Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Chilean Pleasures for Summer - and beyond

Sauivgnon Blanc vineyard near Chile's coast
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Notes on a few new releases from Chile that combine quality with value:

2008 Meli Riesling (Maule Valley)
You don't often think about Riesling in Chile and admittedly, it's still a drop in the bucket here in terms of plantings. But there are some fine examples; this bottling offers pleasant tangerine and yellow peach aromas with just a touch of petrol (this is common with many fine Rieslings, especially from the Southern Hemisphere) and has good weight on the palate with a dry finish and tart acidity. Don't think about putting this away for several years - rather enjoy it over the next 12-15 months with lighter seafood or stir-fry vegetables. ($12)

2009 Ventisquero Sauvignon Blanc “Quelat” (Casablanca Valley)
Chile's cool Casablanca Valley is an ideal area for Sauvignon Blanc; this example offers lovely varietal aromas of spearmint and fresh hay. Medium-bodied, with a gentle entry on the palate, this is well-balanced with good acidity. This would be ideal with medium-bodied seafood influenced by herbs such as chervil. ($16)

2009 Errazuriz Sauvignon Blanc “Single Vineyard” (D.O. Aconcagua)
Readers know of my love for Sauvignon Blancs from Chile. After the variety became a success in Casablanca Valley, a few vintners planted it in extremely cool zones near the ocean, such as San Antonio and Leyda Valleys. The wines from these two areas have become some the world's finest Sauvignons over the past five to seven years.

Now producers in other regions are looking to the coolest reaches of their land to plant Sauvignon Blanc as well. Late last year, I wrote about the brilliant Cool Coast bottling from Casa Silva in Colchagua Valley; this wine being a signal that there were cool sites in many regions in Chile that could yield wines of great complexity.

Now comes this bottling from Errazuriz in the Aconcagua Valley. Like Colchagua, Aconcagua is thought of as a red wine zone, due to its warm inland temperatures. But a small area near the sea, known as Aconcagua Costa, has been developed by the winery for Sauvignon Blanc. This wine was first produced from the 2008 vintage; the 2009 displays distinctive aroms of bell pepper, spearmint and lime backed by impressive depth of fruit and a lengthy finish. Although not as aromatically complex as the finest examples from Leyda and San Antonio (such as Casa Marin, Amayna and Leyda Vineyards), this has beautiful structure and should improve and drink welll for 3-5 years. The $15 price tag represents a great value! I loved the winery's 2008 Single Vineyard Carmenere, which I tried at the Wines of Chile tasting in Chicago this past April; based on these two wines, I'd have to rank Errazuriz as one of leaders of the country's wine scene. I can't wait to try the latest releases of their other specialty wines (Chardonnay Wild Ferment, Pinot Noir Wild Ferment, Single Vineyard Sangiovese).

2008 Gracia Pinot Noir Reserva Santa Ana Estate Block 45 (Bio-Bio Valley)
Just as in most countries around the world, Pinot Noir is a challenge in Chile. Again, look to the cool zones such as Casblanca and San Antonio for the finest examples. Now a few very good examples are emerging from the far southern region of Bio-Bio. This 2008 from Gracia is medium-bodied and focuses on wild cherry fruit along with notes of cardamom and bacon fat. It has an earthy, slightly herbal finish with very good acidity and moderate tannins; pair this with chicken in red wine or duck. While this is not a powerful wine, there is certainly a lot of character for the $12 price.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sense and Sensibility

Last week, Italian wine writer Franco Ziliani (pictured above) announced that he was suspending his blog, Vinoalvino, for an indefinite time. While this may not be of great importance to most wine lovers in this country (the blog was written in Italian), I'd like to comment on this decision.

Ziliani is one of most respected journalists in Italy, not only for his hard work, but also because he believes in something. That something is the love of traditionally made wines in Italy, which he believes represent the true soul of the land and the people that make these wines. More and more producers in various regions have begun to craft their wines in an international style, emphasizing ripeness and power, while at the same time deemphasizing elegance, finesse and most of all, a sense of place.

