RJ Holiday Selection: Pedigreed Napa Cab

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This is a great wine my buddy Michael is offering at The Redd Collection that not only has an impressive pedigree but would be a delicious holiday treat (or for any memorable occasion).

Will Harlan is the son of William Harlan, owner of much pricey Napa real estate and producer of the cult wine Harlan, along with The Maiden and BOND. After growing up in the wine business, young Will himself started making a wine called The Mascot, from younger vines from his family’s vineyards. The 2011 was produced exclusively from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown in Promontory, Harlan Estates and BOND, and it is not only delicious now, but should age beautifully for 15 years or more.

Harlan is, of course, a spectacular wine that well deserves its cult reputation. And you can find bottles out there for $1000 or so. The Maiden likewise goes for upward of $300, while BOND bottlings range from $400 to over $500. From younger vines of this same estate, The Mascot is a sumptuous and velvety wine for only $125. Here are my tasting notes: “Saturated, opaque, black-tinged red violet color; appealing, black currant, blackberry, bittersweet chocolate palate; delicious, velvety textured, black currant, blackberry, bittersweet chocolate palate with sweet tannins and good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol; natural cork) 93+ points”

You can buy it from Michael at Redd here and get free shipping on case orders. Enjoy!

Posted in Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

New Project Yields Profound Wine

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Chamboulé’s Taylor Lane Vineyard, near Occidental in west Sonoma Coast

It’s not often a wine made in California strikes me as “profound.” Don’t get me wrong, the Golden State makes delicious wines. The usually reliable climate in most of California’s winemaking regions leads to steady ripening and big, full-bodied, fruit forward wines. Some are capable of maturing into beauties.

But for a young California wine to remind me of experiences I’ve occasionally had with old Barolo or mature white Burgundy? Those rare moments of awe when you sit in silence with a wine, sensing secrets and mysteries embedded there along with the sublime pleasure one is experiencing. That, for me, is an encounter with something profound.

And that’s what I experienced sampling wines from a new producer whose first releases are made from grapes grown in the west Sonoma Coast as well as Napa’s Diamond Mountain.

“Chamboulé” is the past participle of “chambouler,” an obscure French verb meaning variously to shatter, shake, turn upside down or upset. In other words, “disrupted.” That’s the intriguing name chosen by the philosophical French Canadian winemaker who co-creates these wines in partnership with an American winemaker who grew up in Sonoma.

Both winemakers–François Morissette and Matt Taylor–trained in Burgundy. That’s where they learned ancient winemaking techniques and practices they employ in their project today.

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Matt Taylor & François Morissette

That includes long macerations and extended contact between the wine, expended yeast cells and grape skin debris. In whatever vessel–neutral barrel, demi-muid, steel tank or concrete egg–the wine matures, it is left undisturbed on these lees until being racked right before bottling. Another old technique they employ is preserving and kegging those fine lees after racking, introducing them to wine from a subsequent vintage to “educate” the new wine. They explain this can help “fill out” the new wine when it appears to have “holes.”

Another advantage of the extended lees contact is that it helps protect the developing wine from oxidation. François has been heavily influenced by the natural wine movement ever since he was a sommelier years ago at Montreal’s Laloux Bistro, one of Canada’s first wine bars to feature low sulfur and biodynamic wines. As a winemaker at his Domaine Pearl Morisette in Ontario’s Niagra region, François has long made wines with the least and latest possible sulfur addition.

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Easy to clean, custom designed La Garde inox tank at Chamboulé

He explains they want some “turbidity” in the young wine from the skin debris because particles in the lees form molecules that link to free terminations that would otherwise be susceptible to linking with oxygen in the absence of added sulfur. The yeast cells themselves absorb dissolved oxygen, withdrawing it from oxidation reactions, while particular amino compounds that develop, such as glutathione and cysteine, also help protect the wine from oxidation. It can be a nerve wracking process, though, to be relying on these natural alternatives to sulfur addition, and has to be constantly monitored.

François Morissette spent eight years in Burgundy, working with Frédéric Mugnier in Chambolle-Musigny and Jean-Marc Roulot in Meursault, and spending hours chatting with the Gouges family in Nuits-St. Georges. He learned biodynamic viticulture there, as did Matt Taylor, who interned at Domaine Dujac after completing his viticulture and oenology degree at Fresno State. They apply a lot of biodynamic principles. Their major focus in farming, though, is the quality of those grape skins.

François explains he doesn’t have to worry about sugar content in California. He characterizes this ripeness as “horizontal fatness,” and says the challenge is to achieve a “vertical” dimension as well. The cool sites they draw from ripen while preserving good acidity. He claims they get that extra complexity from the grape skins, which therefore have to be optimal. François says they regularly chew on the skins to determine when that point is reached.

Another aspect of wine important to François is what the French call “qualité des amers.” This roughly translates as “noble bitterness,” and François describes it as a sensation that “grabs at the bottom of the throat.” It can be achieved through extended maceration, but is a tricky quality to get just right, as it can’t readily be fixed once it’s gone too far.

In addition to his Burgundian background, Matt brings to the collaboration years of experience as both winemaker and vineyard manager at Araujo, and as winemaker for Reuling Vineyard in Russian River. He also made small amounts of wine for his own label for several years.

A large, balding, bear of a man, with a ready smile and sunny disposition, Matt initially seems an unlikely partner for the relatively compact, long haired, intense and mystically oriented François. Nonetheless, the image that comes to my mind as I taste through with them is that they could have been monk winemaking colleagues from centuries back, bringing out the best in each other and from the vineyards of Burgundy that were once the near exclusive province of the Benedictine and Cistercian orders.

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Vigneron François Morissette outside the “monastery”

That mental image suddenly makes even more sense when François himself describes their current winemaking facility as a “monastery.” A two-story, wooden structure located down a quiet, dusty road in the outskirts of Forestville, it was built in the 1920’s to house apple orchard harvests and converted to a winery in the 1940s. He contrasts it with the “shopping mall” vibe of Sonoma’s Custom Crush, where the project started.

The Buddhist inscriptions and rich, Tibetan monastery-like orange and red colors with which they’ve decorated their portion of the building, whose other tenants are a boutique marijuana grower and coffee bean roaster, add to the sense this is a place for contemplation and spiritual introspection alongside the practice of winemaking.

I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised then that their wines speak to me so profoundly.

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Winery walls at Chamboulé

François and Matt’s initial releases, from the 2014 vintage, are a Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. The grape sources aren’t mentioned on the labels, but they all hail from pedigreed vineyards. The Chardonnay was sourced from the great Charles Heintz Vineyard on the Sonoma Coast, the Pinot from Spring Hill in the Petaluma Gap, and the Cab Franc from Napa’s Caldwell Vineyard.

Instead of vineyard designations they have derived acronyms for each bottling based on either the growing season or the process of that particular wine’s evolution. The 2014 Chardonnay, for example, is designated “Y.T.E.”–“Your Torment is Endless”–to honor the wine’s long, torturous fermentation and evolution in tank:

The 2014 Pinot is designated S.E.E.D., for “Simple Expression Evoking Dimension.” The acronym for the ’14 Cab Franc, N.A.C.R.E., has a double meaning. “Nacre” is the word for mother of pearl, so it’s a nod to Matt’s love of diving for abalone and enjoying oysters. An iridescent blue, representing the ocean and mother of pearl, is used for the Chamboulé logo on the Cab Franc label. The acronym they generated from “nacre” stands for “Nature Aspires to Continue Refining Everything.”

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My full tasting notes on these wines, sampled initially at the winery and again, some weeks later, over a two-day period at home, appear below. Suffice it to say, these are incredibly impressive debut wines. The Chardonnay has rich texture and complexity, due at least in part, I think, to the extended maceration and 22 months aging on primary lees in neutral large format barrels and concrete. The intensely savory, velvety textured Pinot Noir included 60% whole cluster, and was likewise aged on primary lees for 18 months in neutral large format oak, as was the Cabernet Franc, with 70% whole cluster. In 2015 and 2016, they raised that to 100% whole cluster for the red wines.

I adore Cab Franc, and the inaugural Chamboulé version–with its complexity, textural richness and long finish–is simply one of the best Cabernet Francs I’ve ever tasted. I rate it 95+ points. My rating on the Pinot Noir is 94 points, and it will reward at least two or three years aging. The Chardonnay is a beauty too, scoring 93+ points for me, and quite unlike any Cali Chardonnay I can think of except perhaps the esteemed Kongsgaard, with its exceptional richness, long finish and good balancing acidity. This wine, and many of the others, also have an appetizing salinity to them, which François attributes to the long lees contact.

I also had the opportunity to taste a dozen barrel samples at the winery–four from the 2015 vintage and eight 2016s. These young wines, which include a Cabernet Sauvignon from Diamond Mountain and an estate Pinot Noir, made me even more excited about the future of this project.

My tasting notes for the delicious 2015 barrel samples–which were blended only two weeks before my visit–appear below, along with my notes for the 2014s. I did not take detailed notes on the 2016s, since they are at an earlier stage of development, but the wonderful texture and complexity is present in these too, along with exceptional fruit and a sense of freshness, owing to the minimal use of sulfur.

I was particularly impressed with 2016 barrel samples from the estate vineyard, Taylor Lane, which is planted to suitcase clones of Pinot that have proven to do well in the west Sonoma Coast.

François began looking in 2011 for virgin vineyard sites, areas that had never been planted to vines or agriculture. With the backing of his Pearl Morissette partner, Toronto-based real estate developer Mel Pearl, the team acquired two vineyards in the Sonoma Coast near the town of Occidental–Taylor Lane and Coleman Valley Road.

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François at Taylor Lane

I visited Taylor Lane with François and Matt. The vineyard is surrounded by redwoods and literally teaming with life. Soil expert Jacques Petit who advised the team reported he had never seen such pristine soil in over 40 years of digging around the planet. The six vineyard acres there are planted to three different suitcase Pinot Noir clones, designated “R,” “S” and “T.” 2016 is the first vintage from this vineyard.

Not far away is Chamboulé’s second vineyard, on Coleman Valley Road. Six and a half acres of that 20-acre site are now planted with rootstock. Like Taylor Lane, the vines are planted to fairly high density, with four foot by three foot spacing. They aim to get to dry farming there within two years.

The team also recently purchased a site on Napa’s Mt. Veeder. They started a small “mother block” for planting this site, sourcing some of Napa Valley’s oldest and greatest Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc clones.

The production of this well planned and financed effort is tiny at present: only 500 cases for 2014. There will be about 900 cases of the 2015, and they expect to slowly build to an annual maximum of 5,000 cases.

I asked how they established the price of their first offering–which is $80 for each wine on the website. They explain they simply amortized the land and other costs, before profits, over 25 years, much like Opus One did.

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Inspiration wines at Chamboulé

I also asked Matt and François how they negotiate the winemaking process between them, given both are accomplished winemakers who also have experience in all aspects of farming. Matt is in charge of day-to-day activities in the vineyard and winery, of course, since he lives in the area full time, whereas François visits for about a week each month. Their ultimate answer is, “Whoever has the best argument wins.”

Below are my tasting notes and ratings on these exceptional wines. Since they are offering a significant portion of the production to select high end restaurants, I expect what’s available through the website to run out quickly. The drawback of the intense effort and focus required to make profound wines is, of course, that they can only be created in small quantities. I feel privileged to have had a chance to sample these wines at such an early stage of the project, and I look forward to following Chamboulé for many years to come.

Tasting Notes
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2014 Chamboulé Chardonnay Y.T.E.Sonoma Coast
Light medium lemon yellow; aromatic, chamomile, almond, buttered rum, pear nectar, safflower oil nose; delicious, complex, creamy textured, ripe lemon, chamomile, honey, light beeswax, safflower oil, mineral palate with lively balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.3% alcohol; 60% in neutral barrels, 25% in concrete, 15% in stainless steel) 93+ points

2014 Chamboulé Pinot Noir S.E.E.D. Sonoma Coast
Dark ruby color with slight haziness; very aromatic, fresh, savory, roses, forest floor, black cherry, hibiscus, beets, light caraway seed nose; tightly coiled, velvety textured, complex, tart cherry, forest floor, cranberry, mineral, hibiscus, saline palate with appetizing near medium acidity; could use 2+ years; medium-plus finish (13.1% alcohol; 60% whole cluster) 94 points

2014 Chamboulé Cabernet Franc N.A.C.R.E. Napa Valley
Saturated, nearly opaque, purple red violet color; aromatic, savory, graphite, toast, mocha, ripe red currant, green olive, dried seaweed nose; delicious, tight, savory, graphite, raspberry, ripe red currant, toast, green olive, iron, saline palate with refined tannins and good balancing acidity; needs 2-3 years; long finish (14.1% alcohol; 70% whole cluster) 95+ points

2015 Barrel Samples
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2016 Pinot Noir barrel samples

2015 Chamboulé Chardonnay N.T.E. Sonoma Coast
Cloudy, medium lemon yellow color; savory, sesame seed oil, safflower oil nose; lemon honey, lemon balm, lemon marmalade, sesame seed oil palate with good balancing acidity; long finish (50% in barrel, 50% in concrete) 92-95 points

2015 Chamboulé Pinot Noir S.E.D.E. Sonoma Coast
Dark red violet color; fresh, very savory, forest floor, toast, roasted beets nose; savory, tart roasted red fruit, roasted beets palate with velvety tannins and medium acidity; could use 4-5 years; medium-plus finish (100% whole cluster) 93-95 points

2015 Chamboulé Cabernet Franc S.A.C.R.E. Napa Valley
Very dark red violet color; lifted, aromatic, savory, tart red currant, black cherry, black raspberry, toast nose; bright, savory, tart red currant, black cherry, black raspberry, toast, green olive palate with near medium acidity; long finish (100% whole cluster; 100% neutral oak, 600 liter barrels) 93-96 points

2015 Chamboulé Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain, Napa Valley
Very dark red violet color; savory, tart red currant, roasted red fruit, iron, seaweed, graphite nose; tight, black cherry, red currant, toast, graphite palate with firm tannins and good balancing acidity; long finish (80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc; co-fermented; 100% whole cluster) 93-96 points

Posted in California Wine, Chardonnay, Napa, Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, Winemakers | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on New Project Yields Profound Wine

RJ Selection of the Day: Delicious, Mature, Cool Climate Syrah

Today’s offer is an incredible buy on a mature, savory, cool climate Syrah–the 2009 Clary Ranch.

This was the last year Clary Ranch made a bottling from this windy vineyard situated in Sonoma’s Petaluma Gap. From 2010 onward, Arnot-Roberts has purchased all the fruit from this special site, and their Clary Ranch Syrah has scored very highly with critics (e.g., 97 points from Antonio Galloni on the 2015 vintage, 96+ for the 2014). The Arnot-Roberts version sells out quickly to their mailing list at $60. This delicious, complex bottling is available for only $22, and drinks like mature Syrahs from the Northern Rhone selling for two or three times that.

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If you like savory, cool climate Syrahs, you’ll love this complex, delicious, Northern-Rhone-like beauty.

Here’s my tasting note:
Dark ruby color; aromatic, savory, smoky, roasted red fruit, charcoal, tobacco nose; delicious, complex, savory, roasted fruit, smoke, charcoal palate with near medium acidity; reminiscent of a mature St. Joseph, great now and should age well for 5-7 years; medium-plus finish (13.2% alcohol) 93 points

This is a steal at $22 a bottle. If you like balanced, lower alcohol, savory wines with bottle age on them, you’re going to wish you bought a couple cases of this. Here’s the link to purchase this incredible buy. Remember, The Redd Collection offers free shipping for purchases of a case or more.

Check back soon for info on my next undervalued, must-have treasure.

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Select Recommended Wines to be Available thru The Redd Collection

The theme of this blog is “the search for reasonably priced wines of character.” Wines of character are found all over the world, at a variety of price points. The most exciting finds, of course, are those that deliver at a high level of quality and enjoyment for a relatively low price.

For years, I have recommended particular wines as being bargains at their price point. Some of those are widely available, like the wines I’ve identified in my grocery store Chardonnay project. Others are very limited in availability, often obtainable only through the winery itself or a limited number of retailers.

In the case of really great, characterful wines that are also real bargains, I’d like to provide a service to my readers in helping them access those wines in an easy and cost effective way. Toward that end, I’ve been talking with a longtime friend who has been in the wine business for years, Michael Carpenter. I’ve known Michael since he was a manager at Wally’s in Los Angeles, and then when he ran a very cool wine bar and retail store operation in Culver City.

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Michael Carpenter, owner of The Redd Collection

Michael ultimately closed his store/wine bar in L.A. and moved the business and family to Sonoma County, so that his operation, The Redd Collection, is now exclusively online. He has an importer’s license and good connections with a lot of distributors. He also has the same affinity I do for balanced, characterful wines, and for discovering little known producers who craft amazing wines. On top of that, Michael has long been one of the most reliable and conscientious wine retailers I know.

