Friday, 30 October 2015

Poggio al Gello in Gambero Rosso

Gambero Rosso's annual publication of Italian wines is regarded as the authoritative guide to the country's wines covering all regions. For over 25 years, a selection of the best cellars are reviewed and their wines rated and, more important, commented on. Ratings are, famously, one to three glasses with the coveted Tre Bicchieri keenly fought over. Piedmont regularly comes out top in the Tre Bicchieri round-up with Tuscany close behind.

From our list of suppliers, many are too small to be on the radar of the Gambero Rosso team although Fabrizio Battaglino has been a regular for the last few years. It is very surprising that Nada Giuseppe hasn't made it in yet but Cantina Rizzi's entry is well-deserved as is that of Giovanni Manzone. I would not be surprised if others find their way in soon.

In Tuscany, we currently only work with two estates, one from just outside Volterra, a terribly unfashionable area for wine-growing although Alberto Antonini clearly thinks it has great potential. The other estate is Poggio al Gello in Montecucco.

Today I received an excited email from Alda and Giorgio: they have made it into Gambero Rosso with Due Bicchieri for both the Rosso and Riserva - the Rosso made it to the finals, no mean feat for such a young estate with an output of a mere 20,000 bottles!

The range comprises four wines, one only just released so we have not yet tasted it and one already sold out so we have just the Rosso 2010 and Riserva 2011 wines in stock for now. Anyone who enjoys Brunello di Montalcino but doesn't like the price tag would be well advised to take a look at these excellent Sangiovese wines.

Our congratulations go to Alda and Giorgio, of course. And to our readers, we suggest you check out the wines if you have not already done so - Fantastico!

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

More from Barbaresco - Cantina Rizzi

In a year when I have posted very little, I am now doing my impersonation of a fleet of buses - here is post number two!

It boils down to excitement over a new estate for the list: Cantina Rizzi in Treiso is one of the top estates in Barbaresco, one which, if googled, might actually reveal some professional critiques. Much of this is down to the sheer size of the estate which, at around 90 acres, must surely be one of the largest in Barbaresco but quality obviously plays a major part too.

I read about them when a friend handed me a copy of Kerin O'Keefe's Barolo and Barbaresco: The King and Queen of Italian Wines (well worth reading if you like Nebbiolo) which includes chapters on each of the communes in both denominations and profiles a small number of recommended estates from each. In Treiso, it was pleasing to see Nada Giuseppe included (especially given its relatively small size) but I was intrigued by the write up of Rizzi so I had to go along to take a closer look.

What I found was a brother-sister team of great charm and a selection of wines to match. Inevitably the highlights were the Barbaresco wines, especially those from the fabulous 2011 vintage (of which Nervo and Pajore were among the very best of all Barbaresco wines I have encountered) but I was also rather struck by a late harvested Moscato.

First, a 2013 Nebbiolo revealed excellent potential and showed great improvement over the few minutes it was in my glass. Fresh and fragrant, it had spent one year in Slovenian oak after its fermentation in stainless steel. Quite tight still and tannic but only bottled three months earlier.

The first Barbaresco was the 2011 Rizzi which was very expressive, still quite chewy with its potential already evident. Good weight, not too tannic with spicy fruit.

More elegant and with finer aromatics, perhaps because of the sandier soils, is the 2011 Barbaresco Nervo which offers lovely sweet fruits and floral characters with long tannins which keep the wine going on and on. A lovely wine in the making.

The 2011 Barbaresco Pajore (pronounced Pie-ore-ay) comes from one of the denomination's very best vineyard sites with more marl in the soil near the village of Barbaresco and it shows. Spicier, more structured, more balsamic in its flavours with quite close tannins. In time this will be a majestic Barbaresco, worthy of its crown.

2010s were all very good but, frankly, the class of the 2011 vintage really shone through, even with the 2010 Barbaresco Riserva Boito, from a vineyard adjacent to Rizzi which was certainly very fine with great length. I will look forward to tasting this in the 2011 vintage!

Needless to say, with my sweet tooth, I loved 'Frimaio', a Vendemio Tardivo from 2009 from pure Moscato. Forget your preconceptions and step into the glass!

Grasso Fratelli make it big

Forgive the pun in the title but the Grasso brothers have had a couple of top ratings this year which I want to share, not least because I have just ordered some for the UK market (inevitably).

Last time I visited them, I was impressed, as always, by the Barbarescos but there was a new one, a 2008 Riserva, which really hit the spot. So it was no surprise to learn it had been awarded the Decanter Regional Trophy for Red Piedmont wines over £15 in the DWWA 2015:

'A wonderful example of its type with a broad, spicy nose of ripe red fruit, spice, wild strawberry jam, cassis and liquorice. Fine in body with a plush but elegant palate bursting with juicy, ripe fruit and a long, velvety, warm finish.'

An impressive wine! I have tried it three times now and have found it more pleasurable each time as the tannins soften and the fruit develops - slowly - its secondary characters. One to hide at the back of the cellar.

For more immediate enjoyment, the brothers' 2014 Dolcetto is a winner. Lots of really good fruit here, this is a wine to enjoy over the next two or three years:

'A basket full of summer berries and grapes with mint, blackcurrant and anise characters. Round and fresh and juicy with positive herbal notes, harmonious tannins and acidity and a long finish.' 90+/100 (Decanter, September 2015)

One more, although not in Decanter (yet): lastr year I bought some of the brothers' interesting three-grape blend, an unusual diversion for them, called Trej This is a play on words: short for Treiso where the estate is located; also tre is Italian for three, the number of varieties which are Nebbiolo (60%), Dolcetto and Barbara (20% each). It is a lovely rounded wine, fabulous value, drinking exceptionally well now. Anyone who wants to know what Piedmont is all about should look no further than this!

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Beaucastel 1999

For a few years now, around mid-September I open a bottle of 1999 Beaucastel to celebrate a family birthday. On one occasion, a friend at one of these ritualistic openings who was inexperienced when it come to Beaucastel and brettanomyces (the yeast often found in Beaucastel and Musar amongst others which, for many, contributes much to the enjoyment of these wines).

It's an interesting way to observe the evolution of a wine although there have been disappointments along the way with some bottles opened at just the wrong time: that tricky adolescent stage between youthful energy and middle, or even old, age.

So, I was a little apprehensive when I drew the cork last night: would it be a joy to drink or an expensive reminder that I should probably invest in a Coravin? Well, it was the former, a glorious wine and one of the very best bottles of Beau I have experienced, even from a vintage which was only ever regarded as a four star year. It is impossible to convey this wine in words except to say that it was complete with a richness and weight that were precisely what I was looking for in this wine.

It does lead to a new problem, of course. Do I pop the rest soon whilst they are definitely enjoyable or do I wait to see how they develop over the next several years? Probably both! Now there's a good argument for getting a Coravin!

By the way, if you have any experience of Coravin, I would welcome your opinions.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

More recommendations - Southern Rhone Whites

Decanter panel tastings have become much more reliable since the days when they invited just about anyone (including me) to be a panellist. Now, just three 'experts' taste and review the wines: in this case, John Livingstone-Learmonth (probably the UK's leading authority on the wines of the Rhone), Marcel Orford-Williams (the Wine Society's Rhone buyer, amongst other things) and Ben Llewelyn (who may not have a double-barrelled surname but he has lived in France - presumably he has a little more specialist knowledge to qualify as an expert).

Panel tastings (even where the panel consists of only one person) can only be a guide at best although the number of people who continue to swear by the wines of estate X, claiming they are not influenced by critic Y, never ceases to amaze me. Of course, a world of wine without critics would be a difficult one to navigate. It is the job of the critic (whether wine writer or merchant) to weed out the rubbish and recommend only the worthy.

So, it is pleasing to see Beaucastel, Brusset and Usseglio all recommended - but, then, it would be surprising if they weren't!

Domaine Brusset, Cairanne-Cotes du Rhone Villages 'Les Travers'
'Subdued nose - a note of lime and hint of camomile tea. Yellow flowers, citrus and a saline edge to a palate that has decent length.' 2015-2019

Raymond Usseglio, Cotes du Rhone 'Les Claux'
'White raisin aromas in a nose of sunny depth. The palate is vibrant but mellowing and lingers for a while.' 2015-2017

I confess, I am not entirely sure what yellow flowers and other tasting terms are supposed to mean. For me, 'sunny depth' evokes up rather more. Still, the gist is they like the wines.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Joblot's Servoisine hits hard for Coates

Clive Coates MW is not generally known for his enthusiasm for wines of the Cote Chalonnaise. However, in an article published in the September issue of Decanter, he writes 'The area has much going for it. Most importantly, the wines are very good value for money'.

I would go a step further in proclaiming that, in the wines of Domaine Joblot, at least, the wines are extremely classy and should not be seen as lesser Burgundies. Yes, the money side of things is important for most of us so the question, where else in Burgundy can you buy this quality at these prices is pertinent but of the Joblot brothers and, perhaps, a handful of others there are wines available with fruit and structures that put too many Cote d'Or wines to shame.

Last year, Andrew Jefford reviewed Joblot's 'Cellier aux Moines' in the FT but admitted he could have chosen almost any wine from the estate. Now, Coates says of the (too young to drink at present) 2013 Servoisine:

'Ripe, substantial and a very high class wine. Splendid quality. The new oak (70%) does not dominate at all'.

I have to admit to liking this review. He says very little about what to expect from the wine in terms of its fruit character, for example; rather, we just know to expect a very good wine. He backs this up by awarding an impressive 95 points.

As I say, the wine is presently far too young to drink (Coates recommends 2020-2030) but the 2011s are more forward and there are (at the time of writing) a very small number of bottles of 2010s still available so hurry before I drink them up myself.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

A question about politics

Disclaimer: this is not intended as a party political post.

Does a government which goes back on a manifesto pledge (which may have helped it win a considerable number of votes, after all) still have a mandate to govern?

Is this behaviour one of the (many) reasons why so many people who start adult life fired up about politics become so disillusioned with it by their forties? Frankly, I am surprised that it is young people who are joining the Labour party to vote for Jeremy Corbyn - I would expect more of my generation to be inclined to hand over their £3 (which, after all, is less than the price of a pint, let alone a decent glass of wine) to put the wind up the establishment.

It's been a quiet day - too much admin. I'll stop now.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Some new wines

Domaine de la Charite's 100% Mourvedre cuvee 'Dame Noire' from the excellent 2007 vintage is beginning to show well at last. Typical of the variety, it has taken seven or eight years to get past 'muted' and start revealing plenty of sweet black fruit character. Next stop leather!

I realise that, having been very quiet on the blogosphere of late, I never triumphed the wines of Poggio al Gello in Tuscany! Very remiss, especially asthat one of the wines has sold out already. On a recommendation, I agreed to receive samples from the estate (I know it sounds odd, 'agreeing' to samples but so much of what people want to send promises so little that I have to say no - my house is only so big after all). That was a year ago and, tasting the wines then, I found the 2010 Rosso good but, perhaps a little underwhelming, and the 2011 Pugnitello exciting but, probably, uncommercial.

Fortunately for me, them and you, there were two bottles of each wine so I re-tasted these in January. I opened the Rosso at around 7pm on a Sunday evening, intending to let it breathe (I thought the first bottle had perhaps been in need of this) but before long the bottle was empty. Very impressive. Another evening saw similar results for the Pugnitello so I was hooked.

By this time there was a 2011 Riserva available too so I took a punt on this. A friend opened five of these for a tasting group, one freshly opened, one after four hours, another after eight hours, then twelve and twenty four and called me the next day with a big order and a tip to let it breathe for four hours. Call it magic, alchemy or simple oxygenation, it works a treat!

More updates soon.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Xavier Vignon, Cotes du Rhone 'SM'


This is a blend of 50% Grenache from the Southern Rhone (Meridionale) and 50% Syrah from the North (Septionale) - it is the French names for the two regions that give their initials to the name of this wine (and not, as I originally wondered, Syrah and Mourvedre). Xavier has learnt to be coy about his sources - the previous incarnation of this wine, Sacrilege, landed him in all sorts of trouble when Parker reviewed it and announced to anyone who cared to know that this was a blend of Cote Rotie Syrah and Chateauneuf Grenache. 'So what?' you might ask. Well, for some reason known only to themselves, the appellation authorities in Chateauneuf-du-Pape do not allow their Grenache to be down-graded so, if you don't want to market your wine as Chateauneuf-du-Pape then mere Vin de France it must be. Not do in other appellations it seems (since this new blend is designated as Cotes du Rhone). I did suggest to Xavier that if he sourced the Grenache from Gigondas, for example, he could avoid the problem and it would appear that he has done just that. However, it is still a non-vintage wine - a blend of wines from 2010, 2011 and 2012 - so clearly he hasn't lost his sense of humour.

