Gaja Ca’ Marcanda Vistamare 2016

“To live is to war with trolls.” …  Henrik Ibsen

Ibsen was a Norwegian playwright and some of his work was required reading as a sophomore in my high school. He died in 1906. Who knew he could so early have foreseen the invention of the internet and its trolls?  And, perhaps, this opinion piece would have been better titled “What is the obligation of a wine critic”?  The problem is that I can think of nothing negative about this wine, respecting that all palates are personal and correct for the people owning them. Making it more complicated is that everyone is all a gaga over this wine, especially those most well-respected and famous. How then do I justify not sharing their view?  And should I only review wines that personally excite me?  That’s what I’ve usually done, but continuing in that fashion will require that I ignore some wines proclaimed by many and the important as great.  I don’t write negative reviews. But what to say about a wine that I think is not as special as those others would have you think it is?

I’m reminded of the 1932D quarter-dollar (U.S.) which can be worth 5,900% more than the same quarter without the D mint mark. Perception is reality. So be welcome to post your comments here, or just send your hate mail to In the meantime, let me explain why this wine is a quandary for me.

I enjoy Italian whites for their typicity of minerality and citrus. Gaja’s Vistamare has that. But typicity, by definition, means such is expected.  The problem is there is no problem!  No faults. No issue of the wine being out of balance.  Fruit and acidity all work well together.  Nothing smacks you.  Nothing in the glass or on your palate overshadows the other to the wine’s detriment.

Vistamare is the only white wine made by the Gaja Ca’ Marcanda estate. It is a limited production release and somewhat collectible. In that sense, it reminds me of the “D” on that quarter. In that sense, it seems to garner a cache that “snobs” may enjoy talking about. Then again, maybe I’m all wet as “they” say.

From Tuscany, it’s a blend of 60% Vermentino and 40% Viognier (how can you go wrong?).  It is medium lemon in the glass and offers sublime and well-balanced notes of citrus with pink grapefruit and lemon.  The citrus carries onto the palate and melds with interest-peaking herbal notes on the finish.  Others refer to “white peach and apricot, honey and jasmine.”

So far, you’ll notice, no problem. So far, you’ll notice, I have no complaints. So far, I’m kind of dragging it out.  But here’s another review: “Baked banana, vanilla pie, kumquat, white plum jam, white cocoa, white strawberry, nectarine, mango and marinated cucumber.”   Holy moly, was this the same wine I was tasting? 

I’m reminded of a trade tasting event where I and other critics met with the wine maker. One of them referred to tasting “golden nails.”  I had never chewed nails made of gold and thought (to myself) when is a stretch enough?  When can wine be good enough without it being stellar due to its cache or “limited release”?

The ARP of this wine is $49 (U.S.).  I can’t say anything negative about it. But I have to wonder, is the price propped by its perception?  Is it well made? Is it tasty? Yes, to both.  But is it distinctive enough to warrant that price?  For me, “not so much” (credit to Seinfeld). Your have my address and know where to send the hate mail.

……………….. Jim

Follow and like Wine Mizer on Facebook for mini-reviews, industry news and more. Follow winemizer on twitter. does not accept any advertisements, nor is it affiliated with any winery, vineyard, importer or distributor.  You may be assured that any opinions are not economically biased (though they may not be appropriate to your individual and unique palate).


“There are many wines that taste great, but do not drink well.” … Michael Broadbent, British wine writer

If science married art in these days of modern viticulture and wine making, it surely did the same with pricing.   Charge multiple hundreds of dollars for a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, become known as a “limited release collectible” and you may be OK marketing to a niche group.  Like a 1932D quarter worth 5,900 percent more than the same quarter without the “D”, perception becomes reality.  Of course, you’ll lose the mass market, but then who wants it when your wine is about cache anyway and your profit per bottle margin is soaring?   Conversely, if you so low-price your wine, you run the risk of alienating the middle group who may assume “any wine this inexpensive can’t be good.”

I recall meeting with a marketing executive at a well-known, long established Sonoma California winery/vineyard (since acquired).  The exec explained over lunch that the winery had paid a graphic designer over $50,000 to design a label.  That was seven years ago.  It didn’t include printing the labels, just its design.  And it wasn’t for labels across the brand. It was one label for one wine.

