Sunday, May 17, 2015

Chianti Classico Gran Selezione

Chianti Classico wine region (DOCG) in Tuscany, identified by a black rooster logo, covers the territory lying between the provinces of Florence and Siena, and includes a number of communes such as Greve, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Radda, Castellina, and a few others. Encompassing the original Chianti zone dating back to 1716, it's officially different and more prestigious than Chianti (DOCG) which had spread outside the initial boundaries, and includes areas such as Chianti Ruffina, Chianti Colli Senesi, Chianti Colli Aretini, Chainti Colli Pisani, etc.

In 2013, producers of Chianti Classico created a new denomination of quality within their zone, the highest rung in the ladder, their version of a "grand cru" called "Gran Selezione". Approximately 10% of the production based on stricter selection and longer aging qualifies to be the creme of the crop, one step above the already serious Riserva designation. While Brunello has more prestige and commands higher prices, the insiders know that Chianti Classico can produce equally compelling expressions of Sangiovese. Earlier in May, the 600+ members strong Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico presented the inaugural tasting of Gran Selezione wines, the first release they are so marked. For most, it was the much-acclaimed 2010 vintage, but some debuted with another vintage, whatever happened to be their top qualifying wine currently being offered.

My overall impression is that Chianti Classico is a very reliable wine. The highs and lows are not as dramatic as some other regions (like Bordeaux or Burgundy, for instance), and the vintage variations though perceptible, do not, in my opinion, doom the quality. That is to say, as I tasted Riservas and Gran Selezione through 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011, there was not a bad wine in the line-up of about 30 producers, each offering 2-3 wines, although some wines were moderately marred by reduction (a sort of a burned rubber flavor, which should dissipate with age or oxygenation). I was particularly impressed with 2009, a vintage that is showing lots of flesh and polish, with smoother tannins, while maintaining balance. And with 2011, that seems to me like a blockbuster year - the wines are ripe and expressive, but not overripe, with strong but fine tannins, depth, excellent acidity, and overall are more pleasant than the more austere 2010's. There were also a number of basic 2012 Chianti Classico's, tannic and fruity, which left me with positive impression.

My favorite wine of the tasting was 2011 Fontodi  Chianti Classico Vigna Del Sorbo Gran Selezione - simply a gorgeous expression of (mostly) Sangiovese, dense, tannic, with layers of flavors I didn't find in others, one of the best Sangiovese in the world, period - and it's a relative bargain for $60-70/btl. The 2006 Isole e Olena Gran Selezione was also quite superb but much more expensive (they quoted over $200/btl). Felsina was fine as usual, and this was the first time they imported their highest-end Chianti Classico Colonia Gran Selezione (should be $80-100 retail), a very good wine.

Other memorable wines were Riserva and Gran Selezione selections from Volpaia, Il Molino di Grace, Castello di Brolio, Ormanni, Castello la Leccia, and Badia a Passignano (Antinori). As mentioned, the level of quality was high across the board.

Chianti Classico, particularly at the Riserva and Gran Selezione levels definitely strikes me as a reliable appellation with typical flavor profile of dark cherries and leather / tobacco, with excellent structure (tannic/acidic presence & balance), that doesn't quite reach the highs of other more premium regions (like Burgundy), but it also doesn't disappoint as often.

All in all, I walked away impressed and encouraged.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Thibault Liger-Belair 2012

Thibault Liger-Belair's 2012 red burgundies are a step up from any previous vintage I recall from this producer. I hadn't drunk many of his wines in the past, simply because on the occasions I had tried them, they had left me uninspired. However, the 2012's are high-quality, albeit not necessarily all to my liking in terms of style and flavor. The domain is relatively young, though the vineyard holdings go back for generations. In its present shape under Thibault's name, it was established in 2001 by then the 26-year-old passionate Thibault Liger Belair who took back family vineyards from share-croppers. It is perhaps not surprising that several years were required for the results of that work to start showing. The 2012's certainly make me re-consider the 2012 as a more serious vintage for reds than I have been giving it credit for.

