SIDURI WINERY 2012 SANTA LUCIA HIGHLANDS PINOT NOIR

“Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words.” … Plautus

Siduri is another example of wineries began by first generation winemakers who have garnered acclaim and a cult following of wine lovers; in this case lovers of
Pinot Noir.  Founded in 1994 by Adam and Diana Lee on a shoe string budget, the Lees have developed Siduri into a winery producing more than twenty Pinot Noirs, the majority being single vineyard.  Their love of Pinot Noir and their passion for work has earned them praise from such notables as Robert Parker (“One of California’s top Pinot Noir producers. One of my favorite wineries.”)  to Antonio Galloni (“Siduri’s appellation level Pinots are wines that consistently over deliver.”).  Add Matt Kramer’s comments (Wine Spectator) from his new book, New California Wine: (“To taste Siduri is to taste some of the best Pinot Noir made in America today.”).

Even with a wide angle lens, I couldn't
get all the Pinots Siduri makes. (But I'm happy
to have these).
I’d be thinking too much of myself to think I could add anything of more weight to these comments from such notables.  But in fact, comments from such heavy weights can have the effect of scaring away some consumers, leading them to believe the label may be too expensive for their budget. Siduri has completed an end run pass around this problem by working with more than twenty vineyards. They maintain a bare bones operation, making only Pinot Noir.  And visiting the winery, you won’t see an expensively appointed tasting room. The opulence is solely in the wine. Hence the cult following that recognizes both good Pinot Noir and a bargain.

I recently tasted a 2012 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, for example. The wine is a blend from five sites the winery works with. But Siduri vinifies each wine separately by block, clone and barrel type to maximize individual components and provide greater complexity to the final blend.  In the glass, the wine is ruby colored and offers aromas of cherry and blackberry. But I was most intrigued by the nose of white smoke, flowers and musk. This was a supple, juicy Pinot with silky tannins and a pleasing, cleansing zesty acidity. I tasted dark mashed plum and the wine played a savory-sweet balancing act of cherry and vanilla notes along the way. A hint of black pepper accompanied the dry finish.

The wine is fermented with 20% whole clusters and a blend of wines from both the cooler northern end of the Santa Lucia Highlands (Rosella’s, Garys and Soberanes Vineyards) and the warmer southern end of the appellation (Sierra Mar and Pisoni). 
With Tyler Bruner (L) Siduri guide
extraordinaire in the winery
warehouse
Temperature (and other factors) play an important role in how grapes ripen and in what they offer as wine and partially explain why you may like a pinot one day and not the next.  By blending wines from both areas, after vinifying each separately, Siduri offers an entry label Pinot Noir of considerable elegance by itself or with food and one which tastes higher than it is priced (ARP $31).

Siduri has never filtered or fined any Pinot Noir. Their belief is that doing so, more often than not, the wine is stripped of its flavor and character.  There is no way for me to taste this same wine having undergone such procedures.  But having tasted this wine as it is, there is no reason for me to want to.       
Cheers!
……………  Jim

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J. ROCHIOLI “THREE CORNER” PINOT NOIR 2010 (RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY)

“Wine is sunlight held together by water.”  … Galileo Gallilei

I should not be liking this wine.  I am, after all, a Francophile by taste  And although I’ve tasted some domestic Pinot Noir using Burgundian yeast and clones and another from New Zealand (same clones, and again with the yeast) and have enjoyed them -  doing this only served to establish my preference for the “old world” style: earthy and not so fruit forward.  But this Rochioli Pinot Noir exploded with fruit and I was loving it!   I cannot recall ever having so enjoyed a fruit forward wine.  If any Pinot Noir could re-patriot me, this Pinot had the best chance. 
Entrance to the winery

No, I haven’t changed my general orientation to Pinot Noir.  The problem (my opinion) with most fruit forward Pinot that I tasted is that its “forwardness” is dominating.  It obscures all the other characteristics of the wine.  There is no symphony playing out of the bottle, only a concerto from an instrument that keeps playing the same note.  Good wine, great wine, displays a push-pull of balance; a tease and reward system of notes on the palette that constantly intrigues and invites more exploration.  The better the wine, the better this game is played out. 