Our intention is that when I come across a characterful, well priced wine that is available in the marketplace, The Redd Collection will add it to inventory so that a link can be included in my tasting note. For this project, I will be specifically focused on identifying wines that drink well above their price point that aren’t widely available.

The first wine I have identified that can be obtained through The Redd Collection is a complex, savory Sonoma Pinot Noir that is only $20 a bottle. It drinks like an Oregon or cool climate California Pinot from one of my favorite producers that would typically sell for $40 to $50 a bottle. It’s the 2013 David Noyes Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. 20170415_175325

Here’s my tasting note:
Medium ruby color; aromatic, cranberry, tart cherry, beets, sous bois, earthy, talc nose; silky textured, complex, cranberry, berry, tart cherry, earthy, mineral palate with grip and good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.2% alcohol) 92 points (great value: drinks like Oregon and cool climate California Pinots costing twice as much)

I tasted this wine over a period of three hours recently and greatly enjoyed how the nose and palate deepened, displaying different aspects of its complexity over time. David Noyes is a Pinot Noir specialist whose winemaking career began in the cellar at Ridge Vineyards. He started his own label in 2001, focusing on Pinot Noir, and a few other varietals, from vineyards in Sonoma County. He aims for wines of balance that complement food, and it’s hard for me to think of another Pinot Noir at this price point that I have enjoyed as much.

This wine is available for order through The Redd Collection. Shipping is free for purchases of a case or more.

Posted in California Wine, Pinot Noir, Redd Collection, Sonoma Coast | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Select Recommended Wines to be Available thru The Redd Collection

Brazil’s Medal Worthy Wines

20151201_174556amphitheatre of vines at Casa Valduga in Vale dos Vinhedos

I’m thrilled the Olympic Games in Rio went so well, exceeding expectations. I am happy to report that another potential source of pride for Brazilians is the fact that some excellent wines—yes, even medal worthy—are now being made there. Surprised? So was I.

I was fortunate to travel to the center of Brazil’s fine wine production last December, on a trip sponsored by Wines of Brazil. The trip was led by Evan Goldstein, Master Sommelier and author of the terrific Wines of South America. I’m a huge fan of Evan and have really enjoyed traveling with him in the past. I therefore took it on faith when he told me Brazilian wine country was worth a trip. I had tasted some okay Brazilian reds and fairly good sparkling wines prior to this trip that in no way prepared me for how excellent some of Brazil’s top wines actually are.

Brazil’s fine wine country—based in the more temperate southern end of the country–is also stunningly lush and beautiful, blessed with a few of the most gorgeous vineyards I have ever visited. The best of the wines have excellent fruit quality, relatively low alcohol and good balancing acidity. The food is also delicious there and the people warm and delightful, of course.

Unfortunately, few of Brazil’s finest wines are imported to this country, and those that are are currently available primarily in only a few states on the East Coast. Hopefully this will change in the coming years. I have indicated below, with my tasting notes, which ones are available in the U.S.

Background

Wine production in Brazil, spurred in large part by the many Italian immigrants in the south, who brought knowledge and grape cuttings with them, dates back to the mid-1800s. The production of fine wine, however, based on vitis vinifera grapes, really only got going in the 1970s, picking up steam with a growing number of boutique producers since the 1990s. A concerted effort to improve quality has been underway since 2000.

That said, the vast majority of the country’s wine production—over 80%–is still very ordinary “vinho de mesa.” That translates as “table wine,” which makes it sound higher quality than it really is. Much of it is made with North American grapes, vitis labrusca, and hybrids, which have been widely planted in Brazil’s humid climate because they fared much better than vitis vinifera, the type of grapes from which fine wine is made.

Nonetheless, vitis vinifera varieties like Merlot, and the grapes most commonly used for sparkling wine–Chardonnay and Pinot Noir–have been planted in increasing amounts in the southernmost Brazilian state, Rio Grande do Sul.

The center of fine wine production in that state is the region of Serra Gaúcha, particularly in the area extending south and west of the city of Bento Gonçalves. This area, called Vale dos Vinhedos–Brazil’s only denominação de origen (DO)–is essentially the Napa of Brazil, home to the vast majority of the most notable fine wine producers.

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fog over the Perini vineyard in Farroupilha, an area that specializes in Muscat

This was where our trip was focused, with side trips to a couple of other important areas in Serra Gaúcha–Pinto Bandeira, source of grapes for Brazil’s best sparkling wines and an indicação de procedência (IP); and Farroupilha, which was recently approved as an IP for moscato. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time for us to visit another up and coming region for fine wine production lying further south, along Uruguay’s border. The two wine growing areas there are Capanha Gaucha and Serro do Sudeste. We did, however, get to try a number of very good wines made from grapes grown in those areas.

Overall, I was impressed with the quality of the sparkling wines from the top three sparkling producers. I was also delighted by the large variety of grapes planted–which is surprising given the relatively small amount of fine wine produced here relative to the dominant South American producers, Chile and Argentina. This includes the standard French varieties, as well as more unusual varieties, like Egiodola and Arinaroa. One also finds Iberian varieties, like Tempranillo and Touriga Nacional, and Italian, including Glera, Moscato and Teroldego.

Medal Winners

So after a week of sampling Brazilian wines from our base in Bento Gonçalves, which producers do I think are the very best–deserving of gold and silver medals?

No one wants a bronze medal any more, except in the Olympics, so I won’t bother nominating a producer for that–I’ll only indicate a few other wineries that I think are among the top five or so of Brazil’s best.

Gold: Don Giovanni

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My gold medalist makes a small amount of dry wine–most notably a wonderful Chardonnay–but its production is largely devoted to what I think is some of the very best methode traditionelle sparkling wine I’ve tasted outside of Champagne.

Don Giovanni is based in Pinto Bandeira. Their sparkling wines are so profoundly good that I would buy them every year if only they were available here in the U.S.

Don Giovanni was founded in 1982 but started making sparkling wine in 1997. The owners are Ayrton and Beatriz Giovannini, and the winemaker and viticulturalist is Luciano Vian. They produce about 10,000 cases of wine per year–under up to 14 different labels–of which about 80% is sparkling.

The winery sits on one of the most strikingly beautiful vineyards I’ve ever seen, which includes tall trees, carved stone markers and lots of thriving hydrangeas. The property includes an artistically appointed, family-run guest house and restaurant, which I would strongly recommend as a place to stay on a visit to Brazilian wine country.

You can see all of my tasting notes and ratings for their wines below. My single favorite of their sparkling bottlings is the Ouro, a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that is aged 36 months on the lees. I rated it 94 points and it is savory, autolytic, hazelnut heaven. I also very much love the Stravaganzza Brut, which is aged one year on lees, and the Nature, with less than one gram of dosage and aged two years sur lie. Both of these I rated 93+ points.

Silver: Lidio Carraro

My silver medalist is Lidio Carraro, named after its owner, an influential and pioneering viticulturalist. While his two sons, Giovanni and Juliano, are involved in making the wine, they benefit a lot from the active involvement of consulting winemaker, Monica Rossetti, who still makes wine in Italy as well. The animated and very articulate Rossetti has worked with Carraro since 1998.

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Lidio Carraro consulting winemaker Monica Rossetti

One of the distinctive features of winemaking here is the absence of any oak whatsoever. Longer macerations and bottle aging are used to supply the texture and firm tannins that oak might otherwise help provide. The focus is on the wines’ fruit quality, which is very appealing and complex.

Lidio Carraro has seven hectares in production in Vale dos Vinhedos, and another 38 hectares in Serro do Sudeste’s Encruzilhada do Sul region, where Lidio pioneered plantings in 2000. Lidio was also the first producer of Merlot in Vale dos Vinhedos, and his winery was the first in Brazil to use gravity flow winemaking.

Lidio Carraro was chosen, via a competition, to produce a line of wines for the World Cup Games that Brazil hosted in 2014. This line is called Faces, and it is basically the winery’s entry level offering. They were also chosen to make wine for the Olympics and did so again using the Faces label, producing not only a red, white and rosé, but also three different sparkling wines.

For me, the most impressive wines in the portfolio are the Elos Cabernet/Malbec blend, another red blend called Quorum, a varietal bottling of Teroldego, and a terrific Tannat. I scored the latter 94+ points, and it compares favorably to the very best Tannats I tasted in nearby Uruguay that I reported on here and here.

Other Top Producers

The other leading producers for me based on what we tasted are Cave Geisse, Pizzato, Perini and Peterlongo. Cave Geisse and Peterlongo make superlative sparkling wines, while Pizzato and Perini produce not only good sparkling wines but also some excellent dry reds. Please see below for brief profiles of these wineries and tasting notes.

I have also profiled below Brazil’s three largest producers–the giant cooperative Aurora, Miolo and Salton. Each of these make some very good wines, along with a large quantity of average and mediocre wines.

In the tasting notes below, I have only included producers responsible for at least some wines I scored in the high 80s and above. During our trip, we did taste wine from others, including producers based in the equatorial wine region of São Francisco, where the vines never go dormant unless artificially induced, and two harvests can easily be pulled annually from each plot. I found virtually all of these wines to be pretty mediocre.

Aurora

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    Aurora wines made for export

    Aurora is a giant cooperative–Brazil’s biggest wine producer, commanding over 30% of the domestic market for still wine. It was originally founded in 1931 by 16 Italian immigrant families. At one time it had as many as 1300 members, but there are now 1100 with an average of 2.6 hectares of vineyards per member. Members get paid 8% more than government established minimums, and must follow an extensive rule book regarding everything from safety and pesticide use to harvest dates and yields. They have their own grape nursery for members, which propagates 30 varieties and three different rootstocks. The co-op also owns 16 hectares of prime vineyards in Pinto Bandeira, the source for some of their top wines.

    A team of 15 winemakers oversees the production of 45 million liters of wine per year. Less than 2% is exported, but that makes up 30% of Brazil’s wine exports. Marcus James was perhaps their best known brand name, before the name was sold to Constellation. It was briefly exported to the U.S. as “white Zinfandel” back in the early 1990s. They are now exporting to the U.S. under the Carnaval label wines that are known in Brazil as Procedencia, and producing some special bottlings for the U.S. market under the label Brazilian Soul. A higher end line under the label Pequenos Partilhas was designed for on-premise sales, and includes wines from Chile, Argentina and Uruguay as well as Brazil. The top wines I tasted were the 2014 Chardonnay Pinto Bandeira (92 points), an excellent NV Moscatel Espumante (92 points) and a Bordeaux-blend cuvee made in honor of the co-op’s 85th anniversary, that is allocated mainly to co-op members (92+ points).

    I see several Aurora wines listed on wine-searcher.com as being available in the U.S. That includes a Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat Reserva. Most widely available are red and white versions of the Carnaval Moscato. I rated the white version 88 points and it can be found for an average of $12. A place in Massachusetts carries the Brazilian Soul Chardonnay, which I rated 85+ points, for $6.

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  • 2014 Vinícola Aurora 85th Anniversary Cuvee Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very dark ruby color; aromatic, appealing, black currant, boysenberry, vanilla nose; medium bodied, delicious, black currant, cedar, black cherry palate with good balancing acidity; could use 2 years; medium-plus finish (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc; 13% alcohol; 10 months in French & American oak; barrel selection in honor of the Aurora Co-op’s 85th anniversary–bottles will be given to the co-op families) 92+ points
  • NV Vinícola Aurora Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; pear cream nose; light-medium bodied, tart pear cream, tart grapefruit, chalk palate with medium acidity; medium finish (100% Chardonnay, 20-30 days in tank, 10 grams dosage) 84 points
  • NV Vinícola Aurora Extra Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Pinto Bandeira
    Very light yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; autolytic, almond, almond cream, light hazelnut nose; tasty, tart pear cream, almond cream, mineral palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (60% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir, 10% Riesling Italico; 12.5% alcohol) 89 points
  • 2011 Vinícola Aurora Brut Rosé Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light medium orange pink color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; toast, beets nose; toast, roasted beets palate with medium acidity; medium finish (80% Pinot Noir, 20% Riesling Italico; 11.5% alcohol; 10.62 grams dosage; 6-7 months in tank) 84 points
  • 2014 Vinícola Aurora Cabernet Franc Pequenas Partilhas Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha Very dark purple red violet color; appealing, ripe black currant, blackberry, dried berry, light toast nose; medium bodied, tight, tart berry, tart black currant, toast palate with some balancing acidity; could use 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (13% alcohol) 88+ points
  • 2011 Vinícola Aurora Cabernet Sauvignon Millésimé Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha Very dark purple red violet color; tart berry, toast, ripe black currant nose; medium bodied, tart berry, toast, ripe black currant palate; could use 1-plus year; medium finish (100% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% alcohol; 1 year in French & American oak) 87+ points
  • 2014 Vinícola Aurora Chardonnay Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Pinto Bandeira
    Light yellow color; aromatic, almond tart pear nose; medium bodied, tart pear, almond palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (12.5% alcohol; 3 months in new French oak) 92 points
  • 2015 Vinícola Aurora Chardonnay Brazilian Soul Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very light yellow color; light lemon cream nose; light-medium bodied, tart pear cream, lemon cream palate with medium acidity; medium finish (12% alcohol; 6.15 grams dosage) 85+ points
  • 2014 Vinícola Aurora Merlot Reserva Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Dark ruby color; tart plum, black fruit, berry, light cedar nose; tart plum, tart berry, cedar palate with medium acidity; medium finish (12.5% alcohol; 6 months in French & American oak) 85+ points
  • NV Vinícola Aurora Moscatel Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very light green-tinged yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; aromatic, orange blossom, ripe honeydew melon, ripe pear nose; tasty, creamy textured, tart pear, light orange cream palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (7.5% alcohol; 80 grams residual sugar; great value at about $10) 92 points
  • NV Vinícola Aurora Moscato Carnavál Brazil
    Very light yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; aromatic, orange blossom, ripe green melon nose; creamy textured, tasty, orange cream, lime cream, ripe green melon palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (7.5% alcohol; 80 grams residual sugar) 88 points
  • 2014 Vinícola Aurora Pinot Noir Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Pinto Bandeira Medium dark cherry red color; aromatic, black cherry, black raspberry, berry nose; medium bodied, black cherry, black raspberry, toast palate with near medium acidity; could use 1-plus year; medium-plus finish ((13% alcohol; 6 months in French oak) 88+ points
  • 2014 Vinícola Aurora Tannat Brazilian Soul Premium Selection Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul
    Very dark ruby color; black currant, tart blackberry nose; black currant, tart blackberry palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13% alcohol; 10 months in 3d use French & American oak, 50/50) 86+ points

Cave Geisse

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    Mario Geisse came from Chile in 1976 to start up Moet & Chandon’s sparkling wine operation in Brazil, Chandon Brazil. He left and started his own winery in 1979. Mario and son Daniel grow the grapes for their label in Pinto Bandeira, the IP for sparkling wine that Geisse helped pioneer. We unfortunately weren’t able to visit Cave Geisse, as Mario was away, but I made a point of sampling two of their bottlings while I was there, including their signature Nature Terroir, which I bought at a wine shop in the farmers’ market in Porto Allegre on the last night of our trip.

  • 2011 Cave Geisse Chardonnay Blanc de Blanc Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very light yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; aromatic, autolytic, almond, almond cream, pear nose; medium bodied, poised, delicate, pear, mineral, tart apple palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (disgorged 2014) 92 points
  • NV Cave Geisse Nature Terroir Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light golden yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; aromatic, autolytic, almond, pear gelee, almond cream nose; poised, delicate, almond, tart pear gelee, mineral palate with a sense of salinity and medium acidity; medium-plus finish (12.5% alcohol; 50/50 Chardonnay & Pinot Noir; 36 months on lees; disgorged 2015) 93 points

Dal Pizzol

  • 2013 Dal Pizzol Cabernet Franc Do Lugar Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Medium dark red violet color; aromatic, savory, tart red currant, dried red currant, dried herb, light oregano nose; elegant, roast red currant, dried red currant, oregano, dried herb, raspberry, pepper palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13% alcohol) 92+ points

Don Giovanni

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  • NV Don Giovanni Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; aromatic, lifted, cream, almond cream, vanilla nose; elegant, cream, almond cream, hazelnut palate with minerality, salinity and medium acidity; long finish (75% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir; 12.6% alcohol; 5.54 TA, pH 3.36, 6 grams dosage; 24 months sur lees) 93 points
  • NV Don Giovanni Brut Rosé Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Pinto Bandeira
    Light salmon color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; tart dried orange, almond nose; tasty, roses, dried roses, dried tart plum, tart cherry palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (50% Merlot, 40% Pinot Noir, 10% Chardonnay; 12 months en tirage) 91+ points
  • 2014 Don Giovanni Chardonnay Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Pinto Bandeira
    Slightly hazy light lemon yellow color; light almond, pear, light pineapple nose; medium bodied, poised, fresh, lemon gelee, almond, lightly saline palate with medium acidity, showing pineapple and lemon zest on finish; medium-plus finish (12.6% alcohol) 93 points
  • NV Don Giovanni Nature Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Pinto Bandeira
    Very light yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; aromatic, autolytic, almond, almond cream nose; delicate, fresh, very tart lemon, almond, mineral, saline palate with scintillating medium acidity; long finish (75% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir; 12.6%; TA 5.08, pH 3.30; 24 months sur lees) 93+ points
  • NV Don Giovanni Ouro Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Pinto Bandeira
    Light golden yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; very aromatic, savory, autolytic, hazelnut, salt rising bread, light lemon oil nose; savory, very autolytic, hazelnut, mineral, almond, saline palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir; 12.8% alcohol; pH 3.42, TA 6.05; 8 grams dosage; 36 months en tirage) 94 points
  • NV Don Giovanni Stravaganzza Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; appealing, pear cream, almond cream nose; delicate, creamy textured, almond cream, tart pear cream, lemon cream palate with bright medium acidity; medium-plus finish (75% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir; 12.6% alcohol; pH 3.6, 6.06 TA, 11 grams dosage; 12 months sur lees) 93+ points

Don Laurindo

  • 2009 Don Laurindo Merlot Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Bricking very dark ruby color; savory, tart black fruit, black cherry nose; medium bodied, maturing, black plum, black cherry palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (12% alcohol) 88 points

Lidio Carraro

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    A few Lidio Carraro wines are available in the U.S. A few vintages of the Dádivas Chardonnay, including the 2013 (RJ91+ points) can be found for an average of $18.The 2013 Agnus Merlot is available for $17, and the 2006 Quorum is available several places for an average of $42.

