And Then There Were… Five (Tenuta Casali Recent Releases)

Silvia Casali

What gives one the impetus to isolate yeasts, experiment with, say, cumbersome large barriques, and pursue crafting world-class Sangiovese in a region best known for bulk wine? Probably having regional winemaking in your blood.

That’s the sense that one might take away from a visit to Tenuta Casali, in Romagna’s Mercato Saraceno, where Silvia, Francesco and Daniele Casali now work with the previous Casali generation, Valerio and Paolo, who themselves took over in the late 1970s from grandfather Mario, who farmed their alluvial, stony, and white clay soils since the 1940s as a grower. So there are five family members now involved directly, doing all of the normal family-winery stuff while also attempting the aforementioned experimentation/fine-tuning, and yet I got the impression that things were running well enough, and personally did not notice anyone trying to kill one another while I was there…

And Then There Were… Five (Tenuta Casali Recent Releases)

Tenuta Casali sits astride the Savio Valley, which itself sits astride Italy’s Appenine hills in Romagna, with approximately twenty hectares of vines (all but twenty percent of which are devoted to Sangiovese) in effect bordered by Tuscany and the Adriatic.

Their vineyard placement – which also enjoys an elevation of between 500 and 800 feet – seems to work some mighty Romagna magic on their Sangio fruit; their reds were some of the best that I tasted during my media trip to the region last year. Not that their whites are slouching, as we’ll get into, well, immediately…

And Then There Were… Five (Tenuta Casali Recent Releases)

And Then There Were… Five (Tenuta Casali Recent Releases)2017 Tenuta Casali Albana Romagna ‘Valleripa’ (Emila-Romagna, $NA)

Casali’s Albana is a bit of an extreme, planted at 400 meters on tuffa soils, and it hits the sweet spot between round fullness and fresh minerality. Floral, honeyed, and chock full of ripe stone fruit and brioche action, with impressive balance between a sense of energy and astringency. In other words, much ass is kicked here.

And Then There Were… Five (Tenuta Casali Recent Releases)

And Then There Were… Five (Tenuta Casali Recent Releases)2016 Tenuta Casali ‘Baruccia’ Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore (Emilia-Romagna, $23)

Juicy, supple, and spicy, this is a red that’s easy to down. Black cherries and plum dominate, but it’s never overly or obnoxiously fruity; in fact, at turns this is fresh and structured in ways that should make many, many Italian wine lovers very, very happy.

And Then There Were… Five (Tenuta Casali Recent Releases)

And Then There Were… Five (Tenuta Casali Recent Releases)2015 Tenuta Casali ‘Quartosole’ Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva (Emilia-Romagna, $NA)

The grosso clone is used here, from lower-yielding guyot vines in the white-clay Baruccia vineyard, planted in 1990, with the wine being aged in 20hl wooden vats. You might expect a thoroughly old school, sit-on-it-for-20-years Sangio red, and you’d be wrong. While undoubtedly young, this is gorgeous and perfumed now, with dried herb spiciness, black cherry, mint, and cooked orange peel notes, and a palate that mixes structural grit with a supple juiciness and ample freshness. So, yeah… wow.

And Then There Were… Five (Tenuta Casali Recent Releases)

Cheers!

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Puzzle Master (Fattoria Zerbina Recent Releases)

Fattoria Zerbina’s Cristina Geminiani

“The soil is like a puzzle.”

When Fattoria Zerbina matriarch Cristina Geminiani talks about her Faenza area vineyards in Italy’s Romagna, she gives the distinct impressions that a) she knows what she is doing, and, b) isn’t prepared to take any sh*t about it.

At least, that’s the sense that I got when I got my feet into Zerbina’s 32 hectares of red clay and limestone soils during a recent press jaunt. Geminiani took over the reins of the family wine business (established in the `60s by her grandfather) in 1987, having studied at both the University of Milan and the University of Bordeaux.

Puzzle Master (Fattoria Zerbina Recent Releases)

Geminiani’s “puzzle” necessitates a pasticcio approach to crafting wine in this case, primarily from Romagna’s Sangiovese and Albana grapes) – combinations of alberello, gobelet, and trellised vine training, and often different pickings (sometimes within the same plots). Zerbina’s proximity to nearby rivers means that their Albana is prone to noble rot, which Geminiani understandably has totally run with for their passito wine, given her experience in Bordeaux.

Anyway… enough of my yappin’, let’s boogie…

Puzzle Master (Fattoria Zerbina Recent Releases)

Puzzle Master (Fattoria Zerbina Recent Releases)2017 Fattoria Zerbina Bianco di Ceparano (Albana di Romagna Secco, $13)

Albana is Romagna’s other grape, the name being a Latin reference to the fruit’s whitish color. Interestingly, Albana from the region achieved DOCG status way back in 1987, which, this being Italy and all, I can only assume had deeply political origins. Zerbina didn’t get into Albana until 2008, but they have caught up quickly. An earlier harvest gives this a lifted, mineral, perky presentation, with a clean, crisp, clear, and linear mouthfeel. Tropcial fruits move on to stone fruit, fresh citrus, and then wet stone, all of it subtle and impeccably balanced.

Puzzle Master (Fattoria Zerbina Recent Releases)

Puzzle Master (Fattoria Zerbina Recent Releases)2017 Fattoria Zerbina Ceregio Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore (Emilia-Romagna, $20)

Made from the grosso Sangio clone, this is all crowd-pleasing, early-drinking delight; bright, fresh, with plenty of the cherry fruit after which it’s named. Hints of herbs and tobacco add nuance to the friendly proceedings.

Puzzle Master (Fattoria Zerbina Recent Releases)

Puzzle Master (Fattoria Zerbina Recent Releases)2015 Fattoria Zerbina Pietramora Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore Riserva (Emilia-Romagna, $NA)

The vines that go into Zerbina’s flagship Sangio produce small berries with thick skins, a fact that permeates everything about this leathery, herbal, mineral red that aims for structure over overt opulence. Black cherries, juicy red plums, orange peel, and overarching freshness all combine to make you want to invent a time machine to be able to immediately see what this will become in several years time.

Puzzle Master (Fattoria Zerbina Recent Releases)

Puzzle Master (Fattoria Zerbina Recent Releases)2014 Fattoria Zerbina AR Passito Riserva (Albana di Romagna, $NA)

I don’t know exactly how much this little wonder would fetch in the states per bottle, but it won’t be cheap, of that I can assure you. Single berry selection is used here to pick the best of their noble rot-infected Albana grapes, resulting in a concentrated, potent 300 g/l of sugar. Sultana, biscuit, honey blossom, candied lemons… this is fresh, luxuriant, balanced, and stunning.

Cheers!

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Fight The Good Fight (Castelluccio Romagna Recent Releases)

“Romagna had to fight a lot – and still has to fight a lot.”

So mentioned Alessandro Fiore – who, along with brother Claudio, oversee wine production of Castelluccio, one of their family’s three winery operations – recognizes the oddly ironic state of Romagna wine.

