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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

Vintrospective is voted by Ville in Italia as 2014 Top 15 Italian Wine Blog

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

***********************************************************************

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?

Wines of Lugana: The Art of Exquisite

Posted By Joel on July 10, 2015

lugana-consorzioA few items on my short list of things exquisite:

Sunset off Menemsha, Martha’s Vineyard
Michelangelo’s “Pieta”
Musical counterpoint of JS Bach

But, I am inspired to make an addition ;-)

Attending an event at Eataly’s La Scuola Grande (NYC) celebrating the wines of Italy’s Lugana territory allowed me to taste broadly through a select group of the region’s wines. It was a great tasting experience in that I was able to better appreciate the finely etched detail and exquisite expression which Lugana’s wines have to offer.

I mean, yes, Lugana’s white wines from around Italy’s Lake Garda do sip well in summer. But, they offer so much more than good summer quaffing, expressing a certain beauty and charm composed of delicate, fine distinctions.

You will find it written that Lugana wines are produced with Trebbiano di Lugana, but the best practice, I think, is to know the varietal by its local name, Turbiana, as it is now generally becoming recognized uniquely by that name, distinct from other Trebbiano vines.

lugana-creeteLocated between Lombardia and Veneto, Italy’s Lugana wine region is a smallish area with a big terroir advantage. The rare, hard clay found in the Lake Garda area coupled with the mild, breezy micro-climate influences of the lake, create rather ideal conditions for Turbiana.

I do believe appellation regulations require Lugana wines be produced from at least 90% Turbiana, allowing for 10% other non-aromatic white varietal. The production fact of the matter, I understand, is that producers routinely opt to use 100% Turbiana.

Lugana wines are produced at five different levels, those being normale or basic, superiore, riserva, late harvest, and spumante. It’s a great model, actually, as the levels allow wine lovers to appreciate and enjoy the longevity of Turbiana – ah, yes, Turbiana can age well – up to 3-4 years for basic, 10 years for superior and riserva. While basic level wines will highlight energy and freshness, superior and riserva wines can reveal more structure, complexity, notes of herb, nut, wood, etc.

lugana-wines1All in all, as a group, the Lugana wines I tasted were vibrant, many showing a distinctive minerality, subtlety salty in a way. Delicate, refined fragrances…fruity, floral, citrus, grace notes of herb and almond. Medium acidity that impressed with delicious crispness. Suppleness in the mouth, yet maintaining an elegant intensity on the palate.

Slam-dunk food pairings include freshwater fish, shell fish, grilled chicken / pork, cured meat, young cheeses, summer vegetables, risotto, appetizers, melon / prosciutto.

Coincidentally, during the month of July 2015 Eataly NYC is celebrating Lugana’s wines with a “Lugana: The Wine, The Land” theme, a wonderful idea! You can taste Lugana wines and learn about the territory without ever leaving the city :-)

Event coordinated by Vigneto Communications.

Wines of Crete

Posted By Joel on July 8, 2015

Every once and a while the wine winds seem to blow the right way. Having been recently lucky enough to receive an invitation to attend an educational master class featuring the wines of Crete, it was my pleasure to spend a few pleasant hours of learning and tasting.

wines-of-crete-2015Crete’s wines are actually … shockingly good.

In fact, the word ‘delicious’ would not be inappropriate here.

I do anticipate, though, a slight challenge for those who are perhaps interested in checking out Crete wines for themselves: the varietal names are not exactly familiar ones, even among tradespeople.

So, rather than try to convince you that I am a bright fellow by, say, walking you through an historical timeline of Cretan wine making – which, by the way, extends impressively back to 4,000 B.C. when systematic winemaking began in Crete – I will provide a bit of varietal guidance that should get you closer to a memorable glass of Cretan wine posthaste.

Here’s what you need to know when inquiring about Crete’s wines at your wine shop:

White Grapes

Dafni
Still somewhat rare, wines made from Dafni grapes have an herbaceousness about them, most notably the scent of bay leaves, as well as notes of citrus and honey.

Malvasia di Candida
Sub-variety of Malvasia with an arousing, fragrant bouquet, sophisticated personality, good acidity.

Muscat di Spina
This varietal produces hugely scented, fresh, vivid dry wines.

Plyto
Plyto produces well-balanced wines with a pleasantly fruity nose and medium acidity.

Vilana
Undisputed star white varietal of Crete, Vilana wines are enchantingly aromatic, soft on the palate, with lemony acidity, medium alcohol, and Granny Smith freshness.

Thrapsathiri
Grown all over Crete, Thrapsathiri is uniquely aromatic with a rich, soft palate underscored with gentle acidity.

Vidiano
Aromas of apricots and peaches, herbs, mouth-watering acidity, with a subtle, creamy richness on the palate and good minerality.

Red Grapes

Kotsifali
Scented of plums, fleshy on the palate and only softly tannic, Kotsifali is often referred to as the “Merlot” of Crete.