Recently, I had an opportunity to taste several of Thibault's 2012's and though not exhaustive, the tasting pulled this producer from the shadow of his cousin Louis Michel Liger-Belair of Comte Liger-Belair, a hugely successful vigneron and owner of the monopole La Romanee from Vosne Romanee. Thibault is back on my radar, especially considering he is one of the few owners in the famed Richebourg terroir.

Tasting Notes

2012 Thibault Liger-Belair Nuits-Saint-Georges "La Charmotte" village wine - very light cranberry color, especially compared to others. Lovely spicy red berries, licorice, oak, a bit like a light Vieux Telegraphe (Chateauneuf-du-Pape) from a lighter vintage (like 2006 and 2011), in a good way, but with more Pinot elegance. Very light body, strange, perhaps the lightest red from 2012 I've had, almost makes me imagine a second tier village (like Savigny or Pernand) from a lighter vintage. I asked the owner of the wine shop if other bottles of this wine have been like this, and he said yes. The color and palate suggest hints of secondary flavors and some premature development, with earthy caramelized carrots, but in a good way. Pine forest, game / pate / leather, hint of metallic, earthiness. This is really good, for short-to-mid-term drinking (3-5 years).

2012 Thibault Liger-Belair Gevrey-Chambertin "La Croix des Champs" village wine - (open for 2 hours). Nose: meaty, very fine pepper spice dust and (expert use of) ripe stems, floral, attractive. Palate: a lot of extract, hint of leather, stems, smoky spice on the finish. Clean, pure, balanced, meaty and dark. Quite leathery, soft persistent tannins. Good.

2012 Thibault Liger-Belair Vosne-Romanee "Aux Reas" village wine - (open for 2 hours). Nose: redder, velvetier, sweeter than the Gevrey. Palate: consistent with nose. Smoother, riper, sweeter. Plush and delicious. Vanilla, wood. Velvety tannins, spices, none of the stemmy character of the Gevrey, lovely hint of apricot / orange. Pretty decadent for a village wine.

2012 Thibault Liger-Belair Clos Vougeot Grand Cru - (pop and pour). Yummy nose of black cherries and cream. Palate: silky smooth, black cherries, plums and vanilla cream, some earthy beets. Nice silky cushioned texture gives the wine very luxurious feeling, gently tannic. Very good! My favorite of the tasting, and a wine that vindicates Clos de Vougeot for those who doubt the vineyard's grand cru pedigree. I would be happy to buy this wine.

2012 Thibault Liger-Belair Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru - I heard this wine is over 15% alcohol. While it was big and rich, the alcohol wasn't sticking out for me. However, the wine did very much remind me of an elegant version of a Northern Rhone, i.e. it was very robust for a red Burgundy, and not really my style, at least at this stage of its life. Nose: almost Northern Rhone-like pepper, floral/stems, oak. Palate: spicebox (exotic peppercorns), again reminds me of Northern Rhone, tarry cherry and plum, rich black cherry. Looking at and tasting the Charmes-Chambertin side-by-side with the Nuits-Saint-Georges (in the first photo above) shows the two dramatic extremes of this producer's range - the light and elegant Nuits-Saint-Georges and the dark, rich and robust Charmes. On one hand, this makes Thibault Liger-Belair interesting for me, but on the other, one should be aware that tasting is necessary in order to calibrate the wines to one's own preferences, because the range is strikingly diverse.

Friday, March 6, 2015

2012 Raveneau Chablis

Raveneau is the top Chablis producer, everyone knows it, the prices are sky high, yet worth it in my opinion, as the quality experience is virtually guaranteed, both young and especially with age. 2012 vintage in Chablis was particularly strong, and Raveneau's 2012's that I tasted were fabulous. Riesling-like minerality, honeyed, spicy butteriness that lingered on the lips for hours, viscous oily textures and exotic seawater / seaweed salinity were the hallmarks of this lineup, with the bonus 1999 Montee de Tonnerre showing amazing seamless silkiness and marvelous complexity. Yet with all those admirable attributes, these are not wines of weight and obviousness, but rather of elegance, complexity, texture, precision and enormous class. My oh my, I was smitten, they were the best 2012 white burgundies (if you can call Chablis that) I have had! In 2012, there were other excellent Chablis producers that cost a fraction of Raveneau - the likes of Dauvissat, William Fevre, Christian Moreau, etc... Personally, I hold Dauvissat in almost as high esteem, yet Raveneau is still the king!

