Martin Scott Grand Portfolio Tasting 2018

To taste wine is a privilege by itself, and to do so in the halls of Lincoln center is always a special pleasure. Even the humid, late summer air and the dark, grey skies could not diminish the regal and somber atmosphere of the David H. Koch Theater. The Martin Scott Portfolio spans the globe, but I knew I could not taste everything - thus my notes are highlights of what I found intriguing and are in no way encompassing the entirety of the tasting. 

I met David Redondi in Barolo this summer, and it was a pleasure to see a familiar face right at table 1. While I haven’t finished my blog on the Marche wines just yet - I was already impressed by the wines of Gioacchino Garofoli back in June. They present an uncommon balance and a respect for the grape. The first wine I tasted was the Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore Podium 2015. This 100% Verdicchio sees no oak and thus the immediate impression on the nose is that of ripe citrus fruits – sweet yellow grapefruit and pineapple. The broad mid-palate is impressive, offering both texture and mineral to combat the ample fruit of the wine. It finished with a long and dry note of bitter almond and citrus zest, making me think of cheese and salumi that would do so well with this wine, as well as the spicy hints of fresh olive oil. The second wine was the Rosso Conero Piancarda 2015 – a red wine from the Montepulciano grape. This is an absolute food wine, begging for a rich steak or chunks of roasted lamb. The wine opens with red and black fruit, plum and cherry dominating, but they are underscored by sweet herb and tobacco leaf. The mid-palate follows suit, with ripe black fruit notes and herbs, but drier, brisker than the nose suggests, with a strong, rustic tannin structure. 

I continued my Italian journey by falling back in love with Sangiovese. I am, by all accounts, a monogamist. However, that seems like a silly concept in Italian wine; how can one not love both Nebbiolo and Sangiovese (and Sagrantino, and Friesa, and Aglianico…and the other 200 grapes I have not listed)? I was faced with two absolutely different and yet excellent expressions of Sangiovese (without getting into the Sangiovese Grosso debate). On the one hand there was the Castello di Cacchiano Chianti Classico 2011, deeply savory, with meat and iron notes, showing some development already on the nose, while the core is still bright with ripe cherry and a plush, soft structure that envelops the mouth. Perfect now, but surely with years to go. On the other hand, the brilliant (and painfully young) Capanna Brunello di Montalcino 2013, if only you could bottle elegance – this would be it. The wine opens with lovely floral and red berry notes over a hint of iron and earthy tones. The mid-palate is mineral, bright and juicy, leaning toward red fruit and berry notes, with a hint of the silky tannin and structure hidden beneath. The wine clearly needs time to show itself – but it is already a beauty. 

One of the most memorable moments of this summer was our dinner with the Vajra family in Barolo as part of the Collisioni Festival. And it was not just the wines - it was the amazing family, their love for the region and their respect for the history that was evident to all of us attending the dinner. This passion is easy to see in their wines as well - from the “newcomer” Riesling (peachy, citrusy deliciousness in a glass) to their powerful and age-worthy single vineyard Baroli. However, let us take a step back in history – with the Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo JC Clare 2017. A wine made in the traditional lightly sparkling style going back centuries into history, which is now more frequently seen with Freisa wines. This was a very interesting wine - spicy, with a hint of effervescence. The mid-palate brought bright red fruit and sweet herbs, leading to a vibrant, refreshing finish. I compared it to the still and dry Freisa – the 2014 Kye, which also showed the bright red notes, but in a more floral, riper cherry tones. The elegance of the wines showed itself on the palate, with bright sour cherry and sweet herbs leading the way. I can see this aging well but I wouldn’t mind it even now – especially if paired with a lovely pasta or a pork dish. The Dolcetto Coste and Fossati really shined in 2017, brimming with ripe rich cherry fruit on the nose, the rich, bright wine is firing on all cylinders on the palate, a mix of dark and red fruit , hints of tannin and spice and a long, sweet-and-savory finish. Finally I must mention the 2014 Barolo Bricco delle Viole. A stunning wine – perhaps made more approachable by the softer structure of the year, but that has taken nothing away from the depth and complexity of this bottle. The rich and lush structure of the wine is balanced by the brightness of the cherry fruit at the core, leading one into the seamless, long finish that shows a good tannic grip. Don’t miss this one. 

