Friday, July 20, 2018

Ravenswood Single Vineyard Designate Zinfandels



A small group of Houston wine writers and their spouses were invited to try the Ravenswood Single Vineyard Designate Zinfandels last week paired with three courses at B&B Butchers, an upscale steakhouse with a laid back vibe on Washington. All the meat for the restaurant is hand cut in the butcher shop and the pairings were created by executive chef, Tommy Elbashary. Our host for the evening was Gary Sitton, Ravenwood's Director of Winemaking.

Each of the Ravenswood Single Vineyard Designate Zinfandels has less than 1000 cases produced. The winemaking for each is virtually the same and has been since the owner, Joel Peterson, started in 1976. All are fermented with native yeasts, punched down by hand in open top fermenters, and aged in 100% French oak with only 20-30% of it new depending on the vineyard. The differences in the wines are not the result of the winemaker’s hand but are the truth of what the vineyard has to offer. All are distributed nationally, primarily to restaurants and, occasionally, to higher end retail establishments.

All the wines were from the 2015 vintage so I asked Gary Sitton for his thoughts on the year. He feels that 2015 was a favorable vintage despite the few heat spikes coupled with the early drought. He ranks 2015, overall, as a very good year for Zinfandel. The wines have between 14.6-15.2% ABV, they still have good balance with rich fruit and fresh acidity.

He started at Ravenswood in 1999 and the goal was always to make terroir driven wines with good balance. When he's not drinking Zinfandel, he drinks wines made from Rhone varieties, he likes them for the same reason that he likes Zinfandel, for the food friendliness and versatility. He considers Zinfandel to be a quintessential summer wine for its pairing ability with all forms of bbq and the typical sides that go with it. He is a fan of serving summer reds slightly chilled, he believes it is better to start off too cool than too warm in the summer heat. Although he loves all of the wines, he most often drinks the Old Hill and the Belloni Vineyards.

All of the wines are highly recommended, they were deliciously drinkable and paired beautifully with the meal.


The Menu:
Course One - Bacon Three Ways
Ravenswood Single Vineyard Old Hill 2015Zinfandel, Grenache, Petite Sirah, Carignane, and Alicante Bouschet make up this field blend from a Sonoma County vineyard that was planted in 1851 at sea level on clay loam soil on St. George rootstock. Bright, generous and juicy with cherry, black plum, pepper and licorice; dry, full-bodied, fresh and silky with a hint of smoke in the lengthy finish. SRP $60
Ravenswood Single Vineyard Barricia 2015 - This wine is a blend of about 81% Zinfandel and 19% Petite Sirah. It is sourced from a vineyard in the heart of Sonoma Valley that is planted on a mix of old volcanic soils and red clay loam at sea level. The property boasts 6 acres of Zinfandel vines planted in the 1890s. Fragrant and fruity with blackberry, plum, and spice; dry, full-bodied, smooth and persistent. SRP $39

Course 2 - 28 day Dry-aged Rib Eye with Veal Demi Glacé served with Corn Soufflé and Roasted Vegetables
Ravenswood Single Vineyard Belloni 2015 - From a small 7.5 acre vineyard that was originally planted in 1900 that sits at sea level in the cooler Russian River valley on silty loam soils in Sonoma. This wine is a co-fermented field blend of Zinfandel, Alicante Bouschet, Carignane, and Petite Sirah, Sweet, ripe aromas and flavors of fresh blueberries, forest floor and pepper with a hint of savoriness. The cool, foggy climate helps maintain the good balance and fresh acidity, it is dry and full bodied with a long, elegant, slightly spicy finish. SRP $39
Ravenswood Single Vineyard Dickerson 2015 -  This 100% Zinfandel wine is sourced from just south of St Helena in Napa Valley from a vineyard planted in 1930 on bale clay loam soils located on Zinfandel Lane. Though this is the warmest growing site of the single designated vineyards, it still produces elegant wines due to a leaf roll virus that slows down the growth rate of the grapes while helping to preserve acidity.
Bright, fresh, and elegant with raspberry aromas with eucalyptus and a light floral note, dry, medium + bodied with sweet tannins, rich berry flavors, fresh acidity and a bit of pepper in the lingering finish. SRP $39

