The afternoon seminar at La Festa del Barolo featured 14 of my favorite 2008 Barolos, plus one 2007. I chose the wines to represent the entire spectrum of Barolo, from traditional to modern. As opposed to more common walk-around tastings, which encourage people to seek out producers they already know and/or the most famous wines in the room, at La Festa the wines are presented in an educational, sit-down format in which attendees taste all the wines. Our goal is to introduce Barolo lovers to wines that may not be familiar with.
In tastings like these, I also try to mix things up a bit. One of the biggest urban myths is that comparative tastings favor bigger wines, or, put another way, that delicate wines can't be appreciated after richer, more powerful wines. Specifically to prove my point, I placed two of the lighter wines in this tasting, the 2008 Vajra Bricco delle Viole and the 2008 Cogno Bricco Pernice, after Roberto Voerzio's 2008 Barolo Cerequio. Think the Vajra and Cogno weren't appreciated by the room? Not a chance.
When people say that concentrated wines overpower delicate wines in a tasting, what they are really expressing is a given taster (or tasters') preference. The conventional approach to ordering wines is lightest to richest, but I find that totally boring because it actually de emphasizes the differences among wines. It's like driving a car. If you go from 0 to 60 in a few seconds, you probably won't notice any particular point in the acceleration curve; but, if you go suddenly from 60 to 30 you will definitely feel the change. And that is exactly what happened in this tasting.
With one exception, I thought all of the 2008s showed well. I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite, as each wine seemed to show a different facet of a vintage that continues to develop beautifully in bottle. The best 2008s have an inner sweetness and perfume that is reminiscent of the top 1989s. One of the more special wines in this tasting was Enrico Scavino's 30th Anniversary Bric del Fiasc Riserva (pictured), a Barolo that has not yet been released. It was fabulous. And the retro label is a great touch. The only wine I wasn't totally thrilled about was Aldo Conterno's 2008 Barolo Romirasco, where there seemed to be an element of bottle variation in the room.
This is the complete lineup:
E. Pira 2008 Barolo Cannubi
Borgogno 2008 Barolo Cannubi
Luciano Sandrone 2008 Barolo Cannubi Boschis
Roberto Voerzio 2008 Barolo Cerequio
Elvio Cogno 2008 Barolo Bricco Pernice
G.D. Vajra 2008 Barolo Bricco delle Viole
Vietti 2008 Barolo Rocche
Paolo Scavino 2008 Barolo Riserva Bric del Fiasc
Conterno-Fantino 2008 Barolo Ginestra
Elio Grasso 2008 Barolo Ginestra Vigna Casa Mate
Poderi Aldo Conterno 2008 Barolo Romirasco
Pio Cesare 2008 Barolo Ornato
Giacomo Conterno 2008 Barolo Cascina Francia
Brovia 2008 Barolo Ca' Mia
Cavallotto 2007 Barolo Riserva Bricco Boschis Vigna San Giuseppe
This year's La Festa del Barolo kicked off with the Rare Wine Charity Dinner at Eleven Madison Park on Friday night. The dinner raised over $44,000 for The Robin Hood Foundation's Robin Hood Relief Fund, which was set up specifically for the benefit of the victims of Hurricane Sandy. Eleven Madison Park's Executive Chef Daniel Humm and his team prepared a stunning menu to match the wines. It was one of the greatest nights of food and wine I can remember.
Where to start? It's hard to say, as all of the wines showed beautifully. But from a historical perspective, there is no question the standouts included Bartolo Mascarello's 1955 and 1958 Barolos, from 1.9 liter magnums (pictured), both of which were out of this world. I also loved Scavino's 1990 Barolo Riserva Rocche dell'Annunziata (magnum), here in its first vintage. What a great, great wine! Terlano's 1955 Pinot Bianco, no, that is not a misprint(!) is probably the wine that made the deepest impression on the greatest number of people, simply because no one had ever tasted a white wine of that age, especially from Italy, in such amazing condition. And Taittinger's 2002 Comtes de Champagne, also from magnum, was absolutely stellar. It was a great night for wine, food and friendship, all for a very worthy cause. It was also great to see a room full of women wine geeks, many of whom asked the toughest questions!