So, eventually I pull the cork open the bottle. This has a rich nose and it's very full. Some sweetness is coming though and I would like to see this in another couple of years when everything else has had a chance to come up behind it. As it is, this is more like a young Chateauneuf than, well, most young Chateauneuf.

Friday, 26 June 2015

2011 Burgundies revisted

Nearly six months on from my last tasting of Joblot's 2011 Clos Marole and Bois Cheveaux, when both wines were un-giving and restrained (not at all what I expected from the vintage at this stage, even from a serious producer like Joblot), I have re-tasted both these wines and I am pleased to report that the tannins are much more under control and the fruit, especially in Clos Marole, is singing. Lovely Pinots for the medium term.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

The best Chateauneuf (?) and a decent Cotes du Rhone

Decanter's April edition features a review of the Southern Rhone. Raymond Usseglio's Cuvee Imperiale scored 95 points, beating Clos des Papes (93) and Domaine de la Mordoree (91) amongst others. Sorry, I shouldn't gloat but the truth is that, whilst some enthusiasts can't see past these and other names, Stef Usseglio has been churning out remarkably consistent wines of extremely high quality for years. Here's what James Lawther MW had to say:

'Big and powerful but long and harmonious at the same time. Impressive depth snd volume of fruit. Texture smooth and refined. Solid but discreet tannic frame.' 95/100.

And a nice note on Domaine Brusset's 'Lauren B' Cotes du Rhone:

'Punches above its weight. Long, sinewy and vibrant rather than broad and full. Elegant berry fruit and spice notes. Finely honed tannins.' 90/100.

Barolo - 91 points and affordable!

The Decanter review of 2010 Barolo includes a good number of wines at £30+, £40+, even £50+. There are even a couple for £75 (and I just spotted one for £140!). I am sure they are very good but I am unlikely ever to taste them at those prices.

Of course, given land prices, there is such a thing as too cheap Barolo (I saw some in a shop recently for £12. I bought a bottle: it was dreadful) so what is a good starting point? I think, on the whole, around £25 should buy you a decent wine. In the 'Highly Recommended' section fo the review (wines scoring at least 90 points), only four or five wines (out of 71) are in this ball park and the top scoring of these is...

Filippo Broccardo e Figli, Monforte d'Alba 2010

'Pristine and pretty aromas and flavours of red cherry, flint, citrus peel and white stone fruit. Fleshy palate with full, savoury flavours and hints of smoke and cedar. Good balance with a harmonious finish'. Drink 2020-2035. 91/100 or 17.5/20

It's in need of further ageing, as the review suggests, but the 2009 is fabulous now and it did rather well last year (and we still have a few bottles left)!

"Spicy oak aromas of vanilla and liquorice. Fresh and rich on the palate at first, then smooth and balanced. Very pure red fruit and polished tannins." 92/100

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

2011 Burgundy - a couple of wines tasted

With the 2010s from Domaine Joblot all but finished, I thought a tasting of the 2011s advisable. The Cellier aux Moines was tasted shortly before Christmas (excellent fruit, quite tannic so needs an hour or so to breathe - hmmm) and there is so little of Servoisine left there was no point in trying this now so I have just popped corks on the other two Premier Cru reds from this superb estate.

First impressions: slightly muted on the nose, especially the Bois Chevaux. Both wines (I am also tasting the Clos Marole) are remarkably tannic for the vintage in Givry and this is having the effect of masking the fruit a little. That said, the Bois Chevaux has a remarkable texture and the fruit of the Clos Marole is clearly good. I need to give them a little more time to open up...

Looking back on my notes from nearly two years ago, I see I should have re-read them before pulling corks! Bois Chevaux reads: 'Firmer than other crus, Bois Chevaux' ethereal character will come to the fore in another 3-4 years. For now, the wine is closed down revealing little fruit but a magnificent texture.' Not much has changed yet!

I confess I am slightly surprised by this tasting. Other 2011s are really quite forward (I have finished off 2011s from other Givry estates!) and these haven't even started.