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Sonoma-Cutrer, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Pinot Noir 2019

($30):  Sonoma-Cutrer, a leading Sonoma producer, bottles a bevy of Pinot Noirs.  This, their “entry level” offering, is a good example of Russian River Pinot Noir.  Though fruit-focused, attractive earthy, leafy notes appear with air and add complexity.  Its fruitiness comes through in the finish as a hint of sweetness.  Suave, silky tannins mean you could enjoy this now.  Refreshing uplifting acidity in the finish brings you back for another sip.
88 Michael Apstein Oct 12, 2021

Las Moradas de San Martin, Vinos de Madrid DO (Spain) Garnacha “Initio” 2011 

($25):  First, please note that this decade-old wine is the current release.  Secondly, if you read the label and note its 15 percent stated-alcohol, you might be put off.  Don’t be.  I can’t explain it, but Garnacha can carry that level of alcohol beautifully, as this wine shows.  Sure, it’s a big winter time wine, but it delivers spice and a panoply of fruit flavors in a balanced package.  Despite its age, the tannins are still a little coarse, but you will not notice them this winter when there is a slice of leg of lamb on your plate.
91 Michael Apstein Oct 12, 2021

Pasqua Vigneti e Cantine, Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG (Veneto, Italy) “Famiglia Pasqua” 2016

($45):  Amarone, by type, is a big wine because regulations require that it be made from partially dehydrated grapes.  Its power comes from the concentration of sugar, resulting in higher alcohol, acids and everything else that occurs as the grapes dry and shrivel.  Since all components of the grapes get concentrated, the well-made Amarone, such as this one and its stablemate, Mai Dire Mai, are balanced.  At five years of age, this one remains big and boisterous, yet balanced.  You barely notice 15 percent stated-alcohol.  Actually, the tannins are suave, making the wine, dare I say, elegant, hardly a word used with Amarone.  There’s an appealing hint of bitterness in the finish, which is appropriate since the name, Amarone, comes from amaro, Italian for bitter.  No doubt, this is a winter time wine.
92 Michael Apstein Oct 12, 2021

Pasqua Vigneti e Cantine, Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG (Veneto, Italy) “Mai Dire Mai” 2012

($105):  Never say never, the translation of Mai Dire Mai, as in “I never like Amarone,” is appropriate for this massive wine.  I’m not usually a fan of Amarone because they can be overwhelming.  And that’s what you’d expect from one with a stated-alcohol of 16.5 percent.  But, Pasqua manages to pull it off with this one because it is balanced. It delivers a wonderfully warming mixture of dried and fruit flavors wrapped in rather suave tannins.  You notice the alcohol — that’s the warming part — but it doesn’t burn.  It’s a steakhouse kind of wine, best consumed in subfreezing weather with snow on the ground.
94 Michael Apstein Oct 12, 2021

Tenuta Carretta, Roero Riserva DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) “Bric Paradiso” 2016

($35):  The red wines from the Roero DOC, just across the river from Barolo and Barbaresco are under-rated and fly under the radar as Michael Franz, my friend and colleague at WineReviewOnline.com, has pointed out.    Juicy and succulent, this youthful example shows just how impressive the wines from this DOC can be.  It’s a powerful wine, yet not overblown, delivering a seductive combination of mineral-like and floral notes.  Fine tannins lend support to this youthful wine without a trace of astringency.  It is unusual to find a Nebbiolo-based wine of this quality at this price.  Find room in your cellar and re-visit it in another five years.  You’ll be hooked on the reds of Roero.
93 Michael Apstein Oct 12, 2021

Tenuta Carretta, Barbaresco Riserva DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) “Cascina Bordino” 2015

($55, Consortium Wine and Spirits Imports):  With prices of Barolo and Barbaresco going higher and higher, this wine should be on every Piedmont-lovers list.  Its relative bargain status — I hate to call a $55 wine a bargain, but it is — could be due to the 2015 vintage, an excellent year overshadowed by the hype justifiably afforded the 2016s.  Maybe it doesn’t command a higher price because it’s not from an MGA (Menzioni Geografiche Aggiuntive), the Piedmont equivalent of what the French would call a cru.  According to Carretta’s website, Alessandro Mesanghetti, whose books and maps define the MGAs, says it qualified for an MGA, but no one claimed it.  Similar to how I describe great Burgundy, this wine has “flavor without weight.”  A floral component balances and amplifies its delicate yet powerful character.   It is more mineraly than fruity and a touch austere, in the best sense of that word.  Long and lively, its tannic structure is present, but not intrusive, befitting a great young wine.  In short, it’s a pretty wine with backbone and understated stuffing.  Barbaresco lovers, find a place in your cellar for it.
95 Michael Apstein Oct 12, 2021

E. Guigal, Crozes-Hermitage (Rhône Valley, France) Blanc 2018

($28):  Guigal, an undisputed leader in the Rhône, shows his considerable talents with this white wine from what is best known for its reds.  White wine from Crozes-Hermitage comprises less than ten percent of the appellation’s total production.  This one, a blend of mostly (90+ percent) of Marsanne with Roussanne providing the remainder, delivers delicate and refined stone fruit flavors with wonderful acidity, a characteristic often lacking in Rhône whites.  Though delicate, it has good concentration, impeccable balance, which gives it a real presence.  A little bottle age won’t hurt it, though it’s quite delightful to drink now.  It has enough depth to hold up to spicy foods and enough sophistication for roast chicken in a creamy mushroom sauce.
92 Michael Apstein Oct 12, 2021

Coen, Uco Valley (Mendoza, Argentina) Malbec 2020

($25):  Full disclosure: I’m prejudiced against Malbec because all too often it produces a plodding, hit-you-over-the-head red wine.  But, that’s why you keep tasting.  This one does not fit my prejudicial paradigm.  It’s a big wine, to be sure, but balanced and, most importantly, fresh.  By that I mean, it’s lively, not plodding.  It delivers the usual array of ripe black fruit flavors but there’s some elegance here — the modest 13.6 percent stated alcohol likely accounts for part of that — and a lovely floral component.  It’s another one for drinking with robust fare this fall and winter.
91 Michael Apstein Oct 12, 2021

The 2019 Cru Beaujolais Releases

The world loves Beaujolais.  And for good reason.   The various red wines of the Beaujolais region provide something for everyone, from simple “everyday” pizza wine to far more serious and structured ones from the crus, the top ten named villages.  Sometimes the wines from the crus do not even carry the word Beaujolais on the label.  The enthusiasm for Beaujolais is not limited to Americans.   Signs and posters exclaiming, “Beaujolais est arrivé” (Beaujolais has arrived) are plastered all over France in restaurants and cafes on the third Thursday of November, the day the Beaujolais Nouveau is released.  Between Beaujolais Nouveau and the crus are two other levels, Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages.

My focus here will be limited to the 2019 wines from the crus, having tasted a bevy of these wines at home and an additional 27 samples from all the ten villages at a tasting organized for me by InterBeaujolais, the organization that represents all of the Beaujolais growers and producers, at their offices in the heart of the region.

Before getting to the wines, let me say something about the vintage.  I will not bore you with the details of the weather month by month, but suffice it to say, it was a hot year, what the French call a “sunny vintage.”  The summer’s heat and sun led to ripe grapes.  The challenge for producers was to avoid letting those ripe, sugar-laden grapes turn into super rich, high-alcohol, low-acid wines.  Typically, grapes that are very ripe have lower levels of acidity—as all fruit ripens, sugar goes up and acidity falls.  This pattern can lead to wines that lack vivacity and energy because they contain less acidity.  You tire of drinking them because they are heavy, they are not refreshing nor palate-cleansing.  Fortunately, for Beaujolais, the Gamay grape (it’s full name: Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc), the region’s major variety, is naturally high in acidity, so it weathers warm, even hot, vintages better than, say, Pinot Noir.