On the one hand, by most measures this hilly, picturesque northen-Italian area near Bolgna is synonymous with what we in the USA consider to be Italian food. Romagna is the birthplace of Parmigiano Reggiano, balsamic vinegar, lasagne, tagliatelle, tortellini, and prosciutto. On the other hand, Romagna is not synonymous with fine Italian wine, having spent decades churning out juice for the bulk market.

Fight The Good Fight (Castelluccio Romagna Recent Releases)
Alessandro & Claudio Fiore, who are not actually members of Jethro Tull

But there are several smaller Romagna wine producers who are engaged in fighting the good fight to elevate the region’s craft, including Modigliana’s Castelluccio, nestled in what the Fiore brothers call “ancient Tuscany” (where I visited on a press jaunt back in November). While they might look more like members of early Jethro Tull, the Fiore brothers know that the struggle for Romagna wine recognition is very, very real. Their father, Vittorio Fiore, acquired the majority of their fourteen Romagna hectares of land over several years, and has been focused on quality wine production from their marl and limestone soils since the 1970s. They made a splash early on by producing a regional Sauvignon Blanc (“which at first was not very good” remarked Alessandro) in an area better known for Sangiovese…

Fight The Good Fight (Castelluccio Romagna Recent Releases)

That Romagna could produce excellent wine shouldn’t be all that surprising (and with the Fiores, I tasted several, including their neighbor Torre San Martino’s stellar ‘Vigna 1922’ Sangiovese Riserva), given that the Adriatic is a mere 30 kilometers away (leading Alessandro to mention that “the hill is always kissed by the sea breeze,” which you’ll have to imagine spoken in a lyrical Italian accent). Fresh, cold air from the Alps also influences the growing area, and the result is, according to the Fiore bros., “more elegance, finesse, and more bouquet” in their Sangio than can be found in the African-climate-influenced grapes grown further south in Tuscany.

This pair of Castelluccio sippers are making an especially good case for Romagna’s Sangiovese good fight:

Fight The Good Fight (Castelluccio Romagna Recent Releases)

Fight The Good Fight (Castelluccio Romagna Recent Releases)2017 Castelluccio ‘Le More’ Sangiovese di Romagna (Emilia-Romagna, $13)

The Fiores have been making the all-stainless-steel Le More since the early 1990s. This is lovely, lively stuff, with juicy red plum flavors, bright berry aromas tinged with herbs, and enough vibrancy to light up a dark room. Having said that, it also has juuuuuust enough hint of structure to make you want to immediately start cooking burgers on the grill.

Fight The Good Fight (Castelluccio Romagna Recent Releases)

Fight The Good Fight (Castelluccio Romagna Recent Releases)2012 Castelluccio Ronco dei Ciliegi Forli Rosso (Emilia-Romagna, $28)

This is single-vineyard, 100% Sangiovese that’s aged in 350 liter French Oak tonneau for a year, then in bottle for nearly another year. Older vines are used, and it’s considered one of the first “Super Romagna” Sangios, having first been released in the 1980s. Fresh, juicy, spicy, and lifted, there are plums of nearly every stripe evoked here, along with wood spices, leather, graphite, orange peel, and finish that is both quite long and very, very elegant. If a wine like this doesn’t punch you in the head with the realization that the Romagna fine wine Sangiovese fight is worth fighting, then you probably ought to be literally punched in the head…

Cheers!


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French Soul, California Roots, Philly Grit (Sosie Wines Recent Releases)

Over the Winter holiday break, I managed to catch up with talented Sonoma-area winemaker and Philly-boy transplant Kieran Robinson, who will soon be opening a tasting room for his wines in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it one-block section of downtown… Downingtown, PA.

Downingtown is basically my backyard, so I’m very much looking forward to the advent of Robinson’s new digs, and especially to trying to convince him to hire my band for live gigs once the tasting room opens (seriously… I have no shame when it comes to band gigs). But this little blogging vignette isn’t about Robinson’s wines, at least not directly.

Kieran brought along his friend and boss Scott MacFiggen, the main man behind Sosie Wines, and for whom Robinson consults as a winemaker. MacFiggen – who started the Sosie brand after falling in love with French wines in Nuits Saint Georges and falling out of love with the corporate world – has a sort of mutual love-affair with 1WD, and so I was happy to meet and get my grubby lips on more of their Napa-Sonoma-based products.

Sosie is a small outfit – they produce only about 800 cases, and so tend to hy away from the ‘major’ varieties” as MacFiggen puts it. As for Robinson’s decision to consult, he put it this way: “no distributor wants to pick up someone with just one wine; business-wise, that doesn’t work. And you get itches to make new stuff.”

Those itches make for some very satisfying scratches, some of which I’ll attempt to relay in the far less satisfying written word…

French Soul, California Roots, Philly Grit (Sosie Wines Recent Releases) 

French Soul, California Roots, Philly Grit (Sosie Wines Recent Releases)2016 Sosie Wines Roussane Vivio Vineyard (Bennet Valley, $38)

Clocking in at a modest under-14% abv, this is a bit of a rarity for Sonoma Roussane in its lithe, bright profile. “It was about to rain so we had to pick it,” MacFiggen remarked. He summed up the approach to this white as “No amendments – that’s really important to us. We don’t add anything. Sulfer dioxide, that’s it.” That hands-off approach works well here, with textural, toasty, and broad tropical fruit elements mixing in with the lemony acidity and white flower aromas. As is the case with all of Sosie’s wines, the back label is a well-designed (+1 on the font choice, bro!) treatise on the technical aspects of crafting the wine (which means it probably reads like Sanskrit for the average consumer…), as example of which I’ll post here (but will assume the curious are capable of checking out the website for the same details on the other selections).

French Soul, California Roots, Philly Grit (Sosie Wines Recent Releases)

Fond of detail much?

French Soul, California Roots, Philly Grit (Sosie Wines Recent Releases)2016 Sosie Wines Roberts Road Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast, $43)

Roberts road vineyard’s fertile soils produce wines that end up being “a bit too rich” for MacFiggen’s tastes, so they’re dropping it for future releases. Which is a pity, because this all native, 20 percent stem, 50 percent new oak Pinot is a minor wonder. Black tea, deep blackberry like fruit, well developed, spicy tannins with sweet edges… It’s a sexy combination that’s not easy to get when utilizing stem inclusion. “That’s the benefit of the cooler area,” MacFiggen added, “you get longer hang times and riper stems.” Four barrels made, so you hedonists out to grab it while you can.

 

French Soul, California Roots, Philly Grit (Sosie Wines Recent Releases)2016 Sosie Wines Spring Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast, $43)

MacFiggen describes Spring Hill, on the western side of Petaluma, as “right in the edge of being functional. It’s super windy, super wet; I’ve shown up at 11 and couldn’t see the end of the vineyard, it was so foggy. The berries are just minuscule. I call this my Steak Pinot. It’s intense.” Added Robinson: “the soils are non existent, it’s on the brink of being un-growable.” Spicy, earthy, peppery, red and black berries, intense structure, long finish… there’s little (if anything) not to like here. Hints of exotic and citrus fruit, caraway seed, tons of character going on, it’s everything to love about the sort of ‘new California’ Pinot movement.