I could not pass the Elio Grasso table without stopping by, especially seeing the 2013 Gavarini Chiniera open. But first I tried the 2014 Barolo, a bottling made in the more difficult vintage that combines the qualities (and the grapes) of both top sites – the Casa Maté and Gavarini Chiniera. The wine showed a ripe red fruit on the nose and a hint of violets and iris. The palate was elegant, with red currants and red berries along with a more rustic structural notes. This will be interesting to watch over time, as I expect the palate to become broader, with more earthy and deeper red tones coming with time. The Barolo Gavarini Chiniera 2013 on the other hand, bowled one over with its power and unabashed depth. Rich red cherries, sweet herbs and mineral notes dominate the palate, leading to a powerful, quite tannic but refined finish. A beauty, and one that will reward patience. 

My next stop was to taste the wines of the Dr. Hermann estate and to, finally, meet the winemaker - Christian Hermann in person. I have been looking forward to trying these wines and they did not disappoint. The 2016 Dr. Hermann Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett was a good example: the wine opened with a nose of ripe, rich peach and pear. Spicy notes hinted at the vineyard. But the mid-palate was lithe, bright, carrying the RS with aplomb. The 2013 Dr. Hermann Erdener Treppchen Riesling Auslese was another stellar example of Mosel Riesling. The wine was in an interesting place in term of development – showing some orange notes and a hint of petrol over the bright ripe apple and grapefruit tones. While the palate is surely ripe and creamy, and the botrytis is present - the wine drinks with impressive lightness and an edge of acidity to keep it very fresh. The last wine is a collaboration between Christian Hermann and Stefan Steinmetz, a powerful dry wine: 2016 Steinmetz und Hermann Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Alte Reben. The wine showed riper and richer than I had expected, with pink grapefruit, ripe citrus and orange notes, with sweet and savory herb to keep the big wine fresh. A hint of sweetness toward the back gives the wine a creamy touch and a long finish hints at the potential.  

Although Stefan was not at the tasting (slacking off by beginning harvest this week, the “easy job” surely), I was glad to taste a few of his wines as well. The 2016 Weingut Günther Steinmetz Brauneberger Juffer Riesling feinherb showed itself as a bright and juicy wine with lovely fresh florals and deep citrus and pear tones. There was a crunchy acidity present on the palate, hinting at a bright future, the wine punches well above its value. I am really enjoying these bright Mosel feinherbs, not only are they amazingly food friendly throughout their lifetime (I prefer to age the Kabinets and Spatlesen) – they age into sleek, mineral-laden beauties. The second wine was his 2016 Weingut Günther Steinmetz Pinot Noir Unfiltriert. Stefan is justly proud of his reds, and this wine is an excellent example: earthy, light, elegant, with a palate of cranberry, and raspberry notes. The earthy tones take over toward the back, leading to a spicy and fresh finish. Very pretty indeed – I can only imagine what the single vineyard wines are like. 

After that taste, I went searching for more Pinot. And I was glad to find some delicious examples from Oregon. I am a fan of the wines from Zenith Vineyard – they have the bright zesty red fruit that is impossible to resist. The 2014 St. Innocent Pinot Noir Zenith Vineyard provided just that: very pretty ripe but red fruit, with high toned, berry component. The mineral notes on the palate and the long finish really made it into a beautiful wine. The 2015 St. Innocent Pinot Noir Temperance Hill Willamette Valley was a different beast all together. Both the vintage and the site showed itself – the wine was riper, more rustic and much more chewy. Red and black cherry, ripe core of spicy and powerful fruit dominate the palate, but the wine is balanced and brought to a long, spicy and red-fruited finish. 

