  It is intended to be consumed young and that is why (they say) the bottle is intentionally clear (though when filled with the dark purple juice, you likely wouldn’t notice that).  All that is on the back label.  But had some useful information (Winery, Varietal, AVA and Vintage) been on the front label, other information could have been on the back that is important to a passionate segment of the market. 

For example, the vineyard is CERTIFIED organic.  The Coturri winery has never used grapes treated with pesticides, fungicides or herbicides. This is not something new for them (they’ve been doing it this way since 1961). It is also dry farmed with the initial rootstock never irrigated.  Grapes are harvested by hand. The wine has no added sulphites and only indigenous yeasts are used.  In short, this is natural wine.  And while that’s appealing today to a segment of the market, it’s just the way Coturri has always been making wine.  For that niche of wine consumers, or that segment having read about “natural wine” and wanting to try it, I suggest Coturri and others consider appealing to their “natural” market instead of imitating the graphic art front label concept used by bigger players with bigger budgets.  It would seem a better use of limited label space; certainly more efficient than the consequence of not promoting it to that group of consumers who specifically shop for these wines.

Besides, Coturri doesn’t just produce Young Carignan.  The winery also produces and bottles Pinot Noir, a Rose, Syrah, Zinfandel and others.   Each varietal opens an opportunity to a market segment. So the young man wearing a belt made from hemp fiber but who doesn’t like Carignan and likes instead …….. well, you get the idea.

So, after this, what’s my impression of natural wine – or at least this one?  Key to an understanding is that all wine will have sulphites.  That’s natural too.  But natural wine will not have any added sulphites.  And while there’s another segment of the wine market that has bought into sulphites being the worst of evils, understand that sulphites are also a preservative against bacteria and microbial infection.  Yes, wine has been made for thousands of years without adding sulphites.  But, as a rule, I would suggest that all natural wines be consumed young.  People have been getting sick for thousands of years too.

That said, this “Young Carignane” is 91% Carignane, 5% Syrah and 4% Zinfandel.  All these black grapes make for serious red wine, with Carignan noted for being high in acid, tannin and bitterness while also being rife with problems on the vine like powdery and downy mildew.  It’s also prone to rot and infestation by grape worms and seems a varietal that was blessed by the agrochemical industry.  Yet, when handled correctly (meaning just right) Carignan has its charm.  Coturri uses only two and three year old barrels and bottles their “Young Carignan” just three months after fermentation.  Picking fruit at exactly the correct moment is critical and Coturri, which dry farms and head prunes their vines, seems to know when that moment arrives.

In the glass, this wine shows as dark purple. Initially, it displays

a rustic edge showing acidity and tannic structure.  Aired, however, it softens and opens with blackberry, licorice and cassis on the nose with a note of forest floor.  It has a creamy, velvet-like texture with black and blueberry on the palate.  Tannin, though controlled, is evidenced by a slight drying sensation behind the upper row of your teeth.  Vacuum pumped, capped and saved for the next day, the “forest floor” becomes more like fresh white mushroom and the nose takes on aroma of brandied berry fruit.  Texture is syrupy rich with blackberry and some heat remains on the finish.

Carignan was once so widely planted in Languedoc-Roussillon that it was France’s most widely planted (red wine) grape for much of the last century.  As Syrah is different than Shiraz and Bordeaux Blends are different too than Meritage produced in the U.S., and a Cahors (Malbec) is different than Malbec from Argentina, so too is  this “Young Carignan” from Coturri & Sons (despite that in the U.S. we have adopted the more common spelling of Carignane).  I won’t even get into Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris.  But I will get into this bottle offering charm and value, particularly if you have not enjoyed this grape or it being presented in this style. 

Consider pairing this with marinated venison or stew, a rack of lamb with baby eggplant and onion in roasted tomatoes, duck or goose with a sausage stuffing or beef brisket.

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“The best wine is that which tastes good to thine own palette.”  … Pliny the Elder.

Respecting that all palates are personal, I don’t have wine “rules,” though I admit to having “preferences”.  One of them is to generally avoid domestically produced red wines priced under $15. (And yes, there are some exceptions.  And good whites are available under $15, but those again are whites. And bargains can be found in “old world” red wines). That aside, and with my personal preference stated, when I saw this bottle of (2014) “Angel’s Landing Napa” Cabernet Sauvignon for sale retailing at $11.99, I was cautious.  With Napa Cabernet Sauvignon grapes averaging $5,930 per ton in 2014, one should be cautious approaching a bottle priced at $12.

Angel’s Landing is “vinted and bottled” by Great Domains & Estates, neither name being attached to a vineyard.  “Vinted and bottled” is not the same as “Estate bottled.” Then again, there are several well-known wineries that source their grapes, have legions of passionate admirers, and consistently are awarded high ratings. (It does behoove one to keep an open mind).  But “Vinted and bottled” is also not the same as “Produced and bottled by.” Nor is it the same as “Made and bottled by.”  Depending on how one understands the term, it may mean that as little as 10% of the wine was fermented at the winery, or even that the name on the label is not connected to the production of the wine in any way.   

