Wine Articles & Snippets I
|Wine Articles & Snippets I|
France announces new AOC
May 29, 2009
Decanter, Oliver Styles
The French national appellations institute has approved a new AOC in the Allier region of central France
Saint-Pourçain will join the ranks of over 470 wine appellations in France, 27 years after local winemakers submitted their official request.
The region, which previously produced wines under the VDQS (Quality Wine with a Geographical Specification) label, was granted its new status by the national appellations institute (INAO) yesterday.
Around 120km south of Sancerre, Saint-Pourçain produces Gamay, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Tressallier (a local white variety also known as Sacy in northeast France).
The region has 650ha (hectares) of vineyards, mainly on southeast-facing slopes on the left banks of the Allier and Sioule rivers.
The region produces around 3m bottles per year and is the first AOC in the Auvergne region. In 2005, the INAO listed 472 appellations in France.
The Guardian, Tim Atkins
Home winemaking kits are flying off the shelves. But how close do you get to the real thing? Tim Atkin uncorks his first vintage
I'm standing, ankle-deep, in a plastic dustbin full of white grapes, purchased that morning from my local Marks & Spencer. Treading them barefoot in an attempt to separate juice from slippery skins is like trying to peel a banana with a monkey wrench. I've been stomping 15kgs of Chile's finest Thompson Seedless for 10 minutes and there's barely enough juice to fill a small saucepan. "Welcome," winemaking consultant John Worontschak of Litmus Wines tells me, "to the world of hard graft."
This batch of sticky liquid is part of an attempt to make my own ethical wine, the aim being to reduce my carbon footprint yet produce something half-decent to drink. The grapes may be South American, the corks Portuguese, but everything else is UK-sourced: yeast, bentonite, sulphur dioxide tablets, fermenting buckets, thermometer, recycled bottles and my own sweat and toil.
The Chilean white is one of three wines I've spent the last month fermenting and bottling in my kitchen. The other two came in kit form from www.wineworks.co.uk (a Chardonnay) and www.hopandgrape.co.uk (a red Rioja), complete with "everything the novice winemaker needs to make the process as easy and as fun as possible". The only real difference between the kits and my foot-trodden Thompson Seedless was that the Chardonnay and the Rioja arrived as bags of grape concentrate. All I had to do was add warm water, a handful of yeast and stand back.
Winemaking and wine writing are two very different disciplines. There are points where they intersect - both require an ability to taste wine and identify faults - but I can't pretend I wasn't scared as the fermentations started to gurgle after 24 hours. Would my house explode? Would the wines turn to vinegar?
Fortunately, the instructions that came with the kits were clear. A winemaker must sterilise his equipment before use and check the temperature and sugar content (gravity) of his fermenting must on a daily basis, to monitor its progress towards alcoholic dryness. If the temperature is too warm or too cold the fermentation may get stuck, which is potentially down-the-sink time.
So every morning, over a cup of coffee, I would check my three wines, stirring them with a huge plastic spoon, tasting them for sweetness and then measuring them with the hydrometer and thermometer before I recorded the data. "Just enjoy it," was John's advice.
I did, too. I enjoyed watching my wines bubbling gently away. I enjoyed racking them from one bucket to another at the end of fermentation, using a technique that will be familiar to anyone who has ever siphoned petrol from a car. I enjoyed mixing bentonite, adding the clay to get the wines to settle. And I enjoyed bottling the stuff. Best of all, I enjoyed the thrill of making my own wine.
Would I enjoy drinking it, however? Yes, as it happens. No one would confuse my three wines - dubbed Les Champs du Sud I, II and III after the south London suburb where I live - with Château Lafite or Corton-Charlemagne, but they were all surprisingly palatable. The Rioja, to which I chose not to add oak chips, was soft and fruity, as young Tempranillo should be, the Chardonnay was round and nutty, and the Chilean Thompson Seedless was fragrant and crisp.