Cider in the Northeast - Tradition Through Innovation

(Originally published by The Cork Report)

I have to admit, I have been putting off this article for a year now. When I first visited Eve’s Cidery in August of 2017, I knew I wanted to say something about the emerging orchard-based cider culture in the US. But what? I asked Autumn Stoscheck of Eve’s about that – and her answer was deceptively simple – talk about the apples. She was right, of course, but I am no grower – more of a drinker of the product. I didn’t want to do a half-legible piece that tries to boil down decades and centuries of hard work into a digestible-for-the-masses bite. Rather, I could but I have only one sentence, “Drink More Cider – It’s Good!”…

Geneva Crab Apple

Catchy, surely, but I wanted more… I wanted something “profound”, something “deeper”. That was my own mistake: why try to dig deeper than the root? Cider is profoundly good, deeply refreshing, why would I seek some socio-economic angle? “An apple (cider) a day keeps the doctor away” – isn’t that enough? I should have seen the obvious sooner: every time I introduce a new person to fine cider, their first response is “THIS is cider? Wow… this is good!” Yes. It is. I should start right there. 

Orchard-based cider, both still and sparkling, can be stunningly complex, can age and develop, can be an excellent pairing for a variety of foods and, while it really is great on a warm summer day, can also be deeply satisfying on a cold, dreary evening, paired with a rich, warm stew. How do I know? I’ve done it. I have also enjoyed cider with a tasting menu at one of the top NYC restaurants, Agern, where they have Eve’s Cidery “Albee Hill” (still and dry) Cider on the menu; and it stood up to every course we consumed. In fact, that was the moment I realized that it was time to learn more about this beverage. Why was this cider so good? 

Eve’s Cidery Orchard

Now we can talk about the apples, as well as Tradition – using apples grown specifically for cider rather than for fruit consumption as they have done in England and France for centuries. These sharp, tannic apples are not really “tasty” in the traditional sense of the word, biting into them is likely to leave your mouth in a pucker. Many of these are smaller than the apples we are used to consuming, but with a more concentrated flavor, akin to grapes grown for wine. Not surprisingly, traditional cider in the Northeast looks back to English cider, not only for the apples, but stylistically as well. On the one hand there are the bright, crisp still ciders, austere and complex, recalling a traditional English cider and likely similar to the ones made in the colonies, as well as the use of honey to sweeten the cider, which harkens back to Anglo-Saxon period.

Yeast Spores in an Un-disgorged Bottle

However, Northeast cider is not all about reviving traditions, there is innovation afoot too. Modern winemaking has made strides in the cellar, and the cider makers are following suite. Making “Champagne Method” cider is not only expensive and time-consuming, it is also difficult. It requires a strictly hygienic environment and a lot of manual labor during disgorgement and dosage process. But the result is a beautiful, “wine-like” cider, with layers of yeasty notes mixing with the tropical and citrus fruit. The carbonation does not remind one of soda or beer; rather the bubbles are softer, adding a creamy texture to every sip. 

Autumn and Ezra of Eve’s Cidery

Eve’s Cidery – Van Etten, NY

Autumn Stoscheck and Ezra Sherman’s cidery in Van Etten was the first one I visited. I tried their cider in New York City and was in love immediately – complex, lithe, bright… I went on their website and ordered a mixed case of the different ciders they make, from still and dry to sparkling and even to the sweet (Ice Cider). When the opportunity came to visit the Finger Lakes region, I emailed Autumn to set up an appointment. Instead, I was invited to join a family lunch. I met the most warm, humble and genuine people, both Autumn and Ezra (and, of course, their kids) were open, hospitable and in love not only with what they do, but with the land itself. Autumn’s working on making their own orchards fully organic and promoting biointensive agriculture in the region (check out her work in the vineyards @myvineyardyear on IG). Ezra is the man with the golden hands; his work on, and in, “the Barn” is honestly astonishing. That is what I taste in their cider – true appreciation for nature.

