News

April 02, 2018

0 Comments


Cantine Lonardo Taurasi 2012

I don't often have the opportunity to offer truly great wines from Campania, one of my two home away from home regions of Italy (the other being Piemonte), and it's not because they don't exist. There just isn't very much of it being produced and that's a shame. There are plenty of well situated vineyards in the Taurasi DOCG  planted with Aglianico, aka the Nebbiolo of the south, but so many producers here have decided on some level or another of "international" style in their winemaking (small or new oak or both, fast fermentations on cultured yeast etc) that there are just tiny handful of growers left making the real thing. With only 200 hectares or so planted, there aren't really very many growers at any rate and Luigi Tecce and especially Sandro Lonardo are the two greatest of these in my mind. That's just two growers you'll probably ever see me offer and with their tiny levels of production it won't be very often.

   Great Taurasi is one of the most compelling wines in the world and every bit the equal of Barolo in terms of power, complexity and sheer presence. In fact, its pretty easy to confuse Barolo and Taurasi just from reading tasting notes. Tar, licorice, rose petal etc. Both Nebbiolo and Aglianico tend to be varieties that need long growing seasons to mature, November harvests being pretty normal in Taurasi, though Barolo is generally  higher in alcohol and that's mainly due to the altitude on the Taurasi zone which gets up to close to 2,500 ft above sea level. These are also two varietals that seem to be allergic to new oak. 

Great examples of Taurasi from the 60s and 70's, almost exclusively the production of the formerly great, now mainly gone over the the dark side, estate of Mastroberardino are some of the greatest wines I've ever had though extremely rare now and likely to be counterfeit if you do run across them. In fact, the last time I found a reliable stash of those was close to 20 years ago at a tiny enoteca, now defunct with the space converted to a touristy shop selling, sadly,  limoncello and selfie sticks (see a pattern here?) right across the street from the magnificent Teatro San Carlo in Napoli.
It's also at that very place where I met Sandro Lonardo and tasted his wines for the first time. I'd all but forgotten about those wines for about ten years when I saw a bottle in a local wine shop and took it home to dinner in Naples where the bunch of us including my fickle, Taurasi loving uncle, were just blown away. A few years later and one of my favorite Italian wine importers, Oliver McCrum, had found these great wines and started bringing in tiny quantities which is where these are sourced.


The Lonardo estate, the Contrade di Taurasi, was founded by now retired professor of Latin literature Sandro Lonardo in 1998 with just 5 hectares of land and the idea to make great, traditional Taurasi and he's definitely succeeded. These are just beautiful, regal wines made the old way from organically farmed, low yielding vines planted on the the two typical soils out here; volcanic and limestone. The estate is still just 5 hectares and these wines are still made in small quantities and getting rare all the time.

The DOCG Taurasi comes from 25-50 year old vines planted on volcanic clay soils. Fermentation on native yeasts takes place in stainless steel with about three weeks of skin contact followed by a couple of years in large wood puncheons and a further year of bottle aging before release. This is just gorgeous Taurasi. Deep, dark red with the classic tar, rose and licorice profile plus dried Morello cherry, black pepper and old leather. Big, savory mid palate and lots of crunchy minerality on the long finish. Could certainly use a few years in the cellar and I think it'll go for a couple of decades at least, but approachable now. 500 case production.


The  Taurasi "Coste" is made from 20-40 year old vines planted in limestone/clay soils, rich in potassium, which tend to produce a more voluptuous rendition of Aglianico. Long fermentation with 75 days on the skins followed by two years in large old wood and a further two in bottle before release. This is just brilliant Aglianico showing off the deep, dark fruit of the limestone terroir with a seductive nose of a great cigar,  black cherry, savory herbs and a hint of dark chocolate. Focused, tight mid palate with long mineral inflected flavors of dried red and black fruit. Full bodied, very well balanced and very long, precisely detailed finish. This and the equally great (and unfortunately rare) Luigi Tecce Taurasi Poliphemo are the two greatest wines being produced in southern Italy right now, no matter what Robert Parker says. Just 100 cases produced and very little imported. 
November 28, 2017