Course 3 - Butter Brownie and Gelato
Ravenswood Single Vineyard Teldeschi Vineyard 2015 - From Dry Creek Valley, this is the third generation of the Teldeschi family that are now farming this vineyard. It sits at 300 feet above sea level on gravelly, clay loam. It is cross cultivated and dry farmed with a high percentage of old vines. The blend is 78.2% Zinfandel, 15.8% Petite Sirah, 5% Carignane, and 1% Alicante Bouschet. This is considered to be Ravenwood’s highest quality Zinfandel vineyard that they source from in Dry Creek Valley. Big, dense, and dark with ripe blackberry, black cherry, and espresso, dry, full-bodied with a persistent, silky chocolate finish. 
$39
Ravenswood Single Vineyard Big River Vineyards 2015 - Sourced from old Zinfandel
vines planted in 1893 on 14 acres in southern Alexander Valley in Healdsburg on the backside of Fitch Mountain where the Russian River makes a turn and heads out to the coast. The vineyard takes its name from this geographic feature. The vineyard sits on a high bench above the fog at a 500 foot elevation on volcanic red clay loam soils. This vineyard is only planted with Zinfandel which was not typical of that time. Harvesting can be a challenge as the warmth of the region can lead from underripe grapes to overripe grapes within a couple of days. This Zin was a bit riper than the other one from the Dickerson Vineyard yet still refined. Rich and round with raspberry jam, dried herbs, and pepper; dry, medium + body with smooth tannins, good acidity with a juicy spiced cherry finish. SRP $39

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Notes from a Chianti Classico Master Class and Tasting


Houston wine professionals enjoyed the Chianti Classico Experience on Monday, July 16, at The Post Oak Hotel in Uptown. This master class and tasting was designed to explore the diversity of the terroir of seven Chianti Classico communes. Jeff Porter, the American ambassador for the region, was the guide for this endeavor. This unique region has a broad mix of soils along with varying vineyard altitudes and climate differences across the communes. These small distinctions make themselves known in the glass.

The territory lies between the provinces of Siena and Florence in the heart of Tuscany. The region considers 1716 to be their date of birth which is when the borders of production were first established though Chianti wine appears in trade documents as early as the 13th century. The modern governing body was established in 1984 when Chianti Classico achieved its current DOCG status, the highest recognition for premium Italian wine.

A minimum of 80% of this red wine must be Sangiovese while it can have up to 100% as well. The other 20% that may make up this red wine blend are indigenous grapes like Canaiolo Nero, Colorino, Ciliegiolo, Malvasia Nera, as well as international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah.

There are three main soils in the region: Galestro, a clay schist soil with layered limestone and sandstone that can be easily broken by hand, Albarese, a more compact marl and limestone soil and Macigno/Arenaria, hard sandstone rock.

The tasting was of seven Chianti Classico wines from the 2015 vintage, each from a different district. The 2015 vintage was a fantastic year across Tuscany. Yields were down but quality was high. The weather was ideal with early spring rain which replenished the groundwater followed by warm summer days and cool nights. August rains refreshed the vineyards in late summer to allow for full ripening before harvest.

Chianti Classico is one of the most historic wine regions in Italy, Porter stated that it was also "a fast growing and dynamic region." Over the past ten years, the Chianti Classico DOCG has produced 35-38 million bottles annually and exported to 130 countries last year.

There are both richer, more concentrated versions and fresher, lighter, more elegant styles and everything in between. Chianti Classico wines should always be fresh, balanced, and fruity, they should also be easy drinking and food friendly. The diversity of the region's terroir means that there is a Chianti Classico wine for everyone. 

The visiting winemakers shared how pleased they were with how well the wines paired with Houston's barbecue during their time here. All of these wines are priced under $20 and are highly recommended, they offer great value for the price. 