Wineries engage in all sort of analysis with benefit of trade groups, consumer studies, self-experience and I have no idea what else. Anyone spending $50,000 for a label design obviously takes marketing seriously, and I think they’re right to do so.  Blind tastings in WSET and Sommelier exams are the norm because it’s accepted that if we see a label, it will influence our opinion of the wine.  I submit that pricing does too.

Along comes Delas Freres Vins from Ventoux, a wine growing AOC in the southeast of the southern Rhone Valley between Languedoc and Provence, each of which may be better known. Wines are produced in 51 communes along the lower slopes and at the foot of the Ventoux mountains and protected from the damaging Mistral by that mountain range.  Wines made in Ventoux are very similar to those bearing the Cotes du Rhone appellation and employ much the same blend of grapes.   Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre (GSM) are common and, to a lesser extent: Cinsault and Carignan. Ventoux (par Delas Freres A Tournon-Sur-Rhone) is straight up 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah.  Despite being a Certified Wine Geek, and a lover of all wines Rhone, I wasn’t as familiar with this region as maybe I was when cramming for an exam, assuming I can remember.

Point is, this wine has an ARP of just $11.  Worse, it was on sale for $6.99 at a local merchant. And despite my saying for decades that wines of the Southern Rhone offer great value, the nagging question to myself was “Can this wine be any good?”

It was. I bought two bottles. Wrote about it on my Facebook page and followers commented that they went to that store to get some. And I will soon get more myself, having tasted it.   

Medium garnet to medium ruby in the glass, this dry red offers aromas of raspberries with baking spices that, put together, reminds me of “Fruits of the Forest” pie. With air in the glass, expect blueberry and cocoa to develop. Strawberry develops also, and then again with air, black cherry, lavender and sandalwood on the palate. A slight grip makes it all the more pleasant. Others refer to notes of “crushed stone and Bing cherries”, “garrigue and smoke”. But everyone agrees this wine is a screaming value. It garnered 90 points from  Robert Parker's Wine Advocate and James Suckling.

It’s not Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  It doesn’t have the cache.  I’m tempted to say it’s somewhat country, but in fact, it’s not at all rustic. it’s actually quite polished and refined and I find myself fighting that preconception based on price again.  “Fresh and silky in feel, with pretty anise and tea hints inlaid into a core of gently steeped red currant and plum.” (Wine Spectator).   Delas Ventoux is not Chateauneuf-du-Pape. It is bright, a little tangy with some herbs gracing its notes of wild red fruit. And it is indeed “silky” as stated by Wine Spectator. 

It tastes great and drinks well.

…………….. Jim

Follow and like Wine Mizer on Facebook for mini-reviews, industry news and more. Follow winemizer on twitter. does not accept any advertisements, nor is it affiliated with any winery, vineyard, importer or distributor.  You may be assured that any opinions are not economically biased (though they may not be appropriate to your individual and unique palate).

The 80/20 blend of Grenache / Syrah is unoaked. The Grenache undergoes traditional winemaking in stainless steel vats with daily pump overs. Syrah is not, or may be only partially destemmed. Juice undergoes malolactic fermentation and, when completed, the varietals are blended and aged 6-8 months in stainless.

Delas Ventoux:       
Imported By:                    Maisons Marquis & Domaines
ALC:                                14%


“I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food.” …..  W.C. Fields

Despite my admiration of W.C. Fields, it would be challenging to find a better wine to drink on its own or to add to food than Villa Graziella’s (organic) Bianco Toscano. Especially in the summer when we tend to eat lighter.  Maybe what first struck me was the simple fact that I liked it.  90% Trebbiano and only 10% Malvasia, it was the Trebbiano that surprised me. Trebbiano being so often rendered somewhat sweet to off-dry and (for me) flabby and lacking character, I found this blend from Villa Graziella lively, zesty and with all the citrusy character and minerality that I often appreciate as a characteristic of Italian white wines.

And then it became the opportunities for pairing.