Two of them were also cheap to make, which may explain why sales of home winemaking kits have gone "berserk", according to Richard Blackwell of Wineworks. Once you've bought a basic winemaking kit (around £40 for buckets, thermometer, hydrometer, corks and racking equipment, all of which are reusable), the actual liquid is comparatively inexpensive. The Superior Chardonnay and Selection Spanish Rioja juices cost me £38.95 and £67.95, which worked out at £1.29 and £2.26 a bottle each. Both taste better than anything you'll find in a supermarket under £2.50.
My Thompson Seedless was more expensive. The 15kgs of grapes cost £59.85, but produced only eight bottles - at the equivalent of £7.48 a go. Ethically speaking, my carbon footprint was larger, too, as the grapes were South American. My Chardonnay and Rioja, on the other hand, came from Italy and Spain via Derbyshire and Darlington.
What did a professional winemaker make of my efforts? "Well, they're clean," said John, "which is a good start. Given that you were probably working with press wine, which is not the best juice, the results aren't too bad." And my friends? "Drinkable, just," was Keith's verdict on Les Champs du Sud. "Yup," Belinda concurred. "I'll know things are bad when I start treading grapes in my back garden. You could have saved yourself all that effort."
Wine Advocate Writers Spark Ethics Debate
While Newsletter's Founder Champions Independence, Two Reviewers Accepted Trips
Wall Street Journal, By DAVID KESMODEL
For decades, wine critic Robert M. Parker Jr. has championed a rigid system of ethics, paying for all of his travels to wineries and shunning gifts from the trade. "It is imperative for a wine critic to pay his own way," Mr. Parker wrote in his latest book, published last fall.
But Mr. Parker, it recently has been discovered, hasn't held some fellow writers at his influential newsletter, Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, to the same standard.
Last September, when critic Jay Miller visited Australia to review various makers' wines, an industry group, Wine Australia, paid about $25,000 for his air travel, hotel accommodations and meals, says James Gosper, the group's director for North America.
The trip was one of more than a half-dozen instances of such paid-for travel by writers for the newsletter in recent years. The trips haven't been disclosed in the newsletter. Mr. Miller also has vacationed and enjoyed lavish social dinners in the company of wine importers whose wines he reviews, according to his own writings and interviews with industry executives.
Wining & Dining
- Robert Parker popularized the 100-point scoring system for wines. His U.S. subscribers pay $75 per year.
- Impressive Parker ratings can help winemakers command higher prices and edge out competitors for shelf space.
- There have been more than a half-dozen instances of writers' travel expenses being paid for in recent years. Mr. Parker says there's never been a case of bias.
News of such activities, reported last month on a wine blog called Dr. Vino, have captivated wine enthusiasts and triggered a fierce online debate about ethics at Mr. Parker's 31-year-old newsletter.
The issue carries wider significance beyond wine buffs. Impressive Parker ratings can help winemakers command higher prices and edge out competitors for shelf space.
The brouhaha, discussed on wine blogs from Spain to Chile, has led some to wonder if some Wine Advocate ratings are inflated. "The No. 1 wine critic in the world's brand is being tarnished," says Michael D. Opdahl, managing partner of Joshua Tree Imports, an importer of Australian wines in Arcadia, Calif.
Mr. Parker, 61 years old, largely has defended the two writers in question -- Mr. Miller and Mark Squires -- and apparently approved at least some of their trips. A half-dozen other writers contribute to the newsletter; allegations haven't been raised about their travel.
Posting in a forum on Mr. Parker's site last month, Mr. Squires said he has taken trips to Greece, Israel and Portugal financed by governments or industry groups. All, he said, were approved by Mr. Parker.
"I don't hold the independent contactors such as Jay and Mark to the same stingent standards as I adhere to (sic)," Mr. Parker wrote in an April 21 posting on the forum. "Yet I do have serious guidelines regarding conflicts of interest, and they are well aware of them."