The Tasting:

Luiano Chianti Classico 2015 - Sourced from vineyards on the western Greve River banks in the San Casciano in Val di Pesa district, located up in the northwest corner of the region on iron-rich clay soils with some albarese. The vineyard area is lower with altitudes at 300-450 meters and has higher average temperatures. Owner Alessandro Palombo showed pictures of the unique formations of round stones in some of his vineyards and discussed how the variety of soils contributes to the good balance of his wine. A blend of 90% Sangiovese with 5% each of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon with only the 10% international grapes oak-aged, Palombo says he does this because it enhances the Cabernet and Merlot while he feels the Sangiovese expresses its true character better without oak. 13.5% ABV<2 g="" l="" of="" residual="" span="" sugar.="">

Notes of tart red cherry, dried leaves and a touch of leather with a supple smoothness and a nice persistence. 

I Fabbri Chianti Classico Lamole 2015 - Located in a small village high above the Greve River valley in the Casole Hill/Lamole area of Greve in Chianti in the northeast near Florence. Sitting at the highest elevations in the region at 630 meters above sea level where there are only 9 small family producers, the vines are planted in sandy soils, a mix of sandstone and rock on terraced vineyards which experience wide diurnal shifts. Owner Susanna Grassi shared that the area is the believed birthplace of Sangiovese. She produces this wine organically in a traditional style from 100% Sangiovese, vinifying in stainless steel tanks with indigenous yeast then maturing in concrete tank before 6 months of bottle aging. 13.5% ABV<0 .5g="" font="" l="" of="" residual="" sugar.="">
Fresh and elegant with red cherry, dried herbs and sweet ripe tannins, very well balanced, silky and drinkable with a lingering mineral-laced finish.

Cinciano Chianti Classico 2015 - Another organic wine, this one from the Poggibonsi district located in the west central portion of the region, the vineyards sit at 250-350 meters above sea on rolling hills of medium textured albarese based soils with some galestro. Sales manager Valerio Marconi presented the wine which was fermented in glass-lined concrete tanks with selected yeast then matured in Slavonian oak for 8-10 months with at least three moths aging in bottle. 
Fresh and fruity with red cherry, plum and a light floral note, powerfully structured yet lighter weight. 

Bandini Villa Pomona Chianti Classico 2015 - Established by her great grandfather in 1890, owner Monica Raspi, a vet by trade, became a winemaker ten years ago when her mother was ready to retire. Raspi couldn't bear the thought of parting with the family business. Located in Castellina in Chianti, a larger district in the southwestern part of the region with vineyard altitudes of 350 meters above sea level on medium textured calcareous marl with gravel, clay, silt and sand which allow for deeply rooted vines. This organic wine is vinified for 18-24 days in steel tanks with natural yeasts on the skins followed by malolactic fermentation. It is then matured for 8 months in Slavonian oak and bottle aged for 3 months.
Elegant and pure, with higher acidity and a lighter body with red cherry, thyme and a fresh, lingering mineral finish.

Castello di Albola Chianti Classico 2015 - Managing director Alessandro Gallo presented this 100% Sangiovese wine from the Radda in Chianti district, a beautiful hilltop town and the smallest commune in the region. With vineyards located at altitudes of 400-500 meters on clay-based soils that drain well due to the presence of fine gravel from both Galestro and Albarese. The grapes are vinified in stainless steel with selected yeasts. After malolactic fermentation, the wine is aged in Slavonian oak barrels for 12 months followed by 3 months of bottle aging. 
Cranberry, cherry and lavender with good acidity which Jeff Porter describes as "nervous and crunchy", fresh and delicate with a mineral finish.

Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico 2015 - From the Gaiole in Chianti district on the eastern side of the region with vines planted on clay and limestone rock at altitudes of 260-370 meters and tended to by a Zen meditation master according to Porter. This organically grown wine is a blend of 90% Sangiovese, 10% Colorino, Canaiolo, and Ciliegiolo fermented with indigenous yeasts, macerated on the skins for 3 weeks followed by 12 months of aging in French and Austrian oak casks of varying sizes before 3 months of bottle aging.
Fruity with red cherry and strawberry with a light mint note, fresh, fuller bodied and nicely textured.