Light dishes. Healthy. Summertime appropriate on the deck or umbrella covered patio.  And just as suitable in the dining room.  If more restaurants offered this on their wine list, I’d snap at the opportunity to enjoy it with ceviche.  The clean crisp finish of this wine, while not being over weighted in body, pairs naturally to such dishes, but also so many more.  Salads with baked cheese, or a stuffed avocado (Caprese-styled)?  Sure!  I even re-made a “white” pizza (topped with buffalo mozzarella, basil pesto, dabs of goat cheese and grated Fontina and Parmesan Reggiano) and the wine elevated this simple preparation made 100% from leftover ingredients.   In the dining room, consider broccoli cheese soup. Lakeside at the picnic table, pair with a snack of cheese and apple.  At the grill, enjoy chicken kabobs with this wine.  Guests arriving and you’re busy preparing?   Offer a platter of pre-cut crudites with dip and a glass of this Bianco (“Bianco” means “white”) wine while they and you enjoy each other’s company.  Want to keep it simple for yourself? Enjoy a glass with a chicken sandwich with grilled organic pineapple and fresh avocado on a pretzel roll, or fettuccine noodles with diced ham, asparagus tips, diced red bell pepper and vegetables.   And don’t even get me started on seafood!

Before you get the wrong impression, let me admit I’m a wine guy after all – not a chef (my plating skills alone should be a tip off). And seldom do I go off for so long about things other than wine. The point here, indeed, is the wine. Yet to talk about this wine without acknowledging how food versatile it is would ignore much of its benefit.  It’s become a staple here at “Mizer Manor” largely because it does pair so well with so many lighter meals (Not to mention it’s a delicious sipper on its own).  So maybe all I need to share with you is the why.

Stuffed Avocado Caprese Styled
It begins with the juice being aged just four months in temperature controlled stainless steel tank which preserves freshness and aromatics.  No heavy wood notes.  (“Not that there’s anything wrong with that”).   But I would add, there’s a time and a place for everything and this is a “summer” wine that’s both a crowd pleaser and case worthy since you’ll find yourself resorting to its use so often.  
Broccoli & Cheese Soup
Chicken Kabobs

A good alternative to unoaked Chardonnay, this 2018 Bianco Toscano offers freshness, minerality and salinity on the nose along with notes of fresh-cut green apple, citrus and a faint hint of orange segments.  As such (no “hate” mail, please) I find it also a good alternative to Pinot Grigio (and less expensive than my favored label).  The Bianco has lip smacking acidity but no bite or “repeat” as some Pinot Grigio can present (at least for me). The acidity in this Bianco Toscano, while providing that cleansing note and lip-smacking character, is not overcoming but instead is in perfect balance.  And it’s not sweet as some domestic Pinot Gris can be.  On the palate: Crisp green apple and Meyer lemon. Orange blossom announces itself on the finish. Others noted ripe apricot and white peach with subtle notes of Key lime.  No – really – I’m not soliciting “hate” mail, but I also find this wine (with its multi-character) a good alternative to Soave which (for me) can lean toward being flabby.

All in all, this wine, flying under the radar as it is, is worth more than its ARP of $13 while being  more versatile in the kitchen than others. At home, on a picnic, table-side at the beach, you'll find this wine a star performer.

Like Everything Today, This
Chicken Sandwich Is Good Only If
It's Too Big To Bite 

……………….. Jim

Follow and like Wine Mizer on Facebook for mini-reviews, industry news and more. Follow winemizer on twitter. does not accept any advertisements, nor is it affiliated with any winery, vineyard, importer or distributor.  You may be assured that any opinions are not economically biased (though they may not be appropriate to your individual and unique palate).


Villa Graziella Organic:                  
Region:                                             Tuscany, Italy
Appellation:                                      Chianti Colli Fiorentini of Montespertoli, Province: Florence
Exposure:                                         SE
Soil:                                                  Calcareous
Blend:                                               90% Trebbiano Toscano, 10% Malvasia Bianca - organic grapes
Harvest:                                            By Hand
TA:                                                    4.9
pH:                                                    3.12
RS:                                                    0.30
ALC:                                                 12.5%

Note 1:                                              Villa Graziella has been certified organic each vintage since 2009

Note 2:                                            Starting out with a quote from W.C. Fields should be an indication I take many things light heartedly. Feel welcome to post comments here, or send your hate mail to   

For more on  Villa Graziella's DOCG Chianti and Chianti DOCG Reserva, see:  

And Don't Forget The Pizza.
(Taste Better When Cooked)


“All palates are personal and correct for the people owning them.” …. James McMillan
“Tasting notes are as personal as a Selective Service Induction Notice.” … James McMillan

The quotes above should be a good clue as to what I think of tasting notes. But perhaps I can add some value in your search for wines to pair with food, because “therein lies all the difference.” While, in the minds of many, Chianti is “birds of a feather”, it is not so.  For those who have read my recent post about Villa Graziella, you know that Villa Graziella is a 12th generation farm and has been certified organic since 1979.  If you haven’t read that post, may I suggest you go back to it to see a review of Villa Graziella’s 2018 “Rosso Toscano” where those details are disclosed more fully?