Visiting the vineyard in 2012, I tasted and was blessed to walk away with their 2010 “Three Corners” Pinot Noir that I was just now tasting again. Rochioli vineyard makes several wines, including  estate and single-vineyard estate bottlings, that  span the palette from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot
Noir (including a rose of Pinot), Syrah, Valdiguie (a Languedoc-Roussillon in the style of a Gamay) and a sparkling Blanc de Noir.  But it was the Pinot Noir that possessed me.  That it, in fact, possesses so many people is evident when you look at the ratings.  While all the Rochioli varietals are well rated (you can see this yourself -  click the tab labeled “accolades” on the vineyard’s web page), it’s their Pinots that constantly garner 90+ points, with some releases earning numbers like 96/93/93 from the Parker-Tanzer-Galloni triumphate that possess me.  And in the guide books for California wine touring, Rochioli vineyard is always included as a must visit with emphasis on tasting the vineyard’s Pinots.

I enjoyed aromas of ripe, mashed blackberry and cherry (emphasis blackberry) that followed through in the taste. This was a wine of intriguing contradictions: it was decadently rich but finished clean in a perfect acid balance against fruit. The mouthfeel was glycerin like, coating the palette with silky and clean fruit spiced with anise and a whisper-hint of black tea.  Yet despite all this fruit, the wine was not jammy.  It was a symphony of balance instead; its notes intermingled while playing against each other, each discernable but then immediately contrasted against the other, all ending in a long, long finish.  Amazingly, despite this long finish, I wanted to sip again just to re-experience the process.  Yes, this is a “new world” style wine. It’s not in the style I have habituated to since enjoying French burgundies in the 70’s and becoming accustomed to that model.  But it was a joyous experience and one I would happily and eagerly re-visit.  And perhaps, that’s the strongest recommendation any wine reviewer can really make.

Speaking of recommendations, this Pinot is a single-vineyard estate wine and among the bottlings constantly sold out -  so much so that people wanting to experience it need to register on a list.  So another 
Tasting ready-for-the-crush grapes at the winery in 2012
with Victoria Stone (Wine Server Extraordinaire)
recommendation is to visit the winery’s web site and register on that list. In the meantime, estate wines (including Pinots) are available and can be ordered directly on line.  Tasting these excellent wines will just develop appreciation toward the eventual experience of being able to enjoy a single-vineyard estate bottled wine from J. Rochioli vineyard and winery.  The push-pull of balance, the tease and reward system of notes on the palette intrigues and invites along the journey.

Cheers!
……………….. Jim

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TECH SPECS
Age of Vines:                         32 yrs
Fermented                             20 days, Open top stainless tanks. Hand punched cap
                                                Malo-Latic: 60 days
                                                Skin Contact: 11 days
                                                100% French oak / 50% new 
                                                60 gal barrels /  15 months
Acid:                                      .62 gm/100ml
PH:                                         3.55
Alc:                                         14.5%
Cases:                                     163
Cellaring Potential:               6 – 8 yrs

J. Rochioli Vineyard and Winery
6192 Westside Rd
Healdsburg CA 95448
Tel: 707-433-2305











          

CHATEAU SAINT-ROCHE (Languedoc) COTES du ROUSSILLON VILLAGES CHIMERES 2007

“Wine is valued by its price, not by its flavor.” … Anthony Trollope (English novelist 1815-1882)


OK, that’s a lot of words. But you have to appreciate the French for putting it all out there on the labels (most words are on the back label, with “Chateau Saint-Roche” and “Chimeres” appearing on the front).  It’s French.  Even if you’re new to wine, you get that from the word “Chateau”.  The region in France where the wine is made is the Languedoc Roussillon.  The sub-region (a smaller area within that area) is the Roussillon. And the appellation is Cotes du Roussillon Villages.  Chimeres is a red Rhone blend made by Saint-Roche.  You could probably get by just asking for a Saint-Roche, though learning what these areas mean is helpful.  For one thing, French wine is still a standard worldwide.  For another, you can get good French wine made in the Languedoc area with just budget friendly money being spent.