The weather explains the variability of these 2019 Beaujolais crus.  This is not a “point and shoot” vintage where every wine will appeal to everyone.  Some wines are lush and ripe and will certainly appeal to those who enjoy that style.  Other have less richness, but more energy—a more traditional style of Beaujolais—and will appeal to others.  In short, there’s something for everyone in the 2019 crus.  In typical Beaujolais character, the vast majority—you’ll see exceptions below—have mild and suave tannins that making these wines ready to drink now.

The ten crus, from south to north, Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Régnié, Morgon, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Moulin-à-Vent, Chénas, Juliénas, and Saint-Amour, produce different and identifiable wines thanks to varying soils and exposures.  For example, the wines from Brouilly are typically lighter and fruitier, “friendly” wines in contrast to the neighboring ones from Côte de Brouilly, which is a rocky hill filled with blue stone formed by an ancient underwater volcano.  Wines from the Côte de Brouilly typically have an attractive firmness that can benefit from a year or two of age.  The best way to appreciate the differences among the crus is to taste wines from the various villages made by the same producer.  In contrast, tasting a Morgon from Georges DuBoeuf and a Moulin-à-Vent from Château des Jacques will raise the question, is the difference due to the cru or to the producer?  My mantra—producer, producer, producer–remains as important here as in the rest of Burgundy.

My advice to consumers is to taste these wines before buying quantities of them to be sure they are the style that you are looking for and that fits your taste and pocketbook.   Most of these, except the ones with considerable tannins, will take a chill nicely so don’t be afraid to buy a case or two the of the ones you like to drink next summer in place of rosé.  Better still, drink them this fall with coq au vin.  But still chill them slightly to enhance your enjoyment.

Domaine des Billards, Saint Amour.  Saint Amour can produce both light and delicate wines as well as more robust ones.  The Barbet and Tessier families own this domaine, which is part of the well-respected Maison Jean Loron portfolio.  Weighing in at a hefty 14.5 percent stated alcohol, it falls into the ripe and powerful category.  There’s a lot going on here.  ($20, 88)

Domaine Cheysson, Chiroubles.  Domaine Cheysson, one of my favorite producers, skillfully combines a floral and fleshy aspect with great acidity, giving the wine energy and lift.  It’s also one of the rare Chiroubles that is widely available in this country.  ($20, 92)

Château de Poncié 949, Fleurie, “Les Hauts du Py.”  No newcomer, the 949 refers to the date the original château was founded.  Maisons et Domaines Henriot, who also owns Bouchard Père et Fils in Burgundy, William Fevre in Chablis, and Champagne Henriot, also owns the Chateau de Poncié (a.k.a. Villa Ponciago) in Fleurie.  Given the heights of quality of their other properties, it’s no surprise that the Chateau de Poncié Les Hauts du Py is stunning.  It conveys the seeming paradox of delicacy and power.  Brilliant acidity balances ripe, not over-ripe, fruitiness, keeping it lively and long.   (n/a; 93)

Domaine Perroud, Brouilly, “L’Enfer des Balloquets.”  Named for the hell that is the steep (40 percent) Balloquet hill the harvesters must endure, it’s a helluva wine.  Denser than most wines from Brouilly, it maintains a precise balance of black fruit, a hint of tarriness, and great acidity.  A subtle bitterness in the finish adds to its appeal.  ($19, 92)

Domaine Rochette, Régnié, “Cuvée des Braves.”  With this cuvée, Domaine Rochette has polished the texture while maintaining the earthiness—some would say charming rusticity—of Régnié.  The focus here is more on firm minerals rather than fleshy fruit.   Weighing in at a modest 13 percent stated alcohol, it’s long and balanced and not over-ripe.  ($20, 90)

Georges DuBoeuf, Juliénas, “Château des Capitans.”  In addition to his “flower label” bottlings, DuBoeuf produces or commercializes a bevy of wines from individual estates in the crus, including this one from his own property in Juliénas.  Though its focus is red and black fruits, there’s plenty of complementary and balancing spice and a briary element.  Terrific acidity keeps it fresh and lively.  ($23, 90)

Domaine du Clos du Fief, Juliénas, “Tradition.”  Father and son team, Michel et Sylvain Tete, are in charge of this top-notch domaine.  Their Juliénas displays an alluring and balanced combination of black fruit and an almost black pepper-like spice.  Fresh and lively, with an uncommon suaveness, this is one of the great successes of the vintage.  ($22, 94)

Pascal Aufranc, Chénas, “En Rémont.”  Pascal Aufranc, another star producer in Beaujolais, makes this terrific Chénas from 70-year-old vines.  A muscular wine, to be sure, but it remains fresh and lively.  The focus here is on minerals—you feel the granite—and then sense the rich black fruit.  It’s a wonderful combination.  Some tannic structure, apparent at this stage, makes this Chénas a good candidate for a couple of years in the cellar.   Then, serve it with roast lamb.  ($17, 93)

Domaine du Riaz, Côte de Brouilly.   DuBoeuf bottles and commercializes Riaz’s very stylish Côte de Brouilly.  This domaine made a beautiful Côte de Brouilly in 2015, another warm vintage, so it’s no surprise that they succeeded admirably in 2019.   This finely textured wine delivers a near magical combination of fruitiness and firm, not hard, minerality, reflective of the grapes’ origin.  ($19, 93)

Nicole & Romain Chanrion, Côte de Brouilly.   Nicole Chanrion, who comes from six generations of experience, is one of the top producers on the Côte de Brouilly.  She, and her son Romain, who now works with her, make wines that always impress.   And certainly, their 2019 is no different.  It marries fruitiness with firm and refined minerality.  Beautifully textured, it is fresh and captivating.  Don’t miss it.  ($26, 94)

Château Bellevue, Morgon, “Les Charmes.” Another property in the Jean Loron portfolio, this Morgon really sings.  It displays a panoply of floral and mineral elements.  Dare I say, it’s a charming wine.  Structured and precise, it’s firm without being hard, making it a fine representation of the Les Charmes lieu-dit.  A discreet hint of bitterness in the finish reinforces its stature as a grand wine.  ($35, 95)

Georges DuBoeuf, Morgon, Côte du Py, “Jean-Ernest Descombes.”  The Côte du Py, a blue-stone slope, is the best-known lieu-dit within Morgon.  Gamay grown here takes on a firm and distinct mineral-like character, which often takes a couple of years to soften.  The warmth of the 2019 vintage brought out a ripe bright dark cherry-like fruit and allows this Côte du Py to be enjoyed now.  ($33, 91)

Yohan Lardy, Moulin-à-Vent “Les Michelons.” Wines from Moulin-à-Vent tend to be the sturdiest of all Beaujolais cru because of the granitic soil in that area.  And there’s no doubt that you can taste and feel its presence in this wine.  But there’s an exuberance of red and black fruits here as well.  Old vines, dating from 1911 and 1950 planted in a 5-acre walled vineyard within the lieu-dit of Les Michelons, likely explain the wine’s complexity and power.  Good acidity keeps this muscular giant in balance.  ($24, 90)

Any of these wines should bury the outdated view that Beaujolais is a simple wine of little consequence.