French Soul, California Roots, Philly Grit (Sosie Wines Recent Releases) 

 

French Soul, California Roots, Philly Grit (Sosie Wines Recent Releases)2016 Sosie Wines Syrah Vivio Vineyard (Bennet Valley, $38)

Earlier picking, a bit of whole cluster, and 7 percent Roussane co-fermented all come together to make this red the most clearly French-inspired of Sosie’s lineup. There’s excellent floral lift, a bevy of red plums, dark berry compote, wild herbs, mint, bramble, and baking spices. The palate is at once large, smooth, meaty, and long, without losing a sense of composure.

 

French Soul, California Roots, Philly Grit (Sosie Wines Recent Releases)

Dying breed… :-(

French Soul, California Roots, Philly Grit (Sosie Wines Recent Releases)2016 Sosie Wines Cabernet Franc Stagecoach Vineyard Block K5 (Napa Valley, $80)

I loved – looooooved– the 2015 vintage of this wine. The 2016 is just as excellent. Unfortunately, the vines just got pulled due to virus pressure, a tragedy that I might not get over any time too soon. Black cherry and fantastic herbal spice introduce this tight, taught, young blockbuster, giving way to some grit and grip and lovely graphite notes. Characterful throughout, with dark fruit and even darker mineral notes. “Get it now, because it can never be replicated,” Kieran wisely advised… and I was crying on the inside when I heard it…

 

Cheers!

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Out Of Time In Piedmont (Scarpa Recent Releases)

Scarpa’s foyer

Despite the fact that I have content to write up that spans more than a year of travel (including my takes on the wine scene in Israel, the southern Rhone, and Romagna), the thing that’s been rattling around in my brain and not letting the hell go stems from a much more recent excursion, when I had a brief, impromptu visit taken during my latest jaunt to Monferrato.

Specifically, to the as-of-right-now 219-year-old building (established the same year – 1900 – as the planting of the sort-of-famous tree in their backyard in Nizza) of Scarpa. My short-term obsession has to do with the impression that this relatively small (22 hectares, yielding about 120,000 bottles/year) producer is fascinatingly, anachronistically refreshing within the context of modern Italian wine. Time passing seems to have little impact on how Scarpa approach crafting wine in Piedmont.

Out Of Time In Piedmont (Scarpa Recent Releases)
Have tree, will make unique Italian wine…

Scarpa works only with indigenous Italian grape varieties, and is one fo the few regional producers that have been grandfathered in to the zonal production laws of Barolo. The rest of this short tale is literally told almost exclusively in liquid form, in the hopes that my written words can transmit the sense of nonchalant, almost insouciant joy that Scarpa’s winemaking style presents…

Out Of Time In Piedmont (Scarpa Recent Releases)
No, we did NOT get to taste these!

Out Of Time In Piedmont (Scarpa Recent Releases)2015 Scarpa ‘Casa Scarpa’ Barbera d’Asti (Piedmont, $22)

Earthy, old school, and classically framed, this is a textbook definition of how traditional Asti and Piedmontese Barbera shoudl present itself. Juicy red fruits and vivacity are there, but so are hints of tenser structure, leather, and spices. Capable of elevating just about any meat pasta dish to more refined territory at a moment’s notice.

Out Of Time In Piedmont (Scarpa Recent Releases)2015 Scarpa ‘Bric du Nota’ Nebbiolo d’Alba (Piedmont, $40)

Only 3,000 bottles of this alternatively-styled Nebbiolo were made, using large-format Slavonian oak barrels for aging. If that sounds Old School, it’s intentionally so, but in the best ways imaginable: the ways with stewed plums, incense, cloves, earthiness, minerals, bacon fat, spices, lanolin, violets, licorice, and balsamic. This is intense in its aromatic punch and its vibrancy, but at no point feels overwhelming; in other words, it’s a joy.

Out Of Time In Piedmont (Scarpa Recent Releases)

Out Of Time In Piedmont (Scarpa Recent Releases)2013 Scarpa ‘La Selva di Moirano’ Monferrato Freisa Secco (Piedmont, $25)

Occasionally, you run into a wine that makes little sense without food; this was one of those times. Scarpa’s Freisa Secco is the kind of red that feels disjointed on its own, yet will gracefully, resplendently shine with just about anything at the dinner table. Pepper, wild raspberries, meat, and spices open things up, juicy red plums are next, followed by acidity that’s both intense and yet somehow soft around the edges. The tannins are a bit on the rougher side, but their feel is tempered by a clean, linear, just goddamned delicious finish.

Out Of Time In Piedmont (Scarpa Recent Releases)

Out Of Time In Piedmont (Scarpa Recent Releases)2016 Scarpa ‘La Selva di Moirano’ Rosso Vino da Tavola (Piedmont, $50)

One of the more complex and complicated Brachetto d’Acqui incarnations that you’re likely to ever encounter – herbs, mint, roses, lanolin, juicy and brambly red berries, and savory game meats abound. It’s leathery, chewy,  lovely, lively, and difficult to understand at first (don’t worry, it’s also so tasty that soon enough you won’t care).

Out Of Time In Piedmont (Scarpa Recent Releases)2014 Scarpa ‘Briccorosa Rouchet’ Monferrato Rosso (Piedmont, $45)

This is Ruché, a Piedmontese grape with which longtime 1WD readers are already quite familiar, though it’s not labeled as such. Back in `74, Scarpa received a few Ruché plants as a gift, and planted them on sandy soils in a windy, elevated area of their vineyards. That turned out to be just about the perfect spot for Ruché, but at the time Scarpa weren’t permitted to put the  grape name on the label. So, like just about all Italian producers do, they turned to their deep penchant for fantasy names. Roses, perfume, pepper, dried herbs, mint, and sour cherries kick things off with this excellent – and stainless steel only – version of one of Italy’s wilier red varieties. There’s a smooth palate entry, austere tannins, and a finish that’s long, tasty, chocolaty, and spicy.

Out Of Time In Piedmont (Scarpa Recent Releases)

Cheers!

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“Not California” (Exploring Idaho Wine Country)

Among Idaho’s state slogans and motto (which have included Esto perpetua, “Great Potatoes,” “What America Was,” and “Tasty Destinations,”) was the phrase “Not California.”

“Not California” (Exploring Idaho Wine Country)
The author (& friends) at “work” in Idaho
“Not California” (Exploring Idaho Wine Country)

There’s a slight air of desperation and defiance in defining your identity in the negative; though in the case of Idaho’s budding wine production scene, it’s not entirely inappropriate: despite 150+ years of winemaking history, this is a state whose first AVA (Snake River Valley) was recognized less than fifteen years ago (and is probably more famous for Evel Knievel than it is for wine). Idaho’s other two AVAs – Eagle Foothills and Lewis-Clark Valley – are less than five years old, and one of those is a sub-AVA. Despite its visually stunning expanses, the state has a mere 1300 acres of grapes planted, almost all of it in the Snake River Valley, and is home to just over 50 wineries (for some perspective: California has about 4400).

“Not California” (Exploring Idaho Wine Country)

We can forgive Idaho for having a bit of a petulant-attention-seeking-middle-child chip on its wine producing shoulder, because there’s little reason that the state can’t make very, very good wines. Formed from ancient volcanic and flooding activity, Idaho’s soils are sandy, sedimentary and well-draining, and its climate is dry with cold winters; all of which are good conditions for reducing pest and disease pressure for grape vines (and in some cases, allow the vines to be own-rooted).