Angel’s Landing is a label represented by the Mendocino Wine Company which represents many brands.  Call it “grey” or “white” labeling, I’ll even concede in advance that the issue essentially comes down to what’s inside the bottle. Yet with such “white labeling”, it’s difficult to learn about that.  And for those who want to confirm why their senses are telling them what they think they are, it’s this lack of transparency that is troubling.  One cannot get the tech specs.  Is the wine blended with other varieties?  (Wines labeled a varietal in the U.S. may contain up to 25% other grapes). What’s the residual sugar?  How was the wine made?  Who actually made it? How much oak, what type, how long was it aged?   Most wines so labeled don’t have web sites and seldom are professionally reviewed.  Information develops knowledge and appreciation and – most important - understanding.  And for some of us, that’s essential to a good experience.   

In this case, the fruit is indeed Napa, mostly from the Yountville area vineyards known for Chateau Montelena.  In fact, Grgich Hills‘ Mike Grgich (formally of Chateau Montelena) was responsible for bringing Chateau Montelena to the world’s stage in the Paris Wine trials of 1976.  Dominus, Domaine Chandon, Charles Krug and others also are in Yountville. Its pedigree is established.   But appellation alone does not guarantee anything other than locale. And Yountville is not identified on the label.  …………….. And the back label refers only to “Napa County.”

So regarding Angel’s Landing, I think I need to respect Pliny the Elder’s foresight.  The wine is deep purple in the glass. The nose, for me, is all blackberry jam with some crème de cassis and a hint of black licorice.  The mouthfeel is liquid silk. While Cabernet Sauvignon is noted for tannins, I found them so rounded, with almost no grip, that I resented not being able to access more information. The palate revealed a reduction of blackberry sauce with blackberry preserves dominating the back taste. Upfront was some Christmas spice.  A note of green pepper is common in Cabernet Sauvignon, but I often miss that as I did again with Angels Landing. Others report sage and iodine (I did not). Another described the wine as masculine.  Though not comfortable today with such terms, I’d describe it as more feminine because I found the wine somewhat sweet and, as I said, the tannins were so soft as to be almost nonexistent.

For the price, I’d have to say this Cab offers value if you’re looking for an easy drinking red wine that’s likely to be a crowd pleaser.  I later discovered its ARP is actually $22 (the price of $11.99 having been a “close out” sale price).  For my palate, I found the wine somewhat sweet. But for those finding Cabernet Sauvignon generally too tannic, too dry, this could be the bottle they’ve been waiting for.

……………. Jim 

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“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” …… Audre Lorde

Achaval-Ferrer doesn’t seem particularly Irish, but it certainly helped me elevate my St. Patrick’s Day meal of asparagus soup (it’s green - such is expected) and the not-so-really Irish Corned Beef & Cabbage traditional plate with the aid of their (2012) “Quimera” Bordeaux Blend from Mendoza Argentina. It’s 24% Cabernet Franc, 16% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot and 50% Malbec. Each of these grapes is allowed in Bordeaux blends, though seldom are all used. And while France is the original home of Malbec, Argentina has since become the area of choice among consumers worldwide. 

I enjoy both styles, but there’s no denying the finished wines are different.  Think Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio, or Syrah and Shiraz.  Same grapes, but different wines.  Malbec from France (sometimes called Cot or Auxxerois there) generally has more structure and firmer tannins. Within the terroir of Argentina however, the grape yields a wine that is softer, more velvety and fruit forward.  Quimera is a Bordeaux blend for those with a bent toward “new world” character, but who still appreciate “old world” essence.  The wine offers a slightly fruit forward profile but without being jammy. It also accomplishes this without being aggressively dry or tannic.  A nice and balanced mid-point.

Deep purple in the glass, the nose offers cassis, green pepper (from the Cabernet Sauvignon), and notes of mixed dark berries in bitter chocolate. Silky in the mouth, but with just enough grip to be pleasant, the wine offers a hint of rosemary with layers of blue and blackberry with some black pepper spice and red cherry that announces itself as you slurp air through the wine. I’ve tasted and written about Achaval Ferrer wines before and remain impressed throughout their line. From entry to top label, Achaval Ferrer produces value at each price point, making wines that can be enjoyed for special occasions or everyday enjoyment. A 2012 ”Finca Altamira” (my favorite) is a single-vineyard Malbec by Achaval Ferrer and retails for about $115.  But they also produce a 2015 Malbec (rated 91 points by Robert Parker) and available retail for just $24.99.

Check out the photo of the bottle’s back label.  Any winery that provides such detailed information on the back label, instead of marketing foo-foo, is obviously very dedicated and proud of what they put inside the bottle.  The Cabernet Franc and Merlot are from their vineyards in Tupungato at an elevation of 3445 - 3600 feet.  Cabernet Sauvignon (old vine) is from the Medano vineyards (2400 – 2625 feet) and the Malbec and Petit Verdot from Medrano and the Lujan de Cuyo (3150 – 3400 feet).  Good sun but with cooling breezes and occasional cloud cover allow for slowly ripening fruit with delicious ratios of acid to sugar.  Malbec, in particular, can produce a wine that is flabby and under structured when vines are given too much sun.    