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E-mail me your thoughts about Beaujolais in general or the crus in specific at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein

Peconic Bay Vineyards, North Fork of Long Island (New York) Riesling 2020

($28):  Move over Finger Lakes.  Here is a terrific Riesling from Long Island.  It delivers a masterful blend of delicate fruitiness — think subtle peaches — offset by zesty acidity.  Clean and pure, it gives the impression of sweetness, then it disappears.  Their website says the grapes come from their Home Vineyard and are some of the oldest Riesling vines on Long Island.  Whatever the origin of the grapes, someone in the winery did a superb job of translating them into a delightful Riesling.  The delicate honeysuckle-like flavors are a perfect foil for spicy seafood dishes or sushi.
92 Michael Apstein Sep 28, 2021

Dominique Piron, Coteaux Bourguignons (Burgundy, France) 2016

($12):  Coteaux Bourguignons, a relatively new appellation in Burgundy, has few rules, allowing growers broad latitude.  They can blend Burgundy’s Pinot Noir and Beaujolais’s Gamay, along with a couple of obscure varieties, grown anywhere in Burgundy from Chablis in the north to Beaujolais in the south.  The quality is, like all Burgundy, very much dependent on the producer.  Whatever this light to mid-weight red from Dominique Piron might lack in power, it makes up with charm.  An uncomplicated wine, its appeal is immediately apparent and would be a great choice for take-out rotisserie chicken.  The absence of tannins means it takes a chill nicely.
87 Michael Apstein Sep 28, 2021

Dominique Piron, Beaujolais Blanc (Burgundy, France) 2019

($20, Baron Francois):  Yes, some Beaujolais is white.  And it’s worth looking for because it frequently delivers great value.  As white Burgundies, even from the Mâconnais, rise in price, consumers need to search elsewhere for value for French Chardonnay-based wines.  Made exclusively from Chardonnay, white Beaujolais accounts for only about five percent of the region’s production.  This one is crisp and mineraly, delivering a lovely combination of delicate fruitiness and stoniness.  The price makes it even easier to enjoy.
89 Michael Apstein Sep 28, 2021

Résonance, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir 2017

($37):  Résonace is just another example of how the Burgundians believe in the potential of the Willamette Valley, especially for Pinot Noir.  Drouhin started what is now a trend with establishment of Domaine Drouhin Oregon three decades ago.  Maison Louis Jadot, another stellar Burgundy producer, purchased the 20-acre Resonance Vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA in 2013 and expanded by buying the Découverte Vineyard in the Dundee Hills AVA.  Though they are making Pinot Noirs from those two vineyards, this one is a blend of fruit from their vineyards and from others from throughout the Willamette Valley.  Initially reticent, its charms appear after 30 minutes in the glass.  A restrained red-cherry-like fruitiness blossoms with air.  A welcome savory character — a cherry pit-like bitterness — balances the fruitiness.  The overall impression is one of restraint and delicacy, reflecting their Burgundian roots.
92 Michael Apstein Sep 14, 2021

Résonance, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir 2018

($37):  The 2018 Résonance Pinot Noir is Jadot’s eighth vintage.  Unsurprisingly, the wines just get better and better.  Their 2018 is riper and slightly more robust — black cherries rather than red ones — than their 2017, yet conveys the same lovely freshness and vivacity.  There’s also a engaging hint of tarry minerality and subtle bitterness in the finish that adds to its appeal.  Still, it’s very much in a Burgundian style of Pinot Noir.  This is a real success especially considering the grapes are not entirely from their vineyards.  It’s impossible to know whether the added oomph is a result of a riper year, older wines, or just a different proportion of estate versus purchased fruit.  This wine has blossomed and filled out substantially since I lasted tasted last year.
94 Michael Apstein Sep 14, 2021

Ravines Wine Cellars, Finger Lakes (New York) Dry Riesling 2018

($17):  Despite its northern location and frigid winters, the Finger Lakes region of New York State is well suited for Riesling and other European grape varieties.  The lakes are remarkably deep, so the water moderates the temperature of the surrounding shores, allowing Vitus Vinifera planted close by the waters’ edge to survive the winter.  Ravines Wine Cellars, founded in 2001 on the eastern slopes of Keuka Lake, makes only dry wines from Vinifera grapes.  Morton Hallgren, winemaker and owner with his wife, Lisa, has a long experience with viticulture and winemaking having grown up on his family’s property, Domaine de Castel Roubine, a well-regarded Côtes de Provence estate.  This dry Riesling, their “entry level” wine, meaning it’s not a single-vineyard bottling, is a great introduction to the talents of this property.  Dry, mineraly and cutting, this Riesling delivers everything you would want from that grape at this price.  Not for pre-dinner sipping, try it with spiced seafood or pork chops.
90 Michael Apstein Sep 14, 2021

Dr. Konstantin Frank, Finger Lakes (New York) Dry Riesling 2018

($17):  The story of the founding of the Dr. Konstantin Frank winery is nothing short of phenomenal.  He went from arriving in the U.S. in 1951 as an emigrant from the Ukraine, speaking no English and with virtually no money, to making one of America’s finest Rieslings from a place where no one had thought of planting that grape.  Frank, born in 1899, earned a PhD in viticulture in the Ukraine in 1930.  He survived the Russian Revolution and two World Wars before emigrating to the United States.  In 1958 he planted the first European grape varieties in the Eastern U.S.  on the shores of Keuka Lake.  Today, four generations later, Dr.  Konstantin Frank is one the leading Riesling producers in the United States.  Their 2018 Dry Riesling delivers a mineraly edge coupled with an invigorating zestiness.  Weighing in at a modest 12% stated alcohol, it displays good depth and concentration.  It’s a great choice when a plethora of flavors are on the table because its acidity will cut through anything.
91 Michael Apstein Sep 14, 2021

Ravines Wine Cellars, Finger Lakes (New York) Dry Riesling Argetsinger Vineyard 2017

($32):  Ravines may not have the storied history of Dr. Konstantin Frank, but they are making sensational Rieslings as well, as demonstrated by this single vineyard bottling and their “regular” one.  Morton Hallgren, winemaker and owner with his wife, Lisa, identified the Argetsinger Vineyard as a top spot for Riesling shortly after establishing their winery in 2001 and have produced a single-vineyard bottling every year. This beautifully framed dry Riesling has uncommon depth with a cutting mineral component.  Its refinement is evident in its graceful texture. Bright and bracing acidity in the finish and an extraordinary length amplifies its charms. This vibrant wine will make any skeptic take notice of the potential of Finger Lakes Riesling.
93 Michael Apstein Sep 14, 2021

Bodegas Muriel, Rioja DOC Reserva (Spain) Fincas de la Villa 2016

($18, Quintessential Wines):  One of the many charms of Rioja is the ability to find wines with aged character at a reasonable, dare I say, bargain, price.  This one displays the balanced combination of fresh and dried fruits, the latter of which comes from bottle age.  The overall effect is ying/yang of freshness with a delightful almost leathery, aged quality.  This mid-weight beauty has mild tannins, which provide structure during the meal, and great acidity, which keeps it fresh.  Whereas you could sip the Viña Eguia Rioja before a meal, this Rioja Riserva requires a sit-down meal.
91 Michael Apstein Sep 14, 2021

Viña Eguia, Rioja DOC (Spain) Tempranillo 2018

($13, Quintessential Wines):  Bargain alert.  Light, bright and zesty, this Rioja would fit into my category of “pizza wine” if it came from Italy.  So, call it a tapas wine instead.  But you get the point.  Though it’s a lightweight red, its lively red fruitiness allows you to serve it with barbecued chicken.  Mild tannins even allow you to chill it.  Its balance is what will thrill you, especially at the price.
88 Michael Apstein Sep 14, 2021

Vivera, Nero d’Avola DOP (Sicily, Italy) 2020

($23, Montcalm Wine Importers):  I was unfamiliar with this producer until samples arrived on my doorstep.  Now, with this Nero d’Avola and their equally impressive Etna Rosso, Vivera is a name I will remember.  The fleshy character of this Nero d’Avola presents a great counterpoint to the sleek austerity of their 2019 Etna Rosso.  Smokey nuances poke out and balance the dark cherry-like flavors.  A delightful hint of bitterness in the finish reminds you that this is no fruit bomb, but rather, a sophisticated example of the varietal.  Suave tannins in this mid-weight wine allow for current consumption with a robust tomato-based pasta.
92 Michael Apstein Sep 14, 2021

Vivera, Etna Rosso DOC (Sicily, Italy) 2019

($34, Montcalm Wine Importers):  Wines made from grape grown on the lava-rich slopes of Sicily’s Mount Etna transmit their origins beautifully and precisely.  The cherry-like fruitiness of this Etna Rosso takes a back seat to its angular lava-tinged character.  Wonderfully austere, this sleek wine delivers a saline-like freshness.  Its austerity notwithstanding, it packs persistence.  This chiseled wine is perfect to offset the fleshiness of rich meaty dishes.  It is not one to sip before dinner, but rather to drink with slow-cooked short ribs.  I suspect it will develop with bottle age, but it’s fine to drink now.
92 Michael Apstein Sep 14, 2021

