The Two Worlds of Chianti Classico


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a-tuscan-villageThe old school vs. new school trope gets a work out in Chianti.

Gardens-at-badia-a-ColtibuoAfter our brief flirtation with Florence, our tour headed south toward the Chianti Classico region of Gaiole with the first stop at Badia a Coltibuono (Abbey of the Good Harvest), an historic and highly regarded Chianti producer. This winery’s history reaches back to the 11th Century when Vallombrosan Monks founded the abbey and began planting vineyards. Records indicate they planted Sangiovese grapes and were among the first to plant olive trees in the region.

Fun fact: The monks drank about 4 liters of wine per person per day because their water was contaminated.

Over many centuries, the monks developed a flourishing wine business until 1810 when they were forced out by Napoleon and the winery put up for sale. In 1846, Coltibuono was bought by Guido Giuntini, a Florentine banker and great grandfather of Piero Stucchi-Prinetti, the present owner, whose children now run the winery. They own 64 hectares of organic vineyards with properties that include a bed and breakfast and restaurant, producing about 400,000 bottles per year.

The facility we toured is now used only for storage and hospitality–highlights include gorgeous gardens, a 16th Century cistern used to collect rain water, still in use today,cistern several very old frescoes (that were covered with plaster to protect them from Napoleon’s depredations), frescoes

botti-with-moldand some of the funkiest storage cellars you will ever see. The inches-thick black stuff on the walls and ceiling of their barrel room is mold that has been forming for centuries. Winery personnel claim the mold is essential for the aging process. It helps maintain the humidity in cellars without having to use expensive humidifiers, thus preventing excess evaporation which would increase alcohol levels and reduce volume.

Badia a Coltibuomo is a traditional Chianti producer using 90% Sangiovese and 10% Canaiolo, Ciliegiolo, and Colorino in their basic Classico wine, which is aged in large botti that hold 3000 bottles, and are as much as 50 yrs. old.

The wines stood up well to their reputation. Even the entry level Chianti Classico 2015 had some complexity showing earth, a bit of tarragon and savory balsamic notes. The Riserva level 2013, which spent 2 years in oak and 2 years in the bottle, with grapes harvested from 45-50 year old vines,  had a beautiful earthy/ floral nose and impressive structure, round and full with a long finish. The 2009 Riserva was even more impressive, very elegant yet still firm in structure, developing aromas of wet leaves, tobacco, coffee and dark chocolate. For a traditional flavor profile I highly recommend these wines which are affordable and available in the U.S.

After departing Badia a Coltibuono we headed into the hills for lunch at Ristorante Le Contrade. This restaurant is in the middle-of-nowhere with sweeping views of the countryside. The lunch was this inventive trio of hot and trio of cold dishes—the star of the show was the “cappuccino” of frothy parmesan cheese topped with truffle, with runner up the boned quail stuffed with foie gras and lentils.


tolainiAfter lunch we headed to the southernmost part of Chianti Classico in the Castelnuovo Berardenga zone where Tolaini Winery is located. This is a much more modern approach to winemaking. After leaving his native Tuscany in 1956 to make enough money to start a winery, Pier Luigi Tolaini founded one of the largest trucking companies in North America. After 40 years in the transportation business he returned to pursue his true passion of making great wine. With his mechanical background, Pier created a state-of-the-art tractorgravity-flow production system with unique, two chamber fermentation tanks and his own custom tractors that fit between the rows of their tightly spaced vines.  The theory behind his viticulture is that hi-density planting, 7000-11000 plants per acre, will force the plants to compete driving the rootstocks deeper into soil seeking water and minerals. That high density planting makes this specialized tractor necessary in order to do the vineyard work.

His unique stainless steel tanks include a top fermenter that allows juice to drain into the tank below. The must is then pulled out of the top tank and pressed again. They also use a state-of-the-art optical sorter for their berry selection.