Grapes were hand harvested from March 7 to March 21, 2012 and yields were restricted to 1.3 tons per acre.  Put in terms that we can all appreciate, it takes two vines to produce enough juice for one bottle of Quimera.  In a nod to “old world” winemaking, Quimera is fermented in cement tanks (with pump overs for maximum extraction).  Aging is 12 months with 60% in one year French oak and the balance in new French barrel.

Quimerais $34.99.  It earned 92 points from Wine Spectator, 90 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and Vinous, and 17.5 (out of 20) from Decanter.  It’s always reassuring to know that one’s impression is shared by others considered experts in the field.  But for me, the decision was easy. One taste and I recognized that this was a classy but classic Bordeaux.


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ALC:                             14.5%
pH:                                  3.7
(Total) Acidity:               6.71 g/L
Brix at Harvest                        25
Vine Training:             Vertical shoot positioning, 1.7 – 1.8 meters high (5.57 – 5.9 feet)
Winemakers:               Santiago Achaval; and Roberto Cipresso
Production:                  7,212 cases

The wine is ageable but enjoyable now and is not fined or filtered.  It is recommended you decant the wine one hour prior to se


“Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.” ….. Benjamin Franklin

I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to best use Ben’s quote and found it in the wines of Sardinia. More specifically, in the wines of wine giant Sella and Mosca located on the northwest coast of the island in the province of Alghero and near the town of the 
same name. The island (Sardinia) is about 125 miles off the coast of Italy at its nearest point. Historically, it was ruled by Cathage before being governed by ancient Rome and subsequently the Byzantines, Arabs and Catalans. Historically, culturally, geographically for sure --- and even linguistically --- Sardinia maintains a somewhat separate identity from Italy, despite it being both governed and subsidized on occasion by Italy. It has ancient grapes, but viticulture has never been its’ principal focus. Conditions for grape growing, in certain areas, are certainly excellent.  But the island has a tradition of grazing sheep and agriculture has been its preoccupation.

The island’s history of winemaking, while going back centuries, involved mostly the production of sweet wines (two fortified) and the production of wine to be shipped to Italy and used in blending Chianti.  Locals were quite happy with the quality of wine locally produced; so much in fact that little was exported.  Even today, many of their dry and sweet liquoroso wines, their Moscatos, Malvasias and Vernaccia di Oristano are unavailable here. While DOCs were eventually established, little was seriously done even then to match varietals to their best terroirs.  In fact, two of the island’s most popular varietals have been extended to include the entire island. And even within established DOCs, yields are allowed to be generous and many producers simply opt for labeling their wines IGT, thus eliminating the bureaucratic hoop jumping that DOC status doesn’t seem to confer on the world’s stage for wines of this area anyway.  Be honest, when you’re thinking Italian wine, how often do you think – to look specifically – for Sardinia?

Tasting 3 Cabs Against
Strachetti Skirt Steak
But everywhere, in every time and circumstance, there have always been people with a belief in the long-term benefit of their thought. In the noble study of viticulture and viniculture, my palate (and that of others much better recognized) has recognized Sella and Mosca as one such group not just having vision, but having success in achieving it.  Sella and Mosca celebrated its centennial in 1999 so they’ve been at it for a while. Long enough to know the island’s terroirs and what grapes best grow where. They make premium wines from estate grown grapes including both native and international varieties. And when I think of indigenous varieties, that’s what makes, for me, Franklin’s comment so appropriate. Were it not so, how else could you explain the countless varieties of grapes growing naturally across the globe that if left even unworked would become fermented on their own?

I was able to taste several of the wines of Sella and Mosca recently. Several impressed me. Some left me in awe. Here are my picks:

Terre Bianche Torbato di Alghero DOC 2014. SRP $20.99. 100% Torbato (white wine, NW Coast). Stainless fermentation twenty days, 30% of the juice aged four months in 2 and 3 year old oak. A most unusual nose. Reminded me of a “Dreamsicle”. Some sour lemon and dust that recedes with air to allow orange and pear to come forward.  Vines from soil that is heavily comprised from millennia of marine deposits and rich in chalk on the island’s coast.  Crisp on the palate, mineral driven with white floral notes and citrus, pear and apple. This is a complex and unusual taste experience finishing also with some salinity. Sella and Mosca committed to this indigenous grape of Sardinia and theirs is the only 100% Torbato wine commercially available. The grape is believed, by some, to have been brought to Sardinia from Spain when the island was part of the Aragon kingdom, but no scientific evidence yet exists to establish that.  Either way, in an interesting twist of history, the grape was widely cultivated in Roussillon (where it was known as Tourbat) but was almost abandoned until healthy plant material was imported in the 1980s from --------- Sardinia!

Terre Rare Carignano del Suicis DOC 2012. SRP $14.99. (100% Carignano from the SW Sardinian coast). Manually harvested grapes of bush trained old vines grown in sandy soil. Fermented in stainless for 10 – 15 days. Malolactic fermentation after alcoholic fermentation, then aged three years in French barriques with additional bottle aging.  Silky on the palate. A rich and deep wine that lightens as fruit develops. Nose offers dried herbs and cocoa powder with cocoa on the end palate with red cherry and plum in a long finish accented by white pepper.  A lot of wine for a little money. Awarded 92 points by Wine Enthusiast and ranked #1 “Best Buy” of 2015. Interesting note: vines are still grown here on their original root stock. Known as Carignan elsewhere.

Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva DOC 2012. SRP $16.99. 100% Cannonau. (Island appellation. Sardegna is Italian for Sardenia). Stainless fermentation 15 days. Aged 2 years in large Slovenian oak barrels with several months additional bottle aging.  An unbelievable value at this price and tasting much higher than the suggested retail price. Aromatics so balanced, they’re hard to differentiate, but very pleasing overall. Lots of red fruit – cherry and plum – on the palate. Ripe strawberry with a note of violet. Full, round and a generally pleasing taste profile in a medium bodied wine that is a crowd pleaser, but pleasing to the wine geek also. As with Torbato, there are some who believe this grape also has its roots in Spain where it is known as Garnacha, but – as with Torbato – this is unproven. Regardless, rather than let the varietal’s name confuse you, it’s good to know it also perhaps by the better associated name. Locally, Cannonau seems to be considered an elixir for long life.  In the region where it is most cultivated, there is an unusually high percentage of centenarians. Having tasted this wine, I’m willing to accept that the clean air, healthy food and lifestyle of natural exercise has nothing to do with it.

Marchese di Villamarina Alghero DOC 2010. SRP $64.99. Stop everything!  100% Cabernet Sauvignon….. from Sardinia?  Yes, I know, and so do you, about this varietal being used in Super Tuscans, but Sardinia? Well, yes. And this label (Marchese di Villamarina) is well esteemed worldwide among knowledgeable aficionados of well-made wine with a bent toward Cabernet Sauvignon.  Produced only in the top vintages, the 2010 was elegant with floral notes. Fermented for 2 weeks in stainless -preserving fruit - it then matures 18 months in small French oak casks, followed by another year in large neutral barrels followed by still another 18 months in bottle. Notes of cedar wood, black currant and leather intertwined with dark fruit in a polished and elegant wine. The 2009 Marchese di Villamarina Alghero DOC was deeper and with more balsamic in the nose. The 1999 Marchese di Villamarina Alghero DOC was simply the finest Cabernet Sauvignon I tasted in memory. Jim Croce sang about “Time in the Bottle” and this 1999 with its ripe but not jammy fruit could just as well have inspired him.  Simply unbelievable! More tobacco and leather with red and black fruit. Soft and balanced.

The Wine Mizer Sharing a Laugh with
Giovanni Pinna (L), Cellar Manager
of Sella & Mosca
I found it interesting, happily so, that there was little price differentiation in the Marchese di Villamarina Alghero DOC vintages. But without knowing the storage conditions of a retailer, it’s always best to be cautious when buying older wines.  Across the board, I was impressed too with prices for these wines.  I’ve enjoyed Cabernet Sauvignons from many areas and from premier producers across the globe. I found Sella and Mosca’s very competitive in quality while being priced more budget friendly.  Many of the vines in their Alghero vineyards exceed 50 years of age. Cabernet Sauvignon arrived in Sardinia in the late 1880s when Sella and Mosca started its nursery business producing rooted vine cuttings to rebuild the vineyards of Europe destroyed by phylloxera.  As I said, they have history. The winery itself has been awarded Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri (three glasses) award, Italy’s highest honor, for 12 of the last 15 vintages. Wines honored with a Tre Bicchieri award are generally recognized in Italy and internationally as Italy’s best.  

So lift a glass and make a toast to Ben. And if you happen to fill it with Sella& Mosca’s Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva DOC, you could be adding years to your life.

………………… Jim

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“People like wine with bubbles. It makes the wine come alive.” …. Rick Anderson

Sparkling wine is a large and generic classification of wine that includes wines made from different mandated grapes and in different methods.  So Cremant which is not Champagne is sparkling wine.  So too is Cava and Sekt, as is also sparkling wine whether labeled methode traditionalle or Charmat or Metodo Classico or methode ancestrale.  And there’s more, but what all sparkling wines have in common is a significant amount of carbon dioxide dissolved in the wine until opened, the carbon dioxide then producing fizziness.

Even narrowing it down to just Prosecco is not a “final answer” because that area too has been further delineated. Named a DOC in 1969, the Coneglano Valdobbiadene (KOH-neh-L’YEE’AH-noh, VAHL-dohb-BEE’AH-deh-ne) was promoted to a DOCG in 2009 in the province of Treviso in Veneto (about 30 miles north of Venice in northeastern Italy). It is one of two DOGC areas of production for Prosecco, the other being the smaller Asolo DOGC near the town of Asolo.  The first written reference to Prosecco dates back to 1772. Prosecco has history. And demand for sparkling wines has been growing rapidly in the United States with Prosecco driving the demand. Global sales have been increasing by double-digit percentages since 1998.  It helps, then, to know these classifications and their differences.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG represents 
Italy’s highest quality in the Prosecco category. In a move to simplify things, producers from Valdobbiadene have recently tended to skip the mention of “Coneglano” on their front label calling their wine more simply “Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore.”  Be assured, it’s the same thing. Prosecco Superiore DOCG comprises 15 hillside towns with numerous small vineyards and takes in 183 wineries. Most Prosecco wine produced will not be identified as Superiore. The Coneglano Valdobbiadene is a smaller area within the expanded “Prosecco Zone” and there vines are grown not on low-lying plains covering the 20,000 hectares (about 49,421 acres) of the expanded zone, but are grown in the smaller and steep hillside area totaling only 6,586 hectares (16,274 acres).  There are other requirements too, regarding “bars of pressure.”  But let me just say that I’ve tasted both wines (Superiore and not) and while both were delicious, you will be able to appreciate the difference on your palate.