Liatiko
Pale in color, with good intensity, Liatiko produces sweet and dry wines of unique character, perfumed of herbs, dried fruit, flowers. Softly tannic.

Mandilari
Considered to be king of Crete’s native red varietals, Mandilari makes wines of rich, red color and typically firm tannins. Often blended with Kotsifali.

Romeiko
Romeiko grapes produce vivacious, high alcohol wines with good acidity.

wines-of-crete-stilianou-2015Throughout the tasting segment, I found the wines of Crete brought good consistency, quality and value. And although international varietals are indeed part of the Cretan wine scene, it is very clear to me that Crete’s wine producers are pursuing their own unique identity and there seems no indication whatever to create, say, another internationally-styled wine that could be from “anywhere”.

Since the focus of this post is really the Crete varietals and the intention to familiarize readers with them, individual tasting notes seem less important here. That said, here are some producers / wines which totally stood out for me and deserve mention:

Dourakis Kudos 2014 - Malvazia Aromatica 100%
Gavalas Fragospito 2014 - Malvazia Aromatica 50%, Muscat di Spina 50%
Strataridakis Muscat di Spina 2014 - Muscat di Spina 100%
Diamantakis Vidiano 2014 - Vidiano 100%
Idaia “Ocean” 2014 - Thrapsathiri 100%
Efrosini “Lumincino” 2014 - Chardonnay 60%, Thrapsathiri 40%
Mediterra “Mirambelo” 2011 - Kotsifali 80%, Mandilari 20%
Stilianou “Theon” 2007 - Kotsifali 75%, Mandilari 25%
Domaine Paterianakis 2012 - Kotsifali / Mandilari, % unknown

The master class format allowed for tasting all the wines with food. With such a great Cretan food tradition, the wines of Crete were, as you’d expect, absolutely killer at table. So sensational was a bite of grilled octopus paired with Vidiano that I nearly wept ;-)

To learn more about the wines of Crete please visit Wines of Crete

Enjoying Bordeaux: Second Label Wines

Posted By Joel on June 24, 2015

Experiencing the beauty of Bordeaux wine can be a bit like trying to view the Mona Lisa on a busy day at the Louvre: you know it’s there, but it’s difficult to get close enough to really enjoy it.

That’s largely because the capital spend for great Bordeaux can be tremendously expensive. In my case, economically tragic, actually ;-)

I had the recent good fortune to learn something new about enjoying great Bordeaux from top estates:

It doesn’t have to be that way.

bordeaux-assortedI attended a presentation in New York City where Hortense Bernard, General Manager at fine wine purveyor Millesima USA, demonstrated that by selecting second label wines from top estates, wine lovers can indeed enjoy great Bordeaux at a fraction of the cost of first growth wines. According to Bernard, “Second labels have existed since the 18th century and were once wines that the estates kept for family. Nearly all of Classified Bordeaux estates offer second labels, and today we see these ‘second wines’ garnering more and more market share, as customers discover the great value they offer.”

Not to feel anxious about the ‘second label’ terminology: it is not a definition of lesser quality. In fact, French law requires that second label wines be made from grapes sourced from the same estate as their corresponding first label wine, albeit sometimes from younger vines. Furthermore, second labels typically share the same winemaker, terroir, grape and vinification as their first growth counterparts. And you can look to enjoy second label wines in the short term, say, between six and eight years after release.

bordeaux-talbotIn their presentation handout, Millesima, a company offering a comprehensive selection of fine and rare wines via its e-commerce site and retail shop New York City, was good enough to provide additional pointers for enjoying Bordeaux, tips that every wine lover should know:

Seek Out Smaller Vintages
Instead of focusing on vintages that attract investment and collector attention, try instead vintages of lesser renown that are drinking well. For example, Hortense recommends the 2002 vintage that released to less applause but which is, in fact, drinking quite well at the moment.

Become Familiar with Fifth Growths
While investors and collectors routinely focus on the upper end of the Bordeaux Wine Classification of 1855 which ranks wines from First to Fifth Growths, Bernard suggests exploring the Fifth Growths, noting that, “Many of these wines are affordable and real treasures.”

Discover the Cru Bourgeois
The Cru Bourgeois classification represents a list of wines hailing from the Médoc, excellent quality wines that just happen to not be included in the 1855 classification. Says Hortense, “Something we love about the Cru Bourgeois is that you can experience a renowned vintage from a famous appellation and a famous proprietor, very inexpensively.”

Consider Lesser-Known Appellations
Seek out outstanding estates in lesser-known appellations – Bernard suggests, for example, Moulis – or around the fringes of famous appellations such as Saint-Emilion, noting there are indeed treasures to be found.

The evening’s wines successfully echoed the presentation theme and included:

Domaine de Chevalier, L’Espirit de Chavelier Blanc 2011
From Pessac-Léognan, the evening’s solo white showed good dimension, an especially pleasant weight on the palate, fruity, with a long honeysuckle finish.