At less than $20 (and often $16), you get a lot of wine in the glass.  And this blend of (40%) Black Grenache, (30%) Carignan, (20%) Syrah and (10%) Mourvedre shows deep purple. It offers aromas of mocha, raspberry and violet with hints of provincial herb. The wine has medium plus body and plus, plus tannin. But despite all this rich dark fruit and ample tannin, the wine is surprisingly smooth and supple. Mr. Trollope (see quote above) obviously never tasted Saint-Roche. If you’re looking for a winter wine somewhat on the chewy side or something to go with beef, this is a good choice.  At 14.5% alcohol, which by French standards is high, this wine packs some heat that you’ll feel on the back taste with black pepper.  A great winter wine and a good value, Parker / Wine Advocate awarded it 92 points and I found it most interesting.  Imported by European Cellars, it’s an “Eric Solomon Selection”.  And if you’re not familiar with French wines, that’s another piece of information on the back label to look for.  Drink now, or obtain a more recent vintage.

Sante!
……………… Jim

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KRUTZ FAMILY CELLARS SYRAH 2009

“Men are like wine. Some turn to vinegar, but the best improve with age.” … Pope John XXIII

There is an unfortunate side effect to labeling terms used on wine labels, and the fault – I think – lies with us and in how we conjure what the term means.  The term “reserve,” for example, has no legal meaning.  And while that is so, most winemakers and vineyard owners are proud of their craft and their family’s label and quite honest in putting forth their product.  In most cases, it’s safe to assume that the term “reserve” can be taken to mean the wine is something better than the vineyard’s entry label.  The wine may have received additional aging, benefited from oak, or have been selected from a superior site.  But none of that is legally defined or specified.

A visit to Krutz is an opportunity
to conveniently visit other wineries
too.
But what does the term “Estate Grown” mean?  Legally, it means the winery producing the wine also grew the grapes.  And what do we conjure that to mean?  Do we take that to mean that wine produced from grapes grown on the estate will be better than wine made from grapes that have been sourced? I think that’s often the case.  And it’s an example of us reading too much into the label.

In fact, there are grapes grown on many vineyards that do not make wine.  Their business is growing grapes. And there are well known, highly regarded wineries that source all their grapes.  They source grapes from vineyards that both produce their own wines and from those that do not. Growing is farming and winemaking is something else. Sometimes they come together, and sometimes they do not. 

I recall enjoying a tasting in California put on by a winery and visiting
A Stunning Syrah
the B&B where I was staying. Upon pouring a sample of one of the wines, the sales person mentioned that the grapes for this Pinot Noir were sourced from “XYZ” (a Sonoma vineyard / winery famous for Pinot Noir and that will go unnamed). Upon enjoying the wine’s unique aroma, I immediately recognized the vineyard.  I had enjoyed his remarkable Pinot Noir on a previous visit. But upon tasting the wine, I recognized he had nothing to do with making it.  Don’t buy into the misconception that such vineyards only sell inferior grapes to winemakers.  They wouldn’t be selling anything for very long if that were true.  Growing is farming and winemaking is something else.  So let’s accept that winemaking is its own art. And the proof of that is in the tasting. 

Patrick Krutz moving crates of
grapes
Tasting Patrick Krutz’s Syrah is such an experience.  The grapes for this wine are sourced from the famous Stagecoach Vineyard in Napa Valley. Krutz has had, and benefited, from long term contracts with this vineyard since 2007.  As he says on the label, “the fruit we get into the winery is dark; full flavored, and big structured. It begs for the classic French tradition where 10% of Viognier (a white grape from the Rhone) is co-fermented with the Syrah.”

What does this mean?  In the glass, it means a medium bodied wine with soft, silky tannins. It means a wine that’s a safe “crowd pleaser” because every red wine drinker will enjoy it; the Viognier smoothing the edges of the Syrah’s depth allowing even white wine drinkers to enjoy a glass.  A pungent nose of blackberry mixed with smoky bacon carries into the taste along with notes of pepper and licorice softened with hints of crème de cassis.  Faint hints of nutmeg and allspice enhanced the nose. This is a wine not only to be enjoyed, but to be later tasted again and studied for its depth, complexity and balance. Wine Enthusiast rated this wine a 94.    