0 Comments


Giuseppe Nada Barbaresco

The Cantina Giuseppe Nada in Treiso is an absolute gem of a cellar in Barbaresco and a great if limited source of top quality, traditional Nebbiolo. Established in the 1960's as a winery, the Nadas got started the same way so many small producers did here by transitioning from farming and selling fruit to larger negociant concerns to making and bottling their own wine. They own and farm prime vineyard land in Treiso, the highest altitude village in the DOC just southeast of Barbaresco itself, principally the famed Casot cru which the family purchased from the Gaja family (yes, those Gajas) in 1900. 

These days, it's still very much a family operation with Giuseppe and wife Nella Nada doing all the vineyard work, daughter Barbara running the office and son Enrico making the wine. At just 22 acres total and less than half of that planted to Nebbiolo, this is one of the Langhe's true boutique wineries. Farming is sustainable, something we're seeing more and more of in the Langhe, yields are low and winemaking very traditional with aging in large old wood for the Barbaresco. 

The Casot Cru is a prized Nebbiolo site. Lying on a steep hillside with perfect southwest exposure, the vineyard generally provides good ripeness and in the 2013 vintage it was just about perfect. I've been tasting the vintage out of cask and bottle since 2014 and it reminds me a lot of the great 1999's with some of the power of 1996.

This is elegant, powerful Barbaresco with Burgundian characteristics which separate it from the more masculine Barolo a few miles to the south. Where we tend to find menthol and tar in Barolo, classic Barbaresco leans more towards the perfume of rose petals and licorice and this is an excellent example. Pure red fruit, rose, tobacco and mineral on the nose with a dense core of fruit and mineral flavor. Beautiful texture with firm tannins and a dense acidic profile. Definitely a good candidate for the cellar but approachable in the near term where you might want to wait a bit for your Barolo in this vintage. 600 cases made, not much imported (I may be the only retialer in the US with any of this at the moment) and at $32.99 one of the absolute best values you'll see all year in Barbaresco/Barolo.

Oh, the Dolcetto. Nada makes one of the great Dolcettos in all of the Langhe. Grown in the Marcarini Cru in Treiso, aged in stainless steel only. Deep ruby color, highly perfumed of violets and ripe red cherry with deep fruit flavors and subtle tannins. Just a perfect everyday table red. Small production here too at about 600 cases. A steal at under $20.


Benjamin Leroux

Unlike so many "rockstar" winemakers in Burgundy, Benjamin Leroux wasn't born into a famous family domaine with top holdings in all the right vineyards. In fact, he wasn't born into a winemaking family at all. Benjamin decided he wanted to be a winemaker at the age of 13 and started at the Lycée Viticole de Beaune where he excelled as a student and was considered a prodigy. After finishing his wines studies at the Dijon school and having worked around the world from New Zealand to Oregon he finally landed his first real job at Cos d'Estournel in Bordeaux before returning to Burgundy in 1998. Shortly after arriving home he was offered the job of winemaker/régisseur at the prestigious Comte Armand (Domaine du Clos des Epéneaux) in Pommard,where he interned early on, in time for the 1999 vintage and the rest is history. Filling a rather large pair of shoes in the wake of previous winemaker Pascal Marchand, Benjamin really hit it out of the park with his first effort.

Having firmly established himself as one of the Côte d'Or's best young winemakers with a string of successful wines, many from very difficult vintages, at Comte Armand, Benjamin started a négociant label in Beaune with the 2007 vintage. That project has turned into a domaine with a small clutch of top vineyard holdings and a very bright future. Benjamin's final vintage at Comte Armand was 2014 and he's now on his way to achieving his goal of owning and running a top Burgundy domaine. From the beginning a champion of organic and biodynamic farming, all vineyards are managed following at the very least the principles of lutte raisonée farming practices whether rented vines or those of the domaine. Benjamin is also a fan of ultra high density planting, the old way in Burgundy, with some plots being planted at up to 30,000 wines per hectare where 10,000 is considered normal. 