The full menu is below:
Chef’s Selection of Passed Hors d’oeuvres
2002 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne (magnum)
Scallop - Seared with Tapioca, Celery, and Black Truffle
2009 Miani Tocai Buri (magnum)
2001 Edi Kante Chardonnay Selezione La Bora di Kante (magnum)
1955 Terlano Pinot Bianco Vorberg
Salsify - Roasted with Apples and Black Pudding
2001 Elio Grasso Barolo Ginestra Vigna Casa Mate
1999 Roberto Voerzio Barolo Cerequio
Mushroom - Sautéed with Teff and Pine Nuts
1998 Cappellano Barolo Pie Franco Otin Fiorin (magnum)
1998 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo Brunate Le-Coste (magnum)
1990 Scavino Barolo Riserva Rocche dell’Annunziata (magnum)
1990 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Cannubi Boschis
Guinea Fowl - Roasted with Bacon and Parsnip
1985 Brovia Barolo Rocche
1988 Vietti Barolo Rocche
1989 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Riserva Falletto
Duck - Roasted with Tardivo and Marcona Almond
1982 Borgogno Barolo
1978 Cavallotto Barolo Riserva Bricco Boschis Vigna San Giuseppe
1971 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Riserva
Goat Cheese - Aged with Pistachio and Wild Spring Greens
1958 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo (magnum)
1955 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo (magnum)
1961 Giuseppe Rinaldi Barolo
Paul-Marie & Fils “Devant La Porte” Grande Champagne Cognac
I have been lucky to have had many fabulous tastings at Castello di Ama over the years, but this was one of the most remarkable. Proprietors Marco Pallanti and Lorenza Sebaste are true visionaries. An approach built on painstaking attention and an uncompromising commitment to quality places them among the world’s elite producers. Even from the very first vintages the wines have been stunning. Best of all, the Castello di Ama wines age extraordinarily well.
Where to start with this vertical of fourteen vintages that traces L’Apparita all the way back to the inaugural 1985?
I love the 2004 and 2006, two wines that capture the personalities of those vintages; the 2004 silky and polished, the 2006 a total powerhouse. I also admire the 1997, a wine that remains incredibly youthful and primary. Today, it is drop-dead gorgeous. A trio of wines from the early 1990s is stellar. The 1992 is pure refinement, the 1991 the product of a very late harvest that stretched into October, and the 1990 an exotic wine from a legendary vintage that more than lives up to its reputation. The 1988 and 1985 show that the Pallantis’ intuition to graft Merlot onto existing Canaiolo and Malvasia Bianca rootstocks in ther early 1980s was spot on.
Full report to follow shortly….
Montevertine is one of the most privileged spots for wine anywhere in the world. If I had to choose only one Sangiovese to cellar, it might very well be Montevertine's Le Pergole Torte. The wines from Montevertine, a small hillside property just outside Radda, in the heart of Chianti Classico, have demonstrated an uncanny ability to age beautifully for decades, acquiring incredible finesse in bottle. This cool, high altitude site encourages slow ripening and yields Sangioveses endowed with remarkable grace. Although most of the attention centers around the flagship Pergole Torte, I also adore the Montevertine bottling. Given the exceptional track record the Manetti family has built over the last few decades, it is hardly surprising some of their lesser known wines age just as well.
Montevertine’s 1996 Pian del Ciampolo is frankly a revelation. At seventeen years of age, it is in great shape, which in and of itself is a remarkable achievement for an entry-level wine. The enticing Pinot-inflected bouquet laced with crushed flowers, earthiness and sweet dried cherries is utterly captivating. Although a little less interesting on the palate, the 1996 is beautifully balanced and flat-out delicious. What an eye-opening bottle.