Krutz Family Cellars produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnays of various labels and price points, and exemplifies several first generation winemakers that left successful careers to pursue the craft of winemaking with passion and a love for the task and a willingness to take risk. I tasted many of the winery’s offerings during my 2012 visit and it was obvious that wine being made was not going to be “3rd or 4th or 5th generation business as usual.”   Now, looking at my notes from that visit, I’m still struck with the grace and depth of Krutz’s Anderson Valley and Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and the Martinelli Chardonnay.  And looking at his current list which includes Merlot, Tempranillo, Zinfandel and Malbec, I feel a need to return.     

Cheers!
…………………   Jim

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TECH SPECS
Harvested                                           Oct. 10, 2009
Fermentation:                                    Co-fermented in Macro bins with 19 days on the skins
Alc:                                                    14.9%
pH:                                                     3.74
Cooperage:                                         40% new French oak
Barrel Aging                                       14 months
Released:                                            March 2012
Production:                                        400 cases

Krutz Family Cellars
1301 Cleveland Ave, Santa Rosa, CA 95401
Tel: (601) 940-9625
                                                                               

   


   

VOLPAIA VIN SANTO del CLASSICO 2003

“Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.” …… Paulo Coelha, Brida

If Paulo is correct in saying that all wines should be tasted, it would be remiss of me not to talk about this wine.  You already know from the name that it’s an Italian wine.  More specifically, it’s from the region of Tuscany; the sub-region of Vin Santo del Chianti Classico.  But don’t let use of the word “Chianti” mislead you. Although the sub-region includes the words “Chianti Classico” (a D.O.C.), this is not a wine of blended Sangiovese grapes, nor does it taste anything like it.  Not only are the grapes used in the making of this unusual wine different, but how those grapes are vinfied is a story in itself – and one that should instill respect in your heart for this wine being a labor of love.

Let’s start with the grapes: Trebbiano and Malvasia.  Italy, remember, is the land of over 900 grape varieties so when you’re expanding your experience with Italian wines, you’re likely to encounter fun new tastes.  The grapes are picked toward the end of September with the best bunches (no bruises and and loosely packed berries) taken to the vinsantaia.  The vinsantaia is a loft where the grapes are hung in bunches by chains and left to dry until February.  Thanks to the climate in Vin Santo, with cold but dry winters, the grapes are not subject to rot.  And numerous, large windows kept open throughout this time provide constant air circulation.  If you’re familiar with the process of appassimento (see http://www.winemizer.net/2013/05/amaqrone-della-valpolicella.html ) in the making of Amarone, think similarly.

In February, the grapes are sufficiently dried to assure the Vinsanto
will have a high alcohol content and the residual sugar necessary for the long fermentation.  Only now are the grapes pressed and, after a natural process of clarification, the must is poured into small oak casks which still contain the lees of the finished Vinsanto that had just been removed. These lees start the fermentation process which can last up to five years!  (no, that’s not a typo – five year’s fermentation).  Finally, the Vinsanto is racked from the lees, clarified and bottled – usually in smaller 375ml bottles.

The bottle size is appropriate since the wine itself is more desert appropriate. In the glass, it shows medium amber and offers tastes of burnt sugar, caramel and candied orange peel.  At 16.5% alcohol, it’s a powerful finish to a meal and a wine to warm you up in winter. Though a desert wine, it’s not sweet in the way of a Sauterne, Tokay or “late harvest” anything. I find it more akin to a Marsala in texture.  

A purpose of this blog is to introduce you, perhaps, to different grapes; to bring you along the wonder-journey of winemaking and to introduce different tastes and textures into your glass.  Vin Santo will do that.  And while it may not be a style of wine you prefer for daily consumption, experiencing it will broaden your awareness of how long (this method of drying grapes is centuries old) and how patiently (five year fermentation!) winemakers work to give their wine a sense of place when you’re enjoying it.

Salute!
…………………. Jim

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TECH SPECS

Composition:             Trebbiano 60%   Malvasia Bianca del Chianti 40%
Alc:                              16.5%
TA:                               7.6g/L

RS:                               148g/L

DOMAINE ZIND HUMBRECHT GEWURZTRAMINER 2009

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

It’s always a surprise when I bring a Gewuz to the Thanksgiving table and diners are always surprised by how well it fits the meal.  This is Dom Zind Humbrecht’s entry label and at an ARP of $23, I think it’s a bargain.  If you’re a traditionalist, you may want to back this up with a Pinot Noir and have both available, but I’ll wager that it will be the Gewurz that empties first.

