Friday, April 18, 2014


~ Azienda Librandi ~

Librandi.  You may not be familiar with this family run estate in Southern Italy, but if that's the case, let this article change that and put these wines on your buying radar. 

The Librandi winery is a close knit family enterprise founded in 1950 by Antonio and Nicodemo Librandi.  Today the winery is run by Nicodemo, his two sons Paolo and Raffaele, his nephew Francesco and his niece Teresa.
Librandi is located in Cirò Marina, a small town in the southern Italian region of Calabria - the toe of Italy's "boot".  The magnificent Ionian coastline and the temperate climate provides the area with optimal conditions for grape growing, and the sea guarantees an excellent balance between day and night time temperatures. The estate is dedicated mostly to the traditional indigenous grape Gaglioppo, but the family also grows a modest amount of international varietals.  

~ Librandi Vineyards with an eye toward the Sea ~

I've written about Librandi's wines before, specifically the perennial Tre Bicchieri Gravello, which is a wine that should be in every Italian wine lover's cellar.  It's unique, it's special and it's a great value.

The subject of today's review is the value priced 2012 Librandi Cirò.  At $10-$12 this is a wine that simply cannot be ignored. It's interesting enough for the experienced taster to enjoy and affordable enough to serve to those less discerning.  

Don't be fooled by this wine's pale, light ruby color.  If you're not paying attention, you might mistake this for a rose; but you'd be wrong for it's simply the nature of the Gaglioppo grape.  Lively aromas of strawberry, sea air, mountain herbs and stones set the stage for the flavors to come.  On the palate, the wine is medium bodied - with structure belying the color of the wine.  The flavors of ripe berries, salinity and Mediterranean herbs are easily identifiable and make the wine unique. It's fresh, with wonderful acidity and was wonderful with both fresh mozzarella and Spring Risotto.  There's nothing not to like here.  Vinted exclusively in stainless steel, the wine is aged 8 months before bottling and then 6 months in the bottle prior to release.  87 points.  $11. 

~ 100% Gaglioppo ~

With this wine we had seared pork tenderloin over Risotto Primavera.  For details on how to make any Risotto, you can see this link:  Scared to make Risotto? 

For this version I used fresh baby spinach, spring peas, and a few mushrooms. Very simple and very fresh tasting. The one thing to remember is to stir the spinach in at the last minute and as soon as it wilts, serve.  Otherwise the spinach will release it's water and change the consistency of your risotto. 

The pork was rubbed with smoked paprika, garlic powder, salt and pepper and then just simply seared in a skillet on the cook top.  Delicious flavor and the smokey notes were perfect with the wine! 

~ Pork Tenderloin & Spring Risotto ~

Buona Pasqua!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Lini Lambrusco & The Purple Pig

~ The Purple Pig ~
The Purple Pig lies on Chicago's Michigan Avenue,  just on the outer edges of the "Magnificent Mile".  It is a very small establishment serving Meditteranean Tapas Style food.  The motto that adorns the wrought iron archway as you enter the restaurant through it's outdoor seating area proudly proclaims:  "Cheese - Swine - Wine".   How can you go wrong? 
We started with a wonderful Sicilian dish of fried sardines over shaved fennel.  I've actually made this before and it is a classic antipasto, IF, you like the fish.  While not as strongly flavored as anchovies, the sardines are assertive. These were delicious.