Fattoria di Petroio Chianti Classico DOCG Luiano 2015 - Located on the western side of the southern part of the region, the Castelnuovo Berardenga district near Siena has a warmer, mediterranean climate. The vineyard sits at 380 meters. The wine is a blend of 90% Sangiovese with 10% Malvasia Nero and Colorino which was fermented in cement tanks with half selected and half indigenous yeasts. It was matured in tonneaux for 16 months and bottle aged for 4 months. 
Aromatic, rich, and flavorful with cranberry, tart red cherry, dried herbs, and sandalwood with a fuller body and a bit of baking spice in the persistent finish.

There was a walk around tasting of some Riserva wines during lunch. No tasting notes were taken on these wines pictured on right. All were beautifully balanced and a bit more complex, and all are also highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Arrivederci to Abruzzo

I have posted on all of the winery stops that we made during the Abruzzo wine media tour but there are a few more winemakers and their wines that I wanted to share with you here.

Valentina Di Camillo, who runs the communication department of her family's winery Tenuta I Fauri, joined us a few times along our journey. Though we never got to visit their winery which is located in the province of Chieti, we did taste some of their fantastic wines. 

Tenuta I Fauri Brut - Dry sparkling with fresh nectarine aromas, a persistent creamy mousse, and a lingering citrus finish, a delightful start for any occasion.

Tenuta I Fauri Pecorino 2017 - Crisp and dry with tropical aromas and flavors along with fresh herbs and a distinct honey note.

Tenuta I Fauri Baldovino Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo 2017 - Fruity raspberry aromas and flavors with a light floral note and a bit of almond nuttiness in the finish.

The next wines come from a cooperative of 700 growers that have been working together for over 25 years. The winery is located in the town of Rosciano near Pescara.

Casa Vinicola Roxan Corale Dalle Colline Pescaresi IGT Pecorino 2017 - Dry and citrusy with a white pepper note.

Casa Vinicola Roxan Acànto  Dalle Colline Pescaresi IGT Chardonnay 2017  - Dry, lightly oaked with citrus and tropical aromas and flavors and a light floral note.

Casa Vinicola Roxan 100 Noi Cento Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo 2017 - Dry and smooth with a full body and fresh cherry/berry aromas and flavors.

Cantina Frentana has been in operation since 1958. They are in the process of converting their organization to organic. They work with 500 growers.

Cantina Frentana Abruzzo Cococciola Costa del Mulino 2017-
Fresh, fruity and vibrant with citrus, a light floral note and a bit of white pepper in the finish.

Cantina Frentana Abruzzo Pecorino Costa del Mulino 2017 - Citrusy with notes of honey and ripe peach with refreshing acidity.

Cantina Frentana Donna Greta Pecorino Terre di Chieti IGT 2016 - This is the top white wine from this maker. It is fresh and crisp with notes of lime and green apple, a bit rounder than most Pecorinos we have had with a creamier feel and a mineral laced finish.

All of the above wines are highly recommended.

For information on hotel or restaurant recommendations in Abruzzo, check out Abruzzo - An Italian Destination.


Saturday, June 30, 2018

Tasting Tenuta Ulisse

Our final winery visit on the Abruzzo wine tour was at Tenuta Ulisse which is located in Crecchio in the Chieti province.

This winery was started by the Ulisse family in 2007 with a goal to become a leader in the region. It is run by brothers Antonio and Luigi. They had a production of 40,000 bottles their first vintage, despite a difficult market, they have continued to grow and ten years later, they are producing just over a million bottles a year. They only use their own grapes so their vineyard holdings have grown as well. They sell half of their production in Italy with the rest sold on the export market in 40
different countries.

The family firmly believes in the winemaking traditions of the region, almost 90% of their grapes are pergola trained. They believe the classic training technique works best with the region's terroir in giving them the greatest flexibility in creating shade or allowing more sun to reach the grapes as needed.

The winery is state of the art. They press in an oxygen free environment. They use cryoselection or cryoextraction to determine the most sugar rich grapes. Fermentation is low and slow. They chose a restrained approach to using oak barrels as they prefer to showcase their fruit and their labor in the vineyard.

The Tasting

Trebbiano 2017 - The grapes for this wine come from a sandier area of the vineyard. Fresh, grassy, grapefruit citrus flavors with good acidity.