Let’s here deal instead with differences in Italian  regulations regarding use of the term “Riserva”. In the U.S., the term “Reserve” is unattached to any legal definition or standard of adherence.  Throughout my travels in the U.S., “Reserva” or “Reserve” may mean a wine that was longer aged. It may mean a wine made from their best grapes, or a larger portion of the grapes being from their best vineyard.  It might mean longer aging or even their best barrels being used. In every winery I visited, it did mean something, but what?  Well, that was up to the winery. Point being, it is not legally defined in the U.S.

In Italy. It means aging.

Whether that is good or bad is up to you.  Personally, I think it’s good because, as a consumer, you’re better prepared to expect what to taste when you do taste the bottle’s contents and that, ultimately, is the why and how of wine becomes and remains personal to your palate.  But there needs to be a second caveat before we progress.  Current releases of these two wines are from different vintages and it will always be so because of the requirements needed to meet Riserva labeling. Current releases of Villa Graziella’s Chianti DOCG are from its 2017 vintage while their Riserva is from the 2015 vintage. 2015 was rated 95 (as a vintage year) by Wine Spectator.  2017 remains, as yet, unrated).  Yes, Virginia, “old world” wines are looked at differently.

One of the ways these wines are looked at differently is how they pair with food. This is not just common with “old world” reds but “old world” whites also. Today, lets just look at these two reds because, especially with “old world” Italian wine, it’s all about acidity and food.                                                                                   
Beef Shanks With Root Vegetables?
I'll Go With The Reserva.
I tasted each of these wines over three days (wines being vacuumed pumped and cool stored). On the nose: Cherry, black plum, raspberry; a note of freshly sliced green bell pepper.  It held up remarkably well through day two and three and by the third day offered a slight note of tomato leaf.  Tart cherry was dominant on the palate. Overall, this non-reserva was zippier and brighter than the Riserva (think Crianza, Reserva & Gran Reserva as with Spanish wines) and offered bright notes of raspberry and allspice.  In the glass, it displayed a very thin watery rim on its edge (compared to the riserva, which had no such rim). By the second day, I enjoyed some dried black plum on the finish and, on the third, notes of black olive. 

You don’t need food pairing suggestions from me: Your taste buds already are craving barbecue ribs, roast chicken with rosemary, roasted vegetables made on the grill, and – of course – pizza and pasta with red sauce.  But also, so much more – let your imagination swirl and enjoy (or learn from) the experience.

To appreciate the difference aging makes, let’s start with the DOCG Chianti. The juice from the Sangiovese spends five months in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, then four months in 1,000-liter French oak barrels.  The Cab and Colorino are aged in new French oak barriques for nine months. The three varietals are then blended and finished in stainless for two additional months.  The steel, at cool temperature, preserves freshness and aromatics. The oak adds, of course, some tannins but also smooths all the notes together through the “angel’s share” and helps balance all the components.

Brisket?  For me, That's Reserva
Contrast that against the 2015 CHIANTI RESERVA
The Sangiovese begins with six months in steel and then another 18 months in French oak. The Cabernet is kept aside awaiting blending by spending two years in French oak and then, after being blended, spends another three months in barrel married to the Sangiovese. Reserva wines, under Italian law, require a minimum of two years aging.

There are some differences in the blend also. The DOCG is 90% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Colorino.  The Reserva is a straight up 85% Sangiovese and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon.  The nose of the reserva (for me) was more restrained, but I noted hints of cinnamon and balsamic (fir?) and violet. It offered some earthy notes also. The taste is deeper, dryer - especially until mid-palate when blackberry and black licorice announce themselves toward the finish.  The color is darker and the wine deeper in dark notes than the non-reserva, through it is still rounded.   Some grip (not unpleasant) was evident after the first day. 