~ Fried Sardines over shaved fennel salad with capers, basil oil & pine nuts ~
It was about 80 degrees out and since my fiance opted for iced tea, I decided a nice refreshing quartino of Lambrusco Rose would hit the spot with what I ordered.  
Lambrusco is both a family of red grapes and the name of  the wines crafted from them.  Produced in Emilia-Romagna and Lombardia, the wines come in a myriad of styles from red to rose.  You can easily contrast this review with an earlier article I penned for a perfect illustration.  However, the hallmark of all is the slighly sparkling nature of the wines - or "frizzante" that makes them very refreshing. 
Over  sixty varieties of Lambrusco have been identified throughout Italy. However, the most common are Lambrusco Salamino, Lambrusco Sorbara, L. Marani, L. Maestri, L. Monterrico and L. Grasparossa. 
This review focuses on the Non-Vintage Lini Lambrusco Rosato.  The Lini winery is located in Correggio, in the province of Emilia-Romagna. As of 2010, the family celebrated it's 100th year making wine and today the wines are produced by fourth generation winemaker Alicia Lini. 
The Lini Rosato is a bright salmon pink color in the glass.  It's served slightly chilled and the frizzante is very appealing; especially on the hot day and alongside the fried sardines.  The aroma of the wine is slightly spicy, but filled with watermelon and strawberry notes.  It is crisp, vibrant and utterly refreshing on the palate.  The flavors in the mouth mirror the aroma and the low alcohol of the wine makes it the perfect foil.  Can't you envision sipping this on your patio this summer?  88 points.  About $15 retail for a bottle.  The Quartino (1/3 bottle) was $12 from the wine list. 
~  Lini Lambruso Rose ~
The second plate that I enjoyed this wine with was a small panini made with Porchetta, broccoli rabe and smeared with pesto.  Delicious, if not a little messy to eat. Ultimately I ended up using a knife and fork.  The panini was served with a small frisee salad that was dressed with white balsamic and lemon juice.  The Lini Rose stood up to these flavors as well.  A winner!
~ Porchetta Panini with Broccoli Rabe and Basil Salsa Verde ~
Cin Cin!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Windy City Wind Down

This past weekend TuscanVines descended upon The Windy City for a family wedding but left plenty of time to take in some of the sights and sample some of the cuinary hot spots. 
First up was Cafe Spiaggia, the more casual sibling of Spiaggia Restaurant, which is closed undergoing a significant dining room renovation.  I've been to Cafe Spiaggia before and knew the food would be good, but I was disappointed that we didn't have access to the full Spiaggia wine list.  What was available was rather limited.
We were staying right in the heart of the Gold Coast; a perfect location as we walked just about everywhere we needed to be - a feat that was not without intrigue given the vast amount of homeless beggars dotting the "Magnificent Mile".  We strolled into Cafe Spiaggia without a hitch but the restaurant was noticeably warm.  Given that it was 72 degrees outside, many of the buildings were still running heat (including our hotel) and we were told that Building Manager controlled the air conditioning for the building.  Soon enough, it was more comfortable.

~ Antipasto:  Carpaccio with lemon, garlic, mushrooms and arugula ~ 
Appetizers and entrees were very good, although my truffled polenta side dish with small trumpet mushrooms was the best thing I had the entire night. 

~ Truffled Polenta with Mushrooms ~

We started with a wine recommended by the waiter - there was no sommelier working - after my original selection "couldn't be found". From yet another Italian family winery that split in disagreement during 2006, we tried the 2012 Renato Corino Barbera d'Alba.  This Barbera has a deep ruby color with an intense nose of flowers and wild strawberry.  The fruit component to the nose was unique - very assertive and attractive.  On the palate the wine is bright and fresh with wild berry flavors that are joined by anise, and a mild earthy undertone.  Sourced from La Morra and from vines that were planted between 1975-1990, this juicy, spicy Barbera spends 4 months in barrique and an additional month in bottle prior to release.  88 points.  About $15 retail.  $50 on the wine list. 

~ Very nice Barbera.  We went through 2 bottles of this with dinner ~
Freshly made black tagliatelle with calamari, shrimp and toasted breadcrumbs, chilis and mint moved us along past the appetizers.  This was delicious pasta and one of the favorites on the night. 

~ Squid Ink Tagliatelle ~
Toward the end of the meal we tired of the Barbera and decided to up the ante somewhat.  I turned to what has become an old standby for me- and in the restaurant friendly 2008 vintage - we chose the 2008 Mastrojanni Brunello.
Deep ruby, with a lighter copper rim, this Brunello gives off plenty of floral aromatics that mixed with crushed berry, spice and fresh herbs.  I've had this wine a few times now and it never lets me down.  Medium bodied on the palate with a good core of berry fruit,  this was the perfect foil for the "Manzo" that some had ordered and frankly, even paired well with the Tagliatelle.  Good acids and very little tannic grip keep this wine fresh.  90 points, about $40 retail.  $120 from the wine list. 