Canavere di Giacosa Fratelli, Barbera d’Alba DOC (Piedmont, Italy) Bussia 2019

($24, Montcalm Wine Importers):  The versatility of Barbera helps explain its popularity.  Typically bright and fresh, like this one, they are a “go-to” choice for many tomato-based pasta dishes.  This one’s raspberry-like fruitiness and mild tannins means that it could take a chill nicely in the waning days of summer.  Or pop the cork with your next take-out pizza.
88 Michael Apstein Sep 14, 2021

Single Vineyard versus Multi-Vineyard Blends

Dr.  Laura Catena, the managing director of Bodegas Catena Zapata, Argentina’s most famous winery, quips that her father, Nicolás Catena, must have known about fighting climate change before anyone else.  In 1992, his neighbors considered him foolish when he started planting vines at high-altitude.  He was looking for the highest possible site where there was water, according to his daughter.  Mind you, Bodegas Catena Zapata already had one of the highest vineyards in the world, the Angélica Sur Vineyard, named after Nicolás’ mother, planted at about 3,000 feet above sea level 60 years earlier.  Nicolás Catena knew that as you went up, temperature went down, even more so at night, amplifying the difference between the daytime and nighttime temperatures.  This greater diurnal temperature variation allowed grapes to retain acidity, which translated into fresher and more lively wines.  Today, some three decades later, winegrowers try to combat climate change by either planting vineyards further north or south, depending on the hemisphere, or by “going up,” and planting at higher elevations.  Stephen Brook, writing in Decanter, the world’s leading wine magazine, highlighted the importance of Catena’s philosophy for Argentina when he wrote, “Nicolás Catena thrust Argentinian wine into the modern era”…because he realized “the key was to plant the right varieties in the right location, specifically cooler, higher sites where jamminess would not be an issue.”

Although one might think that the enhanced light that results from thinner air at higher altitudes might burn grapes—we sunburn much more easily at higher altitudes—the more intense light aids photosynthesis, the vines’ energy source, without harming the grapes.

All of which brings us to Adrianna Vineyard.  Nicolás Catena planted the 30-acre vineyard at about 5,000 feet above sea level.  Located in Mendoza, specifically in the Gualtallary District of Tupungato, Adrianna Vineyard is home to strange bedfellows.  Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc made sense, since these Bordeaux varieties are often planted together, but then there’s Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Viognier, which I suppose is the first indication that this single vineyard, unsurprisingly, is not homogenous.  More about that later.

Laura Catena, MD and Larry Stone, MS recently led a Zoom® tasting to discuss the concept of Grand Cru by tasting several of Catena Zapata’s wine and other great wines from Burgundy, Bolgheri, and the Willamette Valley.  Though that discussion was informative, what I found most fascinating about the tasting was the diversity of wines, even made from the same grape, that came from within a single vineyard.  It forced me to reconsider the idea of “single-vineyard” wines.

The San Bernabe Vineyard in Monterey County with its 8,500 acres of vines is reported to be the largest vineyard in the world.  Compare that with Guigal’s famed La Mouline, which is roughly 2.5 acres.  In between, in Burgundy, as Larry Stone pointed out, is the 45-acre Les Folatières vineyard, one of Puligny-Montrachet’s top premier crus.  In reality, four distinct sites, what the French call lieux-dits (literally, place names), Peux Bois, Au Chaniot, Ex Folatières, and En la Richarde, comprise the Les Folatières vineyard.  Producers can make and label their wine “Les Folatières” if the grapes came from one or more of the lieux-dits.  Theoretically, there could be four distinct wines all labeled Les Folatières, made from grapes grown in the four lieux-dits.  But, in reality, they are all labeled, Les Folatières.  The same is true, on a larger scale, in the grand cru vineyard, Echezeaux.  Eleven lieux-dits comprise this almost 100-acre-vineyard.  There is no doubt that some sites produce better grapes than others.  Indeed, producers know this and sometimes put the name of the lieu-dit on the label along with vineyard name, Echezeaux.

That certain portions of a vineyard produce better grapes is well-known by winegrowers around the world.  Sections with older vines are treated with reverence.  But vine age aside, certain plots, even a few rows of vines, within a vineyard are prized over adjacent ones.  Winemakers might use these grapes for their “reserve” wines or special bottlings.  The point is—a vineyard, regardless of size—is not homogenous.

All of which brings me back to Catena Zapata’s Adrianna Vineyard.  We tasted three wines from Adrianna, a stunning 2017 Malbec and two incredibly different 2018 Chardonnays, labeled White Bones and White Stones.

The 2017 Malbec labelled “Fortuna Terrae” reminded me that this grape planted in the right spot and vinified by the right people can make wonderful wine.  In my experience Malbec is all too often a big, heavy, one-dimension fruity wine displaying little or no complexity.  Catena Zapata’s Fortuna Terrae does not fit that description.  Yes, it’s a bold wine—it is Malbec, after all—but it’s not heavy.  As it sits in the glass, complexity and minerality come out.  The tannins are suave, and, as expected from the vineyard’s altitude, the wine is fresh and lively.  Indeed, it’s a surprisingly floral and elegant Malbec.

The White Stones Chardonnay comes from a 6.2-acre parcel of the Adrianna Vineyard rich in rounded rocks covered in calcium carbonate, according to Catena.  Weighing in at a modest 12.5 percent stated alcohol, it is restrained, yet paradoxically explosive.  Tightly wound initially, with air it blossoms, showing a hint of spice that complements its front and center flintiness.  Its mineral-y aspect stands out and grows with air.  Lip-smacking acidity—there’s the effect of altitude again—amplifies its charms.  You’d be forgiven if you identified it as a Grand Cru Chablis in a blind tasting.

The White Bones Chardonnay comes from a 5.4-acre parcel on a dried riverbed filled with crumbled limestone.  Drawing on her specialty in Emergency Medicine, Catena said the area reminded her of broken bones.  Despite its close proximity to the White Stones parcel, the White Bones was vastly different—far more floral and flamboyant, displaying herbal, almost minty, qualities that overshadowed any mineral aspects.  It did, unsurprisingly, have the same mouth-watering freshness and a similarly modest, 12.6 percent, stated alcohol.

The 2017 Nicolás Catena Zapata, the winery’s flagship—Catena calls it a “Super Argentinian”—provided an ironic counterpoint because it showed that a great wine need not be a single-vineyard wine.  The 2017 Nicolás Catena Zapata is typically a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc grown in a variety of their high-altitude vineyards.  The Malbec came from Adrianna and Nicasia Vineyards, while the Cabernet Franc came from Adrianna, and the Cabernet Sauvignon from both Adrianna and La Pirámide vineyards.  Similar to the Fortuna Terrae Malbec, Nicolás Catena Zapata is bold, but not heavy.  Its complexity is riveting.  Each taste reminds you you’re in for a treat.  Acidity keeps it fresh and lively, which invites another sip.  A youthful wine, to be sure, its texture and balance predicts a beautiful evolution.  This gem is one for the cellar.

Yes, the vineyard is important, but in my mind it’s still producer, producer, producer.  So, it’s fine to remember the name of the Adrianna Vineyard.  But, my advice is to remember the Catena Zapata name.

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E-mail me your thoughts about Argentinian wine in general or Catena Zapata in particular at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein.