The Domaine Zind-Humbrecht was created in 1959 by the merging of two familes (Zenon Humbtrecht and Emile Zind) with the marriage of their children (Leonard Humbrecht and Ginette Zind).  But before this, each family produced and sold their own wine. Domaine Humbrecht had been a family business, for example, since 1620.  Long enough to develop some “street cred.”

Grapes are grown and the wine crafted in the sub-region of Alsace in France.  Throughout history, this area has been part of both France and Germany, but geologically Alsace is isolated from both countries and produces wine that is unique, showing a true sense of place.  Ninety percent of what is produced is white and Gewurz is my favorite.

As Mosel is a standard for Riesling, Alsace is my standard for Gewurz.  It seems those tasting this wine are able to develop an endless list of both aromas and taste-flavors.  Aromas of rose and tropical flowers, honeysuckle, lilac, violet, ripe pear, lychee, honey, celery root and more are
common.  I never know how many of those tasters are “reaching” and it’s true that each of us enjoy aromas and tastes that others might not be able to detect.  But I definitely enjoyed a pungent floral nose with spice and kiwi fruit that was heavenly. The mouthfeel is lush and rich with tastes of dried candied fruit: pineapple and lemon-lime, and hints of ripe pear and orange peel (I didn’t get the white pepper).  It has an exquisite minerality in its finish.  Even the wine’s color (pale gold) is rich and looks lovely on the table.  Just thinking of this wine makes me want more.

But don’t limit this wine to
only the Thanksgiving table.  I found it delightful paired with spicy crawfish cakes.  It would go well with any grilled fish, smoked meat or several Asian dishes.  I can see it accompanying spicy sausages with spaetzle very nicely.

All this fruit may lead you to suspect there is sweetness in the bottle, but at 14%, this wine is fermented dry. Look at the lower left hand corner of the bottle’s label and if you spot L170, you’re looking at the same wine I’m talking about.  Dom Zind Humbrecht also makes a moderately sweet counterpart with an otherwise identical label but coded L17N. If you enjoy a little sweetness in your wine, you may want to try this.    

By the way, this wine was ranked by Wine Spectator among the “Top 100” of 2011 and awarded 92 points.  Their estimated drink-through date is 2024 which (as I keep saying) busts another myth about all white wines needing to be drunk immediately.  If you have trouble getting, this vintage, you may be able to find the 2012, rated 91 points.

 Sante / Prost!
……………………..   Jim

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WINE REVIEWS

“I don't listen to what art critics say. I don't know anybody who needs a critic to find out what art is.” …. Jean-Michael Basquiat

This will probably be the least read but most important blog post I’ve written:  It asks: “What is a wine review, really?” What does it mean for you? How should you take what the wine critic says  (I prefer the term wine “reviewer”) to mean for you?

As with any review of wine, it’s important to remember a few things.  Pliny the Elder, a Roman historian, said “The best wine is that which taste good to thine own palette.”   He said that over two thousand years ago and I believe it still applies today.  Updating that for students in my “Wine 101 Appreciation” classes, I tell them: “Don’t let the wine snobs bully you.”  Certainly, most somms and reviewers are not intentionally trying to make you feel inadequate.  You just need to understand they are operating off a list of bullet points as to what makes a wine average, good or excellent.  And these bullet points (acquired through a disciplined course of study or years of passionate independent study) may be more detailed and nuanced than yours.  But your tastes are your tastes, funded by your wallet and you’re entitled to them without apologizing.

It’s also important to be aware that no matter the “wine expert’s” level of knowledge, he/she comes to a declaration of the wine’s quality with a lifelong of prejudice.  And this is something most experts don’t admit.  Yes, it’s true that there are objective standards universally accepted as to what markers identify excellent wine. But every reviewer will tell you that he or she has tasted wines they thought were over or under rated.  Why is that?  And since these differences of opinion are fact, then what does a wine review really mean to you?

Grapes are fruit, but a fruit forward
wine is not the same as a fruit wine.
In my own case, my prejudice is toward “old world” style wines.  I bring that preference of style with me to every wine I taste.  Unconsciously.  Everyone in this business acknowledges that “blind tasting” is necessary.  Knowing what wine you are tasting, for example, -- seeing the label and knowing its reputation -- will affect your evaluation.   But how do you “blind” a taste preference that was acquired decades ago, reinforced over time and that now is firmly implanted in your physiology?  You can’t.  Not completely. 

