Baron Ricasoli - Chianti Reconsidered

It is not for me to retell the illustrious history of the Ricasoli family – their ownership of the Brolio castle and its lands go back to the 12th century and the family. While talking with Francesco Ricasoli, the 32nd Generation Baron of Brolio, this student of humanities and history quickly moved from the discussion of wine to the Papal disputes and Tuscan medieval history. Surely we could have spent the afternoon in that discussion – Florence played an important historical role and those who flocked to her banners did so as well – like the Barons of Brolio. However, it is Baron Bettino Ricasoli that one must mention, the nineteenth century Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Italy and the man responsible for the modern Chianti wines, blending the Sangiovese grape with Canaiolo (for its gentler tannins) and Malvasia (in wines not meant for age, he felt it would add a lightness and drinkability).

The modern history of the Estate begins in 1993, when Francesco re-acquired the vineyards and launched into an aggressive program with the goal of reestablishing the Ricasoli name in the world of wine. The multi-pronged approach focused on replanting the vineyards and soil mapping. Replanting with high quality clones and rootstocks (especially a return to the Brolio clone), and higher density plantings have quickly returned the estate to prominence, and in 2002 it received the prestigious “Best Italian Winery of the Year” award from Gambero Rosso. The soil mapping allowed a new approach to vinification – a focus on plots that Francesco, bravely, called “Piedmotese Approach”. The Baron was referencing the already prevalent, by this point, interest in crus that has developed in Barolo and Barbaresco – a novel approach for Italy at the time, though becoming more and more prominent now. What this allows is a deeper focus on the different terroirs and microclimates within the larger vineyards – allowing the winemaker to either bottle by cru (as in their Colledila, Roncicone and CeniPrimo) or more control in the final blending for the more traditional Castello di Brolio and the Brolio Chinati Classico.

The soil studies showed nineteen different soil types and five different soil substrates within the Brolio vineyards. This allowed the estate to work the vineyards accordingly and lead to the cru approach. The study also brought Massimiliano Biagi to the Estate – where he has been crucial to the new efforts as the Agnonomist and, now, Technical Director. He is also responsible for converting the 26 hectares of olive groves to organic farming – and, having tasted the oil, I must applaud his work. The oil is thick, with a dark green sheen, and full of sweet floral aromas – a meal in itself. 

The 2016 vintage is looking spectacular throughout Italy, and that was evident in our tasting. It was evident even in the Brolio Chianti Classico and the Riserva, which were both impressive. The 2016s seem to have a lifted, juicy and mineral-laden note that keeps the wine fresh. While the Classico was ready to drink and showed lovely balance already, with sour cherry and darker fruit vying for dominance, the Riserva showed more intensity, with darker fruit and more powerful structure, perhaps requiring a bit of time. Both wines showed classic Sagiovese notes of iron and herb – unmistakable staples of great Chianti. 

Of the three Gran Selezione Crus, it was hard to pick a favorite. But if I had to, I have to give a slight nod to the CeniPrimo. All the cru wines spend 18 months in 132-gallon tonneaux (30% new and 70% second pass). The 2016 CeniPrimo a highly floral nose, spicy and with sour cherry dominating. The palate was deeply structured, with savory herb, sour red cherries and fresh blueberry. The wine showed more chewy, rustic power toward the back, suggesting excellent aging potential. Really impressive and should reward with a decade in the cellar if not more. The 2016 Colledila was the lightest of the three, earthier tones, with tobacco leaf and red currant. The palate showed some clove and savory herb in addition to the cherry and earthy tones. An elegant wine, perhaps more approachable than its siblings, but not less impressive for that. Last, but surely not least, was the 2016 Roncicone – the most floral and mineral of the three wines. Crushed flowers, high-toned nose, sweet cherry, mineral and a hint of spices toward the finish. Deeper tones, with serious tannin hiding under the fresh cherry fruit. Delicious indeed though will reward some patience. 

Thank you to Baron Francesco Ricasoli, Massimiliano Biagi, Gregory+Vine and the Folio Fine Wine team! 

AR. PE. PE. Tasting at Morrell

Yesterday’s tasting at Morrell & Company with Isabella Pelizzatti Perego of AR.PE.PE was absolutely eye-opening. The steep, South-facing slopes of the long and narrow Valtelina DOCG can only be compared to the vertigo-inducing slopes of the Mosel. This is truly a mountain-wine. We had the opportunity to taste four different vintages side by side, 2007 to 2005 and the excellent 2002, as well as discuss the merits of each vineyard, vintage and wine. Isabella’s insights allowed us to really see the depth and potential of these gems. While all the wines were delicious, my two favorites were the Sassella Riserva Vigna Regina and the Sassella Riserva Rocce Rosse from the marvelous 2007 vintage. Wines of ARPEPE, especially the singe vineyards, spend between three and five years in 5000L chestnut botti, and then three years or more in the bottle. Thus, when they are released, these wines are more immediately enjoyable than many of the current release Nebbiolos. That is not to say that these wines are mature or anywhere close to peak. All the wines we tasted, including the 17-year-old 2002, were fresh, vibrant and quite young. 