Actually, there is one very good reason why Idaho wine doesn’t get the media luv right now: there simply isn’t enough of it. As Idaho Wine Commission Executive Director Moya Shatz Dolsby told me when I visited the state last year, “our biggest problem is that we don’t have enough grapes.”

Following is a (very) brief overview of the wines that stood out the most to me during my Idaho travels. There are, I think, three basic themes that, like Idaho’s famous rafting rivers, run throughout the best of their vinous experimentation: a sense of purity (possibly helped by the lack of a need to graft on to American rootstocks), a pioneering spirit (sometimes to a fault), and a diversity that few American wine regions can legitimately claim to be able to match…

“Not California” (Exploring Idaho Wine Country)
Par Terre’s Travis Walker

2016 Par Terre Merlot (Snake River Valley, $24)

“Not California” (Exploring Idaho Wine Country)

Now, here’s an example of Idaho’s pioneering ways: in March of 2018, former ballet dancers Travis and Mallory Walker opened up Par Terre (“on the ground”) in Garden City, across the parking lot from a Big Smokes cigarette shop. Travis put it this way: “When we retired [from dancing], we knew that we couldn’t just sit behind a desk. I thought that I could make the most change here.” In terms of passion for wine, they lack little of it, to the point that they grow Gewürztraminer in their backyard as “practice” for when they can plant their own fruit. Their Merlot shows great promise – it’s lithe, silky, and full of black and blue plum action, without shying away from the grape’s penchant for pungent black olive notes.

“Not California” (Exploring Idaho Wine Country)
Idaho Chic: Cinder’s urban tasting room

2016 Cinder Syrah (Snake River Valley, $30)

“Not California” (Exploring Idaho Wine Country)

Also in an urban setting in Garden City, Cinder Wines is the brainchild of Chateau Ste Michelle alumnus Melanie Krause and husband Joe Schnerr (a former chemist). Cinder has seen early success with their chic tasting room and even more chic, clean wines (now up to about 8,000 cases, though some fruit is from nearby WA state). Their Syrah is leathery, toasty, and jam packed with smoked meat aromas, a sense of minerality, and deep, dark fruit flavors.


“Not California” (Exploring Idaho Wine Country)
Telaya’s Earl Sullivan waxes
didactic on Idaho winemaking

2016 Telaya Mourvedre (Snake River Valley, $32)

“Not California” (Exploring Idaho Wine Country)

Kentucky native and Telaya founder Earl Sullivan is a former Pharma COO, his wife Carrie was a veterinarian surgeon, and they run their second careers in wine with all of the gnat’s-ass precision that you’d expect from their backgrounds. That’s a good thing for their 5000 case wine production, which is determined and quality-driven. Earl is a font of information with respect to Idaho’s winemaking issues, from its nascent quality focus (“we used to deal with grape growers,” he told me, “now we deal with wine growers”) to its unique climatic challenges (“we lose a bottle per barrel per month due to the dryness of the climate”). Bright, light, and textural, their Mourvedre is delicious – pepper, red currants, violets, citrus peel, and a sense of tasty delight.

NV 3100 Cellars Whitewater Sparkling (Snake River Valley, $35)

“Not California” (Exploring Idaho Wine Country)

Telaya winemaker Hailey Minder’s side project is named after the number of miles of rivers in Idaho, and given her experience in crafting spumante in Italy, she decided to go with sparkling (though in this case, it’s methode traditionale). Made from Bitner Vineyards Chardonnay, this bubbly is floral, with green and yellow apple notes, and a nice undercurrent (ha ha!) of toastiness. A bit pricey, but also more than a bit tasty, and an open bottle won’t last long.

“Not California” (Exploring Idaho Wine Country)

2016 Koenig Vineyards ‘Sunny Slope Cuvee’ Riesling (Snake River Valley, $13)

“Not California” (Exploring Idaho Wine Country)

Situated near the town of Caldwell, Koenig has been in the business of Idaho wine for two decades (and in farming for almost 100 years), which qualifies it as a bit of an institution in these parts. Owner Greg Koenig is tall and mild-mannered, which might explain why some of his wines, among the best in the state, are under-priced. Case in point: this pithy, bright, and citrus-tinged Riesling, which offers aromas of bruised apple, white flowers, toast, and wet slate. The fact that it’s available for under $20 is head-shaking.

“Not California” (Exploring Idaho Wine Country)
Greg Koenig of Koenig Vineyards


2014 Koenig Vineyards ‘Cuvee Amelia’ Reserve Syrah (Snake River Valley, $55)

“Not California” (Exploring Idaho Wine Country)

Simply put, this is probably the best red that Idaho currently has to offer. Silky, savory, structured, and gritty, there’s power here and a purity of fruit that provides a solid, unflinching backbone for its herb, pepper, and smoked meat aromas. I’m starting to believe in the future of Syrah in Idaho, though I suspect that, like Syrah just about everywhere else, it will continue to be a hand-sell.


2014 Williamson Orchards & Vineyard Sangiovese (Snake River Valley, $NA)

“Not California” (Exploring Idaho Wine Country)

First homesteaded in 1909, this family farm now produces almost twenty different labels of wine. Whenever I don’t loathe a domestic US Sangiovese, I consider it a success; even more so when I actually like it. You know immediately what you’re getting with this one, as it has Sangio’s telltale dried orange peel notes and textural combination of vibrancy and chewiness.

“Not California” (Exploring Idaho Wine Country)

2015 Fujishin Reserve Petite Sirah (Snake River Valley, $26)

“Not California” (Exploring Idaho Wine Country)

Martin Fujishin (former Vineyard Manager for Bitner) and Teresa Moy began the Fujishin brand in 2009, and seem to be really coming into their own at the decade mark. Or maybe they came into their own ten years ago and I’m just catching up… Anyway… Violets and vivacity mark the entrance of this big boy red, which lacks shyness but not power, meatiness, or deep, dark fruitiness.

“Not California” (Exploring Idaho Wine Country)
Martin Fujishin and Teresa Moy

2017 Lost West Winery Riesling (Snake River Valley, $17)

“Not California” (Exploring Idaho Wine Country)

Fujishin’s “second label” is an experimental playground of sorts, and it’s produced this crisp, clean, mineral-and-lime-driven delight. Long and fresh, with exotic fruit and toast notes, it’s yet another under-priced white from the state, who seem to think that the word “Riesling” is German for “offered at a 35% discount.

“Not California” (Exploring Idaho Wine Country)

2015 Trout Trilogy by Sawtooth Grenache (Snake River Valley, $40)

“Not California” (Exploring Idaho Wine Country)

Named after the Rocky Mountain range that runs through the state, Sawtooth is Idaho’s largest vineyard owner, with 500 acres of vines, and thirty years of experience. In my experience, it’s their higher-end offerings that are worth the attention, in particular this peppery, floral, meaty, and juicy Grenache. Lovely on the nose, things get sultry on the palate, where raspberry, bing cherry, and red plum flavors dominate, along with a sense of both power and energy.