Mr. Parker didn't respond to interview requests. Messrs. Miller and Squires declined to comment. Mr. Squires referred to comments on the Web forum he runs on Mr. Parker's site, eRobertParker.com, where he said his reviews are rarely based on tastings that take place at wineries.
Ethics were at the root of Mr. Parker's philosophy for reviewing wines when he began his newsletter in 1978. Then a practicing lawyer, he saw himself as a consumer advocate in the style of Ralph Nader. He has sought to maintain detachment from the industry and hasn't accepted ads.
Mr. Parker popularized the 100-point scoring system for wines. His newsletter, based in Parkton, Md., now has more than 50,000 subscribers in more than 37 countries, with U.S. subscribers paying $75 a year.
Mr. Parker has been controversial, but mostly because of his palate. Critics claim he favors a particular set of winemaking styles, and say many winemakers in disparate regions of the globe are making similar wines designed to appeal to him alone, "Parkerizing" wine. French media early this decade reported on alleged cronyism involving certain Bordeaux winemakers; Mr. Parker refuted the charges.
For years, he was the newsletter's only writer. But he expanded coverage as wine's popularity rose in the U.S. In September 2006, he announced the hiring of a longtime friend, Mr. Miller, a Baltimore wine retailer. Mr. Miller was assigned to cover regions such as Australia and South America. Mr. Parker also tapped Mr. Squires to write reviews.
In October 2007, Mr. Miller posted an article on eRobertParker.com describing how he had traveled down Australia's Murray River on a houseboat in the company of Dan Philips, a U.S. importer of Australian wines that Mr. Miller reviews, as well as two Australian winemakers. The houseboat had five bedrooms and a Jacuzzi, Mr. Miller wrote. Mr. Philips "supplied us with cocktails as we awaited dinner," crayfish on a bed of squid-ink linguini.
The houseboat trip was a vacation for Mr. Miller, Mr. Parker later said on his forum.
Mr. Miller and Mr. Philips are close friends, says Daniel Posner, a New York wine-store owner who says Mr. Philips told him so during a visit to his shop last year. Mr. Philips, owner of Grateful Palate Imports, didn't respond to interview requests.
Last September, Mr. Miller arranged to travel to Australia. Wine Australia, which represents about 40 wineries, pays for other wine writers to visit the country but was surprised when Mr. Miller said he would accept a tour financed by the group, says Mr. Gosper, the North America director. Mr. Parker had always paid for his travels in Australia, Mr. Gosper says.
"We had no problem paying for Jay because of his influence," Mr. Gosper says, adding that the trip was "truly worthwhile" because Mr. Miller became better acquainted with lesser-known wine regions.
"The wines of Australia are as good as they have ever been," Mr. Miller wrote in the newsletter in February. He added that Mr. Philips "has to get much of the credit" for the rise in popularity of Australian wines in the U.S. earlier this decade.
In a "tasting notes" section, he awarded some 90 wines imported by Mr. Philips an average score of 92. (In the Parker system, a score of 90 to 95 represents "an outstanding wine of exceptional complexity and character.")
Mr. Parker, addressing the relationship between Mr. Philips and Mr. Miller on his forum last month, wrote, "Asking me to control the friends he sees on his own time...strikes me as frightening and fascist." He said he scrutinizes his writers' reviews and has "never found any case of bias."
In March, Mr. Miller traveled to Chile on a trip paid for by a trade group, Wines of Chile, according to a spokeswoman for the group.
In April, Tyler Colman, a 37-year-old author of wine books, broke news on his Dr. Vino's wine blog that Wines of Argentina had paid for two trips by Mr. Miller to review wines there.
A spokeswoman for Wines of Argentina declined to comment on Mr. Colman's reports. In response to Mr. Colman's reporting, on April 22, Mr. Parker said on his forum that Mr. Miller would no longer be going on such tours to Argentina.
