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Welcome to V I N T R O S P E C T I V E

Posted By Joel on February 20, 2009

March 17, 2012

Readers,

You may have come to know Vintrospective as having a focus on the wines of Italy. This will continue to be the case, however, Vintrospective will expand coverage to wine regions beyond Italy. There is no roadmap or plan for exactly how, except to follow the wines and write as I go. Hope you’ll come along.

Best,
Joel

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Do you think about the place where your bottle of Italian wine came from, who made it, how it was made?  If you stop to consider these things you will begin to taste the unique cultural message which Italian wine offers.  The wine will tell you about the land where it was created.  It will invite you to drink the traditions and histories of the people that made it. That is good wine.  It’s always been like this, more or less.

Some would have you believe that understanding Italian wine is a technical undertaking.  It’s not like that, believe me.  It is impossible to understand Italian wine without an awareness of the culture, people and place that created it.   Only after we have a sense of these things does the technical stuff add value.

That its wine regions are beautifully different, distinct and many is Italy’s strength and its difficulty.  Her dazzling array of wines will both charm and bewilder you.  I suggest one approach: get to know Italian wine by your own sensory perceptions and experiences: you will create a real, personal wine culture independent of the professional wine press.

Don’t worry;  the wines have their own way of deciding the itinerary for you…  Are you coming?

Sangiovese, Uninterrupted

Posted By Joel on March 31, 2014

Sangiovese, Uninterrupted

As oenophilic exclamations go, it may sound a bit underwhelming, but nonetheless … there are times when I really do want my Sangiovese to drink like, well, Sangiovese.

Making a connection with the earthy, wild cherry impressions, supple textures and body of quintessential Sangiovese, however, is not as easy as one might think. In fact, that one might walk into a local wine shop asking for a bottle of Sangiovese and emerge with a wine expressing consummate Sangiovese character is likely to prove one of life’s little unpredictables ;-)

Here are a few considerations that may help the hunt for wines with classic Sangiovese personality:

sangiovese-uninterrupted-aIn the company of Bordeaux varietals such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon - legal blending partners in several of Tuscany’s great Sangiovese wine denominations – Sangiovese produces wines that are seductive in their own way, no doubt. With respect to the archetypal Sangiovese experience, however, Bordeaux varietals can, at times, overwhelm the somewhat subtle Sangiovese varietal tastes and aromas that, more and more, I have come to seek out.

Within Tuscany’s aforementioned Sangiovese denominations, DOC law also allows uniting Sangiovese with more traditional varietal partners. Blended with small amounts of varietals such as Colorino, Canaiolo, or Mammolo, for example, Sangiovese seems more at home, less interrupted, and better able to communicate the subtleties of its unique message.

When crafted from 100% Sangiovese, Sangiovese in purezza, some wines can achieve a certain state of ethereal grace. While inspiring examples of 100% Sangiovese wines can be found electively produced within other of Tuscany’s important Sangiovese appellations, it is the most famous of these wines, Brunello di Montalcino and its sidekick Rosso di Montalcino, which are perhaps the surer bet: they are required by Italian law to be produced from 100% Sangiovese.

What happens in the cellar is vital to allowing Sangiovese to play the expressive leading role. Compatible techniques in the cellar include the carrying out of fermentation in steel or cement vat. Ideally, ageing is done in Slavonian oak, or at least in part, as it is a very neutral, Sangiovese-friendly maturation treatment. And please take note: easy on the French barrique (especially 1st passage) – heavy hands here can impart too much wood / spice influence so as to encrypt the Sangiovese message – it’s a fine line between state of grace and state of Bordeaux wanna-be ;-)

On a final note, generally speaking, when looking to satisfy the craving for prototypic Sangiovese, one may fare better by sticking close to normale bottlings: riserva wines tend to be heavier on the oak influence which, as we’ve noted, can be interfering in this context. But, please remember that there are always notable exceptions (see below).

Producers / wines to investigate:

Dei Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Felsina Chianti Classico & Chianti Classico Riserva
La Ciarliano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Le Gode Brunello di Montalcino
Lisini Brunello di Montalcino & Rosso di Montalcino
Monteraponi Chianti Classico
Pietramora Morellino di Scansano “Brumaio”
San Felice “Il Grigio” Chianti Classico Riserva
Santa Lucia Morellino di Scansano “Tore del Moro”
Val delle Corti Chianti Classico
Ventolaio Rosso di Montalcino

Sub-zoning Brunello: To Be or Not to Be

Posted By Joel on March 11, 2014

Sub-zoning Brunello: To Be or Not to Be

While lovers of Brunello di Montalcino may appreciate the wine for its utter harmony, they may find more of debate than of harmony brewing around the discussion to sub-zone Brunello territory.

brunello-foto-aThe argument in support of sub-zoning is framed around increasing consumer understanding of distinctions between Brunello wines relative to where in the current denomination Sangiovese grapes used in Brunello production are grown. At issue is what is viewed by proponents as the varied suitability of certain areas within the Brunello zone for cultivation of Sangiovese.

Supporters include wine critics and authors, loudest among them, perhaps, the well-respected and highly published Ian D’Agata and Kerin O’Keefe (O’Keefe has written a truly excellent book about Brunello), as well as a smallish group of Brunello producers.