I will not be surprised if few readers have ever heard of Il Cannaio di Montevertine, a wine the estate made for Giorgio Pinchiorri and his famous restaurant in Florence beginning in the early 1980s. The 1986, a Sangiovese/Canaiolo blend from a single parcel on the property, is simply stunning. This is classic Montevertine. Deep, rich, yet miraculously weightless, the 1986 is firing on all cylinders. I doubt I will ever taste it again, but it seems pretty safe to say the 1986 will dazzle those lucky enough to find it for another 15-20 years. Wow.
Readers will recall Montevertine’s founder Sergio Manetti caused quite a stir when he left the Chianti Classico Consorzio in the early 1980s, so it is quite ironic that this tasting end with a Chianti Classico, in this case the 1978 Riserva. Another wine still in great shape, the 1978 is more about structure than fruit at this stage. It remains marvelously intact but is also at a plateau of maturity. According to Sergio Manetti’s son, Martino, who makes the wines today, his father never added white grapes to his Chianti Classico. It didn’t seem to matter then, and producers eventually figured it out, which is why it doesn’t matter today...
Saturday at Pebble Beach Food & Wine was a more than worthy follow up to the day before. I tasted an extraordinary range of wines and was fortunate to moderate a number of fabulous tastings.
The morning started with a look back at every vintage of Scarecrow. What stood out most was the consistency of the wines across all vintages. The 2003 was showing beautifully. I also thought the 2006 and 2010 were terrific. I still can't figure out the 2009. Every time I taste that wine something is missing for me.
I headed into my seminar, which featured the wines of Kracher. I have loved these wines since, well, I don't remember, but a long time. Listening to Gerhard Kracher tell his family's story was deeply moving. By comparison, we are spoiled today, when the biggest problems seem to be getting the latest iPhone or catching a flight to some glamorous location. Gerhard Kracher's grandfather was just struggling to survive. And the wines? Well, they were pretty outrageous. The comments from the panelists - Christie Dufault, Rajat Parr, Gerhard Kracher and Larry Stone MS - were insightful so, here, too my job was easy. For now, let me say I am a buyer of the 2010s, let me leave at that. Simply put, this was another monumental tasting.
The afternoon sessions were equally amazing. I snuck in early to the Ridge tasting to check in on a few of my favorite vintages. I still adore the 2010, but I think the 2011 has the potential to surprise a lot of people, even if it is of course very different in style. If the US had classified growths, there is no question Ridge would be a first growth. All the wines I tasted were just beautiful. I especially like where the 2006 is now and where it appears to be headed.
I then got back to work. My Cos d'Estournel seminar was just as electric. Cos is one of the first Bordeaux wines I fell in love with, so this retrospective was particularly of interest. The 2000 and 1985 were both stunning in my view. I enjoyed tasting the 1966 and 1975, but those wines didn't turn me on as much from a pure pleasure perspective. The 2009 was extremely sexy, but it needs time to shed some of its exuberance. I have to say listening to my co-panelists Larry Stone MS, Robin Kelley O'Connor along with Dimitri Augenblick from Cos was fascinating.
Sunday started with an early morning run on the beach. Perfect for clearing the mind just prior to my last tasting of the weekend. Comtes de Champagne. What could be better? The two vintages that made me a huge Comtes fan are 1970 and 1971. Today's wines are just as good, if not better. I was particularly thrilled with the 2004, a wine that continues to blossom in bottle. The 2002 was, well, the 2002. If you haven't tasted the 2002 Comtes, let me just say it is one of the greatest Champagnes ever made. I also loved the 1996 and 2000. Did I mention the 2006 is also hugely promising? In other words, all the wines showed beautifully. Among the Rosés, I especially adored the 2000, which is in a perfect place right now to deliver considerable enjoyment. Sitting with me on the panel were Gillian Ballance MS, Kim Beto, Robin Kelley O'Connor and Vitalie Taittinger.
That's it. I left Pebble Beach both energized and exhausted. Not sure how that happened, but it was a fabulous weekend all around!
A whirlwind weekend. That is what comes to mind as I reflect on the time I spent at Pebble Beach Food & Wine last week.