Passerina 2017 - They made their first vintage of this in 2012. It is
also grown on sandier soils closer to the sea. Fruity with white peach and chamomile with fresh acidity.

Cococciola 2017 - Elegant, delicate, light floral notes with citrus aromas and flavors of lime and grapefruit with a light mineral finish.

Pecorino 2017 - This is their main white wine. Tropical aromas with mango and citrus, fresh mineral note with a hint of balsamic on the finish.

Cerasuolo 2017 - Nice texture with raspberry aromas and flavors with fresh acidity and light tannins.

Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2016 - Fruit forward with cherry and raspberry, no oak. Soft tannins, easy and smooth.

Amaranta Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2015 - Sourced from a 55 year old vineyard, this wine had aromas and flavors of ripe dark plums and berries, a floral note of violet with a touch of vanilla, it was full bodied with smooth ripe tannins and had a persistent finish.

10 Vendemmie Limited Edition - Multi-vintage red wine combining 10 years of Montepulciano which is aged in French oak. Dark, rich and intense yet soft, round and approachable.

Nativae Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2015 - Sweet blackberry aromas and flavors with smoke and graphite, velvety tannins, nicely balanced with a smooth, lingering light mineral finish. My favorite of this tasting.
Head winemaker, Luigi Ulisse

After enjoying the prior red wine so much, they opened the following unplanned white for us to try before we left. Both of these wines are fermented with wild, native yeast.

Nativae Pecorino 2016 - Fresh, crisp and fruity with a mineral laced finish.

All of these wines are recommended.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

A Tour of Masciarelli Winery with a Tasting Lunch at Castello di Semivicoli

Our second stop of the day was at Masciarelli Winery which is also located in the Chieti province. Open daily to receive guests by appointment, this winery was one of the most tourist friendly to visit. Masciarelli was founded in 1981. They have 18 labels and 5 product lines.

We took a quick tour of the wine making facility and then went to Castello di Semivicoli for a tasting lunch to try the wines. Typically, guests would taste in the shop next to the cellar but you can also book a tasting at the castle.

Castello di Semivicoli is a 17th century baronial mansion that has
been renovated into a luxury boutique hotel by by Masciarelli owner, Gianni Masciarellli. I sat across from a window which gave me beautiful views throughout lunch. It also distracted me so I did not take the best notes. I can tell you that the wine and food were delicious, the company was enjoyable, the views were spectacular and the ambience reminded of a more genteel time. The hospitality was so nice that I forgot I was working.

The Tasting with Pairings

Gianni Masciarelli Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo 2017 - No notes, I was admiring the color in my glass along with the view out the window and the view on my plate. We started with an individual bread basket filled with salad and prosciutto that was perfect with the wine.

Masciarelli Castello di Semivicoli Trebbiano d'Abruzzo 2014 - This easy white was fermented in stainless steel with 12 months contact with the lees, it was medium bodied, smooth and fruity with pear and citrus, a lovely complement to the saffron risotto which came next. A'Bruzzo fun fact- Saffron has been in the region for over 400 years, the amount produced is small but the quality is considered to be quite high.

Masciarelli "Johnny's Barrel" Trebbiano 2013 - Served in a Burgundy glass during the risotto course, this bottle was number 200 of 900 bottles. It was aged for 28 months in French oak. This was one of my favorite whites of the trip. Dry with aromas and flavors of honey, lemon citrus and a distinct mineral-laced finish.

Marina Cvetic Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2013 - Bright aromas and flavors of dark berries and plums, medium bodied with good tannins and acidity with a slightly spicy finish, great with food, delicious with the pasta course.

Masciarelli "Johnny's Barrel" Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2013 - This bottle was number 654.

That was the end of my notes, we were served two more wines after that one.

Masciarelli Villa Gemma Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2012
Masciarelli Villa Gemma Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 1995

All three of these red wines were delicious with the meat and potatoes.

After dessert, we walked off our lunch with a tour of the vineyards around Castello di Semivicoli. There is a large swimming pool out amongst the vines for hotel guests to cool down after a day spent at the beach, out wine tasting or sight seeing. The lunch service was impeccable, the building was elegant and the grounds were scenic, it truly looked like a lovely place to stay.

