Italy is rich with noble grape varietals. It’s northwest region of Piemonte has Barolo and Barbaresco (produced from 100% Nebbiolo). Toscana has Brunello di Montalcino (100% Sangiovese Grosso). It is typical to spend anywhere $50 t0 $100 + on these bottles without so much as a blink of the eye. Then there is the noble wine of Italy’s south, Taurasi, from the region of Campania. One of the noble off-the-beaten-path wines anyway. While the region and its grapes do not garner the world renown status of others, what it brings to the table can be equally impressive. Having just tasted the 2005 Taurasi from Terredora di Paolo, I am impressed. Silky, rich fruit has settled in and walks in stride with signature rusty earth and bramble and toast. There is both power and elegance here and one can’t help but wonder, “what the heck is this doing at $25 a bottle? Yes, half the starting price of other noble wines. Barolo fans, Brunello fans, even Cabernet/Bordeaux fans take note. This is a wine to be enjoyed with the best of the nobles and the bucks left to go back for another bottle.
2005 Terredora di Paolo
Taurasi Fatica Contadina
We love finding new wines for the shop and are particularly excited about a couple new ones coming tomorrow, January 13th 2012.
Big Vine Pinot Noir Arroyo Grande 2009, $14.99
California’s Central Coast certainly produces great Pinot Noir. It also produces some pretty uninteresting Pinots, especially when you hit the under $20 mark. This amazing effort at $14.99 carries plenty of ripe fruit and spice with a silky soft texture, all balanced by zippy fresh acidity that keeps the wine classy and stylish and elegant.
R. Stuart Big Fire Pinot Gris Oregon 2010, $17.99
R. Stuart wines have certainly had their fare share of acclaim. It was exciting news when the wines came to Vermont and even more exciting to taste the Big Fire line, their entry wines. The Big Fire Pinot Gris is a breath of fresh air in the world of Pinot Gris. Bright, crisp flowery fruit bursts from the glass. On the palate the fruit has to share the spotlight with dusty minerality that balances out the pretty fruit. This is one heck of a vibrant wine.
Bedrock Sherman and Hooker’s Shebang! Red, Fourth Cuvee
When I say winemaker Morgan Twain Peterson is a freak of nature, I really do mean it as a compliment. He made his first wine at the age of 5. He is incredibly intelligent, a gifted winemaker and is ferociously passionate about anything to do with wines, vines and soils. Yet somehow, among all his talents, Morgan manages to stay humble, obviously just one heck of a nice guy who is excited about what he does and is happy to share that excitement with others. His one “entry level” red wine could be viewed as his wine to share with all. At $12.99 it is affordable to most and its full, lush, soft fruit is a crowd-pleaser. Sherman and Hooker’s Shebang! Fourth Cuvee Red is a blend of Syrah, Zinfandel and other “mixed blacks” as he calls the other grapes thrown into the mix. Fresh fruit bursts from the glass, and on the palate, with a soft silky texture. The wine carries zingy acidity which keeps it light on its feet through all its depth of fruit and peppery spice. You couldn’t ask for a better value from a nicer guy.
I can count on one hand the number of wine importers whose entire catalogs of wine impress from top to bottom. Ole Imports, a Spanish wine importer, is one of them. Ole does an incredible job of finding producers throughout Spain who are creating elegant wines with depth while maintaining their sense of place. At all levels, beautiful fruit mingles with earth and freshness. Here are a couple of favorites:
2010 Bodegas Emeritas Dacu, $8-$10
100% Tempranillo. Winemaker Alberto Orte manages year after year to produce a beautifully vibrant wine with plenty of lush, mouthcoating fruit. The vineyards for this wine range in soil composition from clay to limestone and sand, allowing the wine to achieve depth of fruit as well as brightness and freshness along with a sense of dusty earth. 4 months in tank gives Dacu its lushness and dense red fruit and spice. 2 months in French oak adds coffee and toast. Quite a mouthful of wine at one heck of a price.
El Brozal Rioja 2008, $28
80% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano, 10% Garnacha. Rioja that follows the letter of the law can call itself Crianza or Riserva. This one cannot, but don’t think that in any way jeopardizes its quality. This unique single vineyard site is composed of powdery red sand on the surface with a limestone subsoil and big rocks somewhere in between. Each layer gives something to the wine, creating an elegant, full bodied Rioja that remains light on its feet and has wonderful aging potential. That being said, open a bottle today and follow the wine over the course of a couple of hours as it moves from floral and elegant to a richer, denser and more powerful wine without losing its freshness and vibrancy. Only 700 6-packs produced.
