Saturday, November 28, 2020

Fine Wine or Field Blend?

Back in the day, fifty years or so ago, "Dago Red" was a common term for blended wines that lacked a certain pedigree.  Vin Ordinaire, as they say.  Grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir were too classy for the monicker, I guess.  Now we learn the term Dago can be a slur for people of Mediterranean origins and that is certainly not what we intend here. So field blends is what we will use to describe wines made from utilitarian grapes that none the less offer us a certain charm in their blending.  That charm  may reflect a comfort level familiar to us personally even if the wine lacks the finesse of fine wine.  

We got the idea for this post because we want to offer up two new Italians that everyone should know about.  The first truly fits into the field blend category.  SASYR is a Tuscan IGT blend of 60% Sangiovese and 40% Syrah, hence the name, SASYR.  It comes to us from a forty year old company called Rocca delle Macie.  They are a collective of ten growers in Tuscany who all specialize in Sangiovese-blended reds.  SASYR is just what you might expect a blend of that kind to be.  Sangiovese is soft red berry wine and Syrah is a firm dark berry wine with an edge.  This tastes like that combination.

For this post we did something we have never done before.  We went to one of those peer-review wine tasting websites to see what the public thought of SASYR.   Considering the crazy quilt, cross section of wine lovers everywhere, the report was predictable given the great differences in tastes.  Some thought the wine was feminine while others (like me) thought the wine was more masculine.  The wine is mostly Sangiovese which is generally soft but the Syrah can overcompensate with what it brings to the table.  In my opinion this wine is not one to think about - pour it in the glass, bring out the burgers and chow down!  This too is characteristic of field blend wine.  No fanfare needed, just do it!

Our second Italian red is really too fine to be a field blend.  Ruvei means "old oak tree."  It is an 85% Barbera/15% Nebbiolo blend from Marchesi di Barolo, a prestigious 430 acre estate in Langhe, Piedmont.  Like the Sangiovese of SASYR, this Barbera is emboldened by its blending grape, Nebbiolo.  Nebbiolo is the great wine grape of Italy made into the greatest wine of Italy - Barolo.  Marchesi di Barolo has been one of the premier Barolo makers for the past century.  Ruvei is sourced from vineyards in Barolo, Barbaresco and Nebbiolo of d'Alba.   So how could this one not be something special?

Both SASYR and Ruvei were opened for our tasting a couple weeks ago.  We ordered the SASYR on the spot.  When our vendor accidentally poured the Ruvei a little too heavily, we set it aside after briefly tasting it.  When we remembered it a couple hours later we re-tasted it.  It was lovely.  It had opened up beautifully.  That's when we ordered it.  And that's the difference between fine wine and field blends.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Piave Vecchio (pee-ah-vay)

Piave has been one of the best selling cheeses in this little store for as long as we can remember.  This year because of all of the myriad food distribution problems, we have been without any all year.  Our Piave problems actually started last year when we weren't turning it fast enough and it was drying out on us.  But that was then and this is now.  We have a brand new fresh wheel in the store and it is screaming to all you readers to stop in and taste it.

Piave comes from the Dolomite Mountains region of northernmost Veneto Italy, which is just an extension southward from the Tyrols of Austria.   The cheese is named after the local Piave River.  It is a pasteurized, fully cooked curd, cow's milk cheese and it is most definitely a government certified DOP (Protected Designation of Origin).

They make four types of Piave in that corner of Italy.  Piave Fresco is aged a mere 20-60 days so you might think - yogurt.  Piave Messano is aged 60-180 days.  Vecchio means aged and in this case Piave Vecchio is aged at least a year.  Piave Vecchio Riserva is aged 18 months.  While we have sold some young Piaves here on occasion, it's the aged version that everyone knows as Piave here.

Piave is grouped in the Parmesan category of cheeses.  In the kitchen it can be shaved over salads or grated for the same recipes as parm.  In its area of origin it is a table cheese and eaten with both red and white wines or malt beverages.  In our opinion the aged Piave in this store is strictly a red wine accompaniment.

Being an aged cheese the texture is dense and firm.  The paste is golden yellow in color, smooth with no holes and encased within a natural rind.  The flavor is full with intense nuttiness and opulent tropical fruit flavors.  There is a distinct almond bitterness that somehow works with the other dominant flavors.  Despite the aged character of the cheese, it is never sharp.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Mount Brave

The front label is one of those small clean off-white jobs.  It is a square box with a minimalist border that informs you that the scant information disclosed here is short, to the point and classy.  It reads:


Napa Valley

Except it's all centered on the label.  I don't know how to do that here.

The Mount Brave website is similarly brief and to the point.  They don't clutter it up with extraneous (read: useless) information to mislead the reader about the authenticity of their product.  Mount Brave goes to reasonable lengths to show where their grapes come from without saying the wine is actually an estate-grown product.  All in all, is really quite well done.

So what's in the bottle?  The 2018 Mount Brave Cabernet Sauvignon is 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 3.5% Merlot and 1% Petit Verdot.  The label says it is a product of the Mount Veeder AVA which means at least 85% of the juice is sourced from that fine grape growing region.  That is where Mount Brave has its vineyards.  The label also says "Napa Valley" which still doesn't preclude sourcing from elsewhere but in this case we can assume the entire product is from Napa.  It is a hundred dollar bottle, after all.

We read five reviews of this wine from five reputable critics.  Without resorting to numerical scores (which I hate), the wine is characterized as a deep purple/black color with a floral nose featuring black and blue fruit aromas.  In the mouth the berry flavors are supplemented with violets, chocolate, cigar box and menthol.  The body is full with silky tannins.  The finish is long and balanced.

Twenty percent of the monetary value of all California wines comes from Napa Valley which makes just four percent of the total wine volume from California.  Mount Brave being located in the Mount Veeder AVA puts it in rarified company within the larger Napa AVA.  Why are we writing about it now?  In short, because it sells.  Usually we stock wines like these when they are opportunely offered to us; that is, when the price is right and we have the money in the checking account.  We are consumers too.

Mount Brave is different.  It's a steady mover from the laydown rack ensconced as it is with similarly priced elites all around it.   With the holidays on the horizon, could this be your timely (and brave) special purchase?