Connétable de Talbot 2008
Well-knit wine with ripe fruit, attention-getting structure, long in the mouth, from Fourth Growth estate was a bit tight early in the evening but opening up when re-tasted as the evening wore on.

Château Sociando Mallet, La Demoiselle de Sociando Mallet 2008
Sensational fruit, soft in the mouth, reverberating finish. Gorgeous, drinking insanely well.

Château Prieuré-Lichine, Confidences de Prieuré-Lichine 2008
Silky, nicely balanced wine with firm tannic structure, will be even better with just a bit more patient wait time.

I must mention that this tasting / presentation was an educational wine event in truest spirit, one that delivered high-context, incredibly relevant content in an intimate setting. I hope more trade event presentations take note of the benchmark.

Special thanks to the knowledgeable and responsive Denise Barker, Assistant Wine Buyer for Millesima USA.

Event coordinated by Vigneto Communications.

Chianti Classico’s Gran Selezione: Toward Understanding and Appreciation

Posted By Joel on June 10, 2015

The steps leading up to the Fifth Avenue entrance of the New York City Public Library have a certain grandeur all their own. A climb, one might imagine, toward higher education, learning, knowledge.

chianti-classico-gran-selezione-20151Entering the library, my hopes are high that what I learn at today’s Chianti Classico / Gran Selezione 2015 presentation will replace skepticism with a better understanding and appreciation of the newly-minted Gran Selezione disciplinare belonging to Chianti Classico, one of Italy’s most iconic wine appellations.

Today’s presentation quickly sets about to introduce the Gran Selezione classification (wines launched in early 2014) as Chianti Classico’s “best of the best”. I do understand the intended sentiment, really, but the choice of words highlights one of the main market challenges facing Gran Selezione: does the category of Gran Selezione really communicate the importance suggested by its title?

In getting to know Gran Selezione, a savvy consumer or wine industry professional might look to sort things a bit by referring to the requirements for classification as a Gran Selezione wine, which include:

• Produced from 100% of grapes grown by the winery bottling the wine. This could be taken to mean sourced from a single vineyard or selection of vineyards (To be clear, a producer owning non-contiguous vineyards within the Chianti Classico territory is, I believe, permitted to use grapes from any or all of his in-zone owned properties.)
• Aged 30 months including 3 months bottle aging, non-specific guidance
• Minimum 80% Sangiovese (same as Chianti Classico Riserva)
• Can include other permitted varietals, i.e., Canaiolo, Merlot, Syrah, etc.
• Can be released as 100% Sangiovese

Unfortunately, between Gran Selezione requirements and certain requirements for other Chianti Classico wines - the Riserva wines come to mind – there exists a degree of overlap which rather obscures a clear differentiation for Gran Selezione, often creating confusion and questions.

Speaking of questions, here are some of the questions I heard walking around the tasting floor and during the course of the event:

Is it the intention to produce Gran Selezione wines every vintage or only in the best vintages?

What are the implications of re-structured ownership / acquisitions upon Gran Selezione quality?

Is Gran Selezione a marketing tool to promote and sell the Chianti Classico category?

What varietals really create Gran Selezione, that is to say, what varietal/s are driving the “quality upgrade” to Gran Selezione?

Which are the “new” wines created under Gran Selezione versus the existing wines that have been repurposed into the new Gran Selezione category?

Does Gran Selezione simply perpetuate the culture of Super Tuscans, giving them a different label?

Confusion (in the market) around Gran Selezione does exist and largely derives out of consumers trying to identify terroir-specific value. It is vital that market messaging and communication from Consorzio Chianti Classico address that gap.

chianti-classico-gran-selezione-2015-bibbianoOn the producer side, many producers are doing a good (read: serious, sincere) job to interpret to the Gran Selezione denomination, a classification that, at some level, is still figuring out what it wants to be when it grows up.

Now, 16 months after the inception of Gran Selezione, with 89 labels of Gran Selezione being produced, hailing from all communes of Chianti Classico, the central question seems to be whether the classification will be understood in the US market, one that represents 31% of the Chianti Classico market.

chianti-classico-gran-selezione-2015-castello-la-lecciaWhile still skeptical of its current configuration, I am as well optimistic about the future of Gran Selezione.

American writer/poet Nancy Willard said, “Sometimes questions are more important than answers.” In the case of Gran Selezione, in this moment in time, I couldn’t agree more. Here are two improvement oriented questions that may help point the way for consumers to more easily understand and appreciate Gran Selezione:

Would the decision to produce Gran Selezione wines only from single vineyard locations help consumers better identify terroir-specific value? (True, moving in this direction will require much consensus-building. But, hey, we are talking about a “grand selection”, “best of the best”, classification, right?)

Would the decision to produce Gran Selezione from 100% Sangiovese better differentiate the wines, reduce variation within the category, reduce confusion?

You can find my un-rehearsed comments from the Chianti Classico / Gran Selezione 2015 event in the IEEM video interview embedded just below: