Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tasting Notes: New Arrivals from the Oltrepo Pavese

Last Saturday, we tasted through a few of our newest arrivals from two of our Italian producers, both located in the Oltrepo Pavese.

The heart of Lombardy's Oltrepo Pavese region lies about 30 miles south of Milan, on the hills overhanging the city of Stradella, south of the Po River. Typically known for value-priced wines sold in bulk to local markets, two producers with a long history in the area — Castello del Vercesi and Bruno Verdi — defy this old stereotype.

Vercesi del Castellazo was founded in 1808 when the great-grand father of the present owner bought the "Castellazzo". Until Napoleon's army took it, it was a monastary of Barnabite order built over the ruins of a Beccaria family castle. The Verdi family, meanwhile, can trace their viticultural origins back seven generations to the 18th century when Antonio Verdi came from Parma to settle in the Oltrepò Pavese.

“Pezzalunga” Oltrepo Pavese Rosso 2006 (Vercesi): Smokey, plummy fruit on the nose, sensations of lush texture balanced with bright berry notes. On the palate, similar elements and a hint of bright, tart cranberry on the finish… a hint of medicinal complexity peeks out. Wants food. Later on, currant and darker fruits, licorice, some tea-leaf (almost mint-like high tones) tannins enhance structure and aromatics and then a warm cherry liqueur note clinched the deal. With today’s exchange rate, a steal!

“Cla” Oltrepo Pavese Barbera 2005 (Vercesi): First notes of bright berry fruit combine with a touch of new oak which happily seems to blow off after a few moments. Hints of game combine on the palate with soft plum and cherry fruit. You still get the oak on the finish. Later on, smoke, tobacco and plum are elegantly harmonious, and the oak disappears. On the finish, there are some tannins and red fruits with a firm and tart finish… again, that hint of kirsch and a little angular at the end. This wine needs a good plate of pasta for balance.

Barbera “Campo del Marrone”, Oltrepo Pavese Rosso 2005 (Verdi): Just a hint of oak, plummy bright fruit and then smoky, nicely tart note like a traditional Piedmontese Barbera. Later on, blue, spicy dark fruit with hints of brambly currant… elegant and almost Zinfandel like with a slightly dried out finish.

“Cavariola” Oltrepo Pavese Rosso Riserva 2003 (Verdi): A much darker wine, saturated blue, purple color. On the nose, greater density and texture with elements of smoke, leather, earth and dusty plum… almost a hint of evergreen. The tannins are quite strong and at the moment the wine needs time to pull together. Later on, a deep violet bouquet, dry tannins present at first but you sense a core of dark and leathery fruit beneath. Going further, there is deep brooding fruit and tea leaf aromatics, very tannic, and then the wine opens up to reveal grainy texture with a chocolate component…. needs time to evolve.

Sangue di Giuda “Vigna Paradiso” 2007 (Verdi): Always a joy to drink! At first a frothy purple foam lifts fresh cherry and red currant fruit to the nose. Then a hint of lilac talc dust and grape hyacinth inform the bouquet and palate. Lightly sweet and delightful fruit compels you to have fun, but is never a cheap shot. Underneath and occasionally peeking out are notes of pine forest and cedar that remind you that this is not just some college era Lambrusco (with apologies to the many good Lambruscos that actually exist). Just bring on the platter of cured meats or pour it directly over a bowl of strawberries. Yes!!!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tasting Notes: Saint-Romain from Buisson

In case you missed last Saturday's tasting:

Saint Romain Blanc “La Perriere” 2005: This wine announces itself with bright, fresh aromatic notes of freshly mowed hay, as well as chlorophyll. A high-toned, almost celery-like bouquet combines with wonderful minerality. The acidity is very uplifting but fully integrated into the wine. On the palate there is great stony concentration but no sense of weight at all. Lime-like fruit wraps around pebbly minerality. The flavors linger a long time on the palate… somewhat reminiscent of Corton Charlemagne. This is a brilliant wine!

Saint Romain Blanc “Sous la Velle” 2006: There is considerably more weight to this second bottling. Far richer and more youthfully opulent with notes of hay, grass and earthier elements, the wine initially seems lower in acidity due to the far greater concentration. Again, green chlorophyll notes combine with a dense more clay-like minerality. Tons of material, after some aeration there were hints of acacia honey on the palate.

Saint Romain Rouge “Sous Roche” 2004: One is immediately hit with a bouquet of meaty, red cherry fruit… explosive perfume! The aromas are on the earthier side with hints of brick and a high toned cedar note that brings Nebbiolo to mind. On the palate the wine is still tightly knit, there is a touch of green hinting at some underipe grapes, but this should resolve over time. Later on, secondary aromatics of red cherry and coffee grounds come up. Currently the wine is somewhat angular on the palate. Right now it’s all about aromatics, but with some time in bottle the rough edges will smooth out.