“The Barn” at Eve’s

Ezra Sherman of Eve’s Cidery

Ciders of Note (any and every cider they make is excellent but if I had to talk about just a few): 2017 Albee Hill (still & dry) – I found this year’s version to be lightly floral, with tea and peach notes; the mid-palate more ripe with a core of white and yellow apple flesh, hints of sweet citrus and a firm, tannic finish with mineral and stone. 2017 Perry Pear (pear cider) – floral with white and yellow flowers, and sweet stone fruit on the nose, light and bright mid palate, crisp – with mineral and acid – and finishing with a ripe pear and cream touch. 2017 Autumn’s Gold (dry and sparkling) – broad, rich cider, with funky and yeasty notes – leaning toward brioche; tropical on the palate, with pineapple and dry mango; serious grip on the long, dry finish. 2017 Kingston Black (sparkling and dry) – this year’s version is sparkling and not still. I have a bottle of the ‘16 in my cellar and cannot wait to taste them side by side. The ‘17 showed a powerful, broad character, leaning toward dry fruits and savory, tart herbs. The palate was rich but with hints of tart melon rind and nutty, sour apples. Kingston Black produces some of the most complex ciders and this is a great example. Essence (Ice Cider) – just a quick note, get it. It is not overly sweet, but rather rich, creamy and truly the essence of the apple. If you love sweet wines with a bite, this is a must try. 

Finger Lakes Cider House

Melissa Madden of Kite&String

Jimmy Miller of Kite&String

Finger Lakes Cider House: Kite and String – Interlaken, NY

I met Melissa Madden at this spring’s Skurnik Portfolio tasting and, after trying their Northern Spy (one of my favorite American cider apples) and their Ice Cider – I knew I had to visit them. Melissa is surely one of the hardest working people I have ever met (just take a look at her Instagram - @kiteandstringcider), and the team at Good Life Farm shows the same care and love for the land that I have come to admire. The Finger Lakes Cider House itself is a beautiful space, not only for cider, but for an amazing, fresh and vibrant lunch as well. The tasting room, airy, with bright windows, has a cozy, family feel and an amazing view of the farm and the lake. Bring the family – there are plenty of options for all ages. I would also suggest taking a look at their cider club, which is not only generous but also allows access to some unique limited release bottlings. Melissa gifted me a bottle of one such cider, King of Hector (dry and sparkling), made from foraged apples… and it was stunning. Rich, deep and complex with haunting cider and tropical fruit notes and hints of ginger and clove.

Tasting Room at Finger Lakes Cider House

Ciders of Note: I have to start with the absolute, incredible, guilty pleasure. I usually don’t even like Rosé wines, and this… 2017 Rosé (semi-sweet & sparkling), a cider spiked with Riesling juice and Marechal Foch red wine… but it is so good… sweet with peach and strawberry, ripe, light but persistent… truly a moment of don’t judge, drink! The other unique cider was the 2017 Cyser (semi-dry and sparkling): a champagne method cider with local honey – a hint of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman coming together! It showed aromas of peaches and honey, with a ripe, rounded palate and a pleasing, orchard fruit core. The 2016 Cazenovia (dry and sparking) was a very different animal – bone dry, elegant, bright with ripe citrus and flowers. Long tannic and herbal finish – a beauty. The 2017 Baldwin (dry and sparking) played in the same sphere, but rounder, with tropical touches and white peach. The palate had a persistent note of lime and ginger leading to a complex finish. Finally, the 2017 Northern Spy (semi-dry and sparking) bright but on the fully tropical gamut of flavors, with mango and melon, richer and rounder yet still keeping a core of ripe acidity to keep the fruit at bay. 