Let’s use my own prejudice as an example. When I became of legal age to buy wine in my home state in the Midwest, California (new world) was growing prunes, almonds, apricots and other agricultural products.  Some wine, of course, was being produced and some of it was quite good.  But its distribution was limited. What was commonly available, in even small neighborhood liquor stores, was French (old world).  Much of Western AND Eastern Europe had been making wine almost since dirt was invented. But even so, quality wine from Spain, Italy and other countries was primarily being enjoyed within the borders of those countries.  New York State enjoyed some shelf space, but red wine was limited to Cabernet Franc with Riesling being the white option. Bordeaux from France, on the other hand, was plentiful and inexpensive.  It was being exported from top Chateaus with an uninterrupted history (no Prohibition experiment there) going back hundreds of years within the same proud family.  As were the craftsmen of Europe’s guild system respected, winemaking in families was craft. And the French were respected the world over for establishing the standard.

That changed with The Judgment of Paris in 1976, or better said –
Can your Sauvignon Blanc be grassy?
The Judgment of Paris put California on the world stage. But by that time, it was too late. My palette had matured through “old world” style wine: less fruit forward and with more earthy notes, and that taste introduction became the marker for identifying what made, for me,  good wine.  I often say, I don’t just taste the fruit but the whole “process”… the earth, the barrel and everything else.  For me, that defines balance. But how about you?  No wine reviewer can completely shuck himself of his prejudices.  So when you read a review, understand that some of that praise for a wine is distinctly personal to the reviewer’s personal preferred style.  And the reviewer’s personal preferred style may be different than yours.  Ever read a movie review heavy with praise for a film that you then went to see and thought stunk?

The taste can be had
but only in some.
And there are other considerations even more unpleasant to admit: As we age, our bodies change. Our palettes, our sense of smell may become less sensitive. But more confusing is that our tastes may change in opposing directions.  So while we may prefer our food more aggressively seasoned, we may prefer our wines to be softer, less tannic.  Or we may not.

A good reviewer must be aware of all these things and put forth some conscious effort to become free of the effect of any prejudice when tasting a wine for review.  Recently, I tasted a California Pinot Noir rich in fruit (blueberry) and about as “new world” in style as a wine could be. It was delicious. It was beyond delicious!  I absolutely loved this wine. Its mouthfeel, the finish, the way everything worked together was just so well done that I couldn’t help but sing its praises.  But, for me, such wines are more exceptional than common.  And while my taste preference may be leaning somewhat now toward softer, more fruit forward wines even that definition establishes an area that is difficult to communicate.  Exactly how fruity must a wine be before it is fruit forward?  And where along the journey of a changing palette is that wine reviewer when writing about that wine?

Finally, let’s look at this area of communication.  Somms-critics-reviewers use words like body, back taste, legs, and descriptors like forest floor and other strange terms when describing wine.  There are many who use this against them. This too is unfair.  As in any craft, there is a necessary jargon.  Talk to a lab technician, a chef or a mechanic and you will see that the language of their craft is established to provide a common understanding. So too with wine.  The wine reviewer is using these terms to help you understand what you may expect to taste from that wine, whether it’s cellarable or not, what foods the wine may best pair against.  Understanding wine language will enhance your understanding of any wine review and increase your appreciation of wine.  Numerous inexpensive books can help you with this. Four of my favorites are: (1) Windows on the World Complete Wine Course by Kevin Zraly (2) Wine. A Tasting Course by Marnie Old (3) the Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil and (4) The Everyday Guide to Wine (a book and video course) by Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan.

Any one of these books will help you better understand your own tastes.  You’ll learn what it is in wine that you enjoy – wines of low/high acid for example. Or cool climate vs. warm climate Pinot Noir. What’s the benefit? You’ll be more comfortable ordering wine in restaurants and when perusing the aisles in a big-box wine store. You’ll chose fewer wines that you don’t enjoy and more that you do.  You’ll be better able to pair wine with food and not have to resort to pulling out the old standby.  Learning is fun and the experience is immediately joyful.  And you won’t be intimidated by the wine snobs.