The non-reserva (for me) struck me as being deep with rich fruit, led with blackberry (as in farm stand mini-crates), and - with air - developed notes of raspberry. Nonetheless, the wine (either) is dry and while fruit is rich and deep, it is not forward but, instead, reserved: luring, suggestive, tempting: classic "old world". The reserva is this, but deeper and more dry. Aerate or decant either to allow the wine to open and gift you with its aromatics.  Expect some sediment with the reserva, which is natural. You can strain this out toward the bottle’s bottom when pouring if such is a problem.

Ribs, Barbecue Sauced? Time For The
DOCG Though The Rosso
Would Work Well Too.

With the reserva, consider pairing with short ribs (especially bison with a tomato sauce reduction), grilled lamb with rosemary and garlic, pecorino cheese and roasted chestnuts. I’ve enjoyed this wine with beef shanks and roasted root vegetables, brisket and prime rib; all of which begs the question – which wine is better?

And all is which is best answered remembering that “All palates are personal and correct for the people owning them.”  My advice?  Select your meal to pair with the season and then pair it with the wine.  The DOGC retails for less than $15 and the reserva averages $23 and can sometimes be found for less.  It’s best to start with one of each and make your own comparison.

Steak Tips With Mushrooms? Pass The DOCG, Please.

..............   Jim

Follow and like Wine Mizer on Facebook for mini-reviews, industry news and more. Follow winemizer on twitter. does not accept any advertisements, nor is it affiliated with any winery, vineyard, importer or distributor.  You may be assured that any opinions are not economically biased (though they may not be appropriate to your individual and unique palate).

TA:                                         5.45
pH:                                         3.48
ALC:                                       14%

TA:                                         4.99
pH:                                         3.56
ALC:                                       14

All grapes used for either offering are certified organic. Vines (for either) grow at an altitude of 300 meters (984.25 ft) above sea level.  Soil (for either) is calcareous.  Exposure is SE (except Cabernet Sauvignon, which is NW).  Harvesting is by hand.  


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

The ICEA Seal Appears On The
Back Label of Each Villa
Graziella Bottle

What a simple and poetic expression from “simpler” times.  Today, crafting wine is science (some good, and some emphasizing intervention).  Then, on an especially good day, you meet up with someone from Villa Graziella and you realize there are people who still respect that simpler philosophy, that simpler understanding of Galileo.  Minimalist intervention, organically grown grapes, organic farming. Almonds (see note below), olive oil – there’s not a lot going on here on the farm in Montespertoli (Mon-Tay-Spear-Tow-Lee) in Tuscany that hasn’t been going on for twelve generations except, in our modern times, to say “organic” requires certification.  And Villa Graziella has that.  The estate has been certified organic and sustainable since 1997 by the ICEA (Italian Environmental & Ethical Certification Institute) and has earned re-certification with every vintage since.

Demographics tell us it is the millennials that care most about this. But it’s safe to assume that everyone cares about how the wine works at the kitchen table (or dining room).  And I found it works in both environments, not to mention picnic tables and tables at the beach. Being labeled as Rosso” (The literal translation of “Rosso di Toscana” is “red [wine] from Tuscany”), it is assumed by many to mean “common” or somehow lesser in quality.  Add in that “IGT” is an acronym for indicazione geografica tipica, which rendered into English, means “typical geographic indication” and one might understand how others could take that all together to mean the wine is not superior.    But let’s remember that “IGT” is also how the “Super Tuscans” were originally and still are classified due to regulation limiting permitted grapes used in their blending.  This rosso is from Tuscany, but the only common thing about it is its price. In terms of price to value, this rosso is definitely superior.

Point being you may find this wine a surprise and deliciously so regardless of whatever demographic you find yourself within.  I grew up with simple rosso wine made by Italian neighbors. But this wine was not that.  No rough edges.  Integration was seamless.  The inclusion of 5% Canaiolo and Colorino (both permitted in the Chianti DOGC and included in the wines of Amarone della Valpolicella for example) add color and some tannin to firm up the wine’s structure, while the Canaiolo contributes softness to the finished blend. Nonetheless, this is Tuscan wine and the blend is comprised of 95% Sangiovese (specifically Sangiovese Piccolo). 