It is this area (the DOCG) , after all, that is home to Prosecco; its birthplace. The region benefits from (mostly) stony soils, cooling Adriatic breezes and a moderate climate. The key distinction then is not the grapes used (Glera), but where the grapes are grown. So popular was this Prosecco touristy lubricant that, in 2008, the production area was enlarged to encompass other provinces. The name of the grape was changed to “Glera” (its ancient name) and in 2009, Italy registered “Prosecco” as a protected denomination of origin, barring any other region or country from using the “Prosecco” name.  Coneglano Valdobbiadene situated in the hills between the two towns of Coneglano and Valdobbiadene is the classic zone for Prosecco and thus was elevated to DOGC.  So “Prosecco,” like “Champagne,” is now a protected name.

So yes, there is a difference.  The sunny slopes have a unique micro climate that benefits grape ripening. The high altitudes assure freshness even in the hottest vintages. Constant breezes keep the vines healthy and it is in this environment that many vines are very old, making for concentrated fruit. And to make it even better identified, a system of crus has been introduced into the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOGC known as Rive. This acknowledgement recognizes the different terroirs of the 43 communes throughout the DOGC.  The name of the Rive is allowed to appear on the label provided yield is below 13 tonnes per hectare (.446 per acre).  Those from the Cru of Cartizze on the steep hills of San Pietro di Barbozza, Santo Stefano and Saccol in the commune of Valdobbiadene, for example, are highly prized. While this, and yes there is more, may seem exhaustive, if you’re familiar with France’s AOC regulations, you should already appreciate the similarity.

Vineyards on the hilly area requires hand picking. Even vine pruning cannot be mechanized because the steep incline cannot be accessed by machine.  But hand harvesting assures better selection. And the steep incline of these hills, with their southern exposure, also assures good water drainage during abundant spring and summer rains.

Prosecco can be Brut (RS of 0-12 g/l), Extra Dry (12-17 g/l) or Dry (17-31g/l) with Brut now being most popular. And it can be Spumante (meaning sparkling) or Frizzante (meaning fizzy) or Tranquillo (meaning still). Spumante may be sub-classified also as Brut, Extra Dry or Dry. And Superiore refers only to Spumante. There are even vintage Proseccos, though it’s unlikely you will find them here. But all Prosecco must be made with a minimum of 85% native Glera grape. 15% may come from indigenous Verdiso, Bianchetta, Perera or Glera Lunga or the international varietals of Chardonnay or Pinot (Bianco, Grigio or Nero).

Unlike Champagne, Prosecco is usually produced using the Charmat method. Usually. There is a “Col Fondo” which is re-fermented in the bottle, but not disgorged, leaving the wine on its lees (like “pet nat”). But, as a rule, Prosecco’s second fermentation is in tank. Yes, it is a less expensive method. And no, it is NOT an inferior technique. In fact, it’s ingenious - for this grape of this terroir. Prosecco is all about freshness, about the fruit.  If you’re committed to a sparkling wine that has pronounced autolytic character, perhaps stick to Champagne (or try a Rive or Col Fondo Prosecco. But for me, there is nothing better than boating on calm water under blue skies with a snack of chilled but previously grilled shrimp, crudité and a glass of Prosecco.  It’s a celebration of freshness and joyous carefree days.

Writing a blog for an international audience is difficult. For some (hopefully not too many) this has gone into too much detail while others will ask why I’ve left so much out.  Let me simplify:  All things green are not grass. All things Prosecco are not DOCG. Look for the DOCG strip on the bottle. It will appear on the neck. Look for the name Conegliano and/or Valdobbiadene. Then look for the term “Superiore” after Prosecco.
Getting ready to taste several wines

Recently, I tasted several wines from this DOCG.  One absolutely blew me away. 100% Glera, it was Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Brut Rive de Collato 2015 from Borgoluce from vines grown on glacial soil of marl and sandstone. Delicate and elegant. Seashell on the nose, hints of wisteria and acacia. A little autolytic.   Others I tasted offered notes of wet sand, peach, almond, lemon grass and aromas of oyster shell, with clean acidic finishes, or sweet to dry with floral notes, from sour to bright and zesty. But whatever the wine, there was a sense of place to these sparkling wines. A uniqueness my palate understood as excellent…. as “best of class.”  Even better: I understand the latest vintage is expected to be just as good.

…………… Jim

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“Wine is like many of the fine experiences in life which take time and experience to extract their full pleasure and meaning.”    ― Douglas Preston, Crimson Shore

Quick. Don’t blink. Name a wine grape associated with Sicily.  If you said Nero d’Avola, we should share a glass sometime because that has typically been the grape of my thought as well when thinking of Sicilian red wine, and why not?  Wine made from this grape offers deep color, satisfying body and sweet-cherry fruit contrasted with some earthiness, a quality of tartness and generous tannins. And we’re not the only ones to so enjoy it. In Sicily, it’s their most consumed and planted red varietal.  What could possibly be wrong?