Just as their winemaking is innovative so is their wine line up. Their Al Passo is 80% Sangiovese and 15% Merlot, and although by current law they could sell it as Chianti, it’s sold as IGT Toscano to avoid Chianti’s somewhat tarnished reputation. And indeed this wine shows more plum and meat than standard Chianti. Their homage to Chianti Classico is in their Vigna Montebello Sette which bears the relatively new Gran Selezione designation. This is 100% Sangiovese aged for 30 months in large foudre casks. It’s rich, with dark fruit and earth, quite rustic with grippy tannins. It’s age worthy but needs time; it is sold in the U.S. for just over $30.

Picconero is their Bordeaux-style offering. A blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc, and produced only in the best vintages, it’s muscular and spicy with dark cherry, chocolate and a seam of minerality, a very successful rendition of Bordeaux in Italy. With 16 months in 100% new French oak, it sells for over $100 in the U.S. Finally, we tasted their Valdisanti, a Cabernet Sauvignon dominated blend with 20% Sangiovese and a bit of Cabernet Franc. The Cab influence is quite evident with cassis, sweet oak, and a very nice savory, herbal dimension. This spent 16 months in French barrique, 70% new, including 6 months on the lees.  It’s a good bargain for around $30.

These wines get good scores from the Wine Spectator and other critics and are clearly designed for the international market.

So we had an interesting juxtaposition of old school and new school Chianti. Which was my favorite? These are all quality wines but the Badia a Coltibuono Riserva is the one that sticks in my mind. It’s distinctly Chianti Classico but offering much more than your garden variety bottom-shelf Chianti at under $30.

Next stop, the village of Montepulciano.


Wine Blog Daily Monday 7/16/18


A daily sample of thoughtful writing and discussion from (mostly) independent wine blogs:

cork harvestJamie Goode documents the cork harvest in Portugal.

Alfonso Cevola, On the Wine Trail in Italy, extolls the virtues of Greek wine and food and compares Greek attempts to penetrate the American market with Italian success.

Karen MacNeil mourns the death of Leslie Rudd of Napa’s Rudd Estate.

Tim Gaiser interviews Ron Merlino a wine professional and manager of symphony conductors who researches the role of wine in the lives of the great composers.

The Wine Gourd compares the wine tasting results of amateurs and professionals.

Apparently there is a revived debate about Robert Parker’s influence; Tim Atkin weighs in on Parker’s legacy.

Seth Buckley has an informative introduction to the Southern Rhone Valley

Dallas Wine Chick interviews John Concannon of the pioneering Concannon family who played an important role in the emergence of Cabernet Sauvignon in California.

Amanda Barnes interviews winemaker Carlos Lucas on the potential of Portugal’s Dão region.

Pam Strayer of Organic Wines Uncorked reviews two books about rare and unusual grape varietals:  Tasting the Past, by Kevin Begos and Godforsaken Grapes by Jason Wilson.

Winery Visits and Travel Posts:

Cellar Tours describes the culinary gems of Sicily.

The Drunken Cyclist profiles Château de Fargues, the producer of Sauternes.

Wine Travel Eats profiles Mi Sueño Winery in Napa.

Selected Reviews:

Jamie Goode reviews 5 Gamay wines from Beaujolais.

Fredric Koeppel reviews several wines from various French regions.

Aaron Nix-Gomez tastes through a flight of very old wines from Dolcetto d’Alba.

Cindy Rynning reviews Sun 2013, a Greek wine from Thessaly made from Limniona and Xinomavro and paired with a cinnamon lamb stew.

Tom Lee reviews the 2016 Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel Sonoma County

Michelle Williams continues her series on breaking out of the wine rut, with reviews of several white wines from lesser known regions or varietals.

Issac Baker reviews the current lineup from Kita winery in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Budget Wine: DFJ Vinhos Portada Winemaker’s Selection Red Blend Lisboa 2011



portadaI was surprised to find some of this still on the shelves at Bevmo. A genuine bargain when first released at $7 (Wine Enthusiast gave it 90 points), at $9 and with more bottle age it’s still drinking well if you like fat, juicy wines.