Marlborough Sauvignon at a Crossroads
By Linda Murphy - copyright 2008, winereviewonline.com
Montana, New Zealand's largest wine producer, celebrated its 30th vintage of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc in March, an occasion so significant that Prime Minister John Key was there to unveil a monument marking the spot where the first commercial vineyard in Marlborough was planted, in 1973, by Montana founder Frank Yukich.
At that time, Yukich declared, 'Wines from here will become world famous,' despite the fact that the region was previously known for its sheep ranches and fruit orchards rather than vineyards. Yet Yukich, armed with advice from UC Davis viticulturists that chilly Marlborough could support early-ripening wine grapes, planted Montana's Brancott Vineyard in 1973, first to Muller Thurgau, then in 1975 to Sauvignon Blanc.
Yukich's informed gamble paid off after Montana produced the first commercial Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, from the 1979 harvest. Today, Marlborough Sauvignon is a national treasure, joining the kiwi, bungee jumping, All Blacks rugby and 'Lord of the Rings.'
The wines' typically fruity, zesty, mouthwateringly assertive flavors are beloved by wine drinkers throughout the world, and as New Zealand Winegrowers CEO Philip Gregan said at the March ceremony, Montana's Marlborough plantings 'forever changed New Zealand's place in the wine world. The New Zealand wine industry would not be the same without it.'
A unique confluence of ocean and mountain influences, intense sun and myriad soil types in Marlborough create wines with various amounts of grass, grapefruit, lime, gooseberry, kiwi fruit, passionfruit, boxwood, jalapeno and mineral character. Until 2008, demand exceeded supply for this flamboyant style of Sauvignon, yet a massive 2008 harvest, which created an oversupply of grapes, along with the global economic crisis, combined to make Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc sales a bit more difficult.
At Montana's anniversary celebration, the 80-year-old Yukich spoke boldly again, cautioning Sauvignon makers to not be content with maintaining quality, but to improve upon it. He said producers should not assume that 'sales will continue forever.'
'Many of our (Marlborough Sauvignon) wines don't age well,' he said. 'After 24 months, there can be an excessively pungent, canned pea character, not at all attractive. To assure its future, the industry must address this issue.'
Indeed, most of the 'textbook' Kiwi Sauvignon Blancs are most interesting and refreshing within a year or two of bottling. Cellaring has not been all that important in the past, but now, with the world's best wines expected to withstand the test of time, many New Zealand winemakers want to be in that category.
Another troubling development is that mediocre-quality grapes from growers who over-cropped in the bountiful 2008 vintage have been turned into Johnny-come-lately brands that take advantage of the surplus and the thirst for New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, yet deliver under-fruited, sugar-boosted, bland wines. They threaten to tarnish Marlborough's sterling reputation for Sauvignon, so foundation producers such as Montana, Villa Maria and Nobilo are not only guarding against consumer backlash, they're pro-active in improving Marlborough Sauvignon for the long term.
'Our question is, how do we build complexity and ageability into these wines?' asks Jeff Clarke, chief winemaker for Pernod Ricard New Zealand, Montana's parent. 'Our goal also is to achieve additional concentration and aromatics to our Sauvignon Blancs.'
To that end, Clarke and his Marlborough regional winemaker, Patrick Materman, brought in Bordeaux-based Denis Dubourdieu, owner of Chateau Doisy-Daene and other houses, and an expert in Sauvignon Blanc, to consult with them on how to improve Montana wines. Dubourdieu's recommendations focus primarily in the vineyards, of which Montana owns nearly 5,000 Sauvignon acres in Marlborough, and controls another 2,500 acres in the region.
With Dubourdieu's guidance, Montana is conducting trials in its best vineyard blocks, scattered throughout the Wairau River and Awatere valleys, Marlborough's prime sub-regions. Experimentation with leaf-plucking to control the amount of sun the leaves and clusters get; limiting the number of bunches per shoot; dropping excess clusters to allow the vines to devote their energies to ripening the remaining clusters; hand-harvesting in New Zealand's predominantly mechanical-harvesting world; high-density plantings; and changing vine row orientations to increase concentration in the grapes, are among the techniques Clarke, Materman and Dubourdieu are using in Montana vineyards.