Bellweather – Trumansburg, NY

Our “home away from home” in the Finger Lakes region is Trumansburg. I ended up here rather randomly the first time: it seemed to be convenient to the places I wanted to visit, but I fell in love with the little cozy town. The food, the people and the fact I could walk out in the morning and get some excellent coffee – what else can one ask for? Bellweather Cidery is five minutes out of town and I couldn’t pass up a chance to stop by. What I found was a quite serious lineup of ciders, including some more of my favorite Northern Spy. After tasting, I felt inclined to research further, or that was the best way to explain why so many bottles were coming home with me.
Ciders of Note: Heritage (still and dry): made from a blend of traditional cider apples, it showed a complex nose of citrus and orchard fruit. The mid-palate is bright, on the lighter side, showing green and yellow apple tones and citrus. Nice bright finish, with palate-cleansing acidity and a hint of lemon. King Baldwin (off-dry and sparking): a blend of Tompkins King and Baldwin apples. This cider showed bright, riper fruit, leaning toward peach and pear, ripe on the palate, with a roundness from a bit of sweet orchard fruit. Finishes long and with a great tart note. Black Magic (semi-sweet and sparkling): cider with black currants – which lend it a rich, black fruit quality and broader body. Dominant note here is currant, with the apple providing depth and acidity, keeping the sweetness in check, which would allow the cider to do well with a variety of dishes. 

South Hill Cider – Finger Lakes Region, NY

I stopped by Northside Wine and Spirits while in Ithaca to meet Dave Pohl and talk about the region. He suggested I grab a bottle of South Hill Cider… so I took two. Now that both bottles are empty, I will be looking forward to meeting Steve Selin in person next time I am in the region. Cider doesn’t leave you much to hide behind, especially still cider – thus the passion and the care shows clearly when it is present. Both of the ciders were excellent, I will be looking for more. Ciders of Note: Russet Dabinett (still and dry): deeply colored (honey), with notes of baked apple and cinnamon. Mid-palate is broad, ripe but quite dry, tropical fruit coming to the front, with mango and dry apricot. Ripe yellow peaches show up toward the back of the palate, finishing clean, with a zing of citrus and a hint of tannin. Packbasket (still and dry): made from foraged apples from wild seedling trees, unusual is not the right word – unique? Surely one of a kind. Complex, bright, tangy, with herbal notes and a stony mineral component. Clearly still apple cider, with hints of baked apple and ripe yellow apple skins, but the herbal tones take it somewhere else entirely. A quite intriguing result!

Poverty Lane Orchards: Farnum Hill – Lebanon, NH

I must admit, I have yet to make a true pilgrimage to the cideries of New Hampshire and Vermont. That trip is on my short list – I promise! However, I was lucky enough to meet Louisa Spencer in New York City, at the Skurnik Porfolio tasting. That meant I was able to taste through their lineup of ciders as well as discuss the intriguing development of fine cider on the US market. I cannot wait to visit the orchards for myself. Ciders of Note: Extra Dry Still Cider – really bright, floral nose of apple skins, white flowers and mineral. The high acidity shows itself in this lithe, bristling cider, sour apples and ginger notes dominate, with a clean, tart and tannic finish. Absolutely refreshing. Semi-Dry Sparkling Cider – this is quite dry as well, with lemon and mineral notes dominating the nose. The mid-palate is broader, with hints of tropical fruit and touch of creamy texture over the bright, mineral laden body. The carbonation adds to the creamy feel on the palate without the need to rely on sugar, thus balancing the cider. Kingston Black Reserve (extra dry and still) – incredible nose of smoke, yeasty notes and cantaloupe. Mid-palate reminds one of Sauvignon Blanc, with a lithe core of herbs and fruit and a broader, richer texture. This is a prizefighter, ready for a match. A wonderful expression of a classic cider apple. 

Friesa, Ruché and Other Grapes of Monferrato

Town of Grana in the Setting Sun

Our second day in Piedmont began with a wild romp through the many Vini del Monferrato, led by Ian d’Agata. His fascination with the diversity of the Italian native grape varieties is quite infectious: how can anyone not be in love with Grignolino and Freisa? Whether you can pronounce it or not matters little, honestly. By the end of the day, many of us were searching for these wines at home and thinking of what and how we can get our hands on them. And that was even before we got to Ruché, but I am jumping ahead again. Back to Grignolino – a rather unique and delightful grape (unless you are the one making the wine apparently). Ian calls the wine made from this grape akin to a “big rosato”, but I would caution the reader to think more of the juicier, fleshier style than the pale rosé currently en vogue. I loved the wines immediately, as they combine some of my absolute favorite descriptors. The Grignolinos we tasted were floral, with light cherry and raspberry tones, spicy and with excellent acidic and tannic structure. My favorite was the Tenuta Olim Bauda Grignolino d’Asti 2015 Isolavilla that showed more structure than the others, and a more complex, riper core of cherry fruit. The long finish had cloves and other spices along with a bright, fresh acidity.  