Saint Romain Rouge “Sous Roche” 2005: First aromatic impressions are of dark and meaty fruit (Cotes de Nuits like), roasted coffee grounds and a core of minerality down deep. After aeration the fruit gets fresher with red and black cherry and spice notes. On the palate the wine is very tight and restrained with some tannins and less fruit in evidence. Later I got deep dark plum-like fruit. The wine softened up showing more weight and texture on the nose and palate too. Overall this wine is structured for the long haul, tight, concentrated with a strong core of mineral and fruit; it’s all there, but needs lots of time to come around fully.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Tasting Notes: 2003 Brovia Barolo

This past Saturday we opened a few of Brovia's lastest releases, all from the 2003 vintage...

Brovia Barolo 2003: Lighter colored, showing brick and orange around the rim, which is not unusual for Nebbiolo, even when young. A bouquet of cherry/kirsch comes right out, the wine drinks nicely right away. After some aeration you start to see aromas of sweet tea and more cherry, along with touches of tar/creosote, followed by pretty hints of violet, orange peel and even iodine. This is a lighter bodied but deceptive wine with beautiful perfume and real power and concentration lurking underneath.

Brovia Barolo “Garblet Sue” 2003: This first of Brovia’s “cru” bottlings shows more fruit and density right away with notes of darker cherry and plum on the nose. There are hints of baked earth, fennel and even licorice on the nose as the wine opens up and more texture on the palate than the straight Barolo. There are some more noticeable tannins and a touch of alcohol present. Later on more dark earthy plum on the palate as the tannins become softer and more textured. The fruit is ripe and sweet with balancing high toned aromatics.

Brovia Barolo “Rocche” 2003: More red than brick color at this stage with greater saturation of color as well. With air you start to get a bouquet of mineral infused cherry, tea leaf, rose petal with even more texture on the palate. Tannins are there but well integrated, touches of dark plum here as well. This is a very classy wine! Later on you get a cool, menthol, eucalyptus high-toned nose with hints of chocolate, tobacco leaf and tea-rose. For now this wine is tight, tannic and possesses a great core of minerality. A great wine for the cellar!

Brovia Barolo “Ca Mia” 2003: Upon opening you get a bright, almost cherry-pop quality on the nose with hints of mandarine orange rind and warm brick (like sitting in the warm sun). Tea-rose and plum aromas again with earthy, dusty tannins that are more dominant than in the above wines. There is a tight core of fruit and minerals that needs plenty of time to resolve, and once again high-toned notes of anis and licorice.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

New Arrival: Hermes Pavese Blanc de Morgex

The mountain passes of the Valle d’Aosta (located in the far Northwestern corner of Italy) offer unique wines of character and class. We have received an overwhelmingly positive response to the carefully crafted wines of the Grosjean brothers, and now we are pleased to offer wine from another producer in this rugged region — Ermes Pavese, a youthful grower in the commune of La Ruine, just outside of the town of Morgex in the high Alps just beneath Mont Blanc. He has barely two hectares of vineyards, situated at about 1200 meters above sea level, from which he produces approximately 6000 bottles of streamlined, mineral white with vivacity and length. Pavese works the native grape known as Prié Blanc. From this grape comes our newest wine — the scintillating Blanc de Morgex et de La Salle.

We are confident that you will thoroughly enjoy this wine. It is green-gold in color, crisply dry on the palate, but with a surprising tenacity. Despite its elegance and subtlety, it has a persistence that will prove not only satisfying but worthy of cellaring.


Thursday, March 6, 2008

Upcoming Saturday Tastings

March 8, 4-6pm
Fratelli Brovia: 2003 Barolo

The Brovia estate, founded in 1863, has always upheld a traditional approach to farming and winemakingand as a core principal. Today’s current proprietors, Elena and Cristina Brovia, continue this approach. The estate has holdings in the “Cru” vineyards Rocche, Villero and Garblet Sue (all three in Castiglione Falletto), as well as Ca Mia (located in Serralunga d’Alba). Their Barolo “Normale” is composed of grapes from younger vines in all four above-mentioned “Cru” properties. The accumulated individual characteristics of each vineyard enable the Brovia sisters to nurture the Nebbiolo vines to their peak expression.

Please join us for this first peek at the 2003 vintage in the Piedmont district of northern Italy.