Tasting Notes

2012 Raveneau Chablis "Vaillons" 1er Cru - satiny seawater, creamy pillowy oiliness, intensely spicy and very long finish lasting more than a minute. This is great!

2012 Raveneau Chablis "Butteaux" 1er Cru - slightly riper than the "Vaillons", more orchard fruit, still nice honeyed salinity and oiliness. I preferred the Vaillons by a tiny margin.

2012 Raveneau Chablis "Montee de Tonnerre" 1er Cru - beautiful creamy scent, spice, oil, spicy florals, intense finish, silkier and softer than the "Valmur" and "Butteaux", slightly more elegant if perhaps less powerful than the previous two.

2012 Raveneau Chablis "Valmur" Grand Cru - more power and punch here, more flavor, oily buttery finish, Riesling-like minerals, actually reminds me of an Italian wine too, in terms of focus and minerality, but with cream/butter/oil adding an enormously pleasurable dimension of class, very obvious crushed stones covered with honeyed butter, very long finish that reverberates on my taste glands. Wow!

1999 Raveneau Chablis "Montee de Tonnerre" 1er Cru - note of petrol and butter on the nose. Palate: silky smooth, buttery, slightly roasted nuts, wow!, really complex and delicious, great balance, rich! In a perfect place to drink now. Wish I had this in my cellar! Marvelous!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Initial Look at 2013 Burgundies - Armand Rousseau, Faiveley, and more

Iron Chevsky and Erwan Faiveley (right), with his outstanding 2013 Corton-Charlemagne.

At the 2015 Frederick Wildman Burgundy portfolio tasting in San Francisco, I got a chance to sample some very good wines from the upcoming 2013 vintage. Some (like Olivier Leflaive) are currently being bottled while others are a few months away. But the vintage characteristics already shine through. And I very much liked what I saw, at least from the top producers at this tasting.

I generally preferred the reds here to the 2012's. While the 2012 is hyped by many as a great vintage, I personally don't think so. The 2012 reds are fluffy, juicy and plush - but they seem to lack structure. The 2013's on the other hand have it - they are more serious and angular, with nice ripe dark fruits reminiscent of black tea, with tart acidity and fine tannins. The acidity seems to stick out just a bit on some of the reds at this early stage, but I think it will integrate nicely in the coming months and years, as the reds have plenty of material. The whites are more mixed, some a bit lean and acidic, which on the other hand makes them appear more pure, focused and mineral/terroir-driven, not a bad thing.

Armand Rousseau and Faiveley impressed - no surprise there! All four Rousseau wines were fantastic - Gevrey-Chambertin villages (very good this year, concentrated blackberry and black tea and hint of black pepper, a serious village wine. It has about 10% 1er cru juice, and also this year they removed one of the under-performing village plots, further boosting quality of the final blend), Lavaux St Jacques (more intense than the village Gevrey, with a pronounced pepper note), seemingly more integrated Mazy, and Beze with even more depth and refinement, a wow wine! The four Rousseau's Gevrey's were deeper, denser and darker than Faiveley's, with consistent black tea signature running through, balanced by tart (cranberry / citrus) acidity, without overt tannins. I liked them better than Rousseau 2012's at this point last year, which seemed more formidable and monolithic.

All four Rousseau reds were fantastic. As was ever-so-delightfully saucy Cyrielle Rousseau herself (Eric Rousseau's daughter).