Well, unless you’re from Sicily or have traveled extensively throughout the island, you may be unaware that many people refer to Sicily (in wine terms) as being a “continent” instead of an island.  It is Italy’s largest region, 1000 square miles larger than Tuscany.  It’s super productive, being surpassed only by Veneto. And in terroir and terrain, it’s extremely varied.  Mount Etna offers elevation and, of course, volcanic soil and congealed magma in an alpine climate. Near the coast, sea breezes cool the area which inland can be boiling hot warmed by winds from Africa, though at higher elevations diurnal differences are helpful cooling grapes grown at high altitude.      

So what could possibly be wrong?  Sicily’s rich history of viticulture, the popularity of Nero d’Avola there, the influx of Sicilian immigrants to the U.S. and the wine’s eminent compatibility with red sauced dishes (themselves popularized and accepted here) made the wine popular in the U.S.  And with Nero d’Avola being Sicily’s most planted grape throughout many differing terroirs, emphasis turned to volume over quality in order to meet demand.  Unlike the large D.O. areas of Spain (Rioja for example), and the well-known region of Bordeaux, Sicily’s DOCs are not uber recognized. Nero d”Avola became Nero d’Avola from wherever in Sicily.  Blend that reality with the emphasis on quantity over quality and you have a situation similar to that of other varietals that waxed and waned.

The turning point came in the late 1980s when Planeta and Regeleali wineries chose to become innovators by matching local soil types to both native Sicilian wine varietals and international grapes. Planeta now has wineries throughout different areas in Sicily so as to take full advantage of being able to vinify grapes soon after being picked from the best terroirs. I had an opportunity to meet with Alessio Planeta, chief winemaker of Planeta and taste several of his wines.  In that experience, I enjoyed tasting another indigenous Sicilian grape, as old as winemaking history, and yet new to me. It’s impact upon Nero d’Avola when blended was amazing, as it was when vinified alone.  Here are my takes on the tasting.

Frappato, DOC Vittoria 2015. SRP $22.00. From Planeta’s 
Wines at the ready for tasting
Dorilli Winery in the Vittoria DOC (mid-point between SE and S-central Sicily on the coast) where it grows best in Vittoria’s flat, red sandy soil. Cherry and strawberry on the nose. Reminded me of a young Gamay, though less rustic.  Could serve slightly chilled. Silky texture.  Light tannins. Tart notes that recede and then reappear on the palate make this wine fun and easy drinking. Fresh and floral with aromatics of rose and citrus. Some balsamic on the palate. Nice acidity makes it food friendly.

Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG 2014.  
You may, as I did, find
various vintages at your local
SRP $24.00.  The only DOCG in Sicily and where Planeta houses their Dorilli winery in the heart of the production area near the Dorilli River.  60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato, The Nero d’Avola darkens the blend and aroma and adds body. Nose of light cherry. Medium bodied. Black cherries and strawberries from the Frappato.

Dorilli Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico DOCG 2014.  SRP 33.00.  Same varietals. Same vintage. Same winery in the same area. But this wine is from selected vines and the blend changes to 70% Nero d’Avola and only 30% Frappato. Grapes undergo 21 days maceration (instead of 14) on the skins.  More focused, somewhat dressier and more complex. The nose incorporates cocoa overlaid above the red cherry, strawberry – emphasis on the cherry. Cerasuolo means “cherry like,” after all. Cerasuolo di Vittoria had been a DOC since 1973 but was promoted to DOGC in 2005 acknowledging that these wines were indeed a showcase for Sicily. Planeta has consistently demonstrated the potential quality of this wine style, from vines grown in red, sandy and limestone soil as opposed to others in this large delineated area composed mostly of clay. 

Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG 2007. SRP $24.00.  60% Nero d’Avola, 40% Frappato – as in the 2014. These blends are ageable and tasting this bottle demonstrated that fact. Earthy and figgy on the nose, then fading to allow the fruit on the palate to come forward: red berries, strawberry, a hint of ginger. Complex for a wine at this price point.

Wines tabled for re-tasting. Always
a good idea,
Nocera Sicilia DOC 2015. (To be available soon). Another indigenous grape, Nocera grows only in Sicily’s northern (Messina) area. The grape can be very sweet when ripe without dropping acid, making it ideal for growing in areas of scorching heat.  Thanks to its thick-skinned berries, it has prominent tannins and can make ageable, structured wines with some weight.  This sampling was 100% Nocera, 100% different and 100% enjoyable. Medium bodied, dark fruit flavors, leather and spice. Intense aroma of black cherry with some kirsch.  Tannins well managed. Planeta hand harvests and then further selects grapes at sorting tables in the winery.

