by Sandra Crittenden

by Sandra Crittenden

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. 
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.