California Chardonnay is known for its toasty richness and creaminess. While the toasty richness tends to come from time in oak barrels, the creaminess can typically be attributed to a secondary fermentation (malolactic fermentation) that often trades crisp acidity for a buttery creaminess.
There is a new breed of Chardonnay in California now and it is catching on – one without oak or malolactic fermentation. These Chards often do not appeal to fans of richer styled Cali Chards as they can lack the weight and creaminess they are used to. One recently tasted blew me away as the perfect compromise for buttery oak fans and non-fans alike.
Big Vine Chardonnay, Napa Valley 2009 $14.99
Fermented only in stainless steel, no oak and no malolactic fermentation. I expected this wine to be light on its feet, zippy and fresh. Instead I got a mouthful of beautiful, rich, ripe fruit with a creamy texture and balanced by an unexpected weight from earthy minerality. The bright acidity added the exclamation point. There was even a hint of smokiness that led me to question whether there was oak. There is not. Just an amazing wine at a great price. I’m not going to try and figure this one out. I’m just going to enjoy it!
At dinner I asked Maso Poli owner and founder Luigi Togn, if there was one other grape he could plant, what would it be. He shook his head smiling. “I am a traditionalist. All the people who have come before me and suffered, at times with no food on the table, to learn the best grapes to grow here. I follow them. They learned what is best.”
Luigi’s daughter, Romina (our incredibly gracious host for two days), added to the story. “Once my father replanted a lower section of the vineyard with a grape that grew higher up. The grape did not like it so he took it out and re-planted something else there.”
The wines of this family range from the entry level Terra di Luna line to the mid range Lechthaler line and finally to the estate Maso Poli wines. What amazed me most was the quality and balance at each level. Even with the entry level wines there was brightness and freshness, a quality that carried right through to the estate wines. Winemaker for every one of the lines, Goffredo Passoli, summed it up best. “There has to be brightness and freshness at every level. Our growers are paid for the quality of the grapes not just the quantity. We analyze the grapes for acidity level and sugar levels to determine the amount the grower gets paid.”
We toured the vineyards in the small area of Teroldigo Rotaliano with one of their growers. As we strolled through the beautifully canopied vines, where ownership changed from one row to the next, he proudly showed us the differences between his rows and others. For his rows, each of the long clusters had been trimmed off about half way up so that the vines would focus more energy on the remaining grapes. There were also fewer clusters on his rows, having dropped many grapes to the ground. Again, more focus and concentration for the remaining clusters. This attention to detail was evident throughout the tasting. I enjoyed every one of the wines. Here are a few favorites:
Lechthaler Teroldigo Rotaliano 2009
Teroldigo is a grape thought to be related to Syrah. It certainly shared the fresh red fruit flavors of Syrah. And then there is the magic beyond. A gentle, soft, supple richness surrounds the raspberry fruit. There is a brightness and freshness and briary, funky (in a good way) earthiness to the fruit. And there is a denseness to the fruit as well that remarkably remains light and fresh. Retailing around $15, this wine is ridiculously good.
Torre di Luna Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Once again I was amazed at the freshness this entry level Cab possessed. Bright, sweet fruit and balance in an easy drinking style was more than I could ask of a Cab at this price – around $10.
The Maso Poli estate wines showed elegance and grace throughout. The Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) was built for age with balance of fruit and mineral earth. Their flagship, Marmoram (a blend of Teroldigo and Lagrein), was powerful yet elegant and built for age.
Only the Lechthaler Teroldigo Rotaliano and Pinot Grigio (another winner) along with the Torre di Luna Cabernet have made it into the shop so far. More will be on the way. If you want to step off the beaten path and try some sumptuous new wines, come on in and grab a few bottles!
As I sit at Maso Poli in Lavis, within Italy’s Trentino area, it is difficult to focus on the vines. The beginning of the dolomites (the Italian Alps) rise sharply from the valley floor, leaving little room for prime vineyard site in the foothills. These mountains surround and dominate the landscape. Maso Poli purchased land on the slopes in 1978 and has been producing elegantly styled wines from Pinot Nero, Pinot Grigio, Teraldigo and Lagrein (among others) ever since. Just as the dolomites are set firmly in place, Maso Poli stands firmly set in its ways, choosing to create wines true to te region, with subtle grace and elegance. Even when they created a new wine for their line in the early 2000s that would be their higher end flagship, they chose to produce it from indigenous varieties, Teraldigo and Lagrein instead of going international with a Bordeaux style. The wines too at Maso Poli are like the family that owns it – open and friendly with layer upon layer of personality. True to the land beyond all else. I look forward to tasting through the wines tomorrow.