“Not California” (Exploring Idaho Wine Country)
Look, rocks! Scoria’s Sydney Nederend

2016 Scoria Vineyards Malbec (Snake River Valley, $NA)

“Not California” (Exploring Idaho Wine Country)

Scoria is one of the more curious success stories of Idaho wine. With a tiny production (expanding now to 2000 cases), the brand is getting press on the media-friendly story of Sydney Nederend, who seems impossibly young for the task of expanding on her family’s long-standing farming business (father Joe Weitz produces mint) by planting mostly Malbec and launching a wine brand. In fact, Nederend was too young to (legally) drink when she began researching the scoria rock and basalt channels that would become the brand’s sandy vineyard soils, and clearing the sage brush in order to plant about 800 vines. What defines this young vine Malbec is its savory texture and black and red cherry fruit flavor combo. It’s spicy, a tad oaky, but definitely promising.

Cheers!


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Copyright © 2016. Originally at “Not California” (Exploring Idaho Wine Country) from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Lunga Vita Alla Rivoluzione! (Highlights From The 2016 Asti Barbera Revolution Tasting)

During my recent travels in Piedmont, I was part of a (rather large) media group that took part in a “Barbera Revolution” masterclass, held in the small town of Nizza Monferrato, organized by the Consorzio Barbera d’Asti e vini del Monferrato. There was nothing about that tasting of 2016 vintage releases to make me personally think that Barbera was undergoing some sort of quality revolution; likely a result of the fact that, given my history with the region, I was already convinced that Barbera in Asti was experiencing a quality renaissance.

Lunga Vita Alla Rivoluzione! (Highlights From The 2016 Asti Barbera Revolution Tasting)

So, no arms were taken up during the sampling of these 2016, but we did take up several glasses of promising Asti reds. Now that my stint with the My Name is Barbera program has wrapped up (for now, anyway), I felt comfy in taking a more critical eye on some of the latest Barbera d’Asti releases (not that you can ever fully take the critical eye from the critical guy, but I’ve generally avoided talking about Piedmonte Barbera here on 1WD while I was cashing checks for the video and blog work over at mynameisbarbera.com).

Here are my personal highlights from the tasting, many of which I think have been given short shrift from other critics in the past, and others that might be looking for US representation (importers… I’m looking at you!)…

Lunga Vita Alla Rivoluzione! (Highlights From The 2016 Asti Barbera Revolution Tasting)
Lunga Vita Alla Rivoluzione! (Highlights From The 2016 Asti Barbera Revolution Tasting)

2016 Garrone ‘Evasio’ Barbera d’Asti ($NA)

Dante Garrone farms his Barbera on clay soils in Montemagno, and his approach can probably be summed up as exuberance. Floral, spicy, and full of wild raspberry fruitiness, this is a supple, fresh, and juicy joy to drink. The dried herb and leather notes are a nice touch, but overall this is friendly to both people and food.

Lunga Vita Alla Rivoluzione! (Highlights From The 2016 Asti Barbera Revolution Tasting)

2016 Caudrina Romano Dogliotti ‘La Solista’ Barbera d’Asti ($NA)

Just about everything from this little number, coming from sandy higher elevation soils, is lovely. Cloves, licorice, juicy red fruits, lithe acids, bouncy texture, great balance… all evoking elegance, and capped by a nose that’s spicy AF.

Lunga Vita Alla Rivoluzione! (Highlights From The 2016 Asti Barbera Revolution Tasting)
Lunga Vita Alla Rivoluzione! (Highlights From The 2016 Asti Barbera Revolution Tasting)

2016 Coppo Camp du Rouss Barbera d’Asti ($20)

This is a family that has figured out its sweet spot, marrying modernity with a bit of tradition, and churning out excellent Barbera at prices that are probably too low. Black fruits, plums, earth, spices, violets, cloves, and perfume aromas abound, exuding classiness; jumping acidity in the mouth and a long finish make this gorgeous (and versatile) to drink. Ok, love letter’s over.

Lunga Vita Alla Rivoluzione! (Highlights From The 2016 Asti Barbera Revolution Tasting)

2016 Marchesi Alfieri ‘Alfiera’ Barbera d’Asti Superiore ($NA)

Calcareous soils, and a mix of old and new wood make for an interesting combo in this Superiore, which starts off with vanilla, cedar, and plums, then winds its way to licorice, more plums, tannic grip, supple dark fruitiness, and finally to a long exit of spices and herbs. On the fuller-throttle side, and will stand up to heartier fare normally in the Cabernet-or-die territory.

Lunga Vita Alla Rivoluzione! (Highlights From The 2016 Asti Barbera Revolution Tasting)
Lunga Vita Alla Rivoluzione! (Highlights From The 2016 Asti Barbera Revolution Tasting)

2016 Marenco Ciresa Barbera d’Asti Superiore ($NA)

Boom. Savory, juicy, spicy, long, concentrated… but also composed and emphasizing Barbera’s red fruitiness (rather than the darker plums and black cherries that usually accompany a Superiore this ripe). If you dig power, but also dig poise, this is your sweet `16.

Lunga Vita Alla Rivoluzione! (Highlights From The 2016 Asti Barbera Revolution Tasting)

2016 Pico Maccario ‘Epico’ Barbera d’Asti Superiore ($60)

There’s refinement amid the power of this 15% abv beast, primarily in how the perfumed aromas of minerals, flowers, cloves, vanilla, and red berries jump out of the glass and into the lap of your nostrils. Sure, there’s some heat, but it’s a sexy kind of heat…

Lunga Vita Alla Rivoluzione! (Highlights From The 2016 Asti Barbera Revolution Tasting)
Lunga Vita Alla Rivoluzione! (Highlights From The 2016 Asti Barbera Revolution Tasting)

2016 Tenuta Olim Bauda ‘Le Rocchette’ Barbera d’Asti Superiore ($NA)

Masters of the new Nizza DOCG, Olim Bauda is primed in style to become a further darling of the wine cool-kid crowd, and I mean that in the most positive senses. Cedar, smoked meat, baking spices, dark red fruits… the entire aromatic package is enticing. In the mouth, this is taught, focused, elegant, and very, very, very serious. Structured, sporting a long finish, bold, powerful, and potent (with that acidity, you’ll barely realize it’s over 15% alcohol), it’s everything that modern Barbera is striving to hit right now.

Lunga Vita Alla Rivoluzione! (Highlights From The 2016 Asti Barbera Revolution Tasting)

2016 Cascina Castlet ‘Passum’ Superiore Barbera d’Asti ($40)

Dial it all up to 11, Barbera style: ripe red fruits, juicy plums, and raging acids, this is a shy baby right now that’s built for a longer haul in the bottle. Mineral edges, woody spices, and powerful heft and structure (by Barbera standards) are all combined into a potentially future stunner. If you try this and think that Barbera still can’t hang with the big boys, then… well, you’re wrong…

Lunga Vita Alla Rivoluzione! (Highlights From The 2016 Asti Barbera Revolution Tasting)

Cheers!