September 2, 2021

St. Innocent, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Chardonnay Freedom Hill Vineyard 2018

($36):  The Freedom Hill Vineyard, located in the foothills of the Coast Range ten miles southwest of Salem, benefits from the warmth of the valley floor (which aids ripening) and night time ocean breezes (which lower temperatures and allows grapes to hold acidity).  The vines date from 2006.  The Freedom Hill Vineyard’s location, soil, and vine age are undoubtedly important in determining this wine’s quality.  Yet, having tasted St. Innocent’s wines over the years, I have a feeling that the talent of Mark Vlossak, owner and winemaker, is really the key.  This Freedom Hill Vineyard Chardonnay displays a wonderful balance of ripeness and raciness.  You feel the mellowing effect of oak aging without tasting the oak.  This is a splendidly sleek Chardonnay.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 31, 2021

St. Innocent, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Chardonnay Freedom Hill Vineyard “Cuvée La Liberté 2018

($53):   The Cuvée La Liberté is a cellar selection of the best barrels of St. Innocent’s Freedom Hill Vineyard Chardonnay.  They consider it their top Chardonnay, making fewer than 100 cases of it compared to 1,100 cases of Freedom Hill Vineyard Chardonnay.  As good as their Freedom Hill Vineyard Chardonnay is, the Cuvée La Liberté is just, well, better.  Similarly sleek and racy, it is just more refined.  The difference is not in size or weight.  It delivers the same panoply of flavors, a kiss of spice, and the exquisite balance as the Freedom Hill bottling.  Its satiny silky texture makes it stand out.  Do not miss it.
95 Michael Apstein Aug 31, 2021

Jordan, Russian River Valley (Sonoma County, California) Chardonnay 2019

($36):  Jordan continues to do what they have always done and do best.  They make two wines, a Cabernet Sauvignon and this one, a Chardonnay.  There are no reserve wines, no special bottlings, no block selections.  All their talents and energy go into those two wines.  And it shows.  Despite the obvious variation caused by the vintage, Jordan has a steady consistency and style.  This 2019 Chardonnay, like previous vintages, speaks to you without shouting.  Everything is in place.  The balance between fruitiness, creaminess, and freshness makes it a delight to drink now.
92 Michael Apstein Aug 31, 2021

Ornellaia, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Le Volte” dell’Ornellaia 2019

($26, Folio Fine Wine Partners):  No one needs an introduction to Ornellaia, a Bordeaux-blend and one of Italy’s greatest wines.  But some explanation about Le Volte is important since even Ornellaia’s website reveals few details of this wine.  Ornellaia took a giant leap in quality in 1997 when they introduced Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, a second wine, also a Bordeaux-blend.  At the same time, they introduced Le Volte, often misinterpreted as a third wine, which it is not.  Le Volte, unlike Ornellaia’s other two wines, blends Sangiovese with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but like its stablemates has the same glossy texture, which is one of signatures of Alex Heinz, the winemaker.  The 2019 is a bright and lively mid-weight wine, displaying a lovely combination of fresh cherry-like notes and a hint of earthiness.  A touch of bitterness in the finish emphasizes that Heinz has taken care that it can stand on its own and that it’s not an overdone fruit bomb.  Unlike Serre Nuove and Ornellaia itself, the 2019 Le Volte is ready for the dinner table now.  I’ve seen it widely available in the New York City area for $20, which makes it a fabulous deal.
91 Michael Apstein Aug 24, 2021

Bertinga, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) 2016

($75, Massanois):  Located in Gaiole in Chianti in the heart of the Chianti Classico region, Bertinga is a new venture.  The 2016s are their first release.  After tasting their wines, I have a feeling their success is not beginner’s luck.  Their 50 or so acres of vineyards are planted exclusively with Sangiovese and Merlot.  All their wines carry the IGT Toscana designation.  This one, a roughly 50/50 blend of Merlot and Sangiovese, is their standard bearer and carries the name of the estate.  It’s a broad-shouldered, muscular wine.  Yet for all its size, it is by no means overdone nor heavy.  It’s just youthful and dense.  An attractive subtle bitterness in the finish reinforces the mineral, rather than fruity, aspect of the wine.  The tannins are fine and well-polished.  Plenty of acidity keeps it lively.  At this stage it’s rather unyielding in contrast to Bertinga’s Punta di Adine and Volta di Bertinga.  The expressiveness of the other two coupled with the balance of this one indicates to me that the Bertinga just needs time in the cellar.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 24, 2021

Bertinga, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Volta di Bertinga” 2016

($169, Massanois):  This 100 percent Merlot is equally expressive and explosive as Bertinga’s Punta di Adine, just in an entirely different way.  While Punta displays red fruit qualities, Volta di Bertinga is all about black fruit complemented by tar-like minerality.  It’s a wonderful red-black contrast.  Though powerful and dense, Volta is not overwrought or overdone.  It has an engaging suave texture and enlivening acidity that keeps it fresh and balanced.  Its black fruit succulence and minerality was a delight even the next day after sitting opened on the counter.  Bertinga is clearly a producer to watch.
96 Michael Apstein Aug 24, 2021

Bertinga, Toscana IGT (Tuscany, Italy) “Punta di Adine” 2016

($119, Massanois):  This gorgeous wine comes exclusively from Sangiovese planted in a six-acre vineyard in Gaiole in Chianti that sits at an altitude of about 1,800 feet.  The elevation moderates the temperature, especially at night, which allows the grapes to retain more acidity.  I suspect that helps explain the great vitality and vibrancy in this wine.  Despite its youthfulness, Bertinga’s Punta di Adine is very expressive, even at this stage, displaying gorgeous aromatics, bright red fruit notes and an alluring touch of spice.  Suave tannins allow you to savor the flavors that burst from the glass.  This energetic and explosive wine retains balance as evidenced by a subtle bitterness in the finish.  It shows the heights that Sangiovese planted in the right place can achieve.
96 Michael Apstein Aug 24, 2021

Villa Vignamaggio, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione (Tuscany, Italy) “Monna Lisa” 2017

($55, Montcalm Wine Importers):  Gran Selezione is a relatively new quality category, aiming to represent the pinnacle of a producer’s Chianti Classico production.  This gorgeous wine certainly achieves that distinction.  It’s all the more impressive considering Villa Vignamaggio managed to produce such a stellar wine in 2017, a difficult year for Chianti Classico.  It reveals its charms over time with each sip — a hint of dark, almost bitter, cherry-like fruit, subtle smoky nuances, discreet mineral qualities.  Its freshness and verve, often lacking in many 2017s because of the hot dry growing season, is testimony to the winemaking.  The refined tannins help create a silky texture, so much so that you could enjoy this impressive wine now, though its balance and grace suggest a fine evolution over the next decade, so I’d put some away in the cellar.  Most wines with this refinement and quality cost substantially more.
96 Michael Apstein Aug 24, 2021

Villa Vignamaggio, Chianti Classico DOCG (Tuscany, Italy) “Terre di Prenzano” 2018

($25, Montcalm Wine Importers):  Villa Vignamaggio’s 2018 Chianti Classico is textbook Chianti Classico and reminds us why that category is so popular.  Made entirely from Sangiovese, this mid-weight wine delivers the ideal combination of dark fruit and savory nuances, all wrapped in a suave texture.  Classic Tuscan acidity keeps the wine lively.  A hint of bitterness in the finish offers a fine foil for food.  It’s a great choice for current drinking over the next year or two.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 24, 2021

Lunae Bosoni, Liguria di Levante IGT (Liguria, Italy) Ciliegiolo 2019

($35, Montcalm Wine Importers):  Ciliegiolo, named supposedly because of cherry-like flavor, is a grape variety common in Tuscany where it is sometimes blended with Sangiovese in Chianti or its subzones, such as Chianti Classico.  Bosoni has done a marvelous job with it as a varietal wine in Liguria, not surprisingly since this is such a talented producer.  This 2019 is light red, almost a dark rosé, bursting with red fruit, dare I say cherry-like, flavors that dance on the palate.  A hint of bitterness in the finish adds complexity and nicely balances its bright fruitiness.  It’s delightful chilled because the tannins are mild and hence are not accentuated dropping the temperature.  For those looking for rosé, try this light red slightly chilled instead.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 24, 2021

Castellare di Castellina (IGT Toscana) “I Sodi di S. Niccolò” 2017 (Imported by Winebow, $85) 97 Points

The 2017 vintage represents the 40th anniversary of I Sodi di S. Niccolò, a truly iconic Italian wine.  It was likely the first Super Tuscans from Chianti Classico area using autochthonous grapes.  It showed—and continues to show—the extraordinary heights the wines from the Chianti Classico region can reach.  When it debuted in 1977, it did not conform to the regulations for Chianti Classico, which required roughly 10 percent of the blend to come from white grapes.  It was, and still is, a blend of only Sangiovese (~85%) and Malvasia Nera.  Hence the IGT Toscana official designation then instead of the DOC.  Although now, with the change in regulations for Chianti Classico, it could be labeled under that DOCG, Castellare in Castellina has opted to continue to label it as IGT Toscana.