  • 2013 Lidio Carraro Chardonnay Dádivas Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra do Sudeste
    Light yellow color; fresh, lemon gelee, pear cream nose; medium bodied, creamy textured, lemon, candied lemon peel palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol; 8-10 months sur lees) 91+ points
  • NV Lidio Carraro Dádivas Espumante Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Very light green-tinged yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; autolytic, light almond, green apple nose; creamy textured, green apple, mineral, citrus palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (12% alcohol; 85% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Noir, 5% Riesling Italico; charmat method) 88+ points
  • 2010 Lidio Carraro Elos Cabernet/Malbec Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Medium dark red violet color; aromatic, red currant, subtle herbs, tart cherry, red plum nose; medium bodied, fresh, tart red currant palate with medium acidity; could use 2-plus years and should go 15+; medium-plus finish (80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Malbec; 12.5% alcohol) 93 points
  • 2010 Lidio Carraro Elos Touriga Nacional/Tannat Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Very dark red violet color; aromatic, clove, cinnamon, roasted berry, licorice nose; tasty, fresh, velvety textured, licorice, roasted cherry, tart berry, tart red currant, spice, lightly saline palate with vibrant medium acidity; medium-plus finish (77% Touriga Nacional, 23% Tannat; 13% alcohol) 91+ points
  • 2014 Lidio Carraro Faces – The Wine of “2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil” Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Light yellow color; appealing, pear, peach, orange blossom nose; fresh, tart pear, citrus, orange blossom palate with good balancing acidity; medium finish (50% Chardonnay, 30% Riesling Italico, 20% Moscato; 11.5% alcohol) 88+ points
  • 2014 Lidio Carraro Faces Rose – The Wine of “2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil” Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Light salmon pink color; tart golden raspberry, golden currant nose; tart citrus, tart white grapefruit palate with medium-plus acidity; medium-plus finish (50% Pinot Noir, 35% merlot, 15% Touriga Nacional; 12.5% alcohol) 87+ points
  • 2014 Lidio Carraro Faces Red – The Wine of “2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil” Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra do Sudeste
    Medium ruby color; reduction, tart red currant, tart cherry, light cinnamon nose; tart red currant, reduction palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (50% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Tannat) 86 points
  • 2013 Lidio Carraro Merlot Agnvs Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra do Sudeste
    Medium dark red violet color; appealing, red currant, tart red berry nose; medium bodied, tart red currant, mineral, light herb palate with medium acidity; reminiscent of an Italian Merlot; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 90 points
  • 2008 Lidio Carraro Merlot Grande Vindima Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Dark red violet color; savory, tart red currant, oregano, dried herbs nose; medium bodied, poised, savory, fresh, tart red currant, oregano, dried herbs palate with medium acidity; long finish (13.5% alcohol) 93 points
  • 2014 Lidio Carraro Pinot Noir Dádivas Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra do Sudeste
    Medium cherry red color; reduction, tart cherry, strawberry, roses nose; silky textured, tart cherry, tart strawberry, rosehips, mineral palate with medium-plus acidity; could use 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 91 points
  • 2008 Lidio Carraro Quorum Grande Vindima Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Dark red violet color; savory, smoky, tart red currant, dried provencal herbs, light smoke nose; medium bodied, fresh poised, complex, savory, tart red currant, dried provencal herbs, light smoke palate with lively medium-plus acidity; could use 2-3 years and should go 15-20; medium-plus finish (13% alcohol) 93+ points
  • 2010 Lidio Carraro Tannat Grande Vindima Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Opaque red violet color; aromatic, light coffee, roasted red plum, subtle spice nose; fresh, tasty, tight, complex, cherry, roasted red plum, light coffee, light white pepper, dried herb palate with lively medium acidity; could use 3-4 years and will go 20+; long finish (15.5% alcohol) 94+ points
  • 2013 Lidio Carraro Tempranillo Dádivas Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra do Sudeste
    Dark ruby color; reduction, coffee, tart red currant nose; silky textured, tart red currant, tart red berry, potpourri palate with medium acidity; could use 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (12.5% alcohol) 89 points
  • 2010 Lidio Carraro Teroldego Singular Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha Opaque red violet color; tart cherry, tart roasted plum, reduction, light pepper, cayenne nose; fresh, complex, tart red currant dried red berry, light cayenne palate with firm tannins and medium acidity; needs 4-plus years and should go 15-20; long finish (14% alcohol) 93 points

Miolo

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    Miolo Winery in Vale dos Vinhedos

    Miolo is another one of Brazil’s three biggest producers. It’s a partnership of three families. They also have wine projects in Europe, Chile and Argentina. They own over 2800 acres of vinifera vines in Brazil, and are the biggest landowner in Campanha. They control 40% of the domestic market in fine still wines and 15% of the sparkling wine market. The Miolo family dates their involvement in wine to the arrival of their ancestor in Bento Gonçalves in 1897, and his purchase of a 24-hectare vineyard plot known as Lote 43. For many years the family sold their grapes to co-ops. They started their own brand in 1991, with Merlot. They expanded rapidly, developing and executing on a tremendously successful business plan that has involved strategic partnerships.

    The wines produced from the Vale dos Vinhedos are sold under the Miolo label. The Miolo Winery is in a beautiful setting in the Vale dos Vinhedos, including a small lake. They were pioneers in the Campanha region, along the Uruguayan border, but wines from that region are sold under the name Seival. There are some very good wines here, at a variety of price points. My favorites were the Cuvée Giuseppe Merlot/Cabernet (92+ points), and a Cabernet with some age on it, 2006 Miolo Cabernet Sauvignon Quinta do Seival (92 points).

    I count seven different Miolo bottlings available in the U.S., including Lote 43 for $30. The 2015 Chardonnay is available for an average of $16. The Pinot and Pinot Reserva are available, along with both white and rosé versions of the Cuvée Tradition Brut. A Merlot is also available for $14.
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  • 2011 Miolo Brut Millésimé Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Light green-tinged yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; fresh, tart pear, apple nose; poised, tasty, creamy textured, tart pear, lime cream, green apple, mineral palate with medium acidity; long finish (50/50 Chardonnay & Pinot Noir; 22 months on lees) 91+ points
  • 2006 Miolo Cabernet Sauvignon Quinta do Seival Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Campanha
    Dark ruby color; black currant, cedar nose; tasty, youthful, black currant, tart berry, cedar palate balanced with lively acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 92 points
  • 2013 Miolo Chardonnay Cuvée Giuseppe Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Light yellow color; lemon curd, mango nose; medium bodied, rich, lemon gelee, mango palate with balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (10 months in oak) 90+ points
  • 2015 Miolo Chardonnay Reserva Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Light yellow color; fresh, lemon, light passion fruit, pear cream nose; tasty, fresh, ripe lemon, light vanilla palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (12.5% alcohol; TA 5.6, pH 3.18; 20% in new American oak for 3 months) 91+ points
  • 2013 Miolo Cuvée Giuseppe Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Opaque black red violet color; aromatic, black currant, red currant, cedar nose; tasty, tart black currant, cedar palate with sweet, fine tannins; could use 2 years and should go 15-20; long finish (60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon; 1 year in new French oak) 92+ points
  • NV Miolo Cuvée Tradition Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Very light yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; almond, apple, pear nose; medium bodied, rounded, creamy textured, pear palate; medium-plus finish (50% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir; 2013 tirage) 90 points
  • NV Miolo Cuvée Tradition Brut Rosé Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Light salmon pink color; almond, raspberry, chalk nose; medium bodied, golden raspberry, berry palate; medium-plus finish (50/50 Chardonnay/Pinot Noir) 88 points
  • NV Miolo Grenache Bossa Nova Sparkling Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Light pink color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; fruity, ripe red currant nose; creamy textured, tart red currant, tart red berry palate with medium acidity; medium finish (12% alcohol) 83 points
  • 2013 Miolo Merlot Terroir Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Very dark red violet color; blackberry, black currant, berry syrup nose; blackberry, black currant, berry syrup palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish 89 points
  • NV Miolo Moscato Brazilian Legends Girl of Ipanema Brazil, Vale do São Francisco
    Pale green-tinged yellow color; aromatic, lime, chalk, quinine nose; sweet, lime cream, fruit salad syrup palate with some acidity; medium finish 83 points
  • 2014 Miolo Pinot Noir Reserva Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Campanha
    Medium dark cherry red color; black cherry, beets, tart berry nose; black cherry, beets palate with balancing acidity; medium-plus finish 88 points
  • 2011 Miolo Quinta do Seival Castas Portuguesas Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Campanha
    Opaque red violet color; fresh, black raspberry, black cherry nose; medium bodied, tart red fruit, dried red berry, light cinnamon palate with good balancing acidity; needs 3 years; medium-plus finish (50/50 Tinto Roriz/Touriga Nacional) 89 points
  • 2011 Miolo Reserva Lote 43 Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Opaque dark red violet color; aromatic, ripe black currant, blackberry, sweet green herb nose; medium bodied, ripe black currant, blackberry, black cherry palate with sweet tannins; should go 7 years; medium-plus finish (60% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon) 90+ points
  • 2015 Miolo Sauvignon Blanc Reserva Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Campanha
    Light green-tinged yellow color; kiwi, light gooseberry nose; medium bodied, tart gooseberry, kiwi palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 90+ points
  • 2011 Miolo Seival Sesmarias Fronteira Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Campanha, Fronteira
    Very dark ruby color; aromatic, ripe black currant, blackberry, violets, clove nose; tasty, creamy textured, flavorful, black currant, blackberry palate with sweet, fine tannins; long finish 91+ points
  • NV Miolo Syrah Brut Rosé Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Light pink color with abundant, steady, small bubbles; reticent, savory, tart cranberry, red berry nose; medium bodied, tart berry, roasted berry, beets, tar palate with medium acidity; medium finish (12% alcohol) 81 points
  • NV Miolo Terranova Brut Brazil, Vale do São Francisco
    Light yellow color with some steady, tiny bubbles; apple pie filling, orange blossom, ripe pear nose; medium-plus bodied, lush, creamy textured, baked pear, orange blossom palate with some balancing acidity; long finish (Moscatel; 7.5% alcohol) 89 points
  • 2013 Miolo Viognier RAR Collezione Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light lemon yellow color; poached pear, vanilla, white jasmine nose; tasty, poised, creamy textured, white jasmine, light vanilla, pear palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (1 year in French oak) 91 points

Perini

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    Benildo Perini, center, flanked by sons Pablo (left) and Franco

    The Perini family came from the Veneto in 1876. They were a founding family of the Forqueta Co-op in Farroupilha in the 1920s. In 1970, they finally started making their own wines. They began focusing on fine wines in the 1990s. In 2006, Mario Geisse came on board as a consultant. Their production was then 70% vinho de mesa and 30% fine wine, but now the ratio is 60% fine wine and 40% vinho de mesa. Like Aurora and Miolo, they also produce some of the most delicious unfermented grape juice I have ever tasted–a popular treat in Brazil. They have a total of 96 hectares under vine but buy most of their grapes from local families. They have several levels of wine, including a new low end Macaw label, designed for U.S. export; Casa Perini, which they started in 1996; and Perini, launched in 2012 for special projects, like the Quatro they introduced as an icon wine.

    I fail to understand why they are aiming to enter the U.S. market with a low end wine, albeit the Macaw has a colorful label. I very much liked a couple of their sparkling wines, but best of all were the unusual muscat based Licoroso Doce called Eden (93 points), the 2013 Perini Chardonnay Fração Única (92+ points) and 2012 Perini Merlot Fração Única (92 points).
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  • NV Perini Casa Perini Brut Rosé Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light pink color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; fresh, tart currant, cranberry, dried berry nose; tart cranberry, tart red currant palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Gamay; 11.8% alcohol; good pairing with pizza and pasta) 85+ points
  • NV Perini Casa Perini Edicao Especial Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    From magnum – very light yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; autolytic, savory, almond, chalk nose; autolytic, poised, almond cream, light hazelnut, tart pear palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (18 months in magnum) 91+ points
  • 2013 Perini Chardonnay Fração Única Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Light lemon yellow color; aromatic, appealing, lemon cream, almond nose; delicious, poised, tart lemon cream, mineral, saline palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (12% alcohol; 3 months in French oak) 92+ points
  • 2012 Perini Marselan Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Dark ruby color; savory, tobacco, reduction, tar nose; savory, tart red currant, tobacco, cedar palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (12.5% alcohol; no oak) 87+ points
  • NV Perini Marselan Arbo Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very dark ruby color; aromatic, barbecue sauce, smoke nose; tart roasted plum, barbecue sauce palate with tangy, near medium acidity; medium finish (12% alcohol) 83 points
  • 2012 Perini Merlot Fração Única Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very dark ruby color; aromatic, cherry, cedar, red plum, ripe red currant nose; tasty, savory, tart red plum, ripe red currant, cedar palate with lively medium acidity; medium-plus finish (6 months in french oak) 92 points
  • 2013 Perini Merlot Macaw Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Medium dark ruby color; plum, vanilla, blackberry nose; simple, fruity, berry, plum palate with some balancing acidity; short-medium finish (11.5% alcohol) 84 points
  • NV Perini Perini Eden Vinho Branco Licoroso Doce Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    From 500 ml – light medium yellow color; very aromatic, orange blossom, floral, pear cream nose; rich, creamy textured, pear cream, orange blossom, orange honey palate with some balancing acidity; long finish (16.5% alcohol; unusual blend of aged still muscat and muscat must) 93 points
  • NV Casa Perini Prosecco Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; appealing, clean, pear, apple cream nose; tasty, clean, poised, tart pear, tart apple, orange blossom palate with medium acidity; long finish 91+ points
  • 2009 Perini Quatro Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very dark ruby color; aromatic, ripe black currant, blackberry, vanilla, blackberry syrup nose; tart black currant, dried berry, tart berry, tart apricot palate with near medium acidity; could use 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 10% Tannat, 5% Ancellata; 12% alcohol; 9 months in new French oak) 88 points
  • 2012 Perini Tannat Macaw Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very dark red violet color; tar, reduction, roasted black fruit nose; near medium bodied, tart plum, tar palate with medium acidity; medium finish (11.5% alcohol) 85 points
  • 2014 Casa Perini Solidário Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul
    Dark ruby color; savory, tart red currant, tart plum nose; savory, tart red currant, tart plum palate with near medium acidity; medium finish (12% alcohol; 50/50 Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot) 85+ points
  • NV Vinicula Perini Casa Perini Moscatel Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Pale green-tinged yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; orange blossom, floral, lime cream nose; tasty, orange cream, lime cream, mineral palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (8% alcohol) 88+ points
  • NV Vinicula Perini Moscato Arbo Valle Trentino Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very light yellow color with few, tiny bubbles; aromatic, tart orange cream, peach nose; tart peach, tart lemon palate with medium acidity; medium finish 86 points
  • NV Vinicula Perini Moscato Casa Perini Aquarela Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very light pink color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; ripe raspberry, strawberry, ripe cranberry nose; sweet, creamy textured, strawberry, cream, strawberry yogurt palate with balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (blend of Moscato Branco, Giallo and Muscat de Hamburg; 7.5% alcohol) 87 points
  • 2014 Vinicula Perini Moscato Macaw Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light yellow color; clean, ripe pear, orange blossom, orange cream, pink grapefruit nose; clean, simple, ripe pear, pear syrup, peach palate with balancing acidity; short finish (11% alcohol) 85+ points

Peterlongo

    20151202_174448riddling room in vast cellar at Peterlongo

    Manuel Peterlongo, an engineer who came to Rio Grande do Sul from Trentino in 1887, developed an obsessive devotion to the goal of creating something to equal Champagne in Brazil. He was introduced to Champagne by a priest who had been brought from France to make sparkling wine locally. Eventually Manuel visited Champagne. His first effort was a methode traditionelle sparkler made from Muscat, in 1913. In 1915, he founded the winery, and by 1924, the year he died, he’d finished supervising the building of a massive production and cellaring facility out of basalt bricks in the city of Garibaldi. He designed it to have a wind tunnel that not only helped keep the bottles cold but allowed them to disgorge bottles without special equipment. His son Armando took over from his father and continued the singular mission of producing both what they labeled as “Champagne” and “Prosecco” until 1965, when the winery was sold shortly before Armando’s death. The quality of production then declined until the current owners, Luiz Carlos Sella and Adilson Luiz Bohatczuk, took over in 2002.