Barolo 2003
Barolo “Garblet Sue” 2003
Barolo “Rocche” 2003
Barolo “Ca Mia” 2003

March 15, 4-6pm
Domaine Henri & Giles Buisson: Red and White Saint-Romain

March 22, 4-6pm
New Arrivals from the Oltrepo Pavese: Vercesi del Castellazzo and Bruno Verdi

March 29, 2-4pm ***note earlier time*** Special in-store visit from Gilles Crochet of Domaine Lucien Crochet in Sancerre

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

New Arrival: Chateau Simone

This historic estate, situated in the hills just south of Aix-en-Provence, has been in the hands of the Rougier family for two centuries and holds a virtual monopoly on the appellation of Palette. Chateau Simone encompasses twenty hectares of vineyards that sit at elevations between 500 and 750 feet above sea level. The special micro-climate of this appellation is influenced by the encircling pine forests, the mass of Mont Sainte Victoire, and the Arc river. The vineyards were reconstituted after the invasion of phylloxera, and many vines are over a century old. The Rougiers maintain the particular vinification methods developed and cherished over many decades. For those of you who are not familiar with these wines, whether rouge, blanc or rosé, we believe you will find them to be compelling and unique.

Our first release from Chateau Simone is the Palette Rouge 2004 which is due to the first week of March. The red from Simone is primarily composed of Grenache, Mourvedre and Cinsault but its special character reflects the presence of at least ten other grape varieties, albeit in small proportion, including syrah, manosquin, carignan, castet, cabernet sauvignon and muscat noir. The 2004 vintage is an elegant yet well-constituted wine of great depth. Bottled after three years of aging in foudres and barriques, it is a classic that deserves to be aged in order to best appreciate its many nuances: plum, pine resin, cinnamon, truffle and spice among other sensations.

Chateau Simone, Palette Rouge 2004

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tasting Notes: Chinon from Olek-Mery

Chinon Blanc “Les Tireaux” 2005: This wine should have special operating notes attached — one can never fully appreciate or understand certain wines by doing a rapid “drive-by” tasting. Upon opening, there is a smoky, funky bouquet and a hint of sulfur. The fruit components are quite restrained on the nose and the palate. Underneath all that, however, is a wine of considerable weight and power, showing minerals and hints of tropicality and honey. The finish was somewhat disconcerting at first with a distinct bitterness. Later on that evening the sulfur had pretty much blown off and the bitterness had opened up to reveal a tight core of intense minerality… like lemons and stones. The last glass from the bottle was quite hazy, indicating that the wine is probably not filtered. This is a wine of great substance with a meaty earthiness to it that quite differentiates it from its Vouvray relatives to the east.

Chinon “Les Tireaux” 2005: Immediately upon opening, you get an explosive whiff of black cherry and hints of a dark forest. In spite of its ripeness you get a sense of coolness with notes of eucalyptus and mint. The wine is soft and rich at first, but you quickly see serious gritty tannins and a solid core of fruit to back up one’s initial impression. This wine can definitely stand some additional aging. Later on the tannins and fruit resolved and pulled into focus with a bell pepper brightness that lifted the dark fruit and hints of graphite that began to emerge. This is a great wine that can stand up easily to a Bordeaux costing 50% more.

Chinon “Les Tireaux” 2004: This was certainly the most classically proportioned wine of the day. 2004 was clearly cooler and it shows in the wine’s balance and elegance. Cool violet and black cherry fruit is seamlessly married to minerals and those dark forest notes. As this wine did not reach the levels of ripeness found in the 2005 you are able to see more of that green (this is not to say unpleasant or unripe) pepper, chlorophyll note that marks Cabernet Franc in this region. While some tannins are noticeable, the overarching sense was that of seamlessness and symmetry…. perhaps the best wine to drink right now.

Chinon “Les Tireaux-Vieilles Vignes” 2001: My first notes say “woodsy, dusty and elegant”. This old vines bottling is not as thickly textured, on the nose as well as palate, as the 2005. Once again there is a coolness and hint of menthol that shows as the fruit ceases to be the primary note, and one is left with those drier dusty-but-elegant tannins. Initially the wine seemed to be getting short on fruit but after several hours a deep violet bouquet emerged. A core of dark, dried essence of cassis married with that fascinating graphite nose — reminiscent of an older St. Estephe. This is an endlessly elegant and refined wine that brought to mind a vision of a well turned out elderly gentleman with a cane. For those of you in the New York City environs, go to the Irving Penn show at the Morgan Library and look at the portrait of Jean Cocteau. Then go home and open a bottle of this 2001. With or without the cane, you’ll see what I mean.