The intense nose shows aromas of ripe blackberry, raisin, a bit of animal and is just beginning to show a hint of old books. It’s juicy and plummy on the palate, the sweet cola too prominent, but a seam of minerality lightens the weight salvaging the wine. Round and plush, the tannins have presence but have turned pleasantly supple, supporting a short finish unfortunately marred at the very end by a sour note.

A swollen, dark, lugubrious mass with lots of flavor, it nevertheless feels a bit cartoonish, a satire of opulence. But a good satire is worth $9 isn’t it?

Blackout by Hybrid brings the dark background complexity, turgid pace and leavening vocal that resonates with this wine.

Technical Data: This is a blend of Tinta Roriz, Alicante Bouschet, Cabernet Sauvignon, Caladoc, Castelao, Pinot Noir and Touriga Nacional from three estates in Lisboa, Portugal. The wine is fermented in stainless steel and aged for one month in bottle before release.

Score: 88

Price: $9

Alc: 12.5%

Wine Blog Daily Friday 7/13/18


orange winesA daily sample of thoughtful writing and discussion from (mostly) independent wine blogs:

The Academic Wino reports on a study assessing the effects of wine bottle closure type on perceived wine quality.

Australian winemaker Brian Croser has an interesting take on natural wines hosted on Jamie Goode’s site.

Kelly Magyarics answers all your questions about orange wines.

1 Wine Dude reviews a very expensive wine glass and a wine refrigerator.

The Wine Curmudgeon reports on the strange phenomenon that convenience stores are selling more wine.

The Wine Daily explains how you can get money back on wine purchases on Amazon Prime Day.

Jameson Fink discusses the charms and challenges of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc in his podcast.

Jeremy Parzen provides a translation and reading of “A Ciapin” (“To Ciapin”) by Giovanni Pascoli, a poem that captures the spiritual dimension of wine.

Wine to Five Podcast this week features a discussion of Barbera.

Winery Visits and Travel Posts:

Jamie Goode keeps us up to date on his exploration of Hong Kong with several photos.

Selected Wine Reviews:

Allison Levine profiles Dogliani DOCG the Piemonte region specializing in Dolcetto.

The Drunken Cyclist continues his series on the Largest Blind Tasting of True Rosés.

Amanda Barnes profiles Luis Pato Winery, one of Portugal’s best known producers, and interviews top Portuguese Somm Manuel Moreira about Portuguese wines.

Aaron Nix-Gomez tastes several older vintages of  CVNE the highly regarded Rioja producer.

Martin Redmond reviews the 2017 Scheid Vineyards Pinot Noir Rosé from Monterey.

Tom Lee reviews the 2010 Dehlinger Syrah Goldridge from Russian River.

Wanderlust and Natural Wines


okanagan valleyWe spent about 10 days recovering from our month in Italy. But my addiction to travel not yet sated, we are now making our way up the West Coast, with our ultimate northerly destination, British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. They make good wine there although we don’t see much of it in the U.S. , and it will surely taste good against the backdrop of stunning, landscapes.

We don’t arrive in Canada until September. In the meantime I will be focused, for the most part, on tasting and learning about natural wines as we move through California.

Why natural wine?

Natural wines are wines made without cultured yeast, minimal (or no) use of the preservative sulfur dioxide, minimal modern winemaking technology, no additives, no filtration, and using only grapes grown organically and/or sustainably. As the main promoter of natural wines, Alice Feiring, defines them, “nothing added, nothing taken away” except a little sulfur if necessary.

Although the marketing of natural wines has been controversial among conventional winemakers, the natural wines I’ve tasted have been for the most part quite good. Natural wine represents the avant-garde of the current wine scene, although many people think it’s more hype than substance. Although they claim to be returning to the winemaking techniques of the past, these wines often taste differently from conventional wines. So I’m curious about what those differences are and whether there are consistent flavor profiles that mark a wine as natural.

After all, it’s differences in both wine and geography that make life worth living.

If anyone knows of natural wine producers in California or Washington State that we should visit, let me know.