No doubt there exists a fascinating measure of micro-terroirs within the Brunello production zone. If sub-zoning is approved to officially delimit the denomination, it seems rather likely that Montalcino’s varied terroirs will exert their influence even among wines from within a particular sub-zone. In addition, one might expect that stylistic differences between producers would continue to contribute to distinctions between Brunello wines, again, even within the same sub-zone. If the consumer wouldn’t be already confused trying to decide which Brunello sub-zone is deserving of his hard earned cash, when he realizes that wines purchased from within the same sub-zone reflect differences, too, he surely will be.

That the market should better understand the diversity of Montalcino terroir and its perceived influences on Brunello wines is not a bad thing. It is, though, an initiative perhaps better left to good market education and consumer outreach initiatives driven by Montalcino’s producers, the governing Consorzio Brunello, wine educators, etc., without involving clunky nomenclature that may confuse consumer buying decisions.

A sub-zoning of Brunello territory, one could imagine, might be similar to today’s delimited Chianti territories (some proponents of sub-zoning Montalcino have noted the commercial success of sub-zoned Chianti) – a Classico designation considered to be the heart of the region with several defined non-classico zones to represent everything else. There may be reason for pause, however. To examine why, you might ask any average wine buyer intending to purchase a bottle of Chianti which Chianti sub-zone he prefers. The blank stare and silence sure to follow will make the point.

One wonders if Brunello di Montalcino, as a brand, doesn’t have more to gain by remaining as a single appellation. As such, Brunello stands to increase consumer awareness by continuing to reinforce market recognition of a single, unique, united brand. Even if sub-zone details are well communicated to consumers, divided consumer attention could erode primary brand awareness. Too, under a single appellation, the collective intelligence of Montalcino’s producers – to be counted among the territory’s greatest resources – seems likely to continue to evolve in a way that benefits the greater Brunello good, instead of devolving into silos of competitive sub-zone-specific knowledge and interests.

When considering the Brunello sub-zone debate, we may do well to take a lesson from the technology sector: in spite of best intentions, if the user interface isn’t intuitive and simple, broad adoption of a technology doesn’t happen. Inasmuch as the DOC / label function as the wine consumer’s user interface to the brand, I should hope the powers in Montalcino think long and hard before moving ahead with a proposal to sub-zone for Brunello di Montalcino.

Siro Pacenti Rosso di Montalcino 2008

Posted By Joel on February 19, 2014

Siro Pacenti Rosso di Montalcino 2008

When discussing Rosso di Montalcino wines, I am not especially fond of the term “baby Brunello”. The two are different wines, really, wines of differing intent, in fact. One is not simply a pint-sized version of the other.

That said, in the case of Siro Pacenti Rosso di Montalcino 2008, well, I am willing to make an exception.

After a one hour decant, Pacenti’s Rosso exhibited enough scaled-down, Brunello-like character, that “baby Brunello” seems a rather accurate description.

siro-pacenti-rosso-di-montalcino-2008-aGiancarlo Pacenti (Siro was the estate’s founding elder) has often been described as an innovator within the Montalcino zone, a modernist producer, seeking more color and structure from Sangiovese, choosing French barrique over traditional Slavonian oak for aging his wines, playing to the preferences of an international consumer.

Perhaps.

When the music is well-played, I am not so sure the source of artistic inspiration matters.

In any case, Pacenti strikes me as a producer possessing a deep understanding of Montalcino terroir married with precision production methods who creates Sangiovese wines not to be missed by anyone interested in the Montalcino appellation.

Tasting Notes / Impressions:

The initial decant released a plume of bright cherry, strawberry, and red currant. As the wine opened up, hints of violets, earth and smoke came and went, adding complexity. Black cherry tones filled out the wine’s lower register. Muscular and supple on the palate with firm, velvety tannins, acidity balanced with just the right degree of ripeness.

Sangiovese grapes for Pacenti’s wines are hand-harvested and undergo rigorous hand-selection. The Rosso di Montalcino undergoes a wood regimen of new (30%) and year old (70%) barrique, though avoids overt wood attributes. About 3,000 cases made per year.

$$

Agostina Pieri Rosso di Montalcino 2011

Posted By Joel on February 11, 2014

Agostina Pieri Rosso di Montalcino 2011

It strikes me that much has been made of late to suggest that Montalcino’s northern areas produce elegant, perfumed Sangiovese wines, while its southern reaches produce robust wines with less cellar potential. While true, perhaps, in the broadest sense, it should be noted that there are exceptions to the rule.

pieri-rosso-di-montalcino-2011I recently snapped up a bottle of Agostina Pieri Rosso di Montalcino 2011. The estate is located in Montalcino’s southern territory around Sant’Angelo Scalo, aka one of hottest and driest parts of the growing zone.

I found the wine not at all willing to be stereotyped. First day, the wine was fresh and open, with delicate, long aromas of cherry and currant, a broad palate and a clear core of cherry fruit. Second day, suggestions of kirsch and rose. Third day, viscous and still fresh. Impeccably refined tannins.

Added all together … a very elegant wine, in fact.

The wine is produced from 100% Sangiovese from two very different estate vineyards. Loamy, well-drained soil with aspects of organic matter and stone characterize one vineyard, while the other’s clay-based soil prompted a producer decision to use different rootstock in that site. The producer seems to favor low-vigor rootstock as well as the cordone speronato vine training method. Planting densities in vineyards producing the 2011 vintage of Rosso di Montalcino are 3333 and 4200 per hectare, respectively.

Grapes bunches underwent careful selection in the vineyard and again at the sorting table. Fermentation was carried out over 18 days in stainless steel vat. The wine was sent 30% to 2nd passage barrique, 70% to demis-muid (large barrel), aged 12 months, and then moved to stainless steel for bottling.

$