    The new winemaker is Daisy Tempass, who previously worked with Monica Rossetti. The winery owns 23 hectares of grapes, but they buy most of what they need to produce two lines of sparkling wine–one that is aged 18 months en tirage and the other 36 months. They also produce 100,000 liters of charmat methode sparkling, mainly moscatel. I was impressed by both lines of methode traditionelle wines–which they are allowed by treaty to sell in Brazil only, due to long historical use, as “Champagne.” Best of all were the Elegance Brut and Prosecco Brut, both 91+ points. (Separately, by treaty with Italy, producers who have long made “Prosecco” from the Glera grape in Brazil and Australia are allowed to sell it in their domestic markets only as “Prosecco.” For export, it has to be called “Glera.”)

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  • NV Peterlongo Elegance Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light lemon yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; very autolytic, hazelnut, tart pear, brioche nose; delicious, autolytic, brioche, almond, tart pear palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir; 36 months en tirage; 9 grams dosage inc’d 20-year-old brandy) 91+ points
  • NV Peterlongo Presence Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; autolytic, almond, pear, light brioche nose; tasty, tart apple, tart pear, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir; 8.5 grams dosage; 18 months tirage) 89 points
  • NV Peterlongo Presence Extra Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light golden color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; lightly autolytic, pear, apple nose; tasty, poised, tart apple, white pear, mineral palate with steely medium-plus acidity; medium-plus finish (80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir; 4 grams dosage, 18 months en tirage) 90+ points
  • NV Peterlongo Privilege Rosé Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light medium pink orange color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; blood orange, pink grapefruit nose; tart pink grapefruit, lemon, tart golden raspberry palate with intense medium acidity; medium-plus finish (100% Pinot Noir; charmat method, 3-4 months on lees; bottled in March) 88+ points
  • NV Peterlongo Prosecco Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very light yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; chalk, tart apple nose; tasty, bright, characterful, tart pear, ripe apple, mineral palate with vibrant medium acidity; medium-plus finish (reminiscent of Prosecco; 9 grams dosage) 91+ points

Pizzato

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    Flavio Pizzato in the vineyard top, Plinio Pizzato’s home in the vineyards below

    The Pizzato family were grape growers until 1999, when they started the winery. Father Plinio Pizzato was the biggest grower of vitis vinifera in Vale dos Vinhedos, selling to Chandon Brazil and other labels. From 1985 to 1986, he was also the first to install VSP trellising. Son Flavio is the charming and philosophical winemaker. The Pizzatos are most famous for their well reviewed Merlots, but they make an astonishing variety of wines–from sparkling to Chardonnay to plush reds, using unusual varieties like Egiodola and Alicante Bouschet. Their 2000 Merlot was named the best Brazilian wine by a Brazilian magazine, quickly turning it into Brazil’s first cult wine.

    They produce about 250,000 bottles a year, 40% of which is sparkling. They own 26 hectares of vines in Vale dos Vinhedos, and have a second label, Fausto, based on grapes from the Fausto vineyard that lies 50 kilometers north. That label, launched in 2005, is primarily aimed at supermarkets. Flavio says he was inspired by Miolo, which he credits for having moved Brazil from very pedestrian wines to more internationally styled wines. He is an electrical engineer by education, but got practical experience making wine in Argentina.

    My favorite of the wines I tasted is the famous DNA 99 single vineyard Merlot (94 points). The Legno Chardonnay is also terrific, and the Brazil Wine Guide ranked it as the top white wine (93+ points). An Alicante Bouschet Reserva was also very good (92+ points).
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  • 2009 Pizzato Alicante Bouschet Reserva Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Very dark ruby color; very aromatic, sweet berry, smoke, herbal, clove, dried blueberry nose; medium bodied, clove, dried blueberry, dried berry, blackberry, papaya palate; long finish (13% alcohol; 11 months in French oak, 1st & 2nd use) 92+ points
  • 2014 Pizzato Brut Champenoise Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Light yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; ripe pear, apricot, ripe quince nose; medium-plus bodied, creamy textured, pear sauce, apple cream palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (87% Chardonnay, 13% Pinot Noir; 12% alcohol) 88+ points
  • 2014 Pizzato Brut Champenoise Rosé Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Light medium orange color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; fresh, tangerine, orange melon nose; medium bodied, creamy textured, tangerine, ripe orange plate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (82% Pinot Noir, 18% Chardonnay; 9 months sur lees; 12% alcohol; 8.5 RS) 88 points
  • 2013 Pizzato Cabernet Sauvignon Fausto Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Very dark red violet color; savory, smoke, roast black plum nose; savory, smoke, roast black plum palate with medium acidity; medium finish (13% alcohol; 8 months in used American oak) 86 points
  • 2012 Pizzato Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Pizzato Vineyards Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Opaque black red violet color; aromatic, black currant, clove, milk chocolate nose; tight, creamy textured, tart black currant, mocha, bittersweet chocolate palate; needs 2 years and should go 10+; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol; 11 months in American oak, 1st & 2nd use) 91+ points
  • 2014 Pizzato Chardonnay Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Slightly hazy light yellow color; aromatic, fresh, lemon cream, light vanilla nose; tasty, fresh, medium bodied, tart lemon cream, mineral, lightly saline palate with crisp medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13% alcohol) 91 points
  • 2015 Pizzato Chardonnay Fausto Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light, hazy, green-tinged yellow color; aromatic, fresh, ripe pineapple, passion fruit nose; medium bodied, citrus palate with near medium acidity; medium finish 87+ points
  • 2014 Pizzato Chardonnay Legno Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Light medium lemon yellow color; aromatic, appealing, white jasmine, lemon cream, almond nose; medium bodied, luscious, almond, lemon cream, mineral, lightly saline palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus acidity; medium-plus finish (13% alcohol) 93+ points
  • 2010 Pizzato Concentus Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Saturated very dark red violet color; aromatic, savory, milk chocolate, black currant, blackberry nose; tight, blackberry, black currant, smoke palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (70% Merlot, 15% Tannat, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon; 13.5% alcohol; 12 months in French and American oak, 1st & 2nd use) 90+ points
  • 2010 Pizzato Egiodola Reserva Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Opaque black red violet color; tar, ash, black fig, roast black fruit nose; intriguing, reduction, tart roast black fruit, tar palate; medium acidity; long finish (13% alcohol) 89 points
  • NV Pizzato Fausto Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light lemon yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; pear cream, apple cream nose; flavorful, fresh, nectarine, orange cream soda palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (12% alcohol; 93% Chardonnay, 7% Pinot Noir; 8.5R RS) 88 points
  • 2012 Pizzato Fausto Verve Gran Reserva Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very dark ruby color; aromatic, chocolate, ripe black fruit nose; medium bodied, dark chocolate, black currant palate with some balancing acidity; could use 1-2 years and should go 8-10 years; medium-plus finish (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 20% Tannat; 100% new oak) 90+ points
  • 2011 Pizzato Merlot DNA 99 Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Saturated very dark red violet color; savory, dried herb, tobacco, tart black currant, mocha nose; velvety textured, black currant, black fruit, mocha palate with acid lift; long finish (reminiscent of Masseto) 94 points
  • 2013 Pizzato Merlot Fausto Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Medium dark red violet color; aromatic, ripe plum, berry jam, ripe boysenberry nose; tight, black fruit, berry palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13% alcohol) 87 points
  • 2015 Pizzato Merlot Fausto Rosé Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light medium orange tinged pink color; aromatic, fresh, orange cream, raspberry, ripe papaya, strawberry yoghurt nose; tasty, fresh, juicy, papaya, tart orange cream palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (12.5% alcohol; pH 3.32) 91 points
  • NV Pizzato Merlot Fausto Rosé Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Medium pink color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; savory, tart plum, cinnamon nose; creamy textured, apricot, raspberry palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (60% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, 10% Merlot; 12% alcohol) 87 points
  • 2012 Pizzato Merlot Reserva Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Very dark red violet color; aromatic, savory, roasted black fruit, smoke, charcoal, tarragon nose; medium bodied, tart roasted plum, tart black currant palate with medium acidity; could used 1-2 years and should go 8-10 years; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol; 11 months in French oak, 1st & 2nd use) 91 points
  • 2012 Pizzato Merlot Reserva Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    From 375 ml – very dark red violet color; aromatic, black fruit, black currant, roast coffee, Valrhona chocolate nose; tasty, black fruit, black currant, roast coffee, Valrhona chocolate palate with a sense of salinity and good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 92 points
  • 2013 Pizzato Tannat Fausto Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Very dark red violet color; savory, smoke, roasted black fruit, pepper, charcoal nose; tasty, fresh, savory, smoke, roasted black fruit, pepper, charcoal palate; could use 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (13% alcohol) 88 points
  • 2010 Pizzato Tannat Reserva Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Very dark ruby color; savory, roasted black fruit, smoke charcoal, chocolate nose; savory, roasted black fruit, smoke, charcoal, chocolate, reduction palate with near medium acidity; needs 2-3 years and should go 8-10; medium-plus finish (13% alcohol; 11 months in French oak, 1st & 2nd use) 89 points
  • 2013 Pizzato Vertigo Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Hazy, light lemon yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; autolytic, almond, mango nose; creamy textured, pear cream, almond palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir; 12% alcohol) 89 points

Salton

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    Salton is the third of Brazil’s big three wineries. The company was founded in 1910, and they started producing sparkling wines in 1933. In 2005, they became the leading producer of sparkling wine, with 38 to 40% of Brazil’s sparkling wine market. They make primarily charmat, but also a small percentage of methode traditionelle. They have almost 20 different labels. They launched their Classic line in 1990, and now virtually every store and restaurant in the country carries it. Half the wine purchased in Brazil is theirs. They launched the Talento line in 2004.

    Salton grows about 10% of the grapes they require, buying the rest from 500 families. They currently export to 20 countries. Their main markets in the U.S. are New York, Florida, Texas, Maryland and Illinois (i.e., states with large populations of Brazilians). My favorite of the wines we tried were a delicious 100 year old brandy created to commemorate the company’s 2010 centenary (93+ points), the Chardonnay Virtude bottling (91+ points) and a lovely Pinot-based sparkling wine, Lucia Canae (91 points).

    The 2011 Salton Reserva Especial Tannat and 2013 Reserva Especial Cabernet Sauvignon are available at a few U.S. retailers, for an average of $16 and $14 respectively. The 2013 Salton Intenso Tannat (RJ88 points) is also available in the U.S. for an average of $16. The 2009 Salto Talento Tinto can be found at a couple retailers for an average of $30. And the NV Salton Flowers Demi-Sec White is the most widely available of their wines in the U.S., for an average of $12.
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  • NV Salton 100 anos Brandy Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Medium amber gold color with .5 millimeter clear meniscus; aromatic, orange cream, honey cream, vanilla nose; creamy textured, mellow, almond cream, butter cream palate; long finish (35% alcohol) 93+ points
  • 2014 Salton Chardonnay Virtude Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Campanha
    Light yellow color; aromatic, lime, floral, pear nose; creamy textured, pear cream, white jasmine, lime palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (6 months with battonage in 100% new oak) 91+ points
  • 2011 Salton Gerações Paulo Salton Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Dark red violet color; lifted, black cherry, roasted cherry, roasted beets nose; characterful, black cherry, roasted cherry, roasted beets palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Malbec, 20% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc) 90+ points
  • NV Salton Intenso Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Very light yellow color with a storm of speedy, tiny bubbles; lime cream, green melon, orange blossom, white jasmine nose; tasty, creamy textured, lime cream, mineral palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (70% Chardonnay, 30% Riesling Italico) 89 points
  • 2012 Salton Marselan paradoxo Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Campanha
    Nearly opaque red violet color; fresh, savory, smoked berry, roasted berry nose; light-medium bodied, savory, tart roasted berry, tart raspberry syrup palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (no oak) 88+ points
  • 2011 Salton Merlot Desejo Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Dark red violet color; savory, roasted black fruit, black currant, smoke nose; tasty, savory, tart black currant, beet juice, light smoke palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (12 months in 100% new oak, 50% American, 50% French) 90 points
  • NV Salton Moscatel Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very light yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; almond, green melon, light lime cream nose; creamy textured, rounded, orange cream, lime cream, almond palate; medium-plus finish (7.5% alcohol) 90 points
  • NV Salton Pinot Noir Lucia Canae Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very light pink color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; appealing, fresh, strawberry, raspberry, strawberry jam nose; tasty, medium bodied, creamy textured, raspberry, tart strawberry, dried strawberry, white chocolate palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (100% Pinot Noir; 8 grams dosage) 91 points
  • 2014 Salton Pinot Noir paradoxo Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Campanha
    Medium dark cherry red color; black cherry, blackberry nose; black cherry, berry palate with balancing acidity needing oak integration; medium-plus finish (13..5% alcohol; 6-8 months in oak, 100% new) 87+ points
  • NV Salton Poética Brut Rosé Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Very light orange pink color with abundant, speedy, small bubbles; golden raspberry, golden currant cream nose; juicy, orange cream, golden raspberry, golden currant cream palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay; 11.5% alcohol) 88 points
  • 2015 Salton Prosecco Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Very light yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; appealing, fresh, lime nose; tasty, fresh, tart citrus, mineral, chalk palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (100% Glera) 88+ points
  • NV Salton Reserva Ouro Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light yellow color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; lightly autolytic, almond, floral, green almond nose; fresh, creamy textured, almond cream, lime cream, mineral palate with good balancing acidity; medium finish (70% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir, 10% Riesling Italico; 12 months lees contact, charmat method) 90 points
  • 2013 Salton Tannat Intenso Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Campanha, Fronteira
    Very dark red violet color; aromatic, blueberry, ripe berry nose; creamy textured, blueberry, ripe berry, blueberry cream palate; medium-plus finish 88 points
  • 2012 Salton Teroldego Intenso Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Nearly opaque red violet color; intriguing, savory, roasted beets, smoke, balsamic nose; tasty, roasted beets, balsamic, smoke palate with bright medium acidity; medium-plus finish (good pairing with a variety of veggie dishes and red meats) 90+ points

Valduga

  • NV Casa Valduga 130 Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Very light yellow color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; autolytic, almond, tart pear nose; poised, creamy textured, pear, almond, palate with some balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (11 months en tirage) 88+ points
  • 2012 Casa Valduga Arinarnoa Identidade Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra do Sudeste
    Very dark ruby color; tart red currant, dried cranberry, tar nose; tart red berry, tart red currant palate with medium-plus acidity; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol) 89 points
  • 2014 Casa Valduga Arte Tradicional Brut Rose Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Light pink orange color with abundant, speedy, tiny bubbles; aromatic, orange, tangerine, orange sherbet nose; creamy textured, fruit, orange sherbet, tangerine palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (50/50 Chardonnay & Pinot Noir; 12% alcohol; 12 months on lees) 86 points
  • 2010 Casa Valduga Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva Villa-Lobos Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos Very dark ruby color; reduction, roasted beets, plum, spice, cranberry sauce nose; medium bodied, spice, cranberry, spice, ripe damask plum palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol) 87 points
  • 2013 Casa Valduga Espumante Arte Brut Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Vale dos Vinhedos
    Light yellow color with abundant, steady, small bubbles; autotlytic, apple cream, pear nose; medium bodied, pear, almond alate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (25 months on lees; 9 grams dosage) 85+ points
  • 2012 Casa Valduga Gran Raízes Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Campanha
    Very dark ruby color; reduction, smoke, red currant, tart beets nose; medium bodied, tight, tart red currant, red berry palate with medium acidity; could use 1-2 years and should go 5-7; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol; blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon & Tannat; 12 months in new French oak) 86+ points
  • 2012 Casa Valduga Marselan Identidade Serra do Sudeste Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul
    Medium dark ruby color; savory, roasted beets, salumi, smoky nose; smoky, savory, roasted beets, salumi palate with good, balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol; 8 months in French oak) 87 points
  • 2012 Casa Valduga Reserva Blush Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha
    Light salmon color with abundant, steady, tiny bubbles; autolytic, chalk, tangerine nose; medium bodied, orange, tangerine palate with near medium acidity and sweet tannins with noticeable dosage; medium-plus finish (25 months on lees; 10 grams dosage) 85+ points
  • 2015 Casa Valduga Sauvignon Blanc Premium Raízes Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Campanha
    Very light green-tinged yellow color; aromatic, ripe grapefruit, pear syrup, menthol nose; fresh, ripe grapefruit, pear nectar palate with some balancing acidity; medium finish (12% alcohol) 86 points

Valmarino

  • 2013 Valmarino Tannat Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, Serra Gaúcha, Pinto Bandeira
    Opaque red violet color; savory, roast veggies, chocolate, light smoke nose; tasty, medium bodied, chocolate, roast ripe black fruit with good balancing acidity and fine, sweet tannins; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 91+ points

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Surprising Wine Values at Whole Foods

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A lot of people I know refer to Whole Foods as “Whole Wallet” because of its relatively high prices on produce and other food items. I shop there regularly for health supplements and specialty foods I can’t find elsewhere. I am finding, though, that their wine department, stocked with many relatively obscure organic and sustainably grown wines sourced by their buyers from around the world, does contain some relative bargains.