I am in agreement with Ziliani on this, but even if you are not, you have to respect him for his diligence on this matter. You also have to respect his civility, as he carries himself in a proper manner, bringing his argument to the table in the right way. Unlike some bloggers or writers who trumpet themselves as the center of the universe, Franco never approached his work in that fashion.

My guess as to why he decided to stop his blog at this particular time is that he is a bit burned out- after all, he was writing updates five times a week. This was of course in addition to his work as a wine writer as well as a speaker. So he's earned his rest - enjoy it, Franco!

A personal note - Franco befriended me in Italy about six years ago when I wasn't that familiar with too many other journalists or producers. He came up to me at an event, introduced himself and mentioned that he would be more than happy to help me in my ventures. You don't get that too often these days and true to his word, Franco has remained a great friend, often highlighting my articles on the Association of Italian Sommeliers website. That's a real nice touch and I get excited every time I see my writings get featured on that site.

My hope in all this is that more bloggers write with the precision, determination and quality of Franco Ziliani. He updated his blog almost every day, but he had something to say. I get tired of reading blogs where it's clear that the author has little to add - he or she is merely updating because they feel they need to. In my book, less is more; there are too many wine blogs out there that offer very little in terms of opinion or news. I'm sorry, but I want to read something that's engaging - is that too much to ask? Telling me that you had a tuna fish sandwich somewhere is not of interest to anyone - keep that for your social network page or send an email, but don't update your blog just because you need more hits. Write when you have something important to say - no one is going to miss your blog if you only update once a week.

On a sad note, I just learned of the passing of Kathleen Talbert, one of my favorite people I've ever dealt with in the wine business. Kathleen headed her own PR agency, Talbert Communications in New York City and represented some pretty important accounts and people in the wine business, namely Francis Ford Coppola and his California wines.

I cold always count on Kathleen to get back to me in a timely fashion. Now while most PR people do the same, Kathleen always took that extra step. One time when Coppola visited Chicago, she was kind enough to set up some time for me to interview him, despite the fact that he had a full itinerary that day. I'm sure she must have received countless requests from other journalists for a moment or two of his time, so how nice that she helped me out with this matter.

Kathleen passed away on July 8 after a long struggle with cancer. Here is the link to her obituary in the New York Times. I will miss her deeply.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Brilliant Beaujolais

Georges Duboeuf

As I specialize in Italian wines, I don't try as many French wines as I would like. So when I was asked to taste a selection of 2009 Beaujolais from Georges Duboeuf with the winemaker the other day, I jumped at the chance.

The initial information I received about these wines is that 2009 is "the vintage of a lifetime." I've heard comparisons like that before, so I went in with a calm manner, knowing that everyone tries to tell you that their new wines (the ones they need to sell) are great! Well, at least they didn't say the "best of the century", especially as there have only been nine harvests in the century!

I sat down at Chicago's L2O restaurant with winemaker Emeric Gaucher to taste through a mix of commune as well as cru Beaujolais. As for the claim of 2009 being a remarkable vintage, he commented that it was a growing season with "perfect conditions." That meant a sunny May, a rainy June and then two very sunny months in July and August; in fact, August 2009 was the sunniest August on the last 60 years, according to Gaucher. Combine that with the fact that methods in the vineyard and the cellar are far better now than they were sixty years ago and you have the recipe for classic wines.

Dubeouf produces Beaujolais-Villages along with commune bottlings (Morgon, Fleurie, Moulin-a-Vent et al) as well as cru bottlings from those communes. The straight Beaujolais-Villages (every wine is is produced entirely from the Gamay grape) is always best fresh- enjoyed within 1-2 years of the vintage date, though tasting the wine three years after the harvest usually works well. The commune Beaujolais tend to be more aromatic -wines from Fleurie have lovely floral aromatics, as befits the name - while the single estate wines offer a combination of more pronounced aromatics with greater depth of fruit and even a touch of tannin. These wines can be enjoyed 5-7 years following the harvest and in a few examples, espcially with a great vintage such as 2009, can be cellared for 7-10 years.