The Faiveley table seemed the busiest at the tasting, undoubtedly a tribute to the rising popularity of this domaine. The standouts for me included Gevrey Cazetiers (though a bit reduced at this stage, with strong note of meat) and Chambertin Clos de Beze (delicious and multi-faceted, I can only imagine how wonderful cuvee "Les Ouvrees Rodin" must be!), and the superb Corton-Charlemagne with excellent ripeness, sap, and almost tannic grippy texture, which surprised even Erwan Faiveley himself, who is very happy with his 2013 reds, likening them to 1993, but perhaps underestimated the whites, and the "lowly" eye-opening village Rully "Les Villeranges" (great QPR). Other reds in the Faiveley range were also good, from the beguiling but serious enough monopole in Mercurey "La Framboisiere" to dark, irony, meaty Nuits-St.-Georges 1er cru "Aux Chaignots" to Gevrey-Chambertin monopole 1er cru "Clos des Issarts" - another excellent signature wine for the domaine, though personally I tend to prefer Les Cazetiers. Mazis-Chambertin grand cru, always one of the strong wines for Faiveley was solid, though showing a bit of wood at this stage, while the monopole Corton "Clos des Cortons Faiveley" flagship was on point as usual, the densest and meatiest of the grand crus, and obviously less expressive or interesting than Clos de Beze. None of the grand crus seemed to have formidable weight or density of some of the great vintages like 2005 or 2010, but they had a polished quality of tannins, good ripeness, balance, focus and definition, and medium weight that gave them elegance. I expect that with the weaker Euro, the wines will be a bit more affordable than 2012, a welcome change, because I want them in my cellar!

Faiveley wines have become so dependably high-quality, one can almost buy them blind year in and year out. Can't wait to see what they will achieve in Chablis with their purchase of Billaud-Simon (we should see the first results of their efforts there in the 2015 vintage). Erwan says he is finally happy with the quality and style of wines the domaine is making from their old properties, perhaps the transition from father to son is complete now. Further efforts focus on improving newly added properties (such as new parcels within Cazetiers, acquired a couple of years ago, as well as new leases for 1er-cru plots in Chambolle, such as Les Amoureuses), as well as improving quality and sourcing of the negociant offerings. For example, he mentioned that after 2010, they now make their village Chambolle from purchased grapes rather than wine in barrel, thus usurping control over a larger part of the winemaking process.

Olivier Leflaive Rully 1er "Les Cloux" was good too, though Faiveley's "Les Villeranges" is probably slightly more interesting even though it's "only" a village. Olivier Leflaive's Corton-Charlemagne was nice and pure, though leaner and with less material than Faiveley's. I heard (and so it seemed from the tasting) that Rully (and Cote Chalonnais in general) over-achieved (ripeness), the area to pay attention to in 2013, when Cote de Beaune struggled.

Olivier Leflaive has always flown somewhat unnoticed because of the renown of his cousin Anne-Claude's Domaine Leflaive, and also perhaps because it was founded as a negociant business, but it must be acknowledged that, in my experience, Olivier Leflaive has a very good touch and produces white burgundies of high standard. This year their Rully and Bourgogne blanc "Les Setilles" were excellent, and I also enjoyed their village Meursault, even though it seemed higher toned and leaner than I typically expect from Meursault. The other wines  from Cote de Beaune seemed a bit lean to me, though perfectly classy, with emphasis on purity and minerality, and in the case of the Corton-Charlemagne, sufficient stuffing without opulence.

Christian Moreau was dependable as usual - his base Chablis quite expressive and tasty, and the rest of the range consistently pure, linear, crystalline, almost Riesling-like. These wines are obviously high quality and still good QPR, though for me they lack certain exotic oceany flavors I love in Dauvissat and Raveneau, and even (to a lesser degree) in William Fevre.

Fabien Moreau (son of Christian Moreau) is the Managing Director and Head Winemaker at the domaine, and a member of the 6th generation of the Moreau family to be involved in wine-making. Fabien is holding his top wine - the very pure, intensely mineral grand cru Chablis "Les Clos".