When Whole Foods–the 30th largest retailer in the U.S., with over 400 stores around the country, as well as in Canada and the U.K.–recently offered to send me their “Summer Top 10 Wines,” currently on sale and highlighted with large display posters at local stores, I said I would be happy to receive and evaluate them. What arrived was a diverse group of wines–four whites, five reds and one sparkler–from literally all over the globe. A few came from producers I am very familiar with, but most are from makers I’ve never heard of. The price range runs from $7 to $20.

After tasting through this collection, which I scored from 86 to 91 points, I decided to apply a new QPR algorithm I’ve been working on for awhile. I’m calling it the RJ Quadruple P Scale, which stands for Price Per Premium Point. I started developing it a couple of years ago to try to evaluate large numbers of Champagnes and Bordeaux I had rated, to help me make recommendations that took into account both the price tags and my scores. I used the latest iteration of this scale to help me identify the best relative values amongst the over 200 grocery store Chardonnays I reported on here recently. I was hoping to come up with a very elegant formula that others could easily use to plug in a price point, but that goal has so far eluded me.

The very simplest form of evaluating point scores by price is to divide the price by the point score. Such a simple ratio, however, fails to make vital distinctions between significantly better wines–e.g., between those scoring, say, 87 points and those at the 92 or 93 point level.

Instead, what I’ve found most useful to date is a spreadsheet of values for point scores from 70-100, using a sliding scale of values based on the fact that premium points–points above a score of 90, and again above scores of 93 and 95–are reflected by the market in the form of dramatically increasing prices.

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My current scale is still very much a working model, and I am open to suggestions for improving it. I’ve tried to base the values and increments between the values on a rough notion of the market value of wines at various point scores. I’ve aimed for a PPPP averaging $2 as representing a reasonable price for wine at different price points. For example, a price of $22 is not unreasonable for a wine rated 90 points, so I’ve assigned a value of 11 to a 90-point score, yielding a price per premium point of $2 for a wine priced at $22. For wines of much lower quality, where the incremental price difference between a wine scoring, say, 81 points and 83 points is not that significant, the steps per half rating point are only .2. For very highly rated wines, the increments between half rating points go up dramatically starting at the 92 point level, so that is reflected in the value per point.

Once I score a wine and then go to my spreadsheet for the value for that score, I then divide whatever the market price is for the wine by its value. That yields the Price Per Premium Point or PPPP score. As you’ll see from the spreadsheet below, a 93-point wine gets a value of 18, so a wine with that score priced at $36 ends up with a PPP of $2. A wine scoring 96 points has a value of 40, so a wine costing $80 would also have a PPPP of $2. At the low end of the scale, a wine rated 82+ points would have a value of 1.6, so to get a PPPP of $2, it would have to be priced no more than $3.20.

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In the case of the Whole Foods Summer Top 10, the #1 wine after I apply the PPPP scale is a tasty, varietally correct New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, with bright balancing acidity and complex flavors. It would be a refreshing accompaniment to a variety of summer fare, especially seafood and white cheeses, and at a price of only $12, and therefore a PPPP of only $1.09, it represents a very significant value.

My #2 wine on this list is a $7 Tempranillo from Spain’s Castilla-La Mancha region, which resembles a decent Rioja with some bottle age on it. Its 87-point score at that price point results in a PPPP of $1.27. This would be a very drinkable and affordable pairing for everything from grilled veggies to lighter meats.

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My third place wine on this list is a decent Vinho Verde from an importer I have gotten to know well over the years, from having been on panels and at tasting dinners with him. Bartholomew Broadbent knows how to source good quality, well priced wine. Vinho Verde is a perfect summer wine for its bright citrus flavors and vibrant acidity. This one is priced at $9–which is reasonable for a Vinho Verde, although there are many others that generally run under $15. It will serve well as an aperitif or with salads and light cheeses of all kinds, as well as lighter seafood dishes.

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Number four gets my highest rating–91 points–and also has an excellent PPPP of $1.31. It’s a flavorful old vine Zin with good balancing acidity–Valravn. This is a small project by the owners of Banshee Wines, based on dry-farmed bush vines ranging from 50 to over 100 years old. I’ve seen this wine priced elsewhere at $20, which is still a good price, but Whole Foods currently has it for only $17. This is a wine that should age well for at least five years, so would not only complement this summer’s barbecues and grilled meats, but could be lovely to open in cooler months over the coming years as well.

The Chardonnay on the list–Andover Estate Arroyo Seco–comes in fifth for me based on its 89-point rating and excellent price, for good California Chardonnay, of $13. Whole Foods claims to have bought the entire production of this wine, so you’re not going to find it elsewhere. It will be a crowd pleaser, and a versatile wine to pair with summer afternoons by the pool and a host of summer foods.

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The next two slots on my ranking go to wines that also have very good PPPP scores, well below $2: a very good Bandol Rosé from Bieler Père et Fils, and a varietally true Pinot Noir with good acidity from Macedonia. The former, at $20, is the highest priced wine of this list, but that’s still a great price for a Bandol Rosé, since dry pink wines from this popular region have climbed to an average of over $30, and as much as $50 to $60 for some sought after producers. Whole Foods claimed that it bought the entire production of this tasty Rosé, so you won’t find it elsewhere. The Pinot, on the other hand, is a bargain at $11, a very tough price point for a drinkable Pinot Noir, let alone one with good flavor and acidity like this one from Stobi Winery in Macedonia.

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There’s also a Cabernet on this Whole Foods list that represents a good value at a PPPP of exactly $2. Priced at only $8, this Chilean Cab from Autoritas has good varietal character and food friendly acidity. It compares favorably to low priced Cabernets that I have tasted for my Grocery Store Cabernet Project, the results of which will soon appear here.

The last two slots are weaker values based on my PPPP scale, both coming in at a PPPP of $3.25. But those who value convenience and portability in their sparkling wines might well find a lot of appeal in the 187 millimeter pop top can of bubbly from Prosecco producer Presto. Reportedly this is actually fizz that could have been bottled as Prosecco, but that, in a canned format, doesn’t meet the DOC regulations for Prosecco packaging. As a tasty and refreshing addition to a picnic, however, it’s hard to complain about the $13 price tag on this easy to carry and open sparkler.

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The wine I rank number 10 seems like less of a bargain at $13, given the quantity of similarly priced Italian Sangiovese based wines showing less oak and reduction than this red blend from Capezzana.

All in all, I applaud Whole Foods for this diverse summer line up and the relatively bargain prices overall. Here’s to a fun summer full of food friendly, balanced wines that don’t burn a hole in our wallets.

Here’s a link to the spreadsheet displaying my PPPP scale: RJ PPPP scale for blog And I appreciate the work done by Robert Dwyer, The Wellesley Wine Press, in working toward a useful QPR tool: http://www.wellesleywinepress.com/2009/05/modeling-value-introducing-wwpqpr.html

For my complete tasting notes, scoring and pricing on each of these wines, see below:


Whole Foods Summer Top 10

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  • #1 – 2015 Oya Pointe Sauvignon Blanc New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough
    Very light yellow color; pyrazine, cat pee, tart grapefruit nose; juicy, tart grapefruit, light smoke, light green herb palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13% alcohol) 90 points $12.00 PPPP:$1.09
  • # 2 – 2011 Globerati Tempranillo Vino de la Tierra de Castilla Spain, Castilla-La Mancha, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla
    Black-tinged dark red violet color; coconut, vanilla, plum, berry syrup nose; plum, berry syrup, coconut palate with some balancing acidity and good varietal character; medium finish (13% alcohol) 87 points $7.00 PPPP:$1.27
  • # 3 – NV Broadbent Vinho Verde Portugal, Minho, Vinho Verde
    Light yellow color; lime, citrus, chalk nose; tart citrus, green apple, chalk, saline palate with refreshing medium acidity; medium-plus finish (9% alcohol; good summer sipper for $9) 88+ points $9.00 PPPP:$1.29
  • #4 – 2014 Valravn Zinfandel Old Vine California, Sonoma County
    Very dark ruby color; reduction, briary, raisin, tart berry, spice nose; juicy, briary, berry, cherry, red plum, spice palate with balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (14.7% alcohol; good old vine Zin character for $17) 91 points $17.00 PPPP:$1.31
  • #5 – 2014 Andover Estate Chardonnay Arroyo Seco California, Central Coast, Arroyo Seco
    Light lemon yellow color; lemon curd, almond, pear nose; creamy textured, savory, almond, pear palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 89 points $13.00 PPPP:$1.44
  • #6 – 2015 Bieler Père et Fils Bandol Réserve Rosé France, Provence, Bandol
    Light orange pink color; savory, tart cantaloupe, tart strawberry nose; tasty, tart strawberry, cranberry, tart cantaloupe palate with refreshing medium acidity; medium-plus finish (50% Mourvedre, 40% Grenache, 6% Cinsault, 4% Syrah; 13.9% alcohol) 91 points $20.00 PPPP:$1.54
  • #7 – 2015 Stobi Winery Pinot Noir Macedon Macedonia, Povardarie, Tikves
    Medium dark ruby color; cherry, raspberry puree, black cherry nose; juicy, light-medium bodied, cherry, black cherry, berry syrup, raspberry puree palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 88 points $11.00 PPPP:$1.57
  • #8 – 2015 Luis Felipe Edwards Cabernet Sauvignon Autoritas Chile, Central Valley
    Saturated, very dark black-tinged red violet color; savory, tart red currant, green olive, cedar nose; juicy, red currant, green olive, cedar palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 86+ points $8.00 PPPP:$2.00
  • #9 – NV Presto Sparkling Cuvée Vino Frizzante Italy
    From 167 ml can – Light yellow color with abundant, speedy, small bubbles; ripe pear, banana, apple nose tart pear, apple palate with balancing acidity; medium finish (11% alcohol; reportedly this is Prosecco, but Presto can’t market it as such because DOC rules require Prosecco to be bottled) 86 points $13.00 PPPP:$3.25
  • #10 – 2012 Capezzana Barco Reale di Carmignano Italy, Tuscany, Barco Reale di Carmignano
    Very dark black-tinged red violet color; reduction, red currant, cranberry, coconut oil nose; juicy, red currant, cranberry palate with medium acidity; medium finish (blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon & Canaiolo; 13.5% alcohol) 86 points $13.00 PPPP:$3.25
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    Chianti Classico: Characterful Wines at Value Prices

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    Tuscan olive grove surrounded by vines at Castello di Ama

    This post highlights characterful wines from a fabled part of the world long known for its natural beauty, fabulous food and great wines. I’m talking about Tuscany, in the heart of Central Italy.

    Brunello and so-called Super Tuscans from this part of Italy are world class but typically very pricey. There is, however, another appellation producing remarkable wines here that just don’t receive the same respect or command equivalent prices. In some cases, a producer whose well known Super Tuscans garner high scores makes other wines from the identical vineyards that are a much harder sell.

    I’m talking about Chianti Classico. In this hilly, heavily forested region you can find screaming good deals like:

    • 90 point 2012 Castello di Gabbiano for only $13
    • 91+ point 2012 Luano averaging $17 U.S. retail
    • 92+ point 2012 Badia a Coltibuono at $20

    What I love about Chianti, besides the value prices, are the reliably high acidities, tart red fruit, and savory elements, suggestive of herbs like tarragon, and aromas reminiscent of a forest hike. These characteristics, when combined with food typical of the region–rich pastas, tomato based sauces and braised meats–create unbeatable pairings.

    These are not wines for sipping on their own. In Italian culture, wine is for enjoying with and as a complement to food, and that’s where Chianti Classico really excels. For me, these wines truly represent the soul of Tuscany, reminding me of walks in its olive groves and memorable meals in which the wine and food combine to create sublime moments of true satisfaction.

    So having traveled to Chianti Classico as a guest of the Consorzio in the fall of 2014, visiting some of my favorite producers there, continuing to check in on new releases, and hosting meals featuring older examples since then, I’ve compiled a list of 150 wines from 51 producers below. With a few exceptions, most of these producers’ wines are currently available in the U.S., and many represent significant bargains.

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    modern version of a fiasco bottling

    But first, what the heck is “Chianti Classico”? We’ve all heard of Chianti, and many of us associate it with the iconic, straw covered, bulbous bottles called “fiascos” that so many people used as romantic looking candle holders throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. Is the Classico suffix just an Italian marketing gimmick, à la “Classic Coke”?

    History

    Tuscany is blessed not only with stunning scenery, classic architecture and fabulous food, it also has a long winemaking tradition, based primarily on the Sangiovese grape. It is home to such important wine regions as Brunello di Montalcino in the south; Montepulciano in the southeast; and the very large Chianti appellation running from northwest of Florence and east toward Pisa, all the way down to just south of Siena.

    Chianti Classico claims to be the oldest officially demarcated wine growing zone in the world, its original boundaries having been set forth by Tuscany’s Grand Duke Cosimo III in 1716, exactly 300 years ago this year. At that time it included the townships of Radda, Gaiole and Castellina and part of the township of Greve.

    A “recipe” for traditional Chianti is attributed to one-time Italian prime minister Baron Bettino Ricasoli. In an 1872 letter, he summarized years of experimentation with wines at his estate located at the southern end of Chianti Classico. His letter recommended that wines of Chianti be based on Sangiovese, for “bouquet and vigor,” with a portion of Canaiolo for softening.

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    view from Castello di Brolio, former home of Baron Bettino Ricasoli

    It took awhile for other producers in this region to switch over to finicky, thin-skinned Sangiovese as the base for their wines, as many had long used primarily Canaiolo, along with a mix of other grapes, including neutral white grapes like Trebbiano. It eventually became standard to blend 70% or more Sangiovese with other grapes, including white grapes. This “formula,” misattributed to Baron Ricasoli, became enshrined in the 1967 DOC regulations for Chianti.

    The wines resulting from inclusion of such a high proportion of neutral white grapes resulted in lighter bodied, thin, high acid wines that were okay with food but that did not age very well.

    Over time, producers throughout much of Tuscany began to create wines in the same style that they called Chianti. In 1924, the Consortium for the Protection of Chianti wine was created. It adopted the logo of the black rooster which continues to be used on Chianti Classico wines today.

    The original boundaries of Chianti were officially expanded in 1932, incorporating lots of areas, including low lying valleys, far from the original four townships. By ministerial decree, the word “Classico” was added to distinguish the original region, encompassing roughly the same area as that established by the decree of 1716.

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    neck of a bottle of Chianti Classico sporting the black rooster emblem

    The 1932 boundaries were incorporated in the denominacion of origin (DOC) regulations of 1966, which permit eight areas of Tuscany to call their wines Chianti. But only the heartland area that traces its roots back to 1716 can use the term Chianti Classico and the black rooster logo.

    Chianti Classico Today

    Through the 1970s and ‘80s, the regulations requiring inclusion of white grapes led many top producers not to use the DOC for their great wines made with 100% Sangiovese, or Sangiovese along with other red grapes. Fortunately, those regulations, after being amended several times, today no longer permit the inclusion of white grapes.

    Chianti Classico can now be 100% Sangiovese, but must contain a minimum of 80%, with other red varieties grown in the region allowed up to a maximum of 20%. Those red grapes include varieties native to the region, like Canaiolo and Colorino, as well as international varieties–e.g., Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot–authorized for the production zone.

    There are now 580 members of the Chianti Classico Consorzio, of which 376 produce and bottle their own wines. About 7,000 hectares are currently registered for the production of Chianti Classico.

    Up until 2014, there were two types of Chianti Classico–Normale, also known as Annata, and Riserva. Riserva wines–amounting to a little over 20% of production–are required to have been aged for at least 24 months before release.

    In 2014, the category of Gran Selezione was added to create a top tier for the appellation, and as an effort to attract the Sangiovese-based Super Tuscan wines from the region to start using the Chianti Classico DOCG.

    There is still some controversy about the new category. Fabrizio Bianchi, patrician proprietor of Castello di Monsanto, for example, told me he was “not sure what it means.” Nonetheless, it caught on quickly with a lot of producers, expanding from only 20 Gran Selezione wines at the beginning of 2014 to over 120 after three months, according to Consorzio Marketing Director Davide Gaeta.

    To be permitted to label a wine Gran Selezione, an application has to be made and the wine has to be assessed by a tasting committee. It also has to be produced from grapes from a single vineyard or estate, and must have been aged at least 30 months.

    I sampled a lot of Gran Selezione wines during my trip to Tuscany, as well as on my return. While there are some admirable wines in this category, there are also many internationally styled, heavily extracted wines with this labeling that are not particularly food friendly and that really don’t speak of the appellation to me. Hopefully Gran Selezione will develop a more identifiable style over time, so consumers have a better idea what they are getting, other than simply the priciest Chianti Classico.

    Recommended Wines

    My notes on 150 wines below include the average retail price for wines listed as being available in the U.S. according to Wine-Searcher.com, the most complete online database for that information. Often one can find these wines for considerably less than the Wine-Searcher average. For example, I recently spotted the 90+ point 2012 Nozzole Riserva selling for $15 at Costco and snagged the first wine on my top ten, Castello di Gabbiano, for slightly less than $13 at Lucky.

    I tasted many more Chianti Classicos in Tuscany that are not currently in the U.S., but have omitted notes on those except for the three I consider the best–Castello di Radda, Le Miccine, and Villa Barberino—in the hopes they soon find distributors here.

    My top 10 values among the wines listed below are:

    1. 2012 Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico – 90 points $13
    2. 2012 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico – 92+ points $20
    3. 2012 Luiano Chianti Classico – 91+ points $17
    4. 2012 Principe Corsini Chianti Classico Le Corti – 92+ points $21
    5. 2012 Castello la Leccia Chianti Classico – 91 points $18
    6. 2012 Poggio Bonelli Chianti Classico – 90+ points $18
    7. 2010 Fontodi Chianti Classico – 94 points $36
    8. 2011 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico – 94 points $37
    9. 2011 Castello d’Albola Chianti Classico – 90 points $17
    10. 2013 Rocca delle Macìe Chianti Classico Famiglia Zingarelli – 89 points $14

    Brief thumbnail summaries of some of the major producers appear below. I also plan to post separately about significant wines made by many of these producers that are not DOCG Chianti Classico. But first, I must highlight two producers from this appellation I consider true artists, whose wines I not only admire greatly–and that are highly reviewed elsewhere too–but that I also personally collect.

    Star Producers

    The following two producers make not only highly regarded Chianti Classicos, but also an array of widely regarded wines that don’t fit the DOC rules. Since they have been so successful, for many years, these producers have a big following both in Italy and abroad. These wines are therefore not bargains like some of the others on the list, although I still consider their basic Chianti Classicos to be a relative value given their quality. These are also wines for fine wine collectors, because they age gloriously.

    Castello di Ama

    Ama is a small, historic “borgo,” essentially a hamlet, that was purchased by four Roman families in 1972. Castello di Ama now amounts to 90 hectares of vines. It won Gambero Rosso’s Guida Vini d’Italia Winery of the Year award in 2005. Winemaker Marco Pallanti, who was Gambero Rosso’s Guida Vini d’Italia Oenologist of the Year in 2003, and who served several years as President of the Consorzio, is truly an artist. And the estate where he lives with wife and Castello di Ama co-owner Lorenza Sebasti Pallanti, is a delightful showcase of art installations, created by artists from around the world who were invited to spend a residency at the estate,

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    Marco Pallanti

    Pallanti, a Tuscan native who received his degree from the University of Bordeaux and worked at Mouton Rothschild, is credited with bringing the open-lyre vine training system to Tuscany. He not only grafted over large amounts of white varieties and Canaiolo to Sangiovese and red varieties, but also greatly increased the density of the plantings, to over 5,000 per hectare. He produced a stunning 100% Merlot, L’Apparita, beginning with the 1985 vintage, a year before the all-Merlot Masseto, which ultimately became one of Tuscany’s highest scoring, and costliest, wines.

    As Pallanti explains it, depending on the vintage, there are up to four bottlings of Chianti Classico from the estate. The Ama comes from young vines, less than 10 years old, and is fruity and fresh, meant for easy drinking. The San Lorenzo is their best vineyard and source of their Gran Selezione. And in top years, they produce two single vineyard bottlings–Vigneto Bellavista and Vigneto La Casuccia. They have made no Riserva since 2009.

    For me, everything Pallanti creates–from his stylish Chianti Classico crus, to one of my favorite rosés in the world, to an unusual old vine Pinot/Sangiovese blend and a marvelous Vin Santo–are wines for contemplation and deep enjoyment. Partaking in a marvelous lunch with Pallanti and his wines, and spending an afternoon listening to him talk about the estate and how some of his wines came about was an unforgettable highlight of my trip.

    Fontodi

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    Giovanni Manetti

    Giovanni Manetti is the affable owner/winemaker here. His father, head of a longtime family tile manufacturing business, purchased 15 hectares of vines in 1968. These vines are located in the spectacular natural amphitheater near the town of Panzano known as the Concha d’Oro, “golden shell.” This acquisition was gradually expanded to comprise 130 hectares, of which 80 are planted to vines. Over 95% of the plantings are Sangiovese, along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and a small amount of Pinot Noir. The estate has been certified organic since 2008.

    Fontodi became famous for the 100% Sangiovese Super Tuscan wine called Flaccionello, first produced in 1981. This wonderful wine, which now qualifies for the Chianti Classico DOCG, but which is still labeled as IGT, was a single vineyard wine until 2000, but is now a selection of best barrels from throughout the estate.

    The Chianti Classico is also 100% Sangiovese that spends about 12 months in French oak. The former Riserva Vigna del Sorbo has now become their Gran Selezione. Although it formerly contained a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon, it is now also 100% Sangiovese. It spends 24 months in French barrels of which 50% are new.

    Manetti makes some other stellar wines–Pinot Noir, Syrah, a Sauvignon Blanc and Vin Santo–in small amounts, but those are very difficult to find in the U.S. When I visited, he also showed us his experimentations with amphora fermentation, without sulfur. The results–which can only be made in small amounts–were spectacular and excitingly fresh. I don’t think those will ever be made in sufficient quantities, however, that we will see them in this country.

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    amphorae at work at Fontodi

    Spending time with Manetti, who has worked for decades with consulting enologist Franco Bernabei, one soon realizes that, although he seems very easygoing on the surface, he is truly a perfectionist, constantly striving to make the best wines possible. Having had a chance not only to taste mature examples of his famous wines, but also some of the very small production bottlings on which he lavishes the same effort and attention, I am a huge fan of Manetti and the Fontodi wines.

    Final Note: Origin of the Black Rooster

    The black rooster seal of the Consorzio Chianti Classico derives from a story dating back to the intermittent warfare between the city states of Florence and Siena in the Middle Ages. According to the story, which is likely apocryphal, the leaders of Florence and Siena decided to bring an end to endless battles over the territorial boundary between the states by establishing the final boundary in what must have sounded like a very equitable manner.

    One knight from each city was to depart at daybreak on a chosen day, when the rooster crowed, riding toward the other city along the one major road between them. Wherever the knights met on the road was to become the final boundary. The Sienese chose a white rooster while the Florentines picked a black one that they then kept confined in the dark without food for several days until it was desperate. As a result, as soon as the black rooster was released, well before dawn, it started crowing, giving the Florentine knight a substantial head start. According to the story, the Florentine ultimately met his Sienese counterpart at Fonterutoli, only 12 kilometers north of Siena. The black rooster therefore celebrates a blatant instance of cheating by which Florence gained most of the territory of Tuscany well before they ultimately defeated Siena itself.

    While the rooster has been a highly visible and effective symbol on DOCG wines for many years, the Consorzio learned a few years ago that the symbol does not necessarily work well in all advertising contexts. They produced a promotional t-shirt featuring the black rooster after the word “I” and a red heart symbol. Upon learning this symbol combination suggested an entirely different meaning in English speaking countries than they intended, the shirt was quickly taken out of circulation.

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    ill-fated promotional T found hidden away on a shelf at Consorzio headquarters

    Tasting Notes on 150 Chianti Classicos from 51 Producers

    Antinori
    I enjoy the great wines of Antinori–Tignanello and Solaia–with some age on them. The Tig was originally produced, starting in 1970, as a Chianti Classico Riserva. Their mass production Chianti Classicos, however, are more extracted and fruit forward than the more savory, traditional style Chianti Classicos I prefer.
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    • 2012 Antinori Chianti Classico Pèppoli $23
      Light medium ruby color; reduction, tart red berry nose; light-medium bodied, red berry, tart cherry palate; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot & Syrah) 89 points
    • 2011 Antinori Chianti Classico Pèppoli $26
      Dark red violet color; intense, lifted, cinnamon stick, candied red berry nose; tight, simple, tart cherry, raspberry, cinnamon palate; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese w/Merlot & Syrah; 13.5% alcohol) 87 points
    • 2011 Antinori Chianti Classico Marchese Antinori Riserva Tenuta Tignanello $38
      Saturated, very dark ruby color; redolent, cherry syrup, black cherry nose; rich, extracted, black cherry syrup, berry syrup palate with lowish acidity; could use 2 years; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol) 89 points
    • 2009 Antinori Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Badia a Passignano $55
      Medium ruby color; lifted, cherry, cedar, dried cherry nose; maturing, cherry, cedar, dried cherry, black cherry puree palate; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese; 14% alcohol; best 20-25 hectares selected from 60 hectare vineyard) 90+ points
    • 2011 Antinori Chianti Classico Villa Antinori Riserva $30
      Medium dark red violet color; tart raspberry, cherry nose; tasty, tart raspberry, cherry, dried cherry palate; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; 10-day maceration; 14% alcohol) 90+ points

    Badia a Coltibuono
    I didn’t get to visit here, but I’ve long enjoyed their excellent wines that are built for aging. Badia a Coltibuono has been a family affair since 1846, when it was purchased, along with Fattoria Selvapiana in Rufina, by banker Michele Giuntini. The current family member in command, Emanuela Stucchi Prinetti, served as president of the Consorzio and led the estate through organic certification. These are wonderful, traditional style Chianti Classicos.

    • 2013 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico $20
      Medium dark red violet color; aromatic, tart red berry, cranberry nose; very tart red berry, tart red currant, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 89 points
    • 2012 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico $20
      Medium ruby color; dried red fruit, cherry nose; tasty, poised, tight, tart cherry, dried berry palate; needs 5-plus years; medium-plus finish 92+ points
    • 2009 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva $34
      Medium ruby color aromatic, floral, dried cherry, roses nose; tasty, tight, tart red berry, tar, juniper berry palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 92 points
    • 1965 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva not available
      Bricked light medium red violet color; aromatic, mature, mushroom, dried cherry, ferrous nose; tasty, mature, mushroom, dried cherry, ferrous, raspberry palate with surprisingly youthful fruit yet; medium-plus finish 93 points
    • 2000 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva not available
      Bricking medium dark ruby color; appealing, licorice, dried cherry, dried mushroom nose; tasty, licorice, dried cherry, dried mushroom, dried berry palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points

    Banfi

    • 2011 Banfi Chianti Classico Riserva $18 Black-tinged dark red violet color; dried red berry, tart red currant, balsamic nose; silky textured, tart red berry, dried red berry, roasted berry palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; 13% alcohol) 88 points

    Barone Ricasoli
    This is the largest wine estate in Chianti Classico, with nearly 240 hectares under vine. The Ricasoli family had retained ownership of the vineyards when Seagrams’s bought rights to the name and began leasing the vineyards in the 1970s. Baron Francesco Ricasoli bought back the commercial rights in 1993 and has been trying to re-establish the once mighty image of the estate ever since. Massive and careful replantings have been undertaken. For me, these are well made wines in a very modern, plush, fruit forward style. These are generally not the kind of food partnering Chianti Classicos I adore.
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    Baron Francesco Ricasoli, whose great great grandfather pointed the way to Sangiovese-dominant Chianti Classico

    • 2012 Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Brolio $20
      Very dark ruby color; tart black fruit, talc, black raspberry nose; rich, tasty, tart berry, black cherry palate with grip and medium acidity; medium-plus finish 89 points
    • 2011 Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Brolio Riserva $33
      Medium dark ruby color; tart red berry, reduction nose; juicy, ripe raspberry, raspberry puree, tart cherry palate; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon) 90 points
    • 2011 Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Castello di Brolio $55
      Medium dark ruby color; aromatic, cherry puree, cedar, vanilla nose; rich, cherry puree, cedar, vanilla, raspberry puree palate; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot) 90 points
    • 2010 Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Castello di Brolio $62
      Saturated dark purple red violet color; mocha, ripe black fruit, blackberry, black currant nose; rich, plush, ripe black currant, ripe blackberry, black cherry palate; needs 3 years; long finish 92+ points
    • 2011 Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Colledila $61
      Medium dark ruby color; ripe red berry, raspberry puree nose; tasty, polished, ripe red berry, raspberry puree palate; could use 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 91 points
    • 2010 Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Colledila $74
      Very dark purple red violet color; aromatic, black raspberry, blackberry tea, ripe berry, mocha nose; rich, tasty, tart blackberry, black currant, blackberry tea palate; long finish (100% Sangiovese) 92 points
    • 2011 Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Riserva Rocca Guicciarda not available
      Very dark ruby color; aromatic, tart black plum, black cherry, black raspberry, black currant syrup, toast nose; tasty, rich, black cherry, black raspberry, blackberry tea palate; approachable now; medium-plus finish (Sangiovese with Merlot & Cabernet Sauvignon) 90 points

    Bibbiano

    • 2013 Bibbiano Chianti Classico $20
      Medium red violet color; aromatic, tart red berry nose; tart red berry palate with near medium acidity; needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (97% Sangiovese, 3% Colorino) 88 points
    • 2012 Bibbiano Chianti Classico Riserva Montornello $20
      Medium ruby color; tart red berry, red currant nose; tart red berry, red currant, reduction palate; needs 3-4 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 88+ points
    • 2011 Bibbiano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna del Capannino $34
      Medium red violet color; aromatic, tart cherry, red berry nose; silky textured, tart cherry, red berry palate with medium acidity; needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese Grosso) 89+ points

    Brancaia

    • 2011 Brancaia Chianti Classico Riserva $33
      Dark red violet color; milk chocolate, baked black fruit nose; rich, medium bodied, milk chocolate, baked black fruit palate; could use 1 year; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot) 88+ points
    • 2012 Brancaia Chianti Classico Riserva $40
      Dark red violet color; savory, tart red berry, cranberry nose; tasty, poised, tart red berry, tart cherry, herbs palate with integrating oak and good balancing acidity; needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot; 16 months in French oak) 91+ points

    Canonica a Cerreto

    • 2010 Canonica a Cerreto Chianti Classico $19
      Dark red violet color; reduction, tart berry, black cherry nose; tasty, medium bodied, tart berry, balsamic, black cherry palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot; 12 months in barrique; 14% alcohol) 88+ points

    Casa Emma

    • 2013 Casa Emma Chianti Classico $21
      Medium dark ruby color; tart red berry nose; tart red berry, cranberry palate; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo, 5% Malvasia Nera) 88 points
    • 2011 Casa Emma Chianti Classico Riserva not available
      Medium dark ruby color; baked berry, blackberry nose; rich, baked berry, blackberry palate; medium-plus finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Malvasia Nera) 90 points
    • 2010 Casa Emma Chianti Classico Gran Selezione not available
      Medium dark ruby color; vanilla, ripe cherry, ripe berry nose; rich, vanilla, ripe cherry, ripe berry palate; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 91+ points

    Casaloste

    • 2010 Casaloste Chianti Classico Riserva not available
      Dark red violet color; aromatic, cherry puree, ripe red berry, floral nose; rich, ripe raspberry, cherry puree, saline palate with lowish acidity; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol) 90 points
    • 2009 Casaloste Chianti Classico Riserva Don Vincenzo $36
      Medium dark red violet color; reduction, tart red berry nose; light-medium bodied, tart red berry, juniper berry palate with near medium acidity; could use 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese from a single vineyard; 14.5% alcohol) 89 points

    Castellare di Castellina

    • 2012 Castellare di Castellina Chianti Classico $24
      Medium dark red violet color; aromatic, savory, dried red berry, dried herb nose; tart cherry, cherry liqueur, raspberry puree palate with good acidity; could use 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Cannaiolo) 91+ points
    • 2011 Castellare di Castellina Chianti Classico Riserva not available
      Dark red violet color; appealing, aromatic, sandalwood, tart berry, black raspberry nose; silky textured, tart berry, mineral, blackberry, black plum palate; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 92 points
    • 2011 Castellare di Castellina Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna Il Poggiale $38
      Medium red violet color; dried red berry, dried herbs, balsamic nose; tight, ripe red berry, cherry syrup, raspberry syrup palate; needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 5% Cannaiolo, 5% Cillegiolo) 91+ points

    Castellinuzza

    • 2012 Castellinuzza Chianti Classico $28
      Dark red violet color; tart red berry, tart cranberry, tart stewed tomato nose; very tart cherry, tart red currant palate with medium acidity; could use 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol; aged in concrete, no oak) 89+ points

    Castello d’Albola

    • 2011 Castello d’Albola Chianti Classico $17
      Medium cherry red color; aromatic, tart cherry, cherry puree nose; medium bodied, structured, tart cherry, light cedar, cherry puree palate; could use 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo) 90 points
    • 2010 Castello d’Albola Chianti Classico Riserva $26
      Medium ruby color; aromatic, raspberry puree, tart cherry nose; tasty, delicate, medium bodied, raspberry puree, tart cherry palate; could use 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo; 24 months in Slavonian oak casks) 91+ points
    • 2011 Castello d’Albola Chianti Classico Il Solatio Gran Selezione $62
      Medium dark red violet color; aromatic, black raspberry, reduction, black cherry, blackberry nose; rich, creamy textured, ripe black fruit, blackberry, blackberry puree palate with medium acidity; long finish (100% Sangiovese, 13% alcohol) 91 points

    Castello di Ama
    DSC_0097

    • 2011 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico $37
      Medium dark red violet color; fresh, ripe red berry, ripe red currant, tart raspberry puree nose; tasty, focused, fresh, tart raspberry puree, mineral, saline palate with medium acidity; wonderful for early drinking; medium-plus finish 94 points
    • 2010 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico Gran Selezione San Lorenzo $50
      Medium ruby color; appealing, tart red berry, tart cherry nose; tasty, fresh, complex, creamy textured, tart cherry, tart red currant, saline, tart raspberry puree, mineral, subtle herb infusion palate with good acidity; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot & Malvasia Nera; 13% alcohol) 94 points
    • 2011 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigneto Bellavista $189
      Medium ruby color; appealing, ripe plum, tart blackberry nose; tight, tasty, tart berry, tart blackberry palate with medium acidity; needs 3-4 years; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese, 20% Malvasia Nera) 93 points
    • 2011 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigneto La Casuccia $185
      Medium dark ruby color; appealing, sandalwood, licorice nose; tight, tart berry, black cherry, licorice palate; needs 5-plus years; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot) 94 points
    • 2007 Castello di Ama Chianti Classico Vigneto La Casuccia not available
      Saturated dark red violet color; very aromatic, savory, green olive tapenade, sweet green herb nose; magnificent, silky textured, very tart red currant, tart raspberry puree, saline palate; delicious now and could benefit from 3-plus years and will go 30; long finish (15% alcohol) 98 points

    Castello di Bossi

    • 2011 Castello di Bossi Chianti Classico $20
      Medium red violet color; smoke, resin, tart red berry nose; tight, tart red berry, juniper berry, menthol, balsamic palate; could use 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 90 points
    • 2009 Castello di Bossi Chianti Classico Riserva Berardo $30
      Bricking medium red violet color; aromatic, balsamic, dried red berry, dried cherry nose; tasty, dried cherry, dried red berry, blackberry, licorice palate; needs 3 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 93 points

    Castello di Cacchiano

    • 2009 Castello di Cacchiano Chianti Classico $18
      Bricking medium red violet color; oak, ripe red berry, tart red currant nose; oak, ripe red berry, tart red currant palate; medium finish 87 points
    • 2009 Castello di Cacchiano Chianti Classico Millennio Gran Selezione not available
      Dark ruby color; aromatic, ripe berry, light reduction, black raspberry nose; tart black cherry, tart black raspberry palate with near medium acidity; could use 2-plus years; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 91+ points

    Castello di Gabbiano

    • 2012 Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico $13
      Medium dark red violet color; tart red plum, tart cherry nose; tasty, black fruit, tart black cherry palate with good balancing acidity; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot, 5% Colorino; 13% alcohol)
      89 points
    • 2010 Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Bellezza Gran Selezione $28
      Medium red violet color; aromatic, red berry, tart cherry nose; rich, tasty, red berry, tart cherry, black cherry palate; could use 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese; 16 months in French oak, 50% new) 91 points
    • 2011 Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva NA
      Very dark red violet color; aromatic, raspberry puree, baked cherry, red hard candy nose; rich, tart cherry, raspberry puree, hard red candy palate; needs 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot; 14.5% alcohol) 90 points

    Castello di Meleto

    • 2010 Castello di Meleto Chianti Classico Gran Selezione $72
      Very dark ruby color; aromatic, blackberry syrup, black plum nose; rich, tasty, tart black plum, ripe berry, blackberry palate; medium-plus finish (85% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.5% alcohol) 92 points

    Castello di Monsanto
    This is a truly beautiful estate, including one of the widely acknowledged “grand cru” vineyards of Chianti Classico–the 5 hectare, hilltop Il Poggio. The Bianchis who own this wonderful property are in the textile business in Lombardy. Fabrizio Bianchi received the property as a wedding gift from his father in the early 1960s. They removed the white grapes planted at Il Poggio in 1968. Daughter Laura now assist with running the wine side of the business. The Chianti Classicos are very good, traditional style wines for the price. Il Poggio is capable of long aging. The videographer who visited with our party happened to be celebrating his birthday that day. When Fabrizio learned the man’s birth year was 1977, he had an Il Poggio pulled from their extensive cellars to share with us. It was a wonderful, mature wine, with great length and structure.
    DSC_0005
    view from Il Poggio Vineyard at Castello di Monsanto

    • 2011 Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva $26
      Medium ruby color; ripe currant, juniper berry, sour cherry nose; tasty, fresh, light-medium bodied, silky textured, ripe red berry, juniper berry, ripe red currant palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo & Colorino; 14% alcohol) 91 points
    • 2010 Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva $23
      Medium dark red violet color; savory, tart red berry, light balsamic, roasted fruit nose with a sense of underbrush; tasty, tart cherry, balsamic palate with medium acidity; ready now but will go 10-15 years; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol) 91+ points
      91 points
    • 2009 Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico il Poggio $47
      Medium dark red violet color; reduction, savory, tart roasted cherry, raspberry nose; tight, juicy, tart cherry, tart raspberry puree palate with medium acidity; needs 3 years; medium-plus finish (18 months in French tonneau, 1/3 new) 92 points
    • 1977 Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva Il Poggio not available
      Bricked medium red color with orange meniscus; very aromatic, mushroom, dried porcini mushroom, roast beef jus nose; delicious, savory, beef jus, tobacco, dried porcini, dried red currant palate with good acidity; long finish (14% alcohol) 94 points

    Castello di Querceto

    • 2010 Castello di Querceto / Querceto Chianti Classico Riserva $24
      Dark red violet color; tart plum, oat cake, bran muffin nose; silky textured, tart cherry, red berry palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 89+ points

    Castello di Radda

    • 2012 Castello di Radda Chianti Classico Riserva not available
      Medium dark red violet color; savory, dried berry, licorice nose; tasty, savory, dried berry, licorice, black raspberry, lavender palate; medium-plus finish 91 points

    Castello di Verrazzano

    • 2012 Castello di Verrazzano Chianti Classico $24
      Dark red violet color; tart cherry, tart plum, roasted vegetable, tart red berry nose; silky textured, tart red berry, tart plum palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol) 90+ points
    • 2010 Castello di Verrazzano Chianti Classico Riserva $38
      Dark ruby color; tart black cherry, blackberry, cherry puree nose; rich, silky textured, cherry puree, vanilla, blackberry palate with lowish acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 90 points

    Castello di Volpaia

    • 2012 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico $20
      Medium red violet color; light cedar, red berry nose; tight, light cedar, red berry palate; medium finish (90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot) 87 points
    • 2010 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Il Puro Casanova not available
      Medium dark red violet color; sandalwood, red berry nose; tight, sandalwood, cedar, red berry palate; needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 90+ points
    • 2009 Castello di Volpaia Chianti Classico Riserva Coltassala $62
      Medium dark red violet color; aromatic, tart red berry, dried berry nose; tasty, tart red berry, dried berry, tart black cherry palate; needs 2-plus years; medium-plus finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Mammolo) 89 points

    Castello la Leccia
    DSC_0002

    • 2012 Castello la Leccia Chianti Classico $18
      Medium dark red violet color; aromatic, tart cherry, tart raspberry nose; tart cherry, tart raspberry palate with medium acidity; could use 2 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 91 points
    • 2011 Castello la Leccia Chianti Classico not available
      Medium dark ruby color; appealing, lifted, roasted cherry, tart red berry, tart raspberry puree nose; very tart cherry, tart raspberry puree, mineral palate with medium acidity; could use 2 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese; 14% alcohol) 90+ points
    • 2010 Castello la Leccia Chianti Classico Bruciagna Gran Selezione $38
      Dark red violet color; appealing, aromatic, raspberry puree, ripe red berry, talc nose; juicy, tasty, very tart raspberry puree, tart red berry, cranberry, mineral, saline palate with vibrant, medium acidity; good now but should benefit from 2-plus years and will go 20 years; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 91+ points
    • 2011 Castello la Leccia Chianti Classico Bruciagna Gran Selezione not available
      Medium dark red violet color; aromatic, tart red berry, cedar, tart red currant nose; tasty, poised, dried red berry palate; could use 4-plus years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 92+ points

    Cecchi

    • 2010 Cecchi Chianti Classico Riserva di Famiglia $30
      Dark red violet color; tart plum, tart currant nose; tasty, tart plum, tart currant, charcoal palate with medium acidity; needs 4 years; medium-plus finish 92 points
    • 2012 Cecchi Chianti Classico Riserva Villa Cerna not available
      Dark red violet color; aromatic, savory, tart red currant, dried herb nose; tasty, savory, tart red currant, dried herb palate; needs 1-plus year; medium-plus finish 91+ points
    • 2013 Cecchi Chianti Classico Storia di Famiglia not available
      Medium dark red violet color; redolent, tart red currant nose; tart red currant, tar palate; medium-plus finish 90 points

    Cennatoio

    • 2012 Cennatoio Chianti Classico Avorio $15
      Medium ruby color; reduction, tart red berry nose; tart red berry, tart red currant palate; medium finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Colorino) 87 points
    • 2013 Cennatoio Chianti Classico Oro $17
      Dark ruby color; tart red currant, reduction nose; tart berry, tart red currant palate with medium acidity; medium finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Colorino) 86 points
    • 2011 Cennatoio Chianti Classico Riserva O’Leandro not available
      Very dark red violet color; aromatic, vanilla, berry compote, caramel nose; rich, silky textured, black cherry, black raspberry, black compote palate, not very characteristic of Chianti Classico due to the high proportion of noticeable new oak; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 88 points

    Felsina

    • 2012 Fèlsina Berardenga Chianti Classico $23
      Medium red violet color; tart red berry, tart red currant nose; tasty, poised, dried cherry, tart red berry palate with medium acidity; could use 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 91+ points
    • 2011 Fèlsina Berardenga Chianti Classico $26
      Dark red violet color; aromatic, dried berry, tart blackberry, light violet nose; rich, tasty, tart blackberry, black cherry, tart plum palate with lots of dry extract; needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish 91+ points
    • 2009 Fèlsina Berardenga Chianti Classico Riserva Rancia $44
      Dark red violet color; raspberry puree, black cherry, black currant nose; rich, ripe black currant, black raspberry puree palate with lowish acidity; medium finish (13.5% alcohol) 90+ points
    • 2011 Fèlsina Berardenga Chianti Classico Riserva Rancia $44
      Medium dark red violet color; appealing, tart red berry, tart red currant nose; tasty, silky textured, tart red berry, tart red currant, sour cherry palate with medium acidity; could use 2-plus years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 92+ points
    • 2010 Fèlsina Berardenga Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Colonia $122
      Medium red violet color; appealing, aromatic, dried cherry, red berry, sandalwood nose; tight, tasty, dried cherry, red berry, dried berry, sandalwood palate; could use 4 years; long finish (100% Sangiovese) 94 points

    Fontodi
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    • 2012 Fontodi Chianti Classico $34
      Medium ruby color; aromatic, tart cherry preserves, raspberry puree nose; delicious, lively, tart cherry, raspberry palate; good now and should go 30 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 93 points
    • 2010 Fontodi Chianti Classico $36
      Dark ruby color; aromatic, black raspberry, raspberry puree nose; tight, delicious, tart black cherry, black raspberry, violets, tart black currant palate with firm, sweet tannins and near medium acidity; needs 4-5 years; long finish (14% alcohol) 94 points
    • 2011 Fontodi Chianti Classico $37
      Dark ruby color; aromatic, black cherry, black raspberry puree, tart blackberry nose; tasty, tight, tart black cherry, tart black raspberry, tart blackberry palate with great freshness and near medium acidity and fine tannins; remarkably good for a challenging vintage; needs 3 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 93 points
    • 2009 Fontodi Chianti Classico $38
      From magnum – bricking, dark ruby color; black cherry, beet jus, black raspberry nose; tasty, maturing, black cherry, black raspberry puree, beets palate with near medium acidity; long finish 93 points
    • 2011 Fontodi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna del Sorbo $77
      Dark ruby color; aromatic, dried cherry, baked cherry nose; rich, tasty, dried cherry, baked cherry, tart raspberry, cherry puree palate; could use 2 years and will go 30+ plus; medium-plus finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon) 93+ points
    • 2010 Fontodi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigna del Sorbo $89
      Very dark red violet color; very aromatic, tart black currant, balsamic vinegar, black raspberry, tar nose; tight, rich, tart black currant, tart black raspberry palate with sweet, fine tannins; needs 6-7 years and should go 30; long finish (95% Sangiovese from vines averaging 45 years old and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; 15% alcohol) 94+ points
    • 2004 Fontodi Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo not available
      From magnum – dark ruby color; aromatic, black cherry, black raspberry puree, talc nose; rich, tasty, focused, silky textured, juicy, black raspberry puree, cherry puree, violets palate; could use 2 years; long finish 96 points

    Il Molino di Grace

    • 2012 Il Molino di Grace Chianti Classico $21
      Medium ruby color; aromatic, red berry, cedar, tart cherry nose; red berry, cedar, tart cherry palate; could use 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 89 points
    • 2008 Il Molino di Grace Chianti Classico Riserva $37
      Bricking, medium dark cherry color; savory, tart red berry, dried cherry nose; savory, tart red berry, dried cherry palate; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 90+ points
    • 2010 Il Molino di Grace Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Il Margone $40
      Bricking, light-medium ruby color; redolent, dried berry, licorice nose; tasty, dried berry, licorice palate; needs 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 91+ points

    Isole e Olena

    • 2012 Isole e Olena Chianti Classico $24
      Medium dark red violet color; tart red berry, dried cherry nose; tart raspberry puree, tart cherry palate with near medium acidity; needs 2 years; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo, 5% Syrah; 13.5% alcohol) 90 points
    • 2006 Isole e Olena Chianti Classico Gran Selezione $210
      Medium dark ruby color; aromatic, cedar, tart red currant, reduction nose; tight, cedar, tart red currant, reduction, light herbs palate with firm tannins; needs 5-6 years; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese, 12% Cabernet Franc, 8% Syrah) 91 points

    Lamole di Lamole

    • 2011 Lamole di Lamole Chianti Classico $20
      Medium red violet color; tart red berry, red currant nose; tasty, tart red berry, red currant palate; needs 1-plus year; medium-plus finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Cannaiolo) 90 points
    • 2011 Lamole di Lamole Chianti Classico Etichetta Blu $19
      Dark red violet color; reticent, tart red berry, tart currant nose; tart red berry, tart currant palate; with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 90+ points
    • 2012 Lamole di Lamole Chianti Classico Etichetta Blu not yet available
      Medium red violet color; aromatic, tart red berry, floral, raspberry nose; tart red berry, floral, raspberry palate with medium acidity; needs 2 years; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot) 91 points
    • 2010 Lamole di Lamole Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Vigneto di Campolungo $36
      Medium red violet color; aromatic, red currant, red berry nose; red currant, red berry palate with firm, sweet tannins; needs 5 years; medium-plus finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon) 91+ points

    Lanciola

    • 2012 Lanciola Chianti Classico Le Masse Di Greve $21
      Medium red violet color; brett, tart red currant nose; brett, tart red currant palate; medium finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo & Colorino) 86 points
    • 2011 Lanciola Chianti Classico Le Masse Di Greve Riserva not available
      Medium dark red violet color; brett, cedar, tart red berry nose; brett, cedar, tart red berry palate; medium finish (90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo & Colorino) 86+ points
    • 2011 Lanciola Chianti Classico Le Masse Di Greve Gran Selezione $49
      Medium ruby color; aromatic, cedar, tart red berry nose; cedar, tart red berry palate; medium finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo & Colorino) 86+ points

    Le Miccine
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    Paula Cook welcoming us at Le Miccine

    This small estate is owned and run since 2010 by a Canadian woman, Paula Papini Cook, whose grandparents were from Tuscany. She visited when she was 15 and fell in love with the region. Inspired to learn Italian and study agriculture, she was fortunate to have a wine loving father who encouraged her to attend a viticulture program in Europe funded by the EU. This is a very small production operation, that has no problem selling much of what they produce in Canada. I was very impressed not only with the Chianti Classico wines but also a terrific Merlot called Carduus.