Neighbor Luigi Valori joined us in the vineyard to talk grapes, terroir and green pruning. It was a very informative afternoon perfectly paired with a beautifully prepared lunch.

All of the above wines are highly recommended.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Going Big at Codice Citra

Our first stop on our final day of touring was at Codice Citra which was founded in 1973. Codice Citra was quite the change from the smaller family wineries we had visited so far. It has 9 cooperative wineries with 3,000 associated winegrowers in the group. They produce about 20,000,000 bottles from over 14,000 acres each year.

Codice Citra has a large and impressive facility. They have the largest cask room in central and southern Italy with the capacity to refine or age close to 200,000 gallons of wine. While most of their wines are made from indigenous grapes, they do also make some international varieties. They are the largest exporter of Abruzzo wines in the world with a presence in 50 countries, this is primarily due to the good quality/price ratio that the company delivers.

The wines made by Codice Citra come from the province of Chieti. The vineyard area stretches inland 25 miles from the Adriatic Sea. They began their commitment to sustainable energy and the environment in 2011 with the production of a photovoltaic power plant to run the consortium's wine production. Their next goal is to continue to improve quality and value with a collaboration with the World Assoenologi President, Riccardo Cotarella and their head winemaker, Lino Olivastri.

Lino Olivastri led us through the winery and showed us the latest projects he is working on. He seemed most excited about the classic method sparkling wine. We then went down to their modern tasting room to try the wines.

Passe "Rina" Spumante Brut - This tank fermented sparkler made from Passerina grapes had floral aromas with white peach and citrus with a light yeasty note in the finish, the winery recommends it both as an aperitif and as an after dinner sipper.

Fenaroli Montonico Spumante Metodo Classico 2014 - This classic method sparkling wine is made from 100% Montonico, a local white grape, it spends 36 months on the lees before disgorgement. The wine is dry, crisp, and citrusy with apple and yeasty bread in the lingering finish.

Ferzo Cococciola Superiore d'Abruzzo 2017 - Floral notes of wisteria with nectarine and grapefruit, dry, fresh, fuller bodied, and persistent.

Caroso Riserva Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2013 - Only produced in the best years, the grapes for this wine were sourced from sandier soils, this red had dark berry aromas and flavors with hints of licorice, fresh acidity, and an elegant slightly balsamic finish.

Lavs Vitae Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Riserva 2012 - This wine came from 60 year old vines in the more calcareous northern part of their vineyards. It was full bodied with ripe tannins and had aromas and flavors of mixed ripe red
berries with dark chocolate, toasted nuts and a mineral-tinged finish.

An amazing high tech facility combined with local family growers, all of these wines are recommended.

Also, check out winemaker, Lino Olivastri, in Citra's video for their Sheep Thrills wine and see some of the Abruzzo terroir.



VINI CITRA - Sheep Thrills from TOART on href="https://vimeo.com">Vimeo.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

A Morning Tasting at Fattoria La Valentina

On day two of touring Abruzzo vineyards, we started at Fattoria La Valentina which is located in Spoltore in the Pescara province. One of the owners, Sabatino Di Properzio met our group and took us out to tour the estate Bellovedere Vineyard before our tasting. The vineyard sits just a couple of miles from the Adriatic Sea, that coupled with the cool mountain breezes brings out the best the grapes have to offer.

He felt it was important to share that the vines are all pergola trained. Their goal is to intervene as little as possible although the vineyard does have water misters which are only used as needed for troubled spots. The oldest vines are 47 years old, they use what he called "a French approach" changing out plants only as needed. The vineyard is sustainably managed.

In the winery, they prefer small French oak barrels with a low toast. The Binomial, one of their single vineyard wines, is refined in barrique. Sabatino Di Properzio says, "Barriques are used to obtain the best from a wine not to add flavor."

The partners continue with plans to expand by increasing their vineyard holdings.

The tasting:

The Spelt label is their attempt to link the Germanic background of the area to the wine. It is based both on legend and history.

La Valentina Pecorino 2017 - Fresh, vibrant, concentrated zippy citrus aromas and flavors, round feel with a slightly creamy finish.

