Tuesday, March 27, 2018

2008 Nicolis Amarone della Valpolicella

Amarone is one tough nut to crack.  It's one of the great wines of Italy (and the world) but seems a bit too foreign for some of our tastes.  Corvina is the primary grape of Amarone and it contributes sour cherry flavor and acidity to the blend.  The Corvinone and Rondinella grapes both contribute herbal flavors and color while a number of minor grapes may yet be added to round out the blend.  All of the constituent grapes are native to the region which explains in part why Amarone has a marketing problem in this country.  No one has ever heard of these things.

A big, full-bodied, high alcohol, tannic red wine, Amarone is a far cry from the more common lighter, simpler Valpolicella version.  By drying the grapes in the appassimento method, the flavors, colors, and tannins all become concentrated in this rich world class red wine.  A sweeter Recioto version is also made as is the Ripasso Valpolicella which may be considered a half-way measure between regular Valpolicella and Amarone.

So how do we get the word out about this stuff?

Sometimes the trees get in the way of seeing the forest.  In a WSJ article from January 27-28 of last year Lettie Teague laments the difficulty of pairing Amarone with our typical American cuisine.  Me?  I thinks she doth anguish unnecessarily.   That and we may be missing something fundamental here.

In her position with the WSJ in New York, Teague is probably accustomed to top flight estate Amarones that are in fact more suited to the cuisine of northeastern Italy.  Now however half of all Amarone is made in co-ops and those versions are lighter with forward red fruit accents and softer tannins and that makes all of the difference.  They're also lower in price and that too makes a heckuva lot of difference for vox populi.

So, in short, traditional Amarone needs traditional Italian foods but also compliments most aged cheeses magnificently and according to Sandro Boscaini, president of Masi Agricola, if you couple that cheese with a teaspoon of acacia honey and chase it with your Amarone, well...Voila!  Instant self-actualization!  As for the co-op Amarones, try them with any pork dish and other everyday red meat and poultry dishes.  Amarone is now accessible!

As for our Nicolis of the post title, that one is great but it is somewhat old world earthy so break out the cheese and honey!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Value Wines

This is so obvious it hurts.

I was scrolling around one of those news websites that's sort of like the USA Today of the internet in that it was not so much about news as it was about entertainment.  Maybe I was looking for the Think and Do page.  Anyway, I found a wine column that asks the question, "What's the best way to make sure you're not overpaying for wine?"

Simple enough, I thought.  Then reading on, the writer said to look for wines from the parts of the world that don't have esteemed (high priced) models, and I thought of Chile and Spain.  And yes, I know there are expensive Spanish and Chilean wines...just not as a rule.  If ninety-eight percent of what we get here is under twenty dollars, then the chances of overpaying is greatly reduced, especially if you recognize the value in the twelve dollar wines from those places.

So just to make sure the point is made: If you buy a fifty dollar Bordeaux you should get a righteously fine red wine.  But it might not be fifty dollars worth of fineness.  But if you bought the twenty dollar Spanish red you are probably going to be more than pleased with the quality those guys put in their moderately priced bottle.

I am reminded here of my old friend who went to the fine wine shop in Buckhead and bought three older vintage red Burgundies at $250 each.  They all turned out to be tainted.  When he went back to the store with the bottles (with tainted wine still inside) he was informed that that store's policy was not to replace them or refund the payment.  All sales final, I guess.

Regarding older vintages of wines from great appellations, that store's policy is commonplace and understandable.  Retailers want to stay in business and some customers either don't get it or purposely take advantage in these situations.  All the more reason to purchase with care.

In the store right now we have two twenty-five dollar Chilean Cabernets and several Spanish and Chileans reds in the ten to twelve dollar range.  If you're interested, cite this article for a discount on them the next time you're in the store.