Jacques Prieur reds and whites were forgettable, with the exception of two bottles of excellent Moulin-a-Vent Beaujolais - single-vineyard monople "Le Clos" and the blended "Grande Cuvee" produced by Domaine Labruyere, another property owned by the same family. While I am not a big Beaujolais fan, I could not deny the serious concentration and intriguing peppery note of these wines, which struck me as a potentially perfect match to all kinds of Chinese food (perhaps even more suitable than my traditional Pinot Noir pairing, thanks to the more rustic nature and pronounced pepper note of the Beaujolais). Prieur's Clos Vougeot was quite good, but not special. Of his whites, the village Meursault "Clos de Mazeray" monopole was attractive.

For reference, last year's review is here.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Tre Bicchieri 2015

Luca Currado of Vietti (on the left), my favorite Barolo producer at the event, and Iron Chevsky (me, on the right) holding the red wine of the year - Vietti Barolo Riserva "Villero" 2007

The 2015 Tre Bicchieri in San Francisco took place in February. The weather was spectacular, the setting at Fort Mason gorgeous, yet it seemed like few famous producers attended, and few bottlings per producer were poured, many of the wines ran out well before the event end. Despite my expectation to taste Brunello and Barolo from the much heralded 2010 vintage (because last year we tasted 2009 Barolo), there were but a handful of 2010's. Perhaps producers don't feel the need to promote their 2010's. Perhaps the famous brands of Italy are focusing on Antonio Galloni and James Suckling events rather than Gamero Rosso's. Whatever it is, I am left thinking that somehow this event is losing its importance to the big names, which is unfortunate as this has always been the top Italian tasting in the Bay Area and the guiding light into the world of top Italian wine each year. What the event has always done well, however, is expose me to a broad array of lesser known wineries of excellent quality, and perhaps that is the pronounced effect of the recent drop of attendance by the bigger names. Crowds still poured in, and there were plenty of wines to drink and generous variety of Italian cheeses to eat. Four hours of tasting flew by in a flash.

I tasted some shockingly good things (Capezzana Vin Santo di Carmignano Riserva 2007 - sweet wine of the year, and Cantina della Volta Lambrusco di Modena Rose 2010, incredibly elegant and unique sparkling wine), but looks like they are so under the radar, that almost no one in the US carries them. The 2012 Donnafugata Ben Rye dessert wine was a worthy follow-up to the magnificent 2011, perhaps with a touch less acidity. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole 2010 was most excellent - silky dark cherry and tar. As was Vietti's 2011 Barolo Brunate and Castiglione, and the 2007 Villero Riserva (red of the year). If Vietti ends up making 2011 Villero Riserva eventually, that will be a monumental wine too, his 11's are structured and delicious, as should be the Brigaldara Amarone Riserva in 2011, when it eventually comes out in a few years, based on how great the regular 2010 Brigaldara Amarone showed here - complex juniper and spices, with sensation of sweetness but not syrupiness, no heaviness, bitter coffee and tannins ensuring long life (and the 2011 is supposedly an even better vintage than 2010), both, if materialize, are future candidates for my son's birth year collection. Schiavenza Barolo Broglio 2008 was very nice too with smoky notes and elegant tannins, and the most amazing weightlessness like in outer space. Graci Etna Rosso Arcuria (2011 and 2012) were Burgundy-like, especially 2011 - so elegant!, while the '12 had more concentration and should be great in a couple of years - with notes of honeyed herbs, chocolate dust and volcanic tar, soft tannins and a velvety Pinot-like texture! A pleasant surprise was Poggio di Sotto 2009 Brunello, from a much maligned vintage, but delicious wine. (Once again telling me that the 2010 Brunello / Barolo hype should be taken with a grain of salt, because there are plenty of fantastic wines in all of the recent vintages of Barolo and Brunello.) The whites were generally underwhelming, with few usual suspects impressively standing out - sparklers from Ferrari (like drinking lace) and Ca'del Bosco (crystalline purity), and ripe, smoky and rich Pieropan Soave La Rocca 2012, as well as the ripe and almondy Jermann Vintage Tunina 2012 creating sensation of (Riesling-like) energy as if from remaining carbonation (and apparently there is some residual fermentation known to happen in this wine). One other white that captivated my taste buds was Casalfarneto Verdicchio del Castelli di Jesi Fontevecchia 2013 - with richness, almonds, herbs and ripe fruit.