October 07, 2016

0 Comments


Bernard & Mathieu Baudry

 

Bernard and Matthieu Baudry
 
 

Bernard Baudry and son Matthieu are making some of the best wines in Chinon these days from the best terroirs in the appellation in Cravant-les-Coteaux. That's saying something considering that they didn't even own vines 40 years ago. In fact, along with Raffault, these are pretty clearly the best two sources of Chinon in my mind. Where Raffaults wines tend to be powerful, brooding and very slow to evolve, Baudry's Chinons are made in a slightly more approachable style though not at the expense of structure or integrity. This is more like comparing Latour to Lafite than anything else.

Farming here has been fully organic since 2006, not easy to do in this continental climate with it's humidity and otherwise unpredictable weather. The domaine consists of various parcels planted on diverse soils around Cravant from pure limestone at the top of the slope facing the Vienne river to alluvial deposits near the bottom. The Grézeaux is planted right in the middle on pure gravel and is by far my favorite wine here. These are the oldest vines at the domaine at 65 years and just about the purest expression of Cabernet Franc in the entire Loire Valley. The 2014 vintage got off to a rocky start with characteristically bad spring weather and up and down until August when things calmed down and nothing but perfect weather until harvest. These might be the best wines ever made at Baudry in fact. 


This isn't the green bell pepper tinged, high yielding Loire Cabernet Franc you might find in an ice bucket at many Paris bistros - I do have a soft spot for those actually when it was all I could afford to drink when traveling - but more of an explosion of dark red fruit and minerality right out of the bottle. Really a joy to drink young but will age beautifully and I think everyone ought to have at least a few of these in their cellar for the long term. Not much available as usual.

 

October 06, 2016

0 Comments


Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais

 

 

This is one of those wines you pass around your Sunday dinner table with friends, family, a roast chicken and the fear of embarrassment as you open the last of the six pack you purchased just as you’re clearing the table for cheese (the real drinking starts with the cheese as I’m sure you all know) and now you’re out of wine. Some bottles just go down that easy. 

The Domaine Dupeuble has been around for 500+ years as a continuously functioning winery. The name has changed a couple of times and the first Dupeuble to put their name on the shingle was Jules when he married the heiress to the property in 1919. Today, grandson Damien is in charge with his entire family involved in operations of this now 100 hectare property, 40% of it devoted to vines. Kermit Lynch, éminence grise of American importers, discovered these wines in the late 1980’s and a great relationship was forged. One that brought these wines to our shores for the first time.

The domaine is situated deep in the south of the Beaujolais AOC in the hamlet of Le Breuil. This is the southern half of Beaujolais, meaning everything south of the town of Villefranche-sur-Saone, and known for the light, fruity qualities of its wines. This is also the area known as the Bas Beaujolais, a terroir known for its flatter terrain and rich, sandstone and clay based soils. The majority of the Domaine Dupeuble is planted instead on granite soils with a bit of limestone, both types of rock the key to quality in the northern Beaujolais where the famous crus are located. This is what sets these wines apart. 

Being staunch advocates of sustainable farming, there is no use of chemical pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. Fruit is harvested manually, fermentation done on natural yeast, no sulfur, no chaptalization, no new oak, no filtration. Real, honest wine and it’s clear from the first sip. I’d compare this to a classic Chambolle-Musigny but at $14.99 I think I’d sound a bit cheeky. So I won’t. In any event, this is the best red wine I’ve ever offered at this price point and it happens to be in decent supply so I’ll also refrain from badgering you to stock up (but you really should get your hands on some).

 

 

September 29, 2016

0 Comments


Francois Pinon Vouvray Silex Noir 2014: classic chenin blanc from it's best terroir



 
 

François Pinon isn’t a name you often hear mentioned in the same breath as Domaines Huet and Foreau but when you do, it’s often in the context of how Pinon’s wines are not only better but priced lower. The pricing issues have more to do with importer inflation (all three of these producers standard cuvées are virtually the same price in France for instance) but the quality and especially the style are something else. Pinon, in my mind anyway, is making a much more pure expression of Vouvray than the other two and the finest wine in the appellation. This is chenin blanc at it’s best.