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Copyright © 2016. Originally at Lunga Vita Alla Rivoluzione! (Highlights From The 2016 Asti Barbera Revolution Tasting) from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Return To Forever (Immortal Estate’s Inaugural Release)

The steep slopes at Hidden Ridge, back in 2010

Sometimes, the wine business is a very, very small place. Also, I am about to talk about jellyfish. You’ve been warned…

While in San Francisco recently for the SF International Wine Competition (more on the results of that in a couple of weeks), I caught up with wine marketing maven Tim Martin. Longtime 1WD readers might recognize Tim’s name from way back in 2012, when apparently (according to Tim, anyway) I was the first person to write about Tim’s Napa Valley project, Tusk. “We’ve got a ten year waiting list on Tusk now,” Tim mentioned, which I suppose is much more a tribute to that brand’s cult status, and the prowess of winemaker Philippe Melka than it is to my influence. I mean, as far as I know, even my mom doesn’t read 1WD.

Anyway…

Return To Forever (Immortal Estate’s Inaugural Release)

The late Lynn Hofacket (photographed in 2010)

It turns out that in the five-plus years since we last met, Martin has been busy lining up another potential cult classic, and this one already has some connection to previous 1WD coverage – it happens to be the next iteration of Hidden Ridge, which even longer-time 1WD readers might recall from when I visited that stunning Sonoma estate, on the very edge of the Napa Valley border, back in 2010. At the time, I marveled at why the prices for their reds were so low.

After Hidden Ridge patriarch Lynn Hofacket – who planted the vineyards on the steep hills of that estate (some of which literally match the great pyramids in slope percentage) – passed away, his wife Casidy ward eventually (though not without some trepidation, as I’ve been told) sold the vineyards to what would become the team behind what would become Immortal Estate (Hidden Ridge winemaker Timothy Milos remains a part of the team).

It was Hofacket’s passing, which nearly coincided with the death of Martin’s father, that became the genesis of Immortal’s brand name. “I started to think about legacy, and what we leave behind” Martin told me, and he noticed that Wine Advocate’s 100-point review of the 2013 Hidden Ridge Impassable Mountain Cabernet included the phrase “This wine is nearly Immortal.” And thus, a brand (or, at least, the idea of one) was born.

Which brings us to the jellyfish…

Immortal Estate’s flagship Cabernet Sauvignon has a jellyfish on the label. Not just any jellyfish, of course, but the small Turritopsis dohrnii, which possesses the Medusozoa equivalency of near immortality. There’s no good way of explaining this, so I’ll point you to an excerpt from www.immortal-jellyfish.com:

Turritopsis dohrnii is now officially known as the only immortal creature. The secret to eternal life, as it turns out, is not just living a really, really long time. It’s all about maturity, or rather, the lack of it. The immortal jellyfish (as it is better known popularly) propagate and then, faced with the normal career path of dying, they opt instead to revert to a sexually immature stage.

Sexual immaturity? Forever? That’s not exactly a wine marketer’s wet dream, but check out how the innards of this nigh-undying look to the human eye; namely, almost exactly as if it’s carrying a wee little glass of red wine:

Return To Forever (Immortal Estate’s Inaugural Release)

Turritopsis dohrnii (image: amnh.org)

Now, that kind of is a wine marketer’s wet dream right there.

One of my first questions to Martin, because this is the kind of guy I am, is why, if the vineyard site and winemaker are the same, should anyone feel compelled to pay three-to-four times the Hidden Ridge asking prices for Immortal Estate. Martin’s answer was obviously well-considered, and just as obviously wasn’t marketing fluff: “Lynn just didn’t have the same resources to elevate the farming practices as we do.”

Return To Forever (Immortal Estate’s Inaugural Release)In other words, Immortal’s Randy Nichols has the funds to farm their unique vineyard site to its fullest potential. And personally, I think you can already taste it.

Return To Forever (Immortal Estate’s Inaugural Release)2014 Immortal Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Sonoma County, $303)

Available by acquisition only because, well, cult wine. Densely packed, in terms of palate weight, complexity or aromas, and intensity of mouthfeel, this is immediately identifiable as a Napa Valley styled classic, but of course in a blind tasting we’d all get it wrong since it’s technically from Sonoma. Cassis, pencil lead, cocoa, dried herbs, black and red plums… the stuff just keeps coming and coming.

Interestingly, while this is drinkable stuff now, the palate has hints of reservation. There are nice laces of acidity through the leather of the tannins and the density of the fruit, but it’s the tannin action that has the most depth to it. Deceptively so, however; those tannin chains are nice and long, so you’re getting a silky experience now, and so it’s easy to miss just how much structural scaffolding is built into this puppy. The tannin Force is, indeed, strong with this one; and it has many, many, many years of excellent drinking ahead of it.

Cheers!

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Copyright © 2016. Originally at Return To Forever (Immortal Estate’s Inaugural Release) from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Mail Order Bride, Mail Order Vines (Plaisance Ranch Recent Releases)

The (3rd) Joe Ginet, of Plaisance Ranch, demonstrating the art of vine propagation

The third Joe Ginet is a bit of a torch-bearer.

He and wife Suzi preside over Plaisance Ranch, a former dairy farm, now turned organic beef cattle ranch, which also happens to be a twenty-acre vine nursery (now with over twenty varieties), and (since 1999) a vineyard as well, in keeping with the tradition of his father Joe and grandfather Joe. It’s grandad Joe who lived a the-kids-are-gonna-be-talking-about-this-one-for-generations portion of this little tale or Rogue Valley viticulture.

Mail Order Bride, Mail Order Vines (Plaisance Ranch Recent Releases)One hundred years before the third Joe Ginet planted vines at Plaisance, his grandfather Joe Ginet made his way from France’s Savoie to the USA, after having been discharged from the French military, and established Plaisance Orchard near Jacksonville. About six years later, he made his way back to France to pick up his fiancee. Instead of a bride, however, a jilted Joe G. returned to Oregon alone. Well, alone apart from some vine cuttings from his family vineyards.

Not to be deterred, ol’ Joe eventually did get hitched in 1912 – to a French Canadian bride that “he mail-ordered” according to Plaisance Ranch’s Joe G., who now makes about 2,000 cases of wine annually from 21 different grape varieties, derived from “about 42 different selections, if you count all of the clones involved” (apparently, the third Joe G. is into complexity). One of those varieties (a Savoy specialty), in particular, is so geekily and entertainingly interesting, that I felt compelled to write about Plaisance after my visit based on that varietal wine alone…

But before we get to that, it’s well worth taking a deeper look into some of the other 21-some-odd wines that Ginet now offers, many of which encapsulate both a sense of deep history and an undeniable charm (check the Plaisance website for availability).

Mail Order Bride, Mail Order Vines (Plaisance Ranch Recent Releases)

Mail Order Bride, Mail Order Vines (Plaisance Ranch Recent Releases)2017 Plaisance Ranch Viognier (Applegate Valley, $20)

My notes indicate that this lovely, lively, and peach-and-pear-filled white is “floral AF!” NOt my most eloquent descriptor, but if you like your Viognier less on the overripe-melons-in-yo-face side, and more on the zesty, white flower-laden side, this one is your jam (without the jam).