La Valentina Spelt Trebbiano d'Abruzzo Superiore 2017 - Light, fresh and crisp wit a red apple nuance and a mineral laced finish.

La Valentina Spelt Cerasuola 2017 - Fragrant fruity ripe red berries with a pithy finish, dry, full body, lightly tannic, with clean, crisp acidity.

La Valentina Spelt Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2014 - Aromas and flavors of sweet mixed berries with a spicy note, a more rustic style, more tannic.

Binomio Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2014 - Sabatino Di Properzio described this wine as the mountain expression of their two single vineyard wines. Rich and concentrated with dark fruit, blackberries, plum, black pepper, ripe tannins and a raspberry finish.

La Valentina Bellovedere Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2013 - Sabatino Di Properzio described this wine as the coastal expression of their two single vineyard wines. Floral with dried herbs over mouth filling flavors of mixed berries with a slight saline minerality.

Spelt Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2003 - From a hotter vintage, this wine displayed more tobacco, dried herbs with a hint of balsamic over black plum.

La Valentina Bellovedere Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2006 - Floral notes of violet with ripe red plum, dried herbs and a hint of balsamic with a bigger structure, full body, velvety tannins and a persistent finish. My favorite red in the tasting.

Binomio Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2000 - Smoky tobacco, sandalwood, dried plum with a sherry note in the lingering finish.

A surprise wine with lunch:
La Valentina Auha Fiano - Floral and fruity with jasmine, apricot and grapefruit with a fresh, lingering finish.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

A Tour with a Dinner Tasting at Emidio Pepe

We wrapped up our tour of wineries in the Teramo province with a tour and a dinner tasting at Emidio Pepe. Grandaughter Chiara Pepe shared the family's history and their winemaking philosophy as she strolled us around the house, the winery and the vineyards.

Her grandfather, Emidio Pepe, was an artisanal winemaker from his start in the 1964. He wanted to make high quality, small production wine that told something truthful and showcased the year. He planted local grapes and used pergola training to preserve the naturally high tannins and acidity levels and to ensure polyphenolic ripening from the inside. Their style of winemaking at Emidio Pepe is to make soft, more delicate wines that can age well. Nothing has changed since her grandfather started the winery,
Chiara explained, though they did become certified organic in 1998 and biodynamic in 2006.

As Chiara showed the concrete tanks that Emidio Pepe prefers as he feels they help to achieve a more elegant style while also ensuring that his hard work in the vineyard is not changed in the cellar, Emidio Pepe himself, aka Mr. Montepulciano, joined us. As they described the production process, Chiara said that de-stemming by hand was the second most important step in making a quality wine. The first was a spontaneous fermentation from indigenous yeast, "You can't have a wine that talks about a place without natural yeast," she stated.

The family grows organic wheat on the property to make pasta and bread as well as growing other fresh produce. Eliminating modified foods from their diet was important to achieving the quality of life they prefer for their family. Guests that stay in one of the property's guest apartments can reap the rewards of the family's organic lifestyle, as well.

The tasting:

Emidio Pepe Trebbiano 2014 - Fresh, dry and fruity with grapefruit, nectarine, and a mineral-laced finish.

Emidio Pepe Trebbiano 2013 - Also, fresh, dry and fruity with grapefruit, nectarine, and a mineral-laced finish.

Emidio Pepe Trebbiano 2004 - Fresh, dry and citrusy with a touch of honey over the mineral-laced finish.

Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2010 - Fruity with plum and raspberry, with a soft, rounded velvety feel, generous and complex with a persistent finish.

Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2001 - Great balance between
elegance and power, still bold but showing some signs of maturity. The weather was similar to 2010. Velvety tannins, good acidity with juicy plum and leather notes in the lengthy finish.

Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 1983 - Emidio Pepe said this wine was originally too big, too powerful and too dark. He waited several extra years before releasing it and now describes it after its evolution as a sheer, elegant wine with a long and persistent finish. I found aromas and flavors of dried fruit with earth, leather, and a savory cured meat note in the lingering finish. Complex and interesting and very enjoyable now.