The 2017 I Sodi di S. Niccolò represents an enormous achievement of the winemaking team at Castellare di Castellina because the weather during the growing season was, as they say, “difficult.”  That’s an understatement.  One prominent Chianti Classico producer told me that you could forget about the 2017s.  Well, that’s clearly not the case as evidenced by this wine.  The I Sodi di S. Niccolò vineyard, located in the Castellina subzone of Chianti Classico, has a great advantage in hot, dry years, such as 2017.  Its 400-plus meters above sea level elevation and its south eastern facing location in an amphitheater that catches the winds coming from the Val d’Elsa mitigate the heat.

The soil of the vineyard is a classic mix of galestro and alberese, ideal for Sangiovese and other autochthonous varieties, according to Daniele Cernilli, one of Italy’s top wine authorities.

The wine is vinified in stainless steel and then aged in barrels, half of which are new, for anywhere from between 24 and 30 months, depending on the vintage.

The 2017 I Sodi di S. Niccolò is gorgeous.  It’s explosive, yet not flamboyant.  It has power and persistence, yet retains incredible elegance.  It delivers the panoply of flavors you’d expect from a great wine—succulent cherry-like fruitiness, earthy and spicy savory notes—without any of them dominating.  You feel the effect of oak aging without tasting it.  The tannins, which could be accentuated in a hot vintage, are fine and supple.  The acidity, which could be diminished in a hot vintage, is not, and provides uplifting energy.  The alluring hint of bitterness in the finish demonstrates that the grapes were not over ripe, despite the reputation of the vintage.  I would echo what Cernilli remarked during a tasting of this wine, “It’s a wine that reflects its site more so than the vintage.”  It’s remarkably enjoyable now, which, as the late Louis Latour from Burgundy, reminded me, “great wines always taste great.”  Its impeccable balance and grace indicate decades of development ahead of it.  I hate to call an $85 wine a bargain, but compared to what’s in the marketplace today, it is.

Michael Apstein

Guicciardini Strozzi, Maremma Toscana DOC (Tuscany, Italy) “MoMi” 2018

($35, Montcalm Wine Importers):  Unsurprisingly, given the stature of the producer, this wine manages a presence without being powerful or in your face.  Its unusual blend, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Petit Verdot and Montepulciano, speaks to the experimentation going on in the Maremma.  Balanced and graceful, MoMi delivers enlivens flavors reminiscent of slightly bitter dark cherries. Intriguing savory spicy notes just add to its appeal.  Its silky suave texture allows immediately enjoyment.  A successful experiment, indeed.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 17, 2021

Paolo Manzone, Barolo DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) Meriame 2016

($50, Romano Brands):  Paolo Manzone is a top producer of Barolo who happens to fly under most peoples’ radar.  This Barolo, from the Meriame cru in Serralunga, is his top wine.  Though Serralunga is known for tannic, structured wines, Manzone’s Meriame is immediately engaging.  The prominent tannins appear in the finish, yet they don’t overwhelm or intrude.  The wonderful ying/yang of floral notes and tar-like minerality are enchanting.  Long and fresh, there’s lots to like about this wine — power, elegance, emphasis on the savory rather than the fruity side.  Given the price and the difficulty finding wines from the deserved highly rated 2016 vintage, buying this one is a no-brainer.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 17, 2021

What am I Drinking Now? Pernot Belicard

Pernot Belicard 2017 Bourgogne Côte d’Or

Domaine Pernot Belicard is a name to remember because it will soon be included among the top names for white wine in all of Burgundy. The Pernot part is Philippe Pernot, grandson of Paul Pernot, a legendary producer in Puligny-Montrachet. Philippe started in the family cellars at a young age, so even though he is still a young man, he has plenty of experience—not to mention a superb teacher—behind him. Belicard is his wife’s family name and with their marriage came the vineyards, which had been in the family for decades. Prior to their marriage, the family either sold grapes or leased their vineyards. In 2008, Philippe took over his in-laws’ domaine and used those grapes for his wines. He is letting the leases on the other family vineyards expire so he can increase production in the future. Eventually, he should inherit some of his own family’s vineyards too, expanding Pernot-Belicard even further. Given the quality of his wines, that is good news for consumers.

The Pernot Belicard domaine is small, only 4.5 hectares, and, at this stage, produces only about 30,000 bottles of white wine. The vineyards are mostly in Puligny-Montrachet, where he has seven plots that he blends to achieve a harmonious expression of a village Puligny-Montrachet. In some vintages he bottles an exceptional Puligny-Montrachet Vieilles Vignes from one of the plots. He also has small parcels in three of that village’s Premier Crus: Champ Gain, Champ Canet, and Perrières. All three of his Puligny Premier Crus are chiseled, distinct and reflect their respective sites. He also has vines in Meursault from which he makes a spectacular Meursault Vieilles Vignes and a stunning Meursault Les Perrières-Dessous. He produces a small amount of elegant white Beaune Premier Cru from the from Pertuisots. With the 2018 vintage, Philippe added a little Aligoté and additional village Puligny-Montrachet from his family’s holdings.

The grapes for this 2017 Bourgogne Côte d’Or come from six plots totaling 2.3 ha on the lower portion of the slope just outside of the boundary of the Puligny-Montrachet village appellation. With the 2017 vintage, Philippe opted to use the new regional appellation, Bourgogne Côte d’Or to indicate that all the grapes came from vineyards within the Côte d’Or as opposed to the broader labeling, Bourgogne Blanc, which encompasses vineyards throughout all of Burgundy.

The grapes for the 2017 Bourgogne Côte d’Or, like all his grapes, are hand-harvested. Half of the juice is fermented and aged in older oak barrels—the other half in stainless steel tanks. He performs no batonnage and, in keeping with his low-intervention philosophy that the wine should reflect the site, he explains that the wine determines when the malolactic occurs—sometimes in November, sometimes in January. If necessary, he performs a soft fining and filtration before bottling. Pernot Belicard’s firm and mineral-y 2017 Bourgogne Côte d’Or displays good depth and definition, punching far above its weight category. With exceptional length and stature rarely seen in a regional wine, it delivers more enjoyment that many producers’ Puligny-Montrachets. And—at half the price (roughly USD 30). Drink now and over the next five years.

Since all of Pernot-Belicard’s 2017s are top-notch, I recommend buying whatever you can find and afford. He also succeeded admirably with the 2018s by harvesting early, the end of August, to capture the acidity, which makes those wines easy to recommend as well. I highlight this 2017 Bourgogne Côte d’Or because it takes real talent to make a sensational wine from less exalted terroir—and it’s a bargain.