 

Mail Order Bride, Mail Order Vines (Plaisance Ranch Recent Releases)2015 Plaisance Ranch Mourvèdre (Applegate Valley, $30)

Joe G. digs on Bandol, and so this red ended up being one of his passion projects. “I don’t get to make a red wine out of this every year,” he told me, due primarily to the difficulties in getting it properly ripe in the Southern Oregon clime. In the case of 2015, however, this is on-point: inky, with notes of green tobacco and herbs, dark berries, black pepper, and a lithe, beguiling mouthfeel.

Mail Order Bride, Mail Order Vines (Plaisance Ranch Recent Releases)

Mail Order Bride, Mail Order Vines (Plaisance Ranch Recent Releases)2015 Plaisance Ranch Cabernet Franc (Applegate Valley, $25)

In my not-so-humble opinion, it’s a rare thing to find a Cab Franc in the USA that nails a sense of balance on the palate, but this one does just that. The mainstream critics will likely hate on the green herbal notes here, but I love that this red manages to keep those while also flaunting some of CF’s darker, plummy fruit flavors. There’s ample jump to the palate, and the end result is just a fresh, tasty, honest homage to European expressions of the grape.

Mail Order Bride, Mail Order Vines (Plaisance Ranch Recent Releases)

Mail Order Bride, Mail Order Vines (Plaisance Ranch Recent Releases)2013 Plaisance Ranch Mondeuse Noire (Applegate Valley, $30)

Now we get to the main event, an ancient grape known primarily from granddad Joe Ginet’s native Savoie, and a labor of love for the modern incarnation of Joe Ginet, who has been making a varietal labeling of Mondeuse since 2013, but began his journey in bringing this grape (once nearly wiped out by phylloxera in France) about fifteen years before that vintagee.

Mail Order Bride, Mail Order Vines (Plaisance Ranch Recent Releases)Naturally, the vines are from his family’s vineyard in Savoie, and had to spend a few years in quarantine, after which began what seems like a simple, 97-step process of vine cuts and plant propagation, taking roughly five years to get enough vines to actually make up an entire row in the vineyard. Apparently, the TTB also had some issues understanding that Mondeuse noire was an actual fine wine grape variety, and so (today’s) Joe G. also found himself having to make a case to convince a government agency that his Mondeuse vines were, well, actually for wine grapes and all that.

Generally, only a few barrels of this get made, so coming by it will not be easy. It’s worth seeking out, particularly if you find yourself in the Applegate area, because it’s got uniqueness to spare. Minerals, cranberry, cola, earth… the nose is characterful, rustic, and fun, with notes of meat, violets, and red plums, and it wears its age with aplomb. This one is deceptively versatile, and I found myself wanting to grill up some of the Plaisance Ranch burgers after getting a mouthful of this stuff…

Cheers!

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Copyright © 2016. Originally at Mail Order Bride, Mail Order Vines (Plaisance Ranch Recent Releases) from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)

[ Editor’s note: here’s one more from the vault of pieces sent to a magazine that didbn’t publish it or pay me; I’m running it here so that it’s not lost to posterity. Enjoy! ]

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany

One of Tuscany’s most dynamic – and endangered – wine regions is hiding in plain sight

Donatella Cinelli Colombini could be your Italian grandmother. Affable, generous, and quick-witted, Colombini is the matriarch of Fattoria del Colle, her family estate in the almost unbelievably charming area of Tuscany’s Trequanda, replete with accommodations on an estate that dates back to the late 1500s, cooking classes, three pool, a spa, and an upscale-farmhouse restaurant. She also also oversees production of the Tuscan wine label that bears her name.

But Colombini has another job: in some ways, she’s trying to save the future of what the Consorzio del vino Orcia calls “the most beautiful wine in the world.”

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)

Donatella Cinelli Colombini

“The landscape here is a perfect harmony between history, man, and nature,” she remarks. “We have to preserve that. Every month, every wine producer here receives a call from a realtor asking them to sell.”

While you will almost certainly have heard of the winemaking gems of Montalcino and Montepulciano, you probably aren’t familiar with Orcia, the winemaking area that sits between them near Tuscany’s southern tip. The problem isn’t that Orcia’s twelve municipalities, formally recognized as a wine region in 2000, don’t make excellent wine; in many cases, Orcia’s reds rival those of its more famous neighbors, planted on vineyards that have been literally designed from the ground up for producing small quantities of high quality fine wine grapes, primarily Tuscany’s “native son” of Sangiovese. The problem is that Orcia is almost too amazing of a place in and of itself.

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)

Thermal baths in Orcia

Orcia boats the kind of beauty that makes you think that you’ve stepped directly into a scene from Under the Tuscan Sun. Think sun-drenched hillsides lined with cypresses, dotted with tiny ancient towns like Pienza (housing a terracotta museum), terme thermal spas like those in S. Casciano dei Bagni and S. Quirico d’Orcia (yes, some of the spa treatments involve wine), and no shortage of gorgeous castle tower ruins along the routes between them all, replete with deep history and past political intrigue (the region once played host to the duke of Tuscany, who ordered the draining of the the valley in the 1700s to spur agricultural growth, but also used his time there to liase with his mistress). Orcia has seen travelers since the time of the Etruscans, and its castle and fortress ruins are a testament to the popularity of the routes within the area, where bandit attacks once were frequent. It has hosted religious pilgrims, popes, poets, archbishops, mercenaries, dukes, the Medici clan, and even Charlemagne. The landscape has remained relatively unchanged for the last four hundred years…

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)

Vineyard views at Terre Senesi

Given its embarrassment of natural riches, it’s not surprising that Orcia now sees nearly one and half million tourists per year. Agritourism is big business in Orcia, where visitors can experience firsthand the direct connection to the land and the historical perspective of farmers who, as local winemaker Roberto Mascelloni puts it, “produced everything for themselves.” Most of the wine purveyors in Orcia also make boutique quantities of olive oil. You can find handmade pecorino cheese production (which dates back to prehistoric times in the area), such as that offered by the Podere Il Casale farm (yes, some of the cheeses involve wine grapes). Orcia boats a small but booming white truffle economy, which is the focus of lunch-and-tasting tours offered by winemakers and truffle hunters such as Loghis Farm’s Valentino Berni, who started farming truffles with his family’s pets when he was six (“I loved the relationship with the dogs” he notes, in a characteristically charming Tuscan way).

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)

Truffles at Fattoria del Colle

Truffles are so important to the area that San Giovanni d’Asso has a small museum and an annual festival devoted entirely to the expensive subterranean mushroom. There are enough such quaint spots in Orcia to almost lose count of them all, and we haven’t even mentioned the stunning views available from the region’s various hillside medieval ruins, Orcia’s saffron production, its several art/culture festivals, or the area’s innumerable possibilities for biking and hiking tours.

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)

Terme in Orcia

The main challenge facing the region’s wine producers is that, despite the high quality of their wines and their focus on organic, sustainable viticulture, Orcia’s status is the wine world hasn’t kept pace with its notability as a tourist destination. Orcia is dwarfed in this regard by Montalcino and Montepulciano, in terms of recognition and in availability; only about two hundred fifty thousand bottles of wine per year carry an Orcia designation on the label. Most of Orcia’s sixty wine producers are tiny in scope, and so are catering to tourism, local restaurants, and olive oil production to help them stay in financially in the black.