Wine Blog Daily Thursday 7/12/18


A daily sample of thoughtful writing and discussion from (mostly) independent wine blogs:

bodegas catana zapata

Bodegas Catena Zapata

Vicki Denberg talks Malbec with Laura Catena, Managing Director of Argentina’s iconic Bodega Catena Zapata

Bob on Sonoma has the facts and figures on the decline in beer sales.

Lisa Johnston has an informative post on Greek wine varietals.

Miquel Hudin reviews Dr. Neel Burton’s The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting 2nd Ed.

Winery Visits and Travel Posts:

Jamie Goode finds several wines of interest at a wine bar in Hong Kong.

Pam Strayer enjoys the rustic vibe of Powicana Farms tasting room in Penngrove, Sonoma County.

A Must Read profiles Culmina Family Estate Winery in Okanagan Valley, British Columbia.

Selected Wine Reviews:

The Wine Curmudgeon’s wine of the week is a surprise: the CK Mondavi Sauvignon Blanc 2017

Aaron Nix-Gomez finds a bottle of the 1977 Keenan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

Brianne Cohen profiles Sonoma’s Kenwood Vineyards.

Tom Lee reviews the 2008 J. Rochioli Chardonnay Sweetwater Vineyard, Russian River Valley

Difficult Beauty


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exploding wineThroughout much of the history of aesthetics beauty has been the term of highest aesthetic praise, referring to objects that exhibit perfect symmetry, proportion and harmony, and often associated with the divine. But terms that refer to more ordinary aesthetic experiences—pretty, pleasant, charming, nice, lovely, etc.—receive almost no attention. This is odd to say the least because the vast majority of aesthetic experiences in ordinary life are best described as pretty, pleasant or nice.

This is surely true of wine. Most of us don’t drink the most impressive wines on a regular basis. Everyday wines of quality can best be described as pleasant, nice, scrumptious or some other adjective denoting a common experience. To describe a wine as pretty is a term of praise. Our lives are suffused with these more modest experiences. Without things that are pretty or pleasant our lives would be much poorer. Our experiences of things that are pretty or nice are genuine aesthetic experiences despite being ignored by people who should know better.

However, what I find even more odd about traditional aesthetics is that when I think about harmony, symmetry and related concepts, it’s pretty or pleasant objects that exhibit them. Pretty pictures have all their elements working together with balanced colors and graceful lines, nothing jagged or garish. They have unity and feel complete. Pleasant wines are well balanced with round, prominent fruit set off by plenty of acidity to keep the wine fresh, a conventional aroma profile with just enough complexity to be interesting but nothing confusing or off-putting, and if the wine is red, sufficient tannins to give the wine some length and intensity. In short, pretty, nice, pleasant things have nothing of difficulty about them. They effortlessly enter our lives producing no conflict and providing many moments of modest joy precisely because they exhibit harmony, symmetry and balance.

Beauty by contrast is something less comforting. Objects become beautiful when some difficulty is introduced, something that disrupts harmony and makes us think or react. The intensity of beauty comes from contrast not symmetry. A symmetrical face is pretty; it becomes beautiful when animated by the complexities of a personality that hints at something tumultuous just below the surface. Musical passages are beautiful when they contain sufficient tension to elicit powerful emotions. The great composers are masters at building tension that never fully resolves. What makes a painting such as Monet’s Water Lilies beautiful, and not merely pretty, is that it draws us into a maelstrom of swirling color that has no border so we feel on the edge of the infinite.

Similarly, great wines are paradoxical, marrying incompatible features such as power and finesse or complexity and simplicity that leave us with a sense of wonder and mystery about how it all works. They are hard to understand, can feel overwhelming in their intensity and may exhibit features that are unusual and distinctive. Great wines have balance but they feel like they’re pushing the limits of balance striving to keep the various intensities under control.

My point is that beauty is best viewed as unity and good form subtly disrupted by contrasts and intensities that the work struggles to accommodate. The aesthetic tradition is mistaken in conceptualizing beauty as perfect proportion and harmony.

Wine Blog Daily Wednesday 7/11/18


A daily sample of thoughtful writing and discussion from (mostly) independent wine blogs:

avincis-winery-m30113-a1Elaine Brown begins her 3-part assessment of the impact of the fires in California including those burning now.