Clarke also wants to identify and create a super-Sauvignon Blanc style for New Zealand, one that is a peer to the great Sauvignons of France's Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé and Bordeaux regions, yet resonates with Marlborough character. Many NZ Sauvignon Blancs are outstanding, yet Clarke has thrown down the gauntlet for all producers to lift their games to an even higher level.
He held a March tasting of top-flight Sauvignon Blancs from around the world, inviting his winemakers, viticulturalists, Dubourdieu, Australian wine expert James Halliday, and a very fortunate me. We blind-tasted 26 wines, grouped in seven flights by country of origin and style, then we discussed how these styles fit - or don't fit -- in the Marlborough context.
The first flight was comprised of four 2008 Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs that are vineyard-driven and popular at the premium end: Goldwater Boatshed Bay, St. Clair Pioneer Block 7, Huntaway Reserve and Montana Brancott 'B' Letter Series. As a group, I found them well-made and tasty, yet lacking aromatics and vibrancy. My top wine was the Montana 'B,' shy on the nose yet with punchy ripe fruit, texture and mouthwatering acidity.
Flight two represented four more Marlborough wines -- 2007 Clos Henri, 2006 Dog Point Section 94, 2005 Cloudy Bay Te Koko and 2007 Seresin Marama -- each of which had spent time in oak barrels and/or had significant lees contact, in an effort to add complexity to stainless-steel-fermented Sauvignons, as is the norm in Marlborough.
As a group, wood aromas and flavors dominated the fruit in this second flight -- not my cup of tea. The Dog Point Section 94, with its oak overlay and buttery character, was over the top -- delicious if it were Chardonnay, yet not my ideal for Sauvignon Blanc. Cloudy Bay's Te Koko was full-bodied and somewhat soft in acid, yet with bright citrus fruit. Caramelly oak and tropical flavors marked the Seresin Marama, and the Clos Henri (owned by the Loire Valley's Bourgeois family), had a matchsticky, reductive aroma and a bitter finish, though in the middle were crisp grapefruit, gooseberry and mineral notes.
Flight three was devoted to South Africa, and the beautifully balanced 2008 Vergelegen Reserve Stellenbosch shined brightly -- crisp, focused, minerally and vibrant. The 2007 Steenberg Reseve was all asparagus, green peas, fresh herbs and nervy acidity -- a severe style, to be sure, yet a contrast to the oaky wines of the previous flight. Cape Point's Sauvignon was sweeter than I prefer, yet with a solid core of citrus fruit.
My comment on this flight was, 'Not all that vibrant.' Another taster, who shall remain nameless, said, 'These wines don't speak.' As in sense of place and individual personality are not present.
The California flight, represented by the 2007 Merry Edwards Russian River Valley, 2006 Robert Mondavi To Kalon Oakville Napa Valley, 2007 Peter Michael L' Apres Midi Sonoma County and 2007 Babcock Sta. Rita Hills, drew mostly yawns from my fellow tasters. A published article by Halliday said the wines were 'trenchantly criticized for far too much oak and artefact.'
He did, however, say the Merry Edwards wine had a liveliness the others lacked. I concurred, praising it for its floral, white peach and delicate white pepper aromas, lemon curd and pear flavors, and mouthfilling texture. Mondavi's To Kalon, I thought, was too young and un-evolved at this stage to judge fairly, and the Peter Michael and Babcock Sauvignons showed too much wood and not enough lively fruit.
Make no mistake, these wines are in great demand, and their styles resonate with many American consumers. Yet Montana sought a more global perspective.
So we then headed to France for the last three flights, including seven wines from France's Loire Valley -- ground zero for Sauvignon Blanc production.