Not The Best Pairing But A
Good Example Of How Well The Wine
Works With Food
The juice is aged seven months in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks to preserve its aromatics and freshness, making it a perfect summer red. And Sangiovese is a high acid grape making it food-friendly by nature.  Perfect for charcuterie and other casual enjoyments. But I was using whatever was on hand and so made a pizza with whatever ingredients were left over from a previous meal.  Worse, the pizza was not in the style of Southern or even Central Italy: In fact, even the crust was made from almond “flour” (horrors!).  I topped the crust with buffalo mozzarella, basil pesto, dabs of goat cheese and grated Fontina and Parmesan Reggiano.  As I said, I was using what I had on hand and had I any olives, they would have been included.  Despite having no red sauce, the wine did well with this simple meal.  Simple but well-crafted healthy food paired with organic wine.  While the meal wouldn’t win any culinary stars, the wine elevated the meal.  And that, really, is the point of wine made by Villa Graziella: wine that tastes better with food. Food that taste better with wine. 

So what to expect upon opening a bottle of this wine?  Personally, I’d expect to either decant it or allow it to breath for some time allowing the wine to open up and display its aromatics.  Enjoy its light garnet color in the glass, tipping you off to this wine being an enjoyable refresher and one benefiting from being slightly chilled. You’ll be rewarded with notes of black cherry and blackberry as in a compote.  Cranberry and juicy plum tempt the senses and the perfume finishes with a suggestion of anise.  On the palate, I enjoyed a seamless meld of red fruit led by cherry.  The wine is medium bodied with vibrant – but not biting – acidity which is the key needed to unlock the flavors of food.

A Perfect Pairing
Consider enjoying this wine as an alternative to Beaujolais and Pinot Noir.  From the patio to the picnic table, slightly chilled, you’ll find this wine a welcome accompaniment with casual plates.  After tasting it, I later paired it with a charcuterie and it was perfect outdoors at a picnic table lakeside.  With barbecue baby back ribs? Delicious!

BBQ Ribs. Another Perfect Pairing, But Let Your
Imagination Guide You.

Taste this wine and taste the simpler times of, perhaps, your yesterdays, your lineage, or, perhaps, just a rediscovery of what wine was meant to be and can be again - for you

………….. Jim

Follow and like Wine Mizer on Facebook for mini-reviews, industry news and more. Follow winemizer on twitter. does not accept any advertisements, nor is it affiliated with any winery, vineyard, importer or distributor.  You may be assured that any opinions are not economically biased (though they may not be appropriate to your individual and unique palate).

Villa Graziella:  
Region:                       Tuscany
Appellation:                Chianti Colli Fiorentini di Montspertoli, Provence: Florence
Producer:                     Luca Nesi
Wine Make/Enologist:Fabio Signorini
Altitude:                      300 meters (984.25 ft) above sea level
Exposure:                    SE
Soil:                             Calcareous
Training:                      Spurred cordon w/small amount Guyot vine training
Blend:                          90% Sangiovese Piccolo, 5% Canailo, 5% Colorini
Vine Age:                    1985
Density:                       4000-5000 vines per hecatare (9884-12,355 Acres)
TA:                              3.6
pH:                              5.95
ALC:                           14%
Vinification:              12-15 days maceration of hand selected grapes at controlled temp of 24-26C (75-79 F) with soft extraction and frequent punch downs.
Aging:                          7 months 18-20C (65-68F) Temperature controlled stainless
Vineyard Practice:     Organic: Cover cropping between rows with beet root, broad beans, lentils, mustard, rye grass, sweet peas, cow pies and sheep dung compost.
Farming Since:             1797, Family Managed
ARP:                             <$13. U.S.

Note: The almonds referred too (skinless Marcona) are roasted in the organic olive oil produced in Montespertoli but the olives (Marcona) are grown in Spain. 

The Wines (some) of Jose Maria de Fonseca, A Somewhat Definitive Guide

I haven’t written much lately because, frankly, there hasn’t been much that I experienced that excited me. Besides, it’s a lot of work and I don’t get paid for it (see note at column’s bottom as to why I choose not to).  I have been posting short reviews and industry news on my Facebook page, several of them about the wines of Portugal – call it my “Portuguese re-phase”- so when I got an invite to meet with senior winemaker Domingos Soares Franco of Bodega Jose Maria da Fonseca, it took me all of a millisecond to accept, and I became excited again.

We met at avec in Chicago in May with other wine professionals where I felt guiltless in monopolizing his time.  Domingos is passionate about wine.   Passion translates into good product and his wines are beyond that.  We tasted several wines and I think the best approach today is simply to start at the beginning and go forward with each of the wines tasted.