I have to say, my grower Champagne seminar was a highlight, mostly because it was great to see so many people connecting with these wines. Ultimately wine has to be about pleasure, and these Champagnes really seemed to really push all the right buttons. I was thrilled. It was easy to moderate a panel with Sabato Sagaria MS, Laura Maniec MS and Rajat Parr, all of whom share my enthusiasm about Champagne. Maybe I take some of these wines for granted, as I have an opportunity to taste them and visit the growers frequently. The seminar opened my eyes as to just how rare top-flight grower Champagnes are. It was a great tasting, but then again, how could it not be with these wines? I chose Champagnes from Egly-Ouriet, Aubry, Peters, Vilmart, Boulard, Agrapart, Jérome Prévôst, Cédric Bouchard, Marie-Courtin and Ulysse Collin. All of the wines were dazzling. Frankly, it was hard to leave the room. The wines were that monumental. There are rare moments in life when wine can be deeply emotional. This was one of those times.
Friday afternoon was every bit as exciting, as I moderated a tasting featuring eight vintages of Ornellaia. Joining me on the panel were Axel Heinz, Ornellaia's winemaker, Larry Stone MS and Sabato Sagaria MS. I loved the 1998 Ornellaia. What a wine! I am also a big fan of the 2010. The 2004, which I have always adored, is exceeding my already lofty expectations. Upon my return to New York I was very pleasantly surprised to discover I own six bottles. The 2001 and 2006, both from rich, structured years, seemed less expressive than they have been in the past, but that is the nature of wine. To be continued....
Over the weekend the world lost one of the great figures in wine. Franco Biondi Santi, the scion of Montalcino's most important family, passed away at 91. Biondi Santi was the grandson of Ferruccio Biondi Santi, the man credited with isolating the Sangiovese Grosso and inventing Brunello di Montalcino as we know it today.
I visited with Franco Biondi Santi at the family's Il Greppo estate several times over the years. Always impeccably dressed and aristocratic in demeanor, Biondi Santi was unfailingly polite but also passionate in his advocacy of tradition. Biondi Santi would always accompany me throughout the cellar, tasting through all the vintages in barrel, even though advancing age clearly took a toll on his energy level towards the end of his life.
Despite his age, Biondi Santi ran the family's Il Greppo property with an iron fist. The winery was always impeccably clean and well maintained. Nothing happened at the estate without his explicit approval. I saw that once again first hand when I visited earlier this year. My tasting ended with the 2012s from cask. If you haven't heard, 2012 is a potentially outstanding vintage in Montalcino. If the wine I tasted in cask is as phenomenal in bottle, it will be a fitting conclusion to a brilliant career. Let us hope that will be the case....
RIP, Franco Biondi Santi.
Last week I started making my rounds in Napa Valley to taste the 2012s from barrel. The estates I visited were Harlan, BOND, Dana, Kapcsandy, Ovid, Abreu and Outpost, where I also tasted a number of other wines made by Thomas Rivers Brown.
I spent an entire month in Napa Valley in 2012, including about two and a half weeks in the fall. My September trip coincided with the beginning of harvest, just as things were about to get going. It was a great opportunity to see the vineyards in their most exposed state, as differing approaches to yields are never so obvious as they are at that time in the season. That is not to say lower is better. It isn’t, but the difference in yields – sometimes within various blocks in the same vineyard – was striking. Harvest was in full swing when I returned in October.
I like tasting the new vintage the following spring to get acquainted with the wines and start building general thoughts about the year. Obviously the wines are very young at this stage. Most have only recently completed their malolactic fermentations. Only a few winemakers have even begun building their blends. But tasting in the spring is a critical part of my overall approach in covering Napa Valley, most importantly building a track record with wines I will taste 2-3 times before assigning final scores from bottle.