Not all the Loire wines were stellar. The 2004 Didier Dagueneau Buisson Renard Pouilly Fume (made from Sauvignon Blanc grapes) smelled extraordinarily funky, like Barbie doll molded plastic and sauerkraut. However, three Henri Bourgeois wines -- the 2007 La Cotes des Monts Damnes, 2005 La Demoisselle de Bourgeois and 2006 Sancerre d'Antan -- were gorgeous, balanced and complex -- with the d'Antan's beet-greens, dill and oak aromas not at all off-putting.
Two other Dagueneau wines, among the world's most sought-after and expensive --- the 2004 Silex and 2001 Pur Sang -- could have improved in the cellar another five years, yet they were opened for the purpose of discussion, revealing remarkable chalky minerality, laser-like acidity and finishes that went on forever.
Four white Bordeaux wines closed out this highly instructive tasting - 2005 Smith Haut Lafitte Blanc, 2007 Doisy-Daene Sec, 2003 Chateau Brown Blanc and 2005 Haut Brion Blanc.
The superstar, to me, was Dubourdieu's 2007 Doisey-Daene -- flinty and with unobtrusive oak, savory herbs, citrus and white peach flavors, and a seamless integration of fruit, skin tannin and acidity.
The Smith Haut Laffite from Pessac-Leognan was also impressive, with gunsmoke, quince, ripe citrus and intriguing anise/herbal notes; it includes a small amount of Sauvignon Gris.
Chateau Brown Blanc was a low point -- oxidized, with lots of wood spice and little fruit character.
Then there was the Haut Brion, the unorthodox white wine from this vaunted Bordeaux First Growth producer. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, it offers funky, woody aromas that don't bode well initially, then blossoms in the mouth with juicy citrus fruit, fig and spice. It's a complex and curious wine, the sort that inspires conversation and debate … and isn't that wine's most charming trait?
With this tasting, and others held internally and abroad, Montana asked how can it produce electrifying Sauvignon Blancs that show terroir, depth and ageability, without sacrificing New Zealand personality. It's a work in progress, yet after the March tasting, it seems to me that Sancerre offers the most relevant model for improved Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc -- as long as NZ's joyously vibrant fruit character is maintained.
An Italian Mystery, Explained
NY Times, By ERIC ASIMOV
THE world is full of mystifying wines, but few are as familiar yet as little-known as Valpolicella.
Where does Valpolicella come from? Well, that we can answer: the Veneto region of northeastern Italy. And we know it is red. What grapes are used? How is it made? Is it any good? For those questions, the answers I’m afraid are pretty murky.
Back when I was a child — and despite what people tell me, I am no longer young — Valpolicella meant the cartoon Italian accent of countless radio commercials for a mass-produced wine that achieved popularity through the undeniable appeal of its mellifluous name. The generations who followed, growing up in the ’80s or ’90s, knew Valpolicella mostly through hearing it disparaged as a thin, insipid wine.
Fact is, it was insipid most of the time. Commercial producers had taken the easy way, abandoning difficult-to-farm hillsides for vineyards on the flats, where high yields of dilute grapes were easy. Meanwhile, as people began to prefer bigger, richer red wines like Valpolicella’s brawnier sibling, Amarone, producers began to reserve their best grapes and vineyards for more profitable Amarone production.
Still, the winemaking renaissance that has occurred throughout Italy, including Soave, the Veneto’s white-wine counterpart to Valpolicella, has also come to Valpolicella. Grapes from the original Valpolicella zone are designated Valpolicella Classico, while those that have a higher level of alcohol and that receive an additional year of aging are designated Superiore.
With new seriousness of purpose, many producers have rededicated themselves to Valpolicella. It has not replaced Amarone at the top of most winemakers’ production charts, not even close. But it is clear today that many Valpolicellas are delicious and wonderful values, though all over the map stylistically, as the wine panel found in a recent tasting of 25 bottles.