Here are the photos and more notes on the memorable wines.

Ca'del Bosco Franciacorta a perennial top sparking wine - all three cuvee's were on point. The entry-level Cuvee Prestige NV (yellow magnum) was reliable. Annamaria Clementi Rose Riserva 2006 was expectedly great - a finely chiseled, minty freshness with hints of herbs and pine cones, a classy sparkling wine. This year I was particularly impressed with the Ca'del Bosco Brut Vintage Collection 2010 - the black bottle. More than matched by a set from Ferrari (Trento) - where the top wine Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore 2004 was in a class of its own, like drinking lace.

Impressive wines from Vietti, including their entry-level Barolo Castiglione, one of the annual bargains in Piemonte, which is showing more delicious than the 2010 bottling at this stage.

Poggio di Soto Brunello 2009 was a pleasant surprise - a delicious Brunello from a much maligned vintage, with flavors of fermented plum and cake.

G.D. Vajra Barolo Bricco delle Viole 2010 was up there with Vietti, and one of the top wines of the heralded 2010 vintage. Out of three of Vajra's Barolo bottlings from 2010 I tasted this year - the entry-level Albe, their other label - Luigi Baudana "Baudana", and this one -- the Bricco delle Viole is by far my favorite.

Top two sweet wines of the tasting, and some of the greatest I have tasted in my entire life. The Capezzana Vin Santo di Carmignano Riserva 2007 was the sweet wine of the year, and had an amazing silky texture and slightly oxidative (sherried) style, with flavors of walnuts, dried Turkish apricots, somewhat akin to a Pedro Ximenez, but finer, sleeker and more elegant, with great acidic balance and long, spell-binding finish - a wow dessert wine that was just a notch above the deliriously delicious Donnafugata Passito di Pantelleria Ben Rye 2012 - the essence of apricots with a hint of smoke.

Graci - an excellent producer of Etna Rosso (Sicily) featured his 2012 "Arcuria" Etna Rosso, but also supplied a 2011 for reference. Awesome wines, with Burgundy-like textures, but additional smoke and almost a volcanic tar nuance that make them unique. These are excellent with food, and can pair well with both meat and seafood (once tannins resolve in a couple of years), and can stand up to spice as well.

Second year in a row, I am very impressed with the wines from Cantina della Volta (in Emilia Romagna region) - incredibly creative and refined takes on Lambrusco sparkling wine. Their Lambrusco di Modena Brut Rose 2010 (the white label) is fantastically rich, luscious, and elegant (something that cannot normally be said about the rustic Lambrusco), with gently extracted red berries and herbs. It can age for 5-10 years, perhaps more. Wow!

I continue to be inspired by wines of Brigaldara from Veneto. Their Amarone Classico 2010 was complex with bitter-sweet coffee and herbs, fruity with sensation of sweetness and lushness but totally dry and without cloyingness or heaviness. Many an Amarone over-index on the heft and sweetness. Not this one. Antonio Cesari (on the photo), the owner's son, explained that these wines go through three phases as they age. First, young and tannic on release, they pair with robust stew-type dishes full of herbs and spices. Next, at 5-10 years, as tannins smooth out and wines lose some of their exuberance, they pair well with steak and such, and finally at old age, perhaps up to 20-40 years, they become intellectual wines to savor on their own.

And here are a number of other noteworthy wines that I would be happy to have in my cellar.

Once again I went away feeling that while Italian wines do not quite reach the heights of the best of France, the sheer diversity and uniqueness of flavors and expressions of Italians makes them incredibly interesting and stimulating companions - in both colors (though personally I am more inspired by the reds). From great Taurasi of Campania to Sfurzat of Alto Adige to Etna Rosso of Siccily and Sagrantino of Umbria, and on and on and on, bravo!

For reference, last year event is documented here.

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