Here are a few brief notes on my top wines:

Beaujolais-Villages 2009 "Flower Label"
Typical flavors and body for this wine - pleasant cranberry and red plum fruit - but much deeper color than in most years. Very pleasant - enjoy with all sorts of ligher white and red meats (ideal with cog au vin).

Fleurie 2009 "Domaine des Quatre Vents"
This is from a single estate ("domaine of the four winds") in Fleurie. Cranberry, roasted coffee and bacon aromas - very intriguing! Medium-full, excellent complexity - wonderful wine! Best in 5-7 years.

Morgon 2009 "Flower Label"
Mulberry, mincemeat and black plum aromas; nicely balanced; enjoy over the next 3-5 years. Pair with light red meats or sautéed vegetables.

Moulin-a-Vent 2009 "Flower Label"
Plum and cherry aromas; medium-full with notes of chocolate in the finish; enjoy over the next 3-5 years with stews, casseroles and lighter red meats (pepper steak).

Julienas 2009 "Chateuau des Capitans"
Made from grapes grown at an estate owned by Dubeouf and his U.S. importer, William Deutsch (the estate's title is in their children' names). Juicy cranberry and red raspberry aromas; medium-full with a long finish and silky tannins. Notes of licorice. Best in 5-7 years; pair with roast lamb and veal.

Moulin-a-Vent 2009 "Domaine de la Tour du Bief"
Moulin-a-Vent is known as the "king of Beaujolais" and this bottling offers ample evidence as to why. Roasted coffee, Queen Anne cherry aromas with a hint of black mint. Medium-full with excellent depth of fruit. Best in 7-10 years, perhaps longer. Pair with roasts and lighter game.

Two notes on these wines.

All were served with a light chill (cellar temperature). This is the proper way to serve Beaujolais, as tannins are light; thus the wines are more refreshing and easy to consume. (This was also quite welcome on a 90 degree day in Chicago!)

Also the prices of these wines are remarkably fair, from $9.99 retail for the Beaujolais-Villages to $17.99 for the Julienas "Chateau des Capitans". Everyone associates French wines with high prices (and God knows there are too many high-priced examples), so it is a great sign - especially in today's economy - to find wines of this quality for such reasonable prices. The $18 for the cru Julienas bottling is an excellent value, particularly for a wine that you can cellar for at least five years, yet enjoy tonight!

Text ©Tom Hyland
Photos courtesy of Georges Duboeuf

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Best Italian Wines of the Year (so far) - Part Two

Aldo Vacca, Director, Produttori del Barbaresco
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

My last post featured sparkling, rosé an whites wines. Without further ado, here are my favorite red and dessert wines from Italy from the first six months of 2010:



2006 Barolo
Elio Grasso "Gavarini Vigna Chiniera"
Elio Grasso "Ginestra Vigna Casa Mate"
Giovanni Rosso "Ceretta"
Ettore Germano "Prapo"
Ceretto "Bricco Rocche"
Cavallotto "Bricco Boschis"
Vietti "Rocche"
Oddero "Rocche di Castiglione"
Elvio Cogno "Ravera"
Burlotto "Acclivi"
Renato Ratti "Conca"
Rocche Costamagna "Bricco Francesco"
Bartolo Mascarello

2007 Barbaresco
Produttori del Barbaresco (normale)
Marchesi di Gresy "Martinenga"
Molino "Teorema"
Massimo Penna "Sori Sartu"
Fratelli Grasso "Vallegrande" (Treiso)
Cantina del Pino (Neive-Barbaresco)
Fratelli Giacosa "Basarin" (Neive)
Pasquale Pelissero "Bricco San Giuliano" (Neive)

Cascina Roccalini Barbera d'Alba 2008
Cascina Roccalini Dolcetto d'Alba 2008
Cascina Roccalini Barbaresco 2008

Braida Barbera d'Asti "Bricco dell'Uccellone" 2006
La Ghersa Barbera d'Asti "VIgnassa" 2007

Produttori del Barbaresco "Rio Sordo" 2005
Produttori del Barbaresco "Montestefano" 2005
Produttori del Barbaresco "Pajé" 2005