For the tasting Florence Fabricant and I were joined by Charles Scicolone, the consulting wine director for Enoteca on Court and Marco Polo restaurant, in Brooklyn, and Gabrio Tosti di Valminuta, proprietor of De-Vino, a largely Italian wine shop on the Lower East Side.
Let’s start with the murkiness. Valpolicella is a blended wine. The corvina grape must make up to 40 to 70 percent of the mix, with rondinella 20 to 40 percent and molinara 5 to 25 percent. Up to 15 percent of the blend can include barbera, sangiovese, negrara or rossignola, while up to 5 percent can come from other red grapes. Got that?
Clearly winemakers have a lot of room for variation, but that’s only the beginning. As consumer tastes changed, Valpolicella producers began to use techniques of concentrating and darkening the wines. Some added semi-dried grapes that might have been used for Amarone. Others took Valpolicella and refermented it with the skins and sediment of the semi-dried grapes used for Amarone.
The results were bigger, richer wines, somewhere between classic Valpolicellas and Amarones. Many producers call these wines ripasso, or ripassa, which means “passed through again.” They can be quite good. But for our tasting I wanted Valpolicellas made in the more conventional way, partly because I love the texture and delicacy of a well-made Valpolicella.
We had only one problem. Producers are under no obligation to label their wines ripasso, or to indicate what methods they’ve used to make the wines. Without a lot of research, it is hard to know what you’re getting. And even then, some producers vary their methods from year to year, depending on the vintage.
Confusing? “That’s Italy!” Gabrio chortled.
Fair enough. The best traditional Valpolicellas are Italy, too, delicate in texture, with aromas and flavors of cherries, flowers and earth and a lively acidity that practically demands food with the wine.
Our No. 1 bottle, the 2007 Classico from Vaona, virtually pulsed with bright, vibrant cherry flavors and floral aromas. It typified what I was looking for in a classically styled Valpolicella, with a structure that comes from acidity rather than oak and a delicacy that, with the wine lightly chilled, might go well with seafood. Best of all, it was just $16.
Still, the Vaona wasn’t our best value. Our No. 2 bottle, the 2006 Tommasi Valpolicella Classico Superiore from the Rafaèl vineyard, which had pronounced floral aromas floating above the cherry flavors, was our best value at just $12. But it could just as easily been our No. 3 bottle, the 2006 Zenato Classico Superiore at $12, or the 2007 Bolla at just $9.
Incidentally, the Bolla was one of those mass-produced Valpolicellas with the radio commercials decades ago. Nonetheless, it’s a highly satisfying cheap bottle — no complaints.
The myriad bottles we tried did not vary much by flavor. The Valpolicellas consistently offer floral aromas and flavors of tart cherry and occasionally chocolate, turning refreshingly bitter as you swallow. Some are a bit herbal, and others spicy. But the more noticeable differences in the wines were their texture and density as well as their focus — that is, in the better wines the flavors are more precise and sharply defined.
For experiment’s sake, our tasting coordinator, Bernard Kirsch, included the two best-known and most venerated names in Valpolicella, Quintarelli and Dal Forno. I’ve had the Quintarelli before. It’s a wine unlike any other Valpolicella, with lightness, complexity and intensity, and it can age for years. Unfortunately, our bottle, a 1998 that Bernie found for $90, was hopelessly oxidized. The Dal Forno, a 2002 that cost $97, had a different problem. It was overwhelmed — I might say strangled — by the aroma and flavor of the new oak barrels used to age the wine.
I would not hesitate to invest in a Quintarelli for a special occasion. I’ve had plenty of very good ripasso-style Valpolicellas — producers like Marion, Allegrini’s Palazzo della Torre and Masi Campofiorin come to mind. Perhaps we even had some lurking in our tasting. But more and more I’ve been looking for the real, unaugmented thing. Any of our top 10 wines would make me happy, and for the most part you can’t beat the prices.
Last Updated (Thursday, 29 October 2009 17:40)