The "Mizer" (R) and Domingos  Soares Franco ( VP & Senior Winemaker)
sharing my favored Alambre de Setubal

Jose de Sousa 2017
My favorite. A tenor nose: all high notes with oriental spices. Silk on the palate counterbalanced with bass notes of dates, chocolate, fig and plum offset by allspice and a hint of oak.   A small part (maybe 30%) used in the process is very similar to that used by the Romans 2000 years ago. That portion of the grapes: {Grand Noir 58%, (the local name for Baga), Trincadeira 22% and Aragones 20%} are destemmed by hand and trodden underfoot. Afterwards, a small portion of the must, skins and stems are fermented in talhas (clay vessels) and another in legares (large granite holding tanks) and the rest in temperature controlled stainless steel. The use of talhas gives spice to and adds another dimension to the wine (call that dimension “secondary,” “tertiary”…… we need a new name for this old process) that sets this beverage apart from anything you’ve ever tasted. The wine has skin maceration of four weeks followed by nine months in French and American oak casks. Despite the inclusion of stems, I found the tannins smooth and rounded. With a suggested retail price (ARP often less) of $19.99, this is a must buy and a “Mizer” recommendation.  ALC: 14.5%.  TA: 5.25 g/L   pH: 3.63.   Region: Alentejo   93 points Wine Enthusiast (2016 Vintage) and 94 (2015 Vintage), drink through 2020 and 2019 respectively.  Other tasters refer to “a dense texture, layered with black fruits and acidity” and stating that the wine “has a particularly juicy edge.”  Agree about the texture and dark fruit..

Periquita Reserva 2017
A logical follow up to the Jose de Sousa, it has lower notes and a deeper nose, but a slightly sweet aroma. Plum lifted by violet on the nose. Blackberry with some cardamom on the palate. Some grip. From the V.R. Peninsula De Setubal, the wine is produced at Cova da Periquita. The wine had proven to be the best in the region, so popular, in fact, that it became known as Periquita wine.  Other owners asked for cuttings, which Jose de Maria de Fonseca obliged. But he registered “Periquita” as a trademark in 1941 and its popularity has since taken hold in Sweden, Brazil, the UK, USA, Canada, Denmark and Norway. With its character, sweet aroma and complexity, it’s easy to understand why it has been so well received.  Blended from indigenous grapes (I’m all about that): Castelao (56%), Touriga Nacional (22% and Touriga Francesa (22%). Fermentation about 7 days at 79(F) with full skin contact. Aged 8 months in new and used French and American oak.  ALC:13.0%   TA:5.60 g/L   RS:7.9 g/L.   Region: Setubal Peninsula.  The SRP (Suggested Retail Price) is $14.99 which also contributes to its worldwide acceptance.  90 Points Wine Enthusiast which recommended it as a “Best Buy”.  Drink now per them. Other tasters refer to “strawberry red cherry (and) aniseed toast (with) smoky nutmeg licorice” and “hints of vanilla and dark berries.”  Wine Enthusiast refers to it being “full of black fruits with a structure of generous tannins”.  Today, being in June 2019, I found the tannins noticeable but very pleasant.      

Domini Plus 2015
A study in grace.  A wine to pair against wine from anywhere that “wine snobs” are inclined to contemplate over. The nose is wispy and ethereal.  It seduces and then diffuses leaving you with a memory of wonder. Baking spices.  Slight toast. This is elevated “old world”, not in-your-face. On the palate, the wine is rich and mouth coating, but it’s not a one-note song. Wet slate, clove, minerality, all lifted by rose petal; each element seamlessly intertwined. Liquid art.  From the Douro – a recent area for Fonseca, but one most artfully managed and used – the wine is a blend of Touriga Francesca (96%) and Touriga Nacional (4%).  Tasting this wine, I came to understand why Domingos prefers Francesca over Nacional.  Less assertive, more polished and refined.  27 acres of the vineyard are from the Douro Superior and this makes itself evident in the glass. So does the process of vinification: Full skin contact at approximately 82(F). Ten months in new French oak.  ALC: 13.9%   TA: 6.0 g/L   pH: 3.64   SRP: $44.99   Region: Douro    90 Points Wine Enthusiast, which recommended drinking from 2019.  Wine Enthusiast also referred to this wine’s “Intense aromas of violets, cassis, spice and blackberries” and stated that the wine (“palate”) “is full bodied and concentrated with rich, black fruit flavors, smooth tannins and a long persistent finish.”  Looking through the magazine’s reviews, I observed this wine has been well rated consistently by them with an earlier reference saying, “It’s the French wood aging that gives this wine it’s Plus moniker. It brings out elegant perfumes, the black fruits rich and smooth.” 