We then moved on to discuss Freisa. I have had wine from this grape before, specifically the Giuseppe Mascarello Friesa. But, I only had it a few times and rather young wine at that. With its direct relation to Nebbiolo, Freisa can age magnificently, and we found that out at Cascina Gilli, when we tasted their 2004 Friesa Arvele. While the jury is still out on whether Friesa is the offspring or the parent of Nebbiolo, both share a lighter color and a highly perfumed nose. That of Friesa strays closer to strawberry and sour cherry, while still keeping the lovely rose petal of Nebbiolo. With age, the two become even harder to tell apart, gaining savory notes as well as earthy tones. We tasted five Freisa wines at the tasting, and I was happy to taste several more during my visit to Cascina Gilli, including a frizzante version – Luna di Maggio 2017. The wine showed only a touch of fizz, but it added to the brightness of the strawberry fruit on the nose and a lightness to the front palate. The wine got darker as it receded, with pepper, tobacco leaf and fine tannin toward the finish. 

Gianni Vergnano of Cascina Gilli

Paolo Vergnano of Cascina Gilli

Cascina Gilli’s Freisa 2016 Il Forno is the lighter of the two still versions, as it is vinified and aged in stainless steel. It shows a hint of rose petal on the nose with lots of ripe cherries up front and blackberries toward the back of the palate. The wine finishes long with fresh but ripe notes of fruit. The 2015 Arvele, on the other hand, sees twelve months of barrique (10% new) and shows darker, more liquorous cherry, with a hint of vanilla and cardamom. The palate is riper, richer, with fresh acidity and a spicy touch. In many ways, this reminds one of Nebbiolo on the nose and Barbera on the palate. Delicious. To show us how the wine ages, the Vergnanos were kind enough to share a 2013 and 2004 Arvele. Both wines showed young, with the 2013 showing sandal wood and cigar box notes along with the deep cherry fruit and the 2004… savory, meaty notes with earthy blackberry fruit, complex, rich but light on its feet. I could drink that wine all day. Another Freisa I have to add was the Tenuta Olim Bauda Freisa d’Asti 2015. A lighter, more feminine wine, elegant, showing spice and leather along with earthy tones on the nose. The mid palate was bright with red sour cherry leading to a tangy, spicy finish. I think I need some Freisa in my cellar right about now…

Ksenia Berta of Berta Paolo

Francesca Schiavo of Cascina Gilli

There are two other grapes that I must mention: Dolcetto and the red-berried Malvasia di Schierano. Dolcetto from Asti is not as well-known as examples from Alba or Dogliani, but both of the examples we tried were quite interesting in their own right. Dolcetto is a notoriously difficult grape to grow, nevermind the “sweetness” in its name and berries. However, when done right, it can have a bright, fruity personality, leaning toward blackberry and black cherry, with floral notes of violets. That is what I found in the Berta Paolo Dolcetto d’Asti Livroje 2017 – with notes of fresh beets and a ripe core of cassis pastry. The wine had a fresh finish of mulling spices and a hint of cinnamon. The Malvasia, on the other hand, is a very different kind of sweetness. Imagine Moscato d’Asti had a red-berried cousin, same sweet apricot notes, but with hints of red fruit in the mix, perhaps a few pomegranate seeds in with the peaches and cream. That is how I would describe Cascina Gilli Malvasia Di Castelnuovo Don Bosco 2017, poached pears, whip cream and that wine is a combination I cannot wait to try. 