We began with the Grumello Riserva Buon Consiglio 2007 and 2005. The 2007 showed loads of dark cherry on the nose, along with hints of roses and tar, the mid was ripe with juicy black cherry, pepper and savory herbs. It got more tannic toward the back palate, leading to a spicy, refreshing finish. The 2005 followed suit, but with softer, earthier tones, more rustic on the palate, with sage and chewy, tart red fruit. Cranberry notes became entangled with the riper pomegranate and cherry, leading to a fresh, bright finish. The wine is lighter than the 07, but more lifted, with exotic notes and spices. 

We then moved on to my two favorite wines of the day, if one has to choose. The 2007 Sassella Riserva Vigna Regina and Sassella Riserva Rocce Rosse were both the epitome of what I would consider mountain-Nebbiolo - floral, mineral, with a rustic, earthy touch. The steep slopes of Vigna Regina are home to some of the oldest vines, and that shows in the complexity of the wine. Notes of blue and red flowers mix with crushed rock and cherry on the nose. The palate is rustic, with iron, ripe black cherry and a smoky, earthy feel. This is a powerful, dark and brooding wine. The Rocce Rosse plays the other side of the equation, more mineral-driven, lighter, with sour cherry tones and redder fruit. It turns toward the sweeter, exotic tones only toward the finish, bringing sweet cherry and cinnamon to the party. Both of the wines could use some more time in the cellar, but given a few hours in the decanter, I cannot imagine saying no to either. 

We finished with the 2002 Rocce Rosse and the 2006 Ultimi Raggi, two very different wines indeed. The 2002 Rocce Rosse was in a lovely place last night, showing signs of maturity in the rose petal, earth and forest floor nose. The wine was a pleasure to sniff, the perfume of flowers changing by the minute, showing darker tones and then lighter, redder notes again. The palate is earthier, with mint, pipe tobacco and earthy tones along with dark cherry. Lighter than the 2005s and 2007s, it shows an elegant side of the grape. The 2006 Ultimi Raggi is a very different animal indeed - think Amarone out of Nebbiolo, but these grapes are dried on the vine (unlike the traditional Sforzato), picked in mid to late November. The result is a plusher, sweeter cherry but with a laser-like acidity. The 2006 clearly needs more time, but last night it showed brandied cherry, sweet herbs, licorice and clove. I can see this aging gracefully over the next decade, giving up some of the lush fruit in order to gain the elegance and minerality that are currently hidden away. 

I wanted to thank Isabella Pelizzatti Perego, Grand Cru Selection and, of course, Morrell & Co for this excellent tasting and educational opportunity. And for those still seeking out their first taste of Mountain-Nebbiolo - look no further!

Tastin’ France 2019

My initial interest in the tasting was to try more of the wines from Alsace. As many of you know – I am a big fan of both Riesling and Gewürztraminer. This was a chance to try a few more from a region that doesn’t get nearly as much exposure, and thus is often overlooked, especially in Riesling discussions. Of course, I couldn’t stop myself from trying some Champagnes and a few Gamay wines as well. 

Champagne Gratiot & Cie 

Champagne Almanach #1 Brut – with 85% pinot Meunier in the blend I was expecting a more masculine wine. However, this showed classic notes of bright citrus, white flowers and savory herb in the mid palate. The citrus notes become creamier and lusher toward the back, adding to the sheer appeal of the wine. 

Champagne Almanach #2 Intense – One of my favorite sparkling wines from the tasting. This wine spends 6 years on the lees and contains 55% of wine from 2011 and 45% of reserve wine. Made in a slightly more old-fashioned style, it plays off the slightly nuttier, dry fruit notes while still showing the bright green apple and the chewy texture. Richer middle with almonds and pineapple notes add to the complexity of the wine. 

Champagne Almanach #4 Vintage 2009 – With 9 years on lees, and 83% Pinot Meunier (17% Pinot Noir) this is a complex and masculine wine. Rich, powerful Champagne with ripe lemon and curd notes. It needs more time, but is already an intriguing wine. 