Nero d’Avola Nocera Sicilia DOC 2014.  SRP $26.00.  The Nero d’Avola adds cherry and complexity to the blend which matures 4 months in third and fourth use barrique.  Starting out ripe and rounded, it builds some grip.  From the La Baronia Winery  on Capo Milazzo.   
We moved on to tasting unblended Nero d’Avola DOC starting with the 2012 and moving back through 2011 and 2010. All are produced in Planeta’s Bounivini Winery in Noto (southeastern Sicily).  All are 100% Nero d’Avola, but there are minor differences in both maceration and maturation, so they are noted.  

Noto Nero d’Avola DOC 2012.  SRP $26.00.  Aroma of chocolate covered plums. Faint earth that recedes into red fruit that carries into taste. Slight volatile acidity, but not obstructive. 24 days maceration on the skins/aging 10 months in second and third use oak.

Santa Cecilia Noto DOC 2011. SRP $45.00.  As above, but more earthy on the nose. Some volatile acidity, but not obstructive. 21 days maturation, 14 months aging using second and third use oak.

Santa Cecilia Noto DOC 2010. SRP $45.00. Grab it, grab
Alessio Planeta (L) and the Wine Mizer
several if you can find it. Seamless fruit integration with subtle and balanced aromatics. No volatile acidity. This is polished wine from a very good vintage from a very good winery working with a classic grape. Everything you’ve already read here and elsewhere about Nero d’Avola but on a higher level.
We finished tasting over lunch with a vertical tasting of Planeta’s Santa Cecilia Nero d’Avola. This label (Santa Cecilia) is what to look for if you want to know what Nero d’Avola is capable of achieving at bargain price points. The vintages tasted were:

2011: A youngster: still bright with plum, berries, wild strawberry, citrus and a note of carob. Balanced and elegant with a rounded finish. 94 points Wine Enthusiast, 90 Wine Spectator. With an ARP of $24.

2007:  A little earthy and herby with garigue, ripe blackberry, plum and dark cherry. Wine Enthusiast 92 points. ARP about $31.

2005:  Wild cherries and red berries, plump but balanced with seamless  fruit. Restrained and elegant with contrasting herb notes, expresso and dark chocolate. 91 points Wine Enthusiast. ARP $39 – if you can find it. Worth the hunt.

Conditions in Sicily are so favorable to viticulture, so long as respect is given to matching local conditions to the specific varietal, that “almost organic” farming is assured. Planeta, a leader in doing this has also been active in working with the “SOStain” project that certifies sustainable winegrowing, and in working with the Italian Ministry of the Environment to study ways of reducing water usage and wineries’ carbon footprints.  

None of this, though laudable and important, does anything toward helping consumers become more familiar with Sicily’s DOCs.  Keeping current in the changing world of wine (Spain is even now considering changes to their system of delineated designations) can be a time consuming effort.  A simple approach, at least regarding Nero d’Avola as a varietal or in a blend could be as simple as looking for the word Planeta on the label.

………………. Jim

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“Grapes are the most noble and challenging of fruits.”
Malcolm Dunn, Head Gardener to the 7th Viscount Powerscourt, c 1867       

Called Cot in much of western France including the Loire Valley, and known as Auxerrois in Cahors (southwestern France and the spiritual home of Malbec), it was known as Pressac in the Libournais (near Saint-Émilion and Pomerol) and widely used as a blending grape in Bordeaux.  But it was Argentina that brought this grape forefront to the world’s stage so that it is now universally known as Malbec. It is Argentina’s most widely planted black grape taking up more than 76,500 acres across the country, about 70% of which is planted within the province of Mendoza.

But Mendoza is a huge province, with elevations ranging topside at 22,831 feet down to the semi-flat lands of the east. Lowlands have very hot summers and warm nights in the north with evenings being cooler in the south.  Diurnal swings can be as much as 36 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas of Mendoza.  Proximate rivers and their tributaries (there are several) affect growing conditions as does the vineyards’ altitude.  And although Malbec was brought to Argentina in 1868, it wasn’t until recently that producers matched grapes to local growing conditions.

Achaval-Ferrer and Alta Vista led in pioneering single vineyard Malbec; Malbec that displays a single vineyard’s unique typicity. In fact, such became the core philosophy, along with minimalist intervention, of Achaval-Ferrer production.  Emphasizing single-vineyard production within Mendoza is risky business. The province is known for hailstorms and entire crops can be lost in a day. A fearsome hot, dry wind (known as the “zondra”) while keeping vines dry and well aerated, is also capable of destroying crops upon flowering. For this reason, it is common in the province to produce unblended Malbec from several vineyards.

Bottles at the sampling table
Comparing two and making
Achaval-Ferrer, founded in 1998, has had multiple wines listed on Wine Spectator’s “TOP 100” list. It is Argentina’s first ever recipient of Decanter’s “5-Star Award” and for three consecutive years was Wine Enthusiast’s “Winery of the Year.” More important, to me at least, is the winery’s consistent history of high scores. Looking back ten years, no Malbec has been rated under 90, with most averaging in the mid-90s. What’s that quote again?  “The best predictor of what someone will do is what they have done.”?  Well, understandably, when I was invited to a tasting of Achaval-Ferrer wines, I eagerly accepted. Here’s the take on my favorites:

Achaval-Ferrer Mendoza Malbec 2014 (SRP $24.99). 100% Malbec sourced from vineyards throughout Mendoza. Robert Parker was impressed enough to award this wine 91 points, and I was impressed too. Careful vineyard management and low yields with very little intervention (more on this later) and selecting the best grapes results in a wine tasting higher than priced. My first impression? “Smooth.”  Tannins are wrapped in silk and glide across the palate with notes of black and red cherry, raspberry and violet.  The presentation of this wine is both aromatic and on the palate with delicious fruit that is balanced and not jammy. Rich mouthfeel but with enough minerality and acidity to leave a clean and long finish. If this is “entry level” no wonder Achaval-Ferrer is referred to as “Argentina’s 1st Growth.”