All of these wines are highly recommended.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Meeting Three Generations at Azienda Agricola Dino Illuminati

This winery was founded as Fattoria Nicò or Nico's Farm in 1890 by Nicola Illuminati. It would grow substantially by the 1970s under the direction of his grandson, Dino, with the purchase of more vineyard land. Today, the family at Azienda Agricola Dino Illuminati oversees more than 300 acres between the Adriatic Sea and the Gran Sasso mountain.

Dino's son Stefano and his grandson Nicola met our group out in the vineyard where we immediately saw the signs of a sustainably maintained vineyard with every other row alternating between grassy cover crops and vineyard dirt. Baby grapes were taking shape out on the vines under an ominous late afternoon cloud cover that quickly cooled the warm spring temperatures down. We snapped a quick group photo and headed to the winery.

When we arrived to the covered patio, no one was more surprised than me to find the Texas flag on display. There will be more on that in an upcoming issue of Galveston Monthly magazine so stay tuned, the gist is that Dino Illuminati is an official honorary Texan. Dino emerged from the offices where he is still onsite to oversee things and give us a quick meet and greet before our tasting. I took the opportunity to quickly photograph the three generations of Illuminati men who were influencing the wines that we were about to taste.

The Tasting:

Illuminati Brut 2017 - This wine was a delightful surprise with which to start, a sparkling white wine made in the traditional Champenoise method out of 60% Trebbiano and 40% Verdicchio from grapes sourced from their own Controguerra vineyards. Light and fresh with a creamy texture from its 30-36 months on the lees with elegant notes of citrus and apple through the lingering finish. A perfect start to any meal and an excellent choice for simple seafood dishes.

Illuminati Controguerra Pecorino 2017 - Sourced from a vineyard
situated over 800 feet above sea level, this crisp, clean white has citrus, fresh herbs, and a touch of almond with a persistent mineral laced finish.Illuminati Daniele 2015 - This is a fuller bodied white wine blend of Trebbiano, Passerina and Chardonnay, it has rich fruity flavors of apple and pear with a smooth, easy finish, an excellent complement to heavier seafood dishes.

Illuminati Campirosa Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo 2017 - Another dark cherry-colored dry rosé from Montepulciano grapes, this refreshing dark pink wine had mixed ripe berry aromas and flavors with a light floral note, perfect with charcuterie and mild cheeses or poultry dishes.

Illuminati Riparoso Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2016 - This approachable red wine is aged in 25 hectoliter Slavonian oak barrels for 7-8 before being bottled and cellar aged for another 3-4 months. Red cherry aromas and flavors with a bit of licorice and a light leathery note make this soft, full bodied red the perfect everyday wine for simple meals like pizza or hamburgers.

Illuminati Ilico Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2015 - Stefano said this wine was made in the more classic rustic style, it had sweet berry aromas and flavors with some vanilla and a raison note, try it with braised red meat.

llluminati Zanna Montepulciano d'Abrruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG Riserva 2013 - One of the first vineyards ever planted on the farm is the source of this fruit, it receives regular cooling breezes from the sea that help the grapes maintain their acidity and keeps the vines disease free. This wine was a favorite of George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara. Blackberries and a floral note combine with a full body, velvety tannins and an elegant slightly spicy mineral-tinged lingering finish, enjoy with a grilled ribeye or blue cheese burger.

Illuminati Lumen Controguerra Rosso Riserva 2011 - Produced only in the best vintages from a blend of 70% Montepulciano and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine had mixed ripe red fruit aromas and black berry flavors with a full body, bigger structure and persistent finish, pair with red meats or game.

Illuminati Pieluni Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Colline Teramane Riserva 2011 - The harvest for the grapes for this wine is later giving the wine intense aromas and flavors of ripe mixed berries with vanilla and tobacco, rich, round and lingering, serve this with roasted lamb or mature cheese.

Illuminati Pieluni Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Colline Teramane Riserva 2000 - Brambly, mysterious
and powerful, dark berries and a smoky note continue through the slightly savory finish. The two wines did not appear to have an eleven year age difference.

We also had the opportunity to enjoy the llluminati Zanna Montepulciano d'Abrruzzo Riserva 1987 which was also surprisingly young and a delight to drink. All of the above wines are highly recommended.