The Wine Economist reports on the VinoVip al Forte conference devoted to assessing the future of Italian wine.

Tom Wark implores wineries to thank wine writers when they review their wines.

Jeremy Parzen engages in a bit of detective work to track down the meaning of the phrase “Poetry is the Devil’s Wine”.

Tom Lee reports on recent developments at the iconic Pinot producer Kosta Browne.

Talk-A-Vino uses random objects to saber a sparkling wine bottle.

Helen Conway provides an informative, comprehensive report on Beaujolais.

The Wine Curmudgeon has brief reports on health news, wine lists, and the sale of another Cava producer.

Winery Visits and Travel Posts:

The Drunken Cyclist is exploring one of my favorite wine regions, New York’s Finger Lakes.

Amanda Barnes discovers the new Douro. It’s no longer just about Port.

Selected Reviews:

Fredric Koeppel reviews the Simonsig Chenin Blanc 2017, from the Stellenbosch region of South Africa.

Cyndi Rynning profiles Karl Wente and the wines of Wente Vineyards

Strong Coffee to Red Wine hops on the rosé train with reviews of several of his favorites.

Jameson Fink reviews a Garganega, Rosato, and Corvina from Italy’s Scaia Winery.

Tom Riley is enthusiastic about  Ah-So Rosé NV from Navarra Spain, sold in a can.

Wine Review: Nello Olivo Bianconello White Blend El Dorado County 2015


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bianconello14I like wines that are unique and paradoxical showing contradictory features and  conflicting dimensions. This unusual blend has all of that.

Soft exclamations of honeysuckle somehow complement riveting petrol notes all highlighted against a lemon marzipan background. These heady aromatics suggest a light, racy wine, and indeed the wine sits buoyantly on the palate bubbling with tingling insights,  yet it’s fat and round with a endearing touch of oiliness before unveiling a crisp, mineral-infused finish showing some bitter lemon pith.

This is a blend of two Italian varietals—Arneis and Fiano—with Viognier added, and each varietal plays a distinct role. Arneis is floral, Fiano contributes the honey and nut aromas, Viognier adds to the shapely mouth feel.

I have no vinification information.  The winery’s website suggests the 2015 vintage will be released shortly but no information is yet available. But I would guess a gentle touch of oak aging [used only] and a bit of lees stirring creates this sensual texture.

The brittle guitar and plump, leisurely bass line of the Beatle’s Dear Prudence locked me into the atmosphere of this wine.

Score: 90

Price: unavailable (watch this site for release)

Alc: 12.8%

Review based on an industry sample.

Wine Blog Daily Tuesday 7/10/18


A daily sample of thoughtful writing and discussion from (mostly) independent wine blogs:

vineyard-1597724__340W. Blake Gray explains the economics of Cabernet’s continued and growing dominance in Napa Valley.

Tom Wark reports, optimistically, that we may be turning the corner on the three-tier system in light of developments in Texas.

Levi Dalton interviews wine writer Esther Mobley for his “I’ll Drink to That” podcast.

The Wine Curmudgeon argues that the wine industry is disconnected from reality.

The Swirling Dervish reports on the Tour de France while sipping wine from the regions traversed by the racers.

The Wine Daily reports on Penfold’s new baijiu-infused Shiraz. Baijiu is China’s most popular spirit.

Winery Visits and Travel Posts:

Jamie Goode visits a natural wine bar in Hong Kong.

Selected Reviews:

Fredric Koeppel reviews the Quinta do Vallado Douro Red 2015 from Portugal.

Michelle Williams explains how to get out of a wine rut and reviews several red wines that will do just that.

Aaron Nix-Gomez tastes through several vintages of  Bodegas Hermanos Pecina, a renowned producer of Rioja.

Good Vitis reviews the 2015 Smith-Madrone Riesling from Napa’s Spring Mountain district.

JvB Uncorked reviews the Ranch 32 Chardonnay 2016, Arroyo Seco, Monterey