Cantina di Tortona, Colli Tortonesi Bianco DOC (Piedmont, Italy) “Piccolo Derthona” 2020 

($24, Matchvino):  Jan Novak, the knowledgeable sommelier at Il Capriccio, one of Boston top Italian restaurants, recommended this wine to me.  Jan has not only forgotten more about Italian wine than most people know, she has an incredible palate for discovery lesser-known wines.  First, a bit about the label of this obscure wine. The Colli Tortonesi DOC, located in eastern Piedmont bordering Lombardy, has been known for Barbera, and more, recently, Timarosso, an alluring white grape.  Although the DOC regulations permit blending other grapes with Timarosso, this one is 100 percent Timarosso, according to the importer’s website.  Derthona is an area within the DOC considered by the locals to be a superior area for Timarosso.  This mid-weight zesty white combines just the right amount of minerality and creaminess.  Some people dismiss wines made by co-ops.  That’s a mistake.  Judging from this wine, the Cantina di Tortona, a co-op founded in 1931, knows what it’s doing.
92 Michael Apstein Aug 10, 2021

Malgrà, Nizza Riserva DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) Mora di Sassi 2017

($37, Erie Beverage Solutions):  This is the big brother to Malgrà’s Giaina.  Far weightier, with more apparent tannins at this stage, it weighs in at 15 percent stated alcohol.  It still conveys an attractive dark mineral component and has an alluring hint of bitterness in the finish.  Still balanced, at this stage it’s more about power than elegance, though I’m sure it will come together with a few years of bottle age.  This is a wine for cellar while you drink Malgrà’s Giaina.  Malgrà uses a heavy bottle, presumably to emphasize the wine’s stature.  They need not.  The wine can speak for itself.
93 Michael Apstein Aug 10, 2021

Malgrà, Nizza DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) Gaiana 2017

($19, Erie Beverage Solutions):   Italian wine authorities promoted Nizza, formerly a part of Barbera d’Asti DOC, to DOCG status in 2014 because it was clear the wines had the capability of being unique.  Malgrà’s Gaiana shows the wisdom of that decision.  In a word, it’s delicious, displaying both power and elegance without a trace of being overdone.  The acidity and freshness imparted by Barbera — regulations require exclusive use of that grape — keep the wine lively and balance its intensity.  Long and succulent, this black-fruited, mineraly wine is a delight to drink now.  Its balance suggests it will evolve nicely.  Its price means you should stock-up.
95 Michael Apstein Aug 10, 2021

Tenuta Carretta, Langhe Nebbiolo DOC (Piedmont, Italy) Podio 2018

($19, Consortium Wine and Spirits Imports):  The regulations for Langhe Nebbiolo do not require exclusive use of Nebbiolo.  Growers are permitted to include a small amount, up to 15 percent, of some other varieties.  Indeed, the famed Angelo Gaja felt that adding a bit of Barbera to Nebbiolo improved the wine and when he did so was forced to re-classify what he formerly labeled Barbaresco and Barolo to Langhe Nebbiolo.  Tenuta Carretta, a top Piedmont producer, opts to include Barbera with Nebbiolo in their Podio.  It’s a wonderful blend that delivers both subtle floral hints and tarry ones.  One could easily mistake it for a mini-Barolo.  Attractive firmness and restraint high lights its minerality.  Lovely to drink now, it’s a fabulous bargain.
92 Michael Apstein Aug 10, 2021

Caposaldo, Prosecco Rosé DOC (Veneto, Italy) Brut 2020

($14, Kobrand Wine & Spirits):  It may sound like a brilliant marketing ploy, but Prosecco Rosé is a new recognized category with its own DOC.  As with all Prosecco — and wine in general, for that matter — there will be an enormous range of quality and style.  The regulations for this DOC require the wine to be vintage-dated and to contain Pinot Noir, two requirements that likely will push the price.  Which makes this bottling all the more attractive. This crowd-pleasing, pale pink bubbly leads with delightful floral aromatics and finishes with a pleasing freshness.  Though labeled Brut, it had a roundness to it.  This light and lively Prosecco is ideal for summer entertaining.
89 Michael Apstein Aug 3, 2021

Viña Tarapaca, Valle del Maipo (Chile) Gran Reserva, Organic Wine 2018

($18, Vinecrest Co):  Made with organically grown grapes, this is a hearty and well-balanced blend of Cabernet Franc (31%), Syrah (26%) and Carmenere (22%), with the balance filled out by equal amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  It’s a powerhouse, to be sure, but thankfully it is not over the top.  A healthy dose of earthy savory notes balances its bold black fruitiness.  The lasting impression is not one of overt fruitiness, but rather earthy spice. It’s another good choice for hearty fare from the grill this summer.  Sadly, this broad-shouldered wine is another example of good wine, bad — unnecessarily heavy — bottle.
91 Michael Apstein Aug 3, 2021

Emiliana, Valle de Colchagua (Chile) “Coyam” 2018

($39):  This robust blend of mostly Syrah (42%) and Carmenere (39%) works beautifully.  For those who are interested in things like this, Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha, Malbec, Carignan, Tempranillo, and Mourvèdre fill out the blend.  There’s red and black fruit flavors, spice, and herbal notes, all wrapped in silky tannins.  An organic wine, it displays solid substance without being heavy or overdone.  I wish I could say the same for the bottle.  The back-label states “Because we care,” and lists a variety of well-deserved certifications: organic wine, environmental care, social responsibility — you get the idea.  Then why the environmentally harmful heavy bottle?  Nice wine, bad bottle.
90 Michael Apstein Aug 3, 2021

Rosé-Nothing but Rosé

Readers may find it odd that I, who am generally unenthusiastic about rosé, should be writing about that category.  And enthusiastically at that.  However surprising that may be (even to me), I stumbled across a category of rosé, Bardolino Chiaretto DOC, that is stunning.  I recently tasted a dozen examples from the 2020 vintage and found an appealing consistency among the wines from that appellation.  There was not a loser in the bunch.  And the most expensive of the group was $17!

My introduction to Bardolino Chiaretto (key-ar-et-toe) was serendipitous.  Last month I attended a webinar called Rosauctoctono, which is an association of Italian producers making pink wine.  They prefer the moniker Vino Rosa over rosé or even rosato to indicate high-quality pink Italian wine.  All the wines tasted during the webinar were made from autochthonous or indigenous grapes.  I’m a big fan of wines made from autochthonous grapes because they each have a unique profile and display unique flavors.  Rarely do you find a cookie-cutter wine made from autochthonous grapes.  So, I figured that rosés from those kinds of grapes just might ignite an interest in me.  While many of these Vino Rosa were noteworthy, the two that leaped to the top were both Bardolino Chiaretto, a wine that I was unfamiliar with.  (Chiaretto means “little pale one.”)  So, I asked Irene Graziotto from Studio Cru, the Italian PR firm who organized the Rosa tasting, if I could sample more of them, and within a few weeks a dozen more Bardolino Chiaretto from the 2020 vintage arrived at my door.

DOC regulations may explain why Bardolino Chiaretto is so engaging.  Rosé is all the DOC allows producers to make.  No red, no white.  All production must be rosé.  Bardolino Chiaretto is one of only two appellations in Europe whose wines are restricted to rosé.  (The other is Tavel in the southern Rhône. In distinction to Tavel, there is a separate, but geographically overlapping, DOC for Bardolino’s red wines, so producers can make either Bardolino Chiaretto or Bardolino as long as they conform to the regulations for the respective DOCs.)

This sharp focus on rosé is distinctly different from how many rosés were, and still are, made.  In the past, and to a certain extent today, much rosé was a by-product of beefing up red wine.  Producers wanting to enhance the power of their reds would remove some juice after a day or so of maceration to concentrate what remained.  Known as saignée (literally, bleeding, in French), this practice resulted in lightly pink colored juice being bled off and darker, more robust red juice that was still macerating with the skins that eventually would become a heftier red wine.  Winegrowers, like other farmers, are naturally parsimonious and would not want to discard the drawn-off pink colored juice, so they let it, too, ferment, which usually resulted in an undistinguished, but easy-to-drink, rosé.

To be fair, with the increasing popularity of rosé, many producers are focusing on it today, doing precisely what the DOC regulations for Bardolino Chiaretto demand.  They enhance quality by picking grapes earlier to capture their acidity, which translates into liveliness in the wine.  In the cellar, they let the skins and juice macerate for just hours and then, like white winemaking, separate the now-pink juice from the skins and complete the fermentation.  The remaining pomace (leftover skins after fermentation) is either distilled or used for fertilizer.  In short, producers are not relegating rosé to a by-product of enhancing red wine.  Hence, the possibility of finding higher quality rosé is better now than it was a decade ago.  That said, there’s still an ocean-full of insipid pink wine on the market, which makes Bardolino Chiaretto all the more welcome.