For example, at some properties, such as BOND, I am tasting barrel samples that are embryonic and haven’t been moved or blended at all. I am looking for site specificity, which is also a hallmark of the BOND wines. At other estates, like Harlan or Ovid, the exercise is more about tasting the separate components before they are blended, in other words, just the Cabernet Sauvignon, just the Merlot, just the Cabernet Franc, and so on. At Abreu, the picks are done by ripeness rather than strictly by grape variety, as is pretty much the case throughout the valley. In 2012, there are 18 different picks at Abreu, each of which represents a specific harvest date, and all of which are co-fermentations. There are cases where a winemaker will do a barrel tasting, where, for example, we taste three or four Cabernets from the same block but aged in barrels from different coopers. These can be incredibly eye opening and educational tastings.
Two things have surprised me about the 2012s given the highly favorable weather. I thought the wines would be opulent and full-bodied. So far, the wines generally aren’t huge. Of course, that can change as wines develop. Today, though, the 2012s stand out for their silky tannin and polish rather than for their size. The 2012s are also highly transparent to site, something else that is encouraging to see in young wines. So far, so good. This is going to be a fascinating vintage to follow, that is for sure.
I will be back in Napa Valley later this month for Round 2 of the 2012s. I can hardly wait….
Note to self: Don’t let so much time pass before next dinner at RN74.
That is what I kept thinking as a dear friend and I enjoyed a spectacular dinner at RN74
this past weekend. The wine list, under the stewardship of Michael Mina Group Wine Director Rajat Parr, is to die for. Readers will find an abundance of the world’s most coveted bottles, both young and old. Many of the mature wines come from the cellar of Wilf Jaeger, a San Francisco-based collector who owns vineyards in Burgundy and also happens to be one of the most knowledgeable people I have ever met, and not just when it comes to Burgundy.
We started with Cedric Bouchard’s 2005 La Parcelle
. What a Champagne. Rich, vinous and deeply resonant, the 2005 impressed with its balance and sheer class. Wow. This was a great showing. Next up were two whites, the 2010 Guiberteau Saumur
was right up my alley. A crisp, energetic and vibrant wine, this superb Chenin Blanc was a perfect foil to the Maitake mushroom tempura, Ahi tuna crudo and grilled Spanish octopus. François Cotat’s 2011 Sancerre La Grande Côte
was very good, but a bit too heavy for my taste. Tollot-Beaut’s 1979 Corton-Bressandes
was a revelation. So silky, so pure, so beautiful. It was utterly captivating from the very first taste. Jasmin’s 1982 Côte-Rôtie
was also drop-dead gorgeous. Deeply colored, rich and layered, it exuded class and personality. I imagine the 1982 will still be going strong in 20 years, as it has more than enough fruit to go the distance. Both reds were sensational with the arctic char, which was served with steamed mussels, pea tendrils, leeks and white wine broth, a fabulous dish in its own right. The 1996 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Hirsch Vineyard
was in an awkward stage, not young, but also not fully mature either, and just not showing all of its cards....yet.
Readers visiting San Francisco own themselves a visit (or two!) to RN74. I can't wait to go back.
There are a handful of wines in the world that inhabit a special place. Iconic bottles are highly sought because they are more than wine. They represent, culture, history, a place, and a vintage, as expressed through the creative mind of a visionary. Unrelenting passion, mountains of conviction and the ability to withstand withering criticism from the establishment are qualities shared by most, if not all, of the world's greatest winemakers.
Anselme Selosse is one of those visionaries. His wines sit comfortably within Champagne's top echelon, but in many ways they are more than Champagne. They are Selosse. That is why the recent theft of 3,900 bottles along with 16,000 labels and 12,000 neck labels from the domaine’s cellar is particularly heart wrenching.
I wish everyone reading this could understand the extraordinary work and passion the Selosse family puts into crafting their Champagnes. Take it from a longtime fan of the domaine, and someone who visits every year. It is my sincere hope the stolen bottles and labels can be recovered swiftly, and that those responsible will be held accountable.
The wine in this photo is the 2004 Rosé d'Infusion Lubie, which was made just once. Tasted two weeks ago, it was absolutely fabulous and testament to the creative vision of Anselme Selosse.