Achaval-Ferrer Finca Bella Vista 2011 (SRP $140).  Wine Enthusiast awarded it 92 points. I would have awarded more.  Suckling gave it a 98. Parker came in with 95 and Tanzer a 94. 100% single-vineyard (Perdriel) Malbec within the Lujan de Cuyo in the upper Mendoza valley at an elevation of 3,200 feet. This is Mendoza’s most traditional quality region. In fact, it is known locally (along with Maipu) as Primera Zona (first zone).  100 year old vines. This is one of two Achaval-Ferrer Malbecs you want to taste if you want to experience how wondrous Malbec is capable of being, or if you want to give a special gift to anyone who thinks they know Malbec.  Full-bodied and with a luscious mouthfeel, this wine is decadent in its depth.  The finish is voluptuous and long, preceded by seductive aromas of blackberry, licorice and violet that carry into the taste along with a note of graphite adding to some dust on the palate.  The aroma is subtly overlaid with a hint of mocha. Concentrated but elegant, it’s Malbec but at a different level.  There’s an interplay of minerality and acidity to fruit and freshness that is a joy to the palate and commands continued sips to understand. Dense and concentrated, yet smooth and silky and with freshness, there is a tension to this wine that mystifies and intrigues.

Achaval-Ferrer Finca Altamira 2012 (SRP $150).  Another single-vineyard wine (La Consulta) within the Valle de Uco (Uco Valley) of Mendoza. Valle de Uco is Argentina’s rising star. Cooler weather, very poor soils with good drainage and a continuous breeze make for healthy vines with low yields – those used for this wine being grown at an elevation of 3,444 feet. Old vines producing concentrated fruit, it was hard to accept, at first taste, that this was 100% Malbec.  Rich and medium ruby in the glass, the nose was more reserved than Bella Vista with notes of blackberry and black cherry. Its rich flavor of cassis had me question if this was a Bordeaux blend!  A seamless composition with feminine floral notes balanced against masculine expresso and a hint of leather contrasted against black plum fruit. Balsamic, licorice, dark chocolate. Complex, elegant, graceful.  I really didn’t know Malbec could be this good. Wine Advocate awarded it 98 points / 95 from Wine Spectator and a Wow factor from me that made tasting this wine a memory to last a lifetime.

The alluvial and sandy stony soil of Mendoza, the hot and dry wind of zonda blowing down from the west, protection and isolation created by the Andes and the lack of abundant rainfall (but with enough water from rivers to irrigate as needed) lend natural conditions to growing healthy vines. Pesticide and spraying for disease is little needed. So while Malbec may have been born in France, it found a home in Argentina. And America (Argentina’s top purchaser of the varietal) seems to prefer it. In fairness, the Malbec of Argentina may be a different clone from that of Cahors. It has smaller, tighter bunches and smaller berries.

But what you do – or don’t do - with the grape is important too. Achaval-Ferrer’s vines are ungrafted and old and grown at high elevation in excellent terroir.  Low yields produce concentrated and vibrant fruit from berries already smaller than their cousins in France.  Achaval-Ferrer uses no enzymes, adds no sugar (chaptalization) and no corrections are made by adding acid. There is no fining, no filtering. What there is, is New World fruit expressive of terroir and New World innovation but married respectfully to Old World acid-driven, elegant, structured and balanced wines that are so eager to be enjoyed with food.

Achaval-Ferrer makes several other wines. I sampled also a
Manuel Louzada (R) and the Wine
100% Cabernet Sauvignon and a blend  (Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot) labeled “Quimera” and suggestively priced at $24.99 and $34.99 respectively. Regarding Suggested Retail Price (SRP), let me mention that looking online for Bella Vista and Altamira, I noticed that prices varied significantly and lower than the SRP stated– nearer the $100 mark.

I sat next to Manuel Louzada, head of global winemaking for Achaval-Ferrer, and we talked awhile about his wines. I commented that I have enjoyed Malbec for some years more than the average age of persons in the room and that I found his wines particularly special; mysterious and seductive.  I light heartedly but sincerely mentioned that his wines were something like a beautiful woman appearing in lingerie instead of being nude.  There was a mystery to these wines.  Not everything was obvious. Well, I am an old man, and hopefully that didn’t come out too old and dirty. He laughed, and I think he understood.  In either event, I followed up with referring to him as “The Michelangelo of Malbec.”  I meant both those comments though you won’t find either being used in any wine study course.  As Malcolm Dunn said “Grapes are the most noble and challenging of fruits” and Manuel and his team at Achaval-Ferrer have indeed mastered the challenge. Perhaps that last comment says it best.

……………… Jim

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