Bardolino Chiaretto comes primarily from a trio of red grapes used for Valpolicella and Amarone, Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara, grown around Bardolino, a town on the eastern shore of Lake Garda.  Though located in northern Italy, the climate is remarkably mild, allowing cultivation of olive trees that produce a very fine olive oil in addition to grapes.

Unlike many appellations that try to use a standard recognizable bottle, producers of Bardolino Chiaretto use a variety of shapes; these range from tall slender Alsace-like ones, to slope-y shouldered Burgundy ones, to square-shouldered Bordeaux bottles.  The one thing in common is clear glass so that the gorgeous pink hues are apparent.  You’ll find them bottled under screwcap as well as cork and labeled as Chiaretto Bardolino or Chiaretto di Bardolino and, sometimes, simply Chiaretto.  Regardless, they all conform to the same DOC regulations.  Starting with the 2021 vintage, the official labeling will be Chiaretto di Bardolino to emphasize the origin of the grapes, much like Barbera d’Alba or Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

Some of the Chiaretto Bardolino sport the additional moniker, Classico, indicating that the grapes grew in the center or best area of the DOC.  Among the dozen examples I tasted, the ones from the Classico area stood out from most of the others with more depth and elegance.  However, several non-Classico bottlings, such as the organic Gorgo (di Roberta Bricolo) and Giovanna Tantini’s, were equally impressive, so I would not be wedded to that designation.  As usual, it’s producer, producer, producer.

The wines vary in color from the very trendy pale pink to more intense salmon color.  These dry wines display a richness despite stated alcohols of less than 13%.  (Only two of the 12 weighed in at more, 13 and 13.5% stated-alcohol.)  They all had riveting acidity and character, something often lacking in many rosés, making them singularly bright and refreshing.

For what it’s worth, here are my five favorites, but frankly, I’d be thrilled to drink any of these, which is something I don’t believe I’ve ever said about a group of rosé wines.  The points I’ve assigned reflect my enthusiasm for the wine within this category and should not be equated with wines in other categories.

Guerrieri Rizzardi, Bardolino Chiaretto Classico “Keya:” Gorgeous aromatics; slightly deeper pink which carries through on the palate as a fuller wine; still with bracing and refreshing acidity; persistent; lovely hint of bitterness in the finish.  ($14, 95 pts).

Giovanna Tantini, Bardolino Chiaretto: Pale pink; juicy, yet delicate red fruits; crisp, refreshing and long; attractive hint of bitterness in the finish.  (N/A, 94).

Gorgo (di Roberta Bricolo) Bardolino Chiaretto: Savory nuances add complexity to the delicate red fruit component; fresh and lively; long and persistent; a real presence.  ($14, 94).

Marchesini Marcello, Bardolino Chiaretto Classico: Based on my experience with two vintages of this wine, Marchesini Marcello is a name to remember.  Cutting and crisp, the 2020 delivers intensity and freshness.  ($17, 94).

Valetti, Bardolino Chiaretto Classico: gorgeous salmon color; juicy red fruits; alluring spice; great acidity; elegant and persistent.  (N/A, 94).

The others:

Il Pignetto, Chiaretto (92, $N/A)
Vigneti Villabella, Bardolino Chiaretto Classico (92, $N/A)
Zeni, Bardolino Chiaretto Classico, “Vignealte” (92, $N/A)
Cavalchina, Bardolino Chiaretto (90, $17)
Le Fraghe, “Rodon,” Bardolino Chiaretto (90, $17)
Monte del Frá, Bardolino Chiaretto (89, $N/A)
Poggio delle Grazie, Bardolino Chiaretto (87 $N/A)

Have I been converted to rosé?  No.  In most situations that call for rosé, I still prefer to drink a slightly chilled low-tannin light red, such as Beaujolais, because they are usually more interesting.  Have I been converted to Bardolino Chiaretto—most definitely.

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E-mail me your thoughts about rosé in general or Bardolino Chiaretto in particular at Michael.Apstein1@gmail.com and follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MichaelApstein.        July 28, 2021

Quinta dos Roques, Dão (Portugal) Reserva, Tinto 2011

($35):  The Dão region, located in north central Portugal, is among the first to receive official delineation, in 1908.  The quality of the wines suffered under the Salazar dictatorship, but quality and distinctiveness has improved notably over the last three decades.  Wine producers there often release the wines later than usual, opting to give them substantial bottle age to soften what could be otherwise ferocious tannins.  Take this beauty for example, ten years old and the current release.  The back label informs us that the Reserva always hails from a single site, the Pessegueiro (Peach Tree) vineyard.  It’s a blend of primarily Touriga Nacional with other autochthonous varieties, Jaen (also known as Mencía), Alfrocheiro, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Cão.  The wine delivers graceful power with a balanced mixture of dark fruitiness and smoky savory notes.  The tannins are fine, providing a suave texture.  Great acidity keeps it perky and lively.  It’s an excellent choice to match with whatever is coming off the grill this summer.
93 Michael Apstein Jul 27, 2021

Herdade do Rocim, Alentejo DOC (Portugal) “Amphora” 2019

($18, Shiverick Imports):  Portugal remains the source of beautifully priced reds and whites, as this mid-weight red shows.  It’s a blend of autochthonous grapes whose names are unfamiliar to most, Moreto, Tinta Grossa, Triccadeira and Aragonez, so unsurprisingly, the flavors that emerge from the glass are unique.  Fermentation and aged in terracotta amphorae with native yeast suggests that Herdade do Rocim is one of those producers that has embraced traditional winemaking techniques.  This mid-weight wine delivers a lovely combination of juicy black fruit and spicy notes wrapped in suave tannins.  The fresh and lively red could easily be chilled slightly for enjoyment this summer with, say, grilled bluefish.
90 Michael Apstein Jul 27, 2021

Herdade de São Miguel, Alentejo DOC (Portugal) Alicante Bouschet 2014

($20):  Unlike almost all other red grapes whose juice is clear and whose color comes exclusively from the skins, the juice from Alicante Bouschet is red.  That likely explains why that grape makes deeply colored wines, which predicts its flavor profile, as it does here.  This is a broad-shouldered, flamboyant wine that manages to hold it all together.  I suspect its seven years of age has helped settle it down.  It’s still a bit rough around the edges befitting its style.  Great acidity keeps it fresh and prevents heaviness.  Still, this is not a wine to sip while grilling, but rather to drink after the leg of lamb comes off the grill.
91 Michael Apstein Jul 27, 2021

Ferraris, Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) “Clàsic” 2020

($20):  Those looking for bold fruitiness should go elsewhere.  Here, the focus is on an alluring Middle Eastern spice box of aromas and flavors — cinnamon and cloves — and dried flowers.  Light on the palate, the flavors in this lively wine nonetheless persist.  You’d never realize it weighs in at 15% stated alcohol.  The potentially severe tannins of Ruché are nowhere to be found.  Ferraris has transformed them instead into fine ones that lend support, which makes it ideal for current consumption.  Try it even slightly chilled this summer.  Balanced and harmonious, this wine is for those who embrace the savory side of life.
91 Michael Apstein Jul 27, 2021

Ferraris, Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG (Piedmont, Italy) “Opera Prima” Riserva 2017

($40):  Luca Ferraris bottled this wine in honor of his nonno, (grandfather) Martino, the founder of the winery. Altogether different from Ferraris’ other two renditions of Ruché, Opera Prima, with its chocolatey nuances, has an Amarone-like sensibility to it.  The fine tannins that are a hallmark of Ferraris’ wines together with a suave texture hold it all together.  You feel the 16% stated alcohol, yet it’s not hot or burning, just warm and enveloping.  In short, it’s balanced.  A subtle and attractive hint of bitterness in the finish adds to its appeal.  The Opera Prima has a black fruit component, but once again, the overall impression is not that of a “fruity” wine.  Unlike their Clàsic or even the Vigna del Parroco, both of which you could chill briefly and drink in the summer, the Opera Prima is clearly a wintertime wine for hearty fare.
92 Michael Apstein Jul 27, 2021