On Thursday March 29th, Frogtown winery will be here for a tasting of their fine product.  Then two days later on Saturday the 31st, Taylor Carmichael of Empson Imports will be here for a tasting from his Italian portfolio.  The Thursday tastings are from 5-7pm; the Saturday event starts at 1pm.  Please join us!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Scarbolo Sauvignon Blanc

"Tropical fruit and peaches along with spicy nuances wrapped in a supple, structured-yet-creamy body."  Or something like that.  The point is Scarbolo Sauvignon Blanc is just plain awesome.  That was my immediate reaction two weeks ago after tasting it.  I don't think I even completely exhaled after tasting it before making my breathless pronouncement.  It was honestly that good.

Hailing from Friuli in the most northeast corner of Italy where Sauvignon Blanc has been made for centuries, Scarbolo continues in the longstanding viticultural traditions there.  The grapes are hand harvested from the cool high elevation Guyot-trained Sauvignon Blanc vineyards which actually reside above the clouds.  At that height grapes receive full sun without overheating yielding full phenolic complexity and aromatic depth before the grapes' sugars peak.  Guyot (cane) pruning, where only the trunk of the vine is left brown, protects the vine from frost and limits the budding on the shoots that emerge further qualifying the fruit to follow.

Fifty percent of the Scarbolo Sauvignon Blanc harvest is immediately fermented in whole clusters while the remainder is de-stemmed but left on the skins for a twenty-four hour cold soak before pressing.  The fermentation is done in stainless steel at controlled temperatures followed by aging on the lees for six months with frequent batonnages (stirring).

...and that's how you make exemplary Sauvignon Blanc! 

The only problem is...we don't have any at this time!  However it is on order and may be here when you come by next.  In the meantime we have new Sauvignon Blancs from Patricia Green of Oregon, Bernardus of Monterey, and Henri Bourgeois of the Loire Valley of France.  Folks, these brands take a back seat to no one which means you're simply going to have to stop in for them now!

This Thursday at 5pm former sommelier, Erik Schmitt, offers us a tasting here of Roussanne white wine from Yangarra Estate, McLaren Vale, Australia and three reds: Andre Brunel Cotes du Rhone, Coppo "L'Avvocata" Barbera d'Asti, and Scattered Peaks Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  Please join us for the tasting. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Sauvignon Blanc

Unless you're buying New Zealand wine the problem with Sauvignon Blanc in general is you don't know what you're getting.  Eh, maybe not so much with French wine.  But certainly with California wine and others around the globe, it's like the wine making cultures have gotten schizophrenic when it comes to making what should be a fairly simple wine style.

When you buy New Zealand wine you know you're getting a boatload of citrus flavors in a soft round often off-dry package.  It's cocktail wine.  Even considering any Bordeaux blending, with French wine you're getting minerality, flowers and fruit, acidity and lightness of body.  Dinner wine.  The superior Chilean and South African styles also seem to have settled loosely on what their products should be.  So maybe it is just California that doesn't seem to have it's act together.  Which isn't to say there isn't great Sauvignon Blanc there.  It's just a matter of knowing if what's in the bottle will marry well with your occasion.

Once again our inspiration for this post comes from Lettie Teague of the WSJ and she wrote twice last year about this subject.  In one article she posited two modal centers in Sauvignon Blanc styles; one being the New Zealand style mentioned above, the other being that of French Sancerre, arguably the finest Sauvignon Blanc in the world.  She also described modal examples of inexpensive ($10-$15) Sauvignon Blanc as "zesty and bright" while an obscenely priced example may be considered "layered and age-worthy".  Eh, I don't know about that.

Sauvignon Blanc is probably my favorite white type and with my forty year industry window to take it all in, I must conclude that superior Sauvignon Blanc should reside in the $15-$25 range and should be characterized by all of those adjectives listed above except the "layered and age-worthy " business.  Sauvignon Blanc should be light.  The $10-$15 bottles should indeed be zesty and bright and all examples at any price should be both food-friendly and July-in-Georgia porch-sitting wine!  I don't ask for much, do I?

This Thursday the 8th at 5pm Ted Fields offers us a tasting of four from his fine European portfolio including Chateau Peneture White Bordeaux, Sursum Primitivo/Montepulciano and Ujliese Negromara/Sangiovese Italian Red Blends, and Fina Spanish Red Priorat.  Please join us for that one.