2005 Brunello di Montalcino
Il Poggione
Pian dell'Orino
Il Palazzone

Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2004

Querciabella Chianti Classico 2007
Bibbiano Chianti Classico 2007

Bolgheri 2007
Guado al Tasso

Michele Satta Bolgheri "I Castagni" 2006


Feudi di San Gregorio Taurasi "Piano di Montevergine" 2002
Il Cancelliere Taurasi 2005
Cantine Lonardo (Contrade de Taurasi) Taurasi 2005
Antonio Caggiano Taurasi "Vigna Macchia dei Goti" 2006

Traditional Aglianico vine near Taurasi
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)


Stefano Accordini Amarone "Il Fornetto" 2004



Dario Coos Picolit 2007
Dario Coos Ramandolo 2005
Jacuss Picolit 2006


Stefano Accordini Recioto della Valpolicella 2006
Ca'Rugate Recioto di Soave "La Perlara"
Ca'Rugate "Corte Durlo" 2001

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Best Italian Wines of the Year (so far) - Part One

Cristina Ziliani, Guido Berlucchi
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

As the calendar has turned from June to July, one-half of 2010 is in the books. To celebrate that, here is my list of the best Italian wines I've tasted in 2010 during my four trips there this year. I'll sort the wines by type and by region and you'll note a dominance of wines from Piemonte, Campania, Toscana and Friuli, which are regions I've visited this year or am writing articles about. I don't have much from Sicily, Abruzzo or a few other regions, but it's not a slight on those areas - simply a reflection of the fact that there are so many great wines - and wine regions in Italy! (This is part one, which contains sparkling wines, white wines and rosato. Red wines and dessert wines will be covered in the next post.)


Mionetto Prosecco Treviso Brut (Green label - biologica agricoltura)
Sorelle Branca Prosecco "Particella 68"
Perlage Prosecco "Animae"

LOMBARDIA (Franciacorta)
Bellavista "Vittorio Moretti" 2002
Bellavista "Pas Operé Gran Cuvée" 2004
Enrico Gatti Brut (NV)
Camossi Extra Brut 2006
Guido Berlucchi "Extreme Palazzo Lana" 2004

Fontanafredda Alta Langa Contesa Brut "Pas Dose" 2006


2008 Marisa Cuomo "Fiorduva"
2009 Mastroberardino Greco di Tufo "Nova Serra"
2008 Colli di Lapio Fiano di Avellino
2008 Villa Diamante Fiano di Avellino "Villa della Congregazione"
2009 DeConciliis Fiano "Donnaluna"
2009 Luigi Maffini Fiano "Kratos"
2008 La Sibilla Falanghina "Cruna del Lago"
2009 San Paolo Falanghina "Fuoco"
2008 Feudi di San Gregorio "Campanaro" (Fiano/Greco)

Marisa Cuomo and her husband, winemaker Andrea Ferraioli
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

2008 Bastianich Vespa Bianco
2009 Gradis'ciutta Sauvignon
2007 Livio Felluga "Terre Alte"
2008 Jacuss Friulano
2008 Livon "Terre Alte"
2009 I Clivi Malvasia
2005 Radikon Ribolla Gialla

Stanko Radikon
(Photo ©Tom Hyland)

2009 Planeta Cometa

2009 Cantina Tramin Gewurztraminer "Nussbaumer"
2009 J. Hofstatter Gewurztraminer "Kolbenhof"
2009 Elena Walch Sauvignon "Castel Ringberg"

2008 Orsolani Erbaluce di Caluso "Vignot S. Antonio"

2008 Pieropan Soave Classico "La Rocca"
2007 Monte Tondo Soave Classico Superiore "Foscarin Slavinus"

2009 Alberto Longo "Le Fossette" (Falanghina)
2009 Polvanera Fiano Minutolo


2009 Giuseppe Apicella Costa d'Amalfi Rosato (Sciascinoso/Piedirosso)
2009 Fontanavecchia Aglianico del Taburno Rosato

2009 Cantine Lunae "Mearosa" (Vermentino Nero)

Cantine Lunae Vermentino Nero Rosato