François, a former child psychologist, took over the domaine from his father some 30 years ago now and has really made a name for himself and the domaine. It doesn’t hurt that the vineyards are planted on some of the regions best soils, black flint and limestone in particular at Pinon, but his farming and winemaking is just a lot better than most everyone else. François is manic about plowing which is great for healthy soil but very hard work. He started converting to organic viticulture 15 years ago or so which is no easy way to farm in the Loire Valley. The humid weather and frequent hailstorms force many larger growers to rely on chemical anti fungal treatments in these conditions and accomplishing this naturally is really difficult but necessary for making great wine. Winemaking is meticulous and fairly non-interventionist with the use of native yeasts and neutral fermentation and aging vessels, stainless steel and old foudres here

The Cuvée Silex Noir, in reference to the black flint soil, is the flagship Vouvray produced by Pinon. This bottling really shows off the house style which is bright, expressive chenin of great depth and precision. You often see Vouvray labelled as Sec and Demi-Sec to indicate the residual sugar in the wine but when you don’t see any designation, it usually means it’s Sec Tendre, or “tenderly dry”. This is a bottling with a bit of residual sugar but when made well, the result is a very dry wine with high acid to balance the sweetness. The Silex Noir is a fantastic example of this style. Peculiarly, Sec Tendre is a designation that isn't allowed to appear on a bottle and Vouvray Sec isn’t necessarily dry. Go figure. In any event, this wine is almost startlingly dry to the palate with high acid, low (12%) alcohol and gorgeous fruit. 2014 is the best vintage in many years for the Loire Valley and it really shows in this wine. Floral, mineral and white fruit notes dominate the nose. Flavors of pear and lemon/lime fruit with a long, mineral inflected finish. These wines are capable of long aging but so enticing as a summer wine.

May 03, 2015

0 Comments


Montesecondo: Traditional Sangiovese From one of its Finest Sources

Silvio Messana at Montesecondo

 
 

Montesecondo Chianti Classico 2012 

The Montesecondo estate isn’t a very old operation by Tuscan standards. In a region where every winery seems to exude medieval history complete with ancient castles and abbeys, Montesecondo is practically brand new. Silvio Messana and wife Catalina relocated to this northern corner of the Chianti Classico zone from New York in 1999. The estate was created by Silvio’s parents who purchased the land in Cerbaia, just outside Florence in the Val di Pesa, in 1963 where they lived and sold fruit to a local negociant. Silvio was selling wine in New York City and made the decision in 1999 to move his family closer to his aging mother and stayed on after her death, converting the farm to their new home and seasonal B&B. Silvio also immediately decided to start tending the vines, build a cellar and make wine. 

After a year working the vines conventionally, Silvio knew there had to be a better way and after attending a seminar with Nicolas Joly, the godfather of the biodynamic movement, he came home, threw out the chemicals and started converting the vineyard to biodynamics. He also farms for very low yields; 30 hectoliters per hectare which is about half of that of most good Chianti producers and well below the regulated standards of even the best grand cru Burgundy sites. This allows the Sangiovese to fully express its structure and regal aromatic profile. The addition of small amounts of Colorino and Canaiolo revive the classic recipe for great Chianti. The former for, well, color and the latter to soften Sangiovese’s often considerable tannins in much the same role that Merlot plays to Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux. 

Winemaking is meticulous here starting with a manual harvest, native yeasts and long fermentation in stainless steel vats. The wines are then transferred to old, well maintained 500 litre barrels where they spend a year mellowing and integrating. 

This is real Chianti Classico, not the international styled wine Tuscany has become famous, and sometimes infamous for (enlightening string of articles from my friend Jeremy Parzen on his excellent blog http://dobianchi.com/tag/brunellogate/) This means pleasantly chalky tannins, bright acidity and  beguiling aromas of sour cherry, almonds, well worn baseball glove leather, balsam and earth. An hommage to the style of wine that made Chianti the source of one of Italy’s noblest red wines.

 
1 2 3 Next »