The irony is that Orcia’s success has garnered so much interest from businesses and the wealthy that one of its now key components – its excellent and diverse wine scene – is almost endangered. In many ways, Orcia’s wines are well deserving of the attention of any Italian wine lover; they offer authentic alternatives to the more ubiquitous (and too often industrialized) Chianti on one end, and to the pricey Montalcino on the other.

Ultimately, it’s the unique connection to Orcia’s land, foods, and people that can draw wine lovers in and, quite possibly, give you a new favorite go-to Tuscan sipper. “Each bottle,” notes Colombini, “gives you a story of this wonderful territory.” Here are a few of those stories.

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)

Donatella Cinelli Colombini 2015 “Cenerentola” Rosso

The Cinderella of this wine’s name refers, in part, to the round-leafed grape Foglia Tonda, which makes up thirty-five percent of this blend (the rest being Sangiovese). For nearly a century, Foglia Tonda was all but abandoned in Tuscany, due its difficulty to ripen. Cinelli helped to lead a charge to bring the grape back, and there are now about twenty hectares of the grape planted. Cinelli describes this blend as “well-married,” and her take is spot-on. The Sangiovese brings delicate floral notes, tart dark cherry fruit flavors, and earthiness, while the Foglia Tonda adds unique brambly spice and black licorice tones.

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)

Truffle hunting at Loghi

Loghi 2013 “Cinabro” Rosso

The fanciful name is an homage to Loghi Farm’s vineyard soils, on which the grapes for this Sangiovese and Colorino blend are grown. While much about Loghi’s production and truffle farming harken back to rustic times, this is a more modern take on Tuscan red wines. It sports plummy, juicy cherry fruit flavors, and aromas of orange peel, vanilla, and dried herbs. It’s fresh, vibrant, and almost sinewy in its powerful mouthfeel.

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)

Sasso di Sole’s Roberto Terzuoli

Sasso di Sole 2016 Rosso

Sasso di Sole is in an enviable spot, even by Tuscan standards; not only do they have breathtaking views of their UNESCO area hillside vineyards, but their organically-farmed property overlaps the northeastern edge of Montalcino. This gives them the luxury of being able to use either the Montalcino or Orcia designation on their labels. In contrast to most of Orcia’s other producers, Sasso di Sole use their youngest vines and shortest wood aging period for their Orcia label, resulting in a supple, vibrant, tangy, and fruity Sangiovese that’s ready to drink now. The hints of tobacco spice and rose petals are an added bonus.

 

Campotondo 2015 “Tavoleto”

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)This tiny outfit (producing only eight thousand bottles of wine per year) sits near an extinct volcano near the small hamlet of Campiglia d’Orcia. It’s helmed by Paolo Campotondo, who hand-tends Orcia’s only goblet-trained vineyards (a recommendation by the elderly locals, who recalled similar vine training systems used near mountains in France). The unique training helps to protect the vines, planted nearly five hundred meters above sea level, from the strong winds of the area, and helps to retain warmth from the soil and concentrate the grapes’ flavors. Paolo’s daughter Helena inspired his focus on organic farming principles: “my father says, ‘my daughter is the first consumer of my product, so I want it to be healthy!’” Uniquely, their Tavoleto is a white made entirely from Chardonnay, and it’s beguiling with flavor and aroma layers of peach, white flowers, tropical fruits, toast, wet stones, ripe yellow apples, and ginger spice.

 

Campotondo 2013 “Il Toco”

One of the specialties of Campotondo is a focus on Tuscany’s indigenous red grape Colorino, which makes up ten percent of this blend with Sangiovese. This is a full-on, Brunello-style red, with dense black cherry fruit flavors, intense aromas of dried herbs, orange peel, wood and cigar spices, balsamic, and dried rose petals. You’ll want a healthy portion of wild boar ragu pasta to go with this.

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)

Racing horses at Poggio Grande

Poggio Grande 2015 Syrah

Luca Zamperini seems to have a permanent smile etched onto his face, and you might, too, if you lived his life. His Poggio Grande winery started as a hobby seventeen years ago, and now produces twenty-five thousand bottles of wine per year. It includes sweeping views of the area near Ripa d’Orcia, and is the home to horses that run in Sienna’s famed and ancient Paleo race. Zamperini has a love of French Rhone wines, and so auspiciously decided to try out Syrah, which has taken splendidly to the Orcia climate and shows off the region’s diversity. Like Poggio Grande’s horses, there’s a tamed wildness to this focused and delicious wine, which is mineral, savory, plummy, and juicy, with hints of wild herbs and even game meat.

 

 

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)

Enrico Paolucci artwork at Podere Albiano

Podere Albiano 2011 “Tribolo” Sangiovese

 

Alberto Turri and Anna Becheri moved from the banking and media worlds in Milan to a picturesque spot in the heart of Orcia’s terracotta country, producing wine, truffles, and twenty thousand bottles of wine per year (with whimsical labels designed by local artist Enrico Paolucci)as a labor of love. They make for an unassuming couple, who have very clear ideas of what they want from their wines, and the results are excellent. Their Tribolo Sangiovese is layered, supple, and sexy, but despite its modern appeal doesn’t lack for structure, vivacity, complexity, or precision.

 

 

 

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)

Capitoni amphorae

Capitoni 2016 “Troccolone” Sangiovese

From five hectares of hand-worked vines comes one of the most unique Sangiovese offerings that you’re likely to ever encounter. The Capitoni family ages this particular wine in the region’s famed terracotta amphorae, and using what they describe as “slow and low” fermentation (taking longer than normal, and at lower temperatures). The result is a rustic, intriguing take on the purity of Sangiovese, highlighting its bright, tart red-berry and cherry flavors, its vibrant texture, and its dark tobacco spice notes.

 

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)

Roberto Mascelloni shows a Foglia Tonda leaf in his vineyards

Mascelloni Family Estate 2015 “01” Sangiovese

The amiable Roberto Mascelloni is a stickler for old-school farming, producing spicy and herbal olive oil and organically farmed wines on his family estate in Castiglione d’Orcia. A former archer in a regional festival, “01” marks the last year that he won the archery tournament (“and then I retired”). This wine sports an intensely purple color for Sangiovese, and it strikes a great balance between that grape’s herbal, spicy, and rustic side, and its elegant, lively, and supple side.

Not-So-Hidden Tuscany (Spotlight On Orcia)

Terre Senesi’s Antonio Rovito

Val d’Orcia Terre Senesi 2010 “Ripario” Rosso

Valdorcia Terre Senesi winery’s Antonio Rovito and Gabriella Ginetti seems to always be laughing at something. You’d be pretty happy too, if your daily view included stunning views of the Orcia gorge, Ripa d’Orcia woodland wildlife sanctuary, and Mount Amiata. Terre Senesi began with olive oil production in 1998, and started producing wine in 2010. Their Ripario is a Sangiovese blended with a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon, and aged in new French oak barrels. While the result is on the woody side, the wine has enough complexity in it black licorice and black cherry fruit flavors, dried herb and balsamic notes, and palate freshness to age well (and pair well with a good steak off the grill).

 

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