Champagne Almanach #0 Brut Nature – With no dosage, the wine is brighter, juicier and fresher than the other wines. Racy, lemon and lime dominating, with a zesty finish. 

Champagne Secret d’Almanach 2012 – Quite unique, with 100% Pinot Meunier from Saulchery, with 2cl of Pinot Meunier grape juice used as dosage and only 26% going through malolactic. The wine is floral, mineral with a bright citrus note as well as a deeper tropical fruit toward the finish. 

Champagne Desire Gratiot Rose de Saignee 2014 - Wow, very much like a red wine, earthy, spicy and with red berry tones. The wine is made of 60% Pinot Noir, with a 15 hour maceration to achieve the color. Quite dry, made in extra-brut style (3.5 g dosage), showing cherry tones and spices in the mid. Really excellent. (Only 980 bottles made) 

Champagne Gardet 

Champagne Gardet Brut Tradition – Truly classic, lemon, white flowers, brioche. The palate is citrus dominated, light and bright. This is a celebration waiting for the cork to pop. 

Champagne Gardet Brut Reserve – with 8 years on the lees and 25% reserve wine, this is a complex and rich example. Sweet cooked green apples, citrus, nutty notes, with a cinnamon touch on the finish. 

Champagne Gardet 2012 Extra Brut – Impressive, mineral, fresh lemon acidity, good power in the mid palate. Long refreshing finish. 

Champagne Gardet Prestige Charles 2004 – Absolute stunner. Floral, nutty, apple and pear notes, minerality to the max in the mid. Unusual and intriguing wine – a must try. 

Champagne Charles Collin 

Champagne Charles Collin Blanc De Noirs – Surprisingly mineral, stone, flowers, bright citrus. This is a lovely wine and a great qpr. 

Champagne Charles Collin Cuvee Charles Brut – The majority (75%) of the wine comes from the 2013 vintage, with 25% from 2009. There is a clarity and power to the wine that is undeniable. Citrus notes are underlining a richer, nuttier note with savory herbs and grapefruit. Really excellent.

Domaine Bott Freres 

Domaine Bott Freres Riesling Grand Cru Kirchberg de Ribeauville – I am always happy to find bright examples of Alsace Riesling. This is one of them – floral, with stone fruit and pineapple. The mid palate is ripe, tropical fruit, pineapple and grapefruit, but very dry, with bright minerality. While the wine needs time – it is already an excellent example. 

Domaine Bott Freres Gewurztraminer Tradicion 2017 – With about 30 grams of RS, this is a pretty, supple wine. Rosewater notes on the nose are quite clear, but the mid is ripe with exotic fruit. Delicious. 

Domaine Bott Freres Gewurztraminer Reserve Personnelle 2017 – Like the above wine, but with every note amplified, with more power and a minerality that hints at a much more complex wine, given time. Hints of orange blossoms deepen the already exotic melon and mango on the palate. 

Domaine Dussourt 

Domaine Dussourt Riesling Scherwiller 2015 – Floral, light and quite dry (5g RS) with lemon, dry apricot and green plum. 

Domaine Dussourt Gewurztraminer Fronholz 2016 – Lychee, rosewater, tropical mid, with lemon curd. Orange and mango. Really excellent and in need of time.
Domaine Dussourt Pinot Noir Rouge D’Alsace 2015 – This was a surprise! A rustic, earthy and savory wine, herbs, cherry – leaning toward sour cherry. Deeply interesting, it would be fun to sit with a glass of this wine. 

Famille Horcher 

Famille Horcher Riesling Selection 2014 – Lemon and herb on the nose, hint of pineapple and stone fruit. Quite masculine in the mid palate. Serious finish.
Famille Horcher Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Mandelberg 2017 – Stunning wine, floral, but more mineral than exotic. Roses and wet stone, the mid is deep, lovely olive oil quality of gewurz comes through; the 35g of RS are perfectly balanced by the bright acidity. This is excellent.
Famille Horcher Pinot Gris Vendanges Tardives 2012 – Rich, BA level of power with 80% botrytis grapes. Candied oranges, dry apricot, true dessert wine in fashion, but fresh for all its power. 

Domaine Naturabilis 

Domaine Naturabilis Morgon Cuvee Ancestrale 2017 – It was very hard to choose between these two very different expressions of Gamay. The Ancestrale is made in barrel, giving the wine a rounder, softer palate. There is a ripe cherry component, with good structure and long finish. 

Domaine Naturabilis Morgon Cuvee Antique 2016 – This cuvee was made in amphorae, and this gave it a very different fruit profile and texture. The nose is darker, with plums and spices. The mid palate is richer as well, with dark fruit, rustic texture and bright acidity. Delicious! 

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