    • 2012 Le Miccine Chianti Classico not available
      Medium dark ruby color; tart roasted cherry, black raspberry, tart berry nose; tasty, tight, elegant, delicate, tart cherry puree, tart raspberry, saline, mineral palate with medium acidity; needs 2-3 years and should go 20+; medium-plus finish 92+ points
    • 2011 Le Miccine Chianti Classico Riserva not available
      Very dark ruby color; aromatic, lifted, floral, cherry puree, black raspberry puree, cherry pie filling nose; rich, tasty, cherry puree, black raspberry puree, saline palate; needs 3 years & will go 20+; long finish (14% alcohol) 93 points

    Lornano

    • 2011 Lornano Chianti Classico $21
      Medium red violet color; aromatic, pastille, black mushroom nose; tasty, cherry, pastille, iodine palate; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 90+ points
    • 2009 Lornano Chianti Classico Riserva not available
      Medium red violet color; maturing, tart red berry nose; maturing, tart red berry, dried berry palate; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 91 points
    • 2011 Lornano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione $44 Medium red violet color; aromatic, red berry, dried berry nose; tasty, red berry, dried berry, cedar palate; needs 2 years; medium-plus finish (85% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot) 91+ points

    Luiano

    • 2012 Luiano Chianti Classico $17
      Medium dark ruby color; tart strawberry, ripe red berry, tart red plum nose; juicy, tasty, balanced, tart cranberry, tart raspberry puree palate with medium acidity; needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 91+ points
    • 2013 Luiano Chianti Classico $17
      Medium cherry red color; aromatic, tart red currant, red berry nose; tat red currant, red berry palate; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon) 88+ points
    • 2011 Luiano Chianti Classico Riserva $20
      Medium red violet color; aromatic, mature, tart red currant, dried berry nose; maturing, tart red currant, dried berry palate; could use 1 year; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 90 points
    • 2011 Luiano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Ottantuno $45
      Medium dark red violet color; iodine, cedar, dried red berry nose; iodine, cedar, dried red berry palate; medium-plus finish (85% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot) 87+ points

    Marchesi Mazzei
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    Francesco Mazzei, VP & CEO

    This estate has belonged to the Mazzei family since 1435. The 24th generation is now in charge. In the late ’80s and ’90s, the family helped lead the effort to raise the quality of Chianti Classico. Lapo Mazzei served as Consorzio president for 20 years. Today they have 117 hectares under vine in five different areas, amounting to 100 different parcels, which they microvinify. They have engaged in extensive studies of clones, and 18 of the 36 biotypes of Sangiovese identified by the Chianti Classico 2000 project were found only at Castello di Fonterutoli. These are very good, and pricey, Chianti Classicos. I’m a bigger fan, though, of their Super Tuscan wines, especially the Mix 36 (a blend of all 36 Sangiovese biotypes), even more than the well known Siepi.

    • 2010 Marchesi Mazzei Chianti Classico Castello di Fonterutoli $27
      Dark red violet color; tart raspberry puree, roasted cherry nose; tasty, tart raspberry puree, roasted cherry, dried cherry palate with medium acidity; could use 3 years and will go 15-20; medium-plus finish (92% Sangiovese, 8% Malvasia Nera & Colarino; from best 50 parcels; 14% alcohol) 91 points
    • 2012 Marchesi Mazzei Chianti Classico Castello di Fonterutoli $28
      Dark ruby color; tart red berry, reduction, roasted berry, saline nose; tart red berry, sour cherry, tart raspberry puree palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot, Malvasia Nera & Colarino; 13.5% alcohol; 12 months in barrique & tonneau, about 40% new) 89 points
    • 2013 Marchesi Mazzei Chianti Classico Castello di Fonterutoli not yet available
      Medium ruby color; aromatic, tart red berry, cranberry nose; tasty, light medium bodied, tart red berry, cranberry palate; could use 1-plus year; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese; 10% Colorino, Malvaisa Nera & Merlot) 90 points
    • 2011 Marchesi Mazzei Chianti Classico Riserva Castello di Fonterutoli Ser Lapo $23
      Light medium ruby color; dried red berry, light vanilla nose; tasty, light-medium bodied, tart cherry, tart red berry palate; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot) 90 points
    • 2011 Marchesi Mazzei Chianti Classico Castello di Fonterutoli Gran Selezione not available
      Medium ruby color; aromatic, oak, tart red berry nose; tasty, tart red berry, ripe red currant palate; almost ready; medium-plus finish (92% Sangiovese, 8% Malvasia Nera & Colorino) 90+ points

    Nittardi

    • 2011 Fattoria Nittardi Chianti Classico Casanuova di Nittardi $36
      Dark ruby color; aromatic, tart red currant, green olive, anchovy paste, extra virgin olive oil nose; savory, tasty, tart red currant, extra virgin olive oil, tart tomato sauce palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (97% Sangiovese, 3% Cannaiolo; 12 months in tonneau; 14% alcohol; fabulous pairing with pasta and tomato sauce) 91 points

    Ormanni

    • 2011 Ormanni Chianti Classico $18
      Medium red violet color; redolent, tart red berry, dried berry nose; tart red berry, dried berry palate; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 10% Canaiolo) 89 points
    • 2010 Ormanni Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Etichetta Storica not available
      Medium red violet color; aromatic, tart cherry, tart red berry nose; tart cherry, tart red berry palate; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese)  90+ points
    • 2010 Ormanni Chianti Classico Riserva Borro del Diavolo $26
      Medium dark red violet color; aromatic, dried berry nose; tasty, dried berry, ripe cherry, vanilla palate; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 90+ points

    Poggio al Sole

    • 2012 Poggio al Sole Chianti Classico $21
      Medium ruby color; aromatic, tart cherry, ripe red berry nose; tart cherry, ripe red berry palate; could use 1 year; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 5% Canaiolo, 5% Merlot) 90+ points
    • 2012 Poggio al Sole Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Casasilia not available
      Medium dark ruby color; tart berry, cedar, raspberry puree nose; tasty, rich, tart berry, cedar, raspberry puree palate; needs 2-3 years; long finish (100% Sangiovese) 92+ points

    Poggio Bonelli

    • 2012 Poggio Bonelli Chianti Classico $18
      Medium dark red violet color; savory, tart red currant, red berry nose; tasty, savory, tart red currant, red berry palate; ready now; medium-plus finish 90+ points

    Poggio Torselli

    • 2012 Poggio Torselli Chianti Classico $23
      Medium ruby color; reduction tart berry nose; reduction, tart berry, tart raspberry palate; medium-plus finish (85% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon) 90+ points
    • 2011 Poggio Torselli Chianti Classico Riserva $30
      Medium ruby color; reduction, tart red berry nose; tart red berry, raspberry puree palate; ready now; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 91 points

    Principe Corsini

    • 2009 Principe Corsini Chianti Classico Don Tommaso not available
      Medium dark red violet color; savory, maturing, dried berry, currant, mushroom nose; tasty, maturing, dried cherry, currant, mushroom palate with bright medium acidity; medium-plus finish (85% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot) 92 points
    • 2012 Principe Corsini Chianti Classico Don Tommaso not available
      Dark ruby color; aromatic, appealing, dried berry, sandalwood, spice nose; tasty, tight, dried berry, sandalwood, dried cherry palate; needs 4 years; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese, 20% Merlot) 93 points
    • 2012 Principe Corsini Chianti Classico Le Corti $21
      Medium dark red violet color; reduction, savory, tart red berry nose; intriguing, dried red berry, spice, dried cherry palate; needs 4 years; medium-plus finish 92+ points

    Quercia Al Poggio

    • 2009 Quercia Al Poggio Chianti Classico $26
      Dark red violet color; tart red currant, dried red currant nose; tasty, juicy, ripe raspberry puree, ripe red currant palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese, 20% Ciligiolo, Canaiolo & Colorino; 14% alcohol) 91 points

    Rocca delle Macìe
    Sergio Zingarelli with daughter Giulia

    Italo Zingarelli, producer of Spaghetti Westerns, including the Trinity series, purchased this estate in 1973. His son Sergio, who is the current President of the Consorzio, entered the business in 1984. Subsequently the family purchased three more Chianti Classico estates. The basic Chianti Classico from the excellent 2013 vintage is a good value at $14.

    • 2012 Rocca delle Macìe Chianti Classico Famiglia Zingarelli $14
      Medium dark ruby color; tart raspberry syrup, ripe red berry nose; silky, light-medium bodied, tart raspberry, tart red berry palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot; 13.5% alcohol) 88+ points
    • 2013 Rocca delle Macìe Chianti Classico Famiglia Zingarelli $14
      Medium ruby color; savory, tart red berry, tart red currant nose; savory, tart red berry, tart red currant palate; medium-plus finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot) 89 points
    • 2010 Rocca delle Macìe Chianti Classico Famiglia Zingarelli Riserva $23
      Dark ruby color; tart black plum, red berry nose; medium bodied, juicy, tart red berry, raspberry puree, red currant palate with near medium acidity; needs 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (14% alcohol) 89 points
    • 2011 Rocca delle Macìe Chianti Classico Famiglia Zingarelli Riserva $23
      Medium ruby color; tart red berry, juniper berry nose; tart red berry, juniper berry palate; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot) 88+ points
    • 2012 Rocca delle Macìe Chianti Classico Tenuta Sant’Alfonso $23
      Dark ruby color; aromatic, tart raspberry puree, red currant nose; tight, medium bodied, ripe raspberry puree, tart cherry palate with near medium acidity; needs 3 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese from a single vineyard with high clay content; 14% alcohol) 90 points
    • 2011 Rocca delle Macìe Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Riserva di Fizzano $27
      Medium ruby color; tart red berry, bark, tart red currant nose; tart red berry, bark, tart red currant palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (95% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot; 13.5% alcohol) 89 points
    • 2010 Rocca delle Macìe Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Sergio Zingarelli $95
      Dark ruby color; aromatic, black raspberry puree, talc, cherry syrup nose; tight, black raspberry puree, talc, cherry syrup palate with good acidity; needs 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 10% Colorino; 13.5% alcohol; 18 months in French barrique and 1 year in bottle) 92+ points

    Ruffino

    • Ruffino Chianti Classico Aziano $14
      Dark ruby color; savory, tart red currant, iodine, balsamic, saline nose; tight, savory, dried herb, tarragon, tart red fruit, tart cranberry palate with medium acidity; could use 1 year; medium-plus finish (13% alcohol) 88+ points
    • 2012 Ruffino Chianti Classico Tenuta Santedame $20
      Medium red violet color; aromatic, tart red berry, reduction nose; soft, red berry, ripe currant palate; medium finish (80% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot, 5% Colorino, 5% other varieties) 87 points
    • 2011 Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale $23
      Medium dark red violet color; aromatic, tar, tart red berry nose; tight, tart red berry, dried berry palate; medium-plus finish 89 points
    • 2010 Ruffino Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Ducale Oro $37
      Medium dark red violet color; tart red berry, light cedar nose; silky textured, tart red berry, cedar, tart red currant palate with lowish acidity; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese; 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot & Colorino) 88+ points

    San Felice
    DSC_0119
    Enologist Leonardo Bellacini at San Felice
    This is a very impressive operation, owned by Gruppo Allianz. It includes a picturesque borgo, a magnificent Relais & Chateaux hotel, and extensive vineyards and fine wines. Enzo Morganti produced one of the first of what became known as Super Tuscans here in 1968, a 100% Sangiovese called Vigorello. I was most impressed with the estate’s longtime enologist Leonardo Bellacini, who has worked with the University of Florence to study dozens of indigenous varieties in the estate’s experimental vineyard. One of the almost extinct varieties rescued as a result of this effort is Pugnitello, with which they are making a magnificent, characterful varietal wine that I have been collecting since my trip. The operation also produces the Campogiovanni Brunello Il Quercione. Of the Chianti Classicos, the Riserva Il Grigio and Gran Selezione Il Grigio are very strong, but I was even more impressed by some of the non-DOCG wines in their portfolio.

    • 2011 San Felice Chianti Classico Riserva Il Grigio $24
      Very dark red violet color; tart red berry, tart red currant nose; refined, medium bodied, tart cranberry, tart red currant, tart red berry palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 91 points
    • 2010 San Felice Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Il Grigio $40
      Saturated, very dark red violet color; aromatic, tart red plum, red currant nose; plush, poised, tart red currant, tart red berry palate with medium acidity; needs 3-plus years and could go 20-25; medium-plus finish 92 points
    • 2010 San Felice Chianti Classico Riserva Poggio Rosso $43
      Very dark red violet color; tart red berry, reduction, cranberry nose; tight, reduction, tart red berry, tart red currant palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (14.5% alcohol) 88+ points
    • 2011 San Felice Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Poggio Rosso not available
      Dark red violet color; reduction, tart red berry, red currant nose; tart red berry, red currant, roasted red fruit palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (15.5% alcohol) 89 points

    Tenuta di Arceno

    • 2012 Tenuta di Arceno Chianti Classico $17
      Very dark ruby color; tart raspberry puree, tart red currant nose; focused, tart red currant, very tart raspberry puree, mineral palate with medium acidity and soft tannins; medium-plus finish (80% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.5% alcohol) 88+ points

    Tenuta di Nozzole

    • 2012 Tenuta di Nozzole Chianti Classico Riserva $20
      Saturated, very dark red violet color; aromatic, savory, tart black fruit, tart black cherry nose with a sense of underbrush; tasty, tart black fruit, tart plum, balsamic palate with balancing acidity; needs 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (13.5% alcohol) 90+ points
    • 2011 Tenuta di Nozzole Chianti Classico Riserva La Forra $38
      Black-tinged dark red violet color; savory, dried red currant, reduction, ferrous nose; tight, tart dried berry, tar palate with near medium acidity; could use 2-3 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese; 13.5% alcohol) 87 points

    Tenuta Villa Barberino

    • 2012 Tenuta Villa Barberino della Famiglia Nunzi Conti Chianti Classico Nunzi Conti not available
      Dark garnet red color; appealing, tart roasted cherry, cranberry, tart plum, sandalwood nose; tasty, velvety textured, tart plum, tart roasted cherry, cranberry palate with near medium acidity; good now but could use 1-2 years; medium-plus finish (83% Sangiovese, 7% Merlot, 5% Canaiolo, 5% Colorino; 13.5% alcohol) 91+ points
    • 2012 Tenuta Villa Barberino della Famiglia Nunzi Conti Chianti Classico Nunzi Conti Riserva not available
      Dark garnet red color; tart red berry, tart berry, berry syrup nose; velvety textured, tart berry, tart blackberry palate with medium acidity and fine, sweet tannins; could use 2 years; long finish (100% Sangiovese; 14% alcohol) 92 points

    Tolaini

    • 2010 Tolaini Chianti Classico Gran Selezione $40
      Medium dark ruby color; aromatic, tart red berry, red currant nose; tasty, tart red berry, red currant, dried cherry palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese; 1/2 French oak, 1/2 stainless steel) 90+ points
    • 2011 Tolaini Chianti Classico Gran Selezione not yet available
      Medium dark ruby color; aromatic, baked cherry, raspberry puree, light pie crust nose; tasty, baked cherry, raspberry puree, pie crust palate; could use 2 years; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 91 points
    • 2010 Tolaini Chianti Classico Riserva Montebello Vigneto No. 7 not available
      Very dark ruby color; appealing, ripe cherry, ripe red berry nose; tasty, ripe cherry, ripe red berry palate; needs 2 years; medium-plus finish 91+ points

    Vignamaggio

    • 2013 Vignamaggio Chianti Classico Terre di Prenzano $13
      Medium dark ruby color; tart red berry nose; fresh, tart red berry palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (100% Sangiovese) 87+ points
    • 2012 Vignamaggio Chianti Classico Gherardino $20 Medium ruby color; red berry, oak nose; red berry, oak, tart red currant palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (85% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot) 87+ points
    • 2010 Vignamaggio Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Castello di Monna Lisa $36
      Medium dark red violet color; raspberry, ripe red berry nose; raspberry, ripe red berry palate; medium-plus finish (85% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon) 88+ points

    Vignavecchia

    • 2012 Fattoria Vignavecchia Chianti Classico $20
      Medium red violet color with pale meniscus; aromatic, red berry, rooibos tea nose; tight, silky textured, red berry, rooibos tea, dried red berry palate; medium-plus finish (90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot) 88+ points
    • 2010 Fattoria Vignavecchia Chianti Classico Riserva Vigneto Odoardo Beccari $28
      Medium dark red violet color; cedar, tart red currant nose; tight, cedar, tart red currant palate with medium acidity; could use 3 years; long finish (90% Sangiovese, 10% Cannaiolo) 89 points
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