Sunset over Castagnole Monferrato

Ian D’Agata with Luca Ferraris

Our rowdy, international team

I have had Friesa before, though never on this level, and both Grignolino and Malvasia are wines I could compare to previous vinous experiences. I admit, I was not prepared for Ruché. I did read about it, know some of its origins - while it has been planted on these hills for centuries, it was really the 20th century work of Don Giacomo Cauda, the parish priest, that brought the wine into its own. He was the first to appreciate the potential of this floral grape in making a dry wine from it. Ruché has since received a DOCG in 2010, and the young, yet motivated, Association of Ruché Producers is working together to promote the grape in Italy and abroad. It was with this group of producers that we had the pleasure of tasting on a warm summer day in Castagnole Monferrato. However, no amount of reading can prepare a person for a red wine that smells like a white one. I was stunned by the pure peaches and nectarines that were wafting from the glass before me. Floral, richly floral – that would be my first impression – lilacs, yellow and red flowers. The middle was bright, in the best wines it veered toward raspberry and cherry, with cardamom and coriander notes. Several older examples we tried added leather and herbal tones but the beauty of that floral and fruity nose had receded. Thus, I would drink it early, to enjoy the autumnal bounty of its fruit and floral components. Both of my favorite wines were from the 2017 vintage and showed their freshness and the bright tart cherry core. The first was Dacapo Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato 2017 Majoli, a ripe and rich example with rosehips, cherries and peaches on the nose, with a bright, red fruited mid that finished with pepper and a hint of spice. A beauty of a wine, which would not only be a great match for cheese, but stands up well to rich meats and sauces. The other was Crivelli Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato 2017, which showed a very floral nose, with violets and iris notes on top of the peach and dried berries. The mid palate was ripe but with a very refreshing acidic backbone, showing tart sour cherries and a chewy, dense finish. An elegant, bright expression, yet brimming with sweet berries and floral notes - simply delicious!

Marco Crivelli

Renata Bonacina of Dacapo

Several other wines showed undeniable beauty of the grape, as well as its potential. One was the 2017 Vigna del Parroco, made by Luca Ferraris who recently took over the original vineyard of Don Giacomo (thus the name). Bottled in the old-school bottle, the wine remains an homage to the man who saw the beauty of this grape. The wine inside fulfills the promise as well, bright, floral and fresh, with a wonderful zing of acidity on the palate and a freshness to balance the rich berry fruit. The Ferraris Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato 2017 Clàsic opened with darker cherry, but then, veered toward peach and ripe nectarine! The mid-palate showed darker cherry tones as well as a lovely note of minerality leading to a zesty finish. Cantina Sant’Agata Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato 2016 showed a different approach, a richer, sweeter cherry and a blue-red floral profile. Violets and roses coming to the fore on the nose, allowing the sweet ripe fruit to caress the palate. The brighter, tarter cherry on the finish gave balance to the wine, and a freshness to go back for another glass. And the Garrone Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato 2017, showing the floral freshness and the bright, ripe crushed berries. The richer mid-palate of the wine is due to the red clay soil of the vineyard, according to Dante Garrone. There is a lovely spice note as well as a deep herbal tone toward the finish that adds a savory note to the wine. If you have yet to try Ruchè, make this your next vinous discovery – it is guaranteed to bring a smile, even on a warm, muggy day. 

Franco Cavallero of Cantine Sant’Agata

Dante Garrone

One final note, because there is a wine that Asti is known for throughout the world that needs to be mentioned. Of course, I have tried many Moscato d’Asti in the United States, and there are few wines that provide the sheer pleasure and drinkability of a good Moscato. However, it was not the focus of our tastings on this trip; rather, we concentrated on the red grapes of the region, with Barbera leading the way. However, we had several delicious versions throughout our time in Italy, often served with light, summery desserts. One Moscato that deserves a special mention appeared at our table at Collisioni, along with its charming winemaker, Roberto Garbarino. This was more than just a pleasurable aperitif, or a light dessert wine. Roberto’s 2017 Hiku Moscato, made from old vines (and sadly, in miniscule quantities) showed a minerality, and a depth to balance the floral, spicy and fruity wine. Excellent wine indeed. I cannot wait to return to the hills of Monferrato! 

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