Ambre Moscatel de Setubal 20 Years   
How to describe this wonder of sweet wine that remains under the radar; harder yet – to explain why?   Trockenbeerenauslese has given way to less expensive Ice Wine. (For me, like comparing a “puddin’ pop” to Tiramisu).  As popular as Chianti has become in the U.S., sales of Vin Santo remain insignificant.  Few have tasted a Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, though so many proclaim the elegance of French wine. Is it that generally, the market has moved away from “sweet” wine or is it the cost?  Seems I’ve observed a great many people starting out in wine opting for sweet. Perhaps once graduated and moved on, sweet is relegated by them to “inferior” but no one knowledgeable about wine believes that.  Good wine vs. bad wine is available as either.  As for cost, admittedly no winery’s flagship wine is inexpensive.  But I submit it’s an experience that should be appreciated on occasion.  And this Moscatel (from Setubal) is both unique and a quality reference point for what dessert wines should be.  Any wine can be sweet, but how it is balanced with acidity is the not an inexpensive art.  Consider too that any wine aged 20 years in wood comes with cost.  Then again, all Moscatel de Setubal is fortified yielding a wine of higher than average alcohol (fortification stops the fermentation process, leaving residual sugar).  It is served in small glasses. And re-capped, the wine will remain fresh for months making it not so expensive after all.  What can you expect from this Moscatel from Setubal?  The nose is alive with caramel, honey and orange marmalade.  The palate enjoys a carry-over of these notes in harmonious balance. Of all dessert wines tasted, it finished so crisply as to make it unique – not to disparage a  5 puttonyos Tokaji AszĂș, or any other “sweet” wine.  But this wine is so unique, so tied to the geography of Setubal in Portugal, that it should not be ignored. And it needs to be experienced for its finish. If you’re wondering if this was my other favorite, you no longer need to wonder. It is. ALC: 18.4%   TA:7.3 g/L   pH: 3.34     RS 182 g/L   SRP: $69.99   Region: Setubal Peninsula    Wine Enthusiast:  92 – 94 Points. In its most recent review, the same magazine states “This Moscatel de Setubal is a beautifully smooth, nutty wine, with acidity and freshness along with sweetness. Surprisingly light, despite its 18% alcohol, its closest parallel is Madeira rather than Port.”  Earlier, I quote them saying “Why is Moscatel from Setubal so unknown?’.  

Alambre Moscatel de Setubal 40 Years    
As with the 20 Year Alambre, the best lots are selected for production of this fortified wine. Upon arrival, the alcohol level of the grapes is analyzed to determine the ideal moment to add brandy, halting fermentation. Aged in used oak as is the 20 Year.  And, as in the 20 Year, no caramel or color is used.  I observed a greenish hue at the wine’s rim-edge in the glass (normal after 20 years). The wine is more intense than the 20 year in all aspects and developed stronger aromas and a  taste of brandied raisin.  As with the 20 year: 100% Moscatel.  ALC: 18.7%   TA: 5.25 g/L   pH: 3.4   RS: 187 g/L   SRP: $149.99   Region: Setubal Peninsula 

I like to think Galileo Galilei somehow tasted these wines when he said “Wine is sunlight held together by water.’ and I too wonder why (as did Wine Enthusiast when they asked) Why is Moscatel from Setubal so unknown?’.  These wines are not a testimony of interference or technology.  They are all indigenous and all about terroir. Yet, the wines of Portugal, particularly Setubal, have long flied under the radar.  Perhaps it’s because its neighbor’s (Spain) land mass and acreage plantings is so much larger.  Perhaps it’s because Italy (with more than 900 indigenous grape varieties) have awed American palates. Fact is, these wines offer a unique footprint; a sense of place – wines made from grapes (also indigenous) that grow best only in that place. Tasting that wine, these wines, puts in your glass a sense of that place unlike any other. You can leave home without leaving your living room.      


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