All this, of course, is at great risk to me because with all that new found knowledge, why would you need a reviewer?   

Cheers!
……………. Jim
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ELIO GRASSO DOLCETTO D’ALBA 2010

"Wine. The intellectual part of the meal."   …. Alexandre Dumas

What’s your favorite every day wine for Italian food?  For many Italians, it’s Dolcetto. The same wine wonderland that gives us the Nebbiolo grape in Barolo and Barbaresco wines, and luscious romantic Amarones , happily consumes Dolcetto around the family dinner tables of Piedmont.  Unlike in the U.S. where consumers enjoy aisles of wines from across the globe, most of the world drinks the wine of their locale. There are seven Dolcetto appelations,  
Dolecetto d’Alba producing the most (“d” meaning of/from, “Alba” being the appellation). Many experts believe the best Dolcettos come from Dogliani (a D.O.C.G.), but I would not exclude Alba, and certainly not that of Elio Grasso.

Alba (a D.O.C.) sometimes gets dismissed by the “wine snobs” because the dolcetto grape there is relegated to third position behind the nebbiolo and barbera grapes.  And while it’s true that nebbiolo rules, it’s also true that Elio Grasso makes excellent Barolo from the nebbiolo grape (I’ve enjoyed it) but also treats their dolcetto with respect and care for its own unique character.  And it’s also true that wines from this producer are well priced (this bottle $17) as is Dolcetto generally. That’s why Italians drink it.

The Elio Grasso I enjoyed should drink well into next year. Dolcettos, as a rule, should be enjoyed within four years of vintage. For Italian wines, that’s an eye blink. That’s also the wine’s charm.  Dolcettos generally have low acid, are “soft styled”, fruity (not sweet) and offer gentle spicy aromas and hints of earthiness.  These are casual drinking, everyday wines that don’t require a critic’s analytical dissection – just enjoyment alongside a meal.  With this, they also provide the typical “old world” push-pull of balance between fruit and earth.  The challenge winemakers have with this grape
is its high acid, which can make for wine with a bitter finish.  But this can be controlled by limiting maceration time.

I tasted two other Dolcettos – (both well rated) and from the Alba region. One (priced 35% higher) will go unnamed and indeed suffered from a tannic finish that literally “burnt” the wine’s fruit).  Elio Grasso (for me) excelled in its finish.  Having limited skin contact virtually eliminated bitterness and added to the wine’s universal appeal. The skin of the dolcetto grape is also high in anthocyanins, so despite limiting skin contact, the color of Elio Grasso’s Dolcetto wine is an attractive dark ruby.

The nose, often slight in this varietal, was strong with plum and prune and followed through on the taste with ripe plum and some blackberry and whispered hints of earthiness.  Its mouthfeel was luscious, a real tongue coater. Tannins were evident in the finish but well managed and enjoyable.  I didn’t detect any taste of almonds, common in this varietal, but suspect that is simply my palette.  For comparison, I tasted a 2013 Elio Grasso ($16) Dolcetto d’Alba and enjoyed a consistency of aroma and tastes despite the wine being of different vintage.

I also enjoyed a 2013 Vietti Dolcetto d’Alba ($19).  For those preferring a lighter style, this wine offers an alternative with a lighter (and perhaps) more nuanced nose and delicate taste. With no harsh tannins (the color is virtually identical to Elio Grasso’s) it offers high notes of cherry, but is more singular in its profile than the lusher Elio Grasso.  Not a “tongue coater,” the wine is lighter bodied.  Whether that’s a plus or a minus is 100% a matter of personal preference.  I poured a “blind” sample of each wine for my guest. Then, on a piece of paper, I wrote “number 2”.  After she announced her preference (which was #2 – the Vietti), I showed her the paper.  I could enjoy either wine, though I preferred the more “masculine” Elio Grasso.  She preferred the Vietti.
Still, recommendations are expected, so here is mine:  At your next Italian meal, forgo the straw wrapped bottle of Chianti and try a Dolcetto.  If it’s a dinner party, try a few different bottles and collect opinions.  Before you know it, conversation will fill the lull between courses and your guests will be raving later about what a great dinner party they enjoyed.

Salute!
……………
                Jim

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Alc:                         13.5%
Imported by              Connoisseur Wines, Niles IL/