~ Mastrojanni Brunello was killer paired with the Truffled Polenta ~

Friday, April 11, 2014

Sardinia's Sella e Mosca

~ The Entrance Leading to the Barrel Cellars ~
Sella and Mosca's "I Piani" estate in Sardinia constitutes one of the largest contiguous vineyards in Italy.  Situated in the northwest corner of Sardinia, just inland from the historic port of Alghero, Sella & Mosca's 1,600-acre property with more than 1,200 acres under vine is also one of the largest estates in Europe.
Founded in 1899, the estate has changed hands over the years and is now owned by the Campari group.  However, the quality of their indigenous wines should not be ignored.  Robert Parker called their Cannonau Riserva "the world's best wine under $20."   That's high praise indeed and while I'm not so sure I agree with it entirely, the value here is noteworthy.

~ The estate is unique, with the winery & offices set amidst vineyards and tropical palm trees ~

Recently we tried the 2009 Cannonau Riserva  and were very impressed by the intensity of the fruit and the complex aromatics for a wine at this price point.
In the glass the wine is deep ruby red with vibrant reflections all the way to the rim of the bowl.  The aroma is penetrating and notes of stargazer lily leap from the glass.  Violets and crushed red fruits are also very discernible.  On the palate this mid-weight wine is fresh and lively with flavors of red fruits, cooking spices and Mediterranean herbs.  More polished than rustic.   After being fermented in stainless steel, the wine is transferred to large Slavonian casks for 2 years and then refined up to 6 months in bottle prior to release.  Really nice value.  87 points, about $10. 

~ Really nice value in this Sardinia red ~

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

SideTrip Napa: Snowden Vineyards

"While I breathe, I hope"........
Such is the Latin phrase on the Snowden Family logo and while that phrase suggests that the ultimate fruits of any given vintage rest firmly in the hands of Mother Nature, it too depicts the drive and passion of this small winemaking family.   I got an intimate opportunity to witness this drive first hand. 
As winemaker Diana Snowden tells the story,  it was 1955 when her Grandparents settled in Napa, buying farmland and neglected vineyards in an area whose fresh country air  was expected to help their son's asthma. Little did they realize they were acquiring some of the richest vineyard land in California.  After decades of selling their grapes to some of Napa Valleys most prestigious wineries, in 1993 brothers Scott & Randy Snowden decided to bottle a small percentage of wine under their own label. 
As owner Scott Snowden told me, "initially the sales were slow, but then we received a very nice review in Wine Spectator. After that, sales picked up and we sold out quickly.  Randy and I thought,  boy, we should do more of this..."  and ever since, they have. 

~ Winemaker Diana Snowden ~

We met Diana Snowden on the dusty Snowden Ranch in the hills east of St. Helena.  She and her father Scott had just completed a vineyard walk to check in on the vines.  Although it was only May,  it was already hot - well into the 80's and Diana was already concerned about the stress on the vines.  Although she was quick to add, after the recent wet vintages she shouldn't be complaining. Yet the temperatures would soon be rising into the hundreds, and she wanted some rain.    
There are two parcels on the Snowden Ranch which hold some interesting history, "The Lost Vineyard" and the "Brother's Vineyard".  The Lost Vineyard is aptly named;  sitting on a peak surrounded by majestic forest, the vineyard is connected to the larger portion of the ranch by a small dirt road and a footpath under the canopy of evergreens.  The Lost Vineyard produces wonderfully rich Cabernet grapes that are typically used for the "Ranch" Cabernet bottling. 

~ This is a view from the top of the "Lost Vineyard". You can see how the vineyard sits surrounded by forest ~

Further up, at the top of their property is the Brother's Vineyard.  This block was recently re-planted after being devastated by phylloxera.  As Diana explained,  "The Brother's Vineyard is the best  and biggest vineyard on the Ranch. The very best site lies within it; we call it Palomino hill  because it was planted to Palomino when my grandparents bought the Ranch. Palomino hill is on the very top of our property. We replanted Brother's Vineyard almost four years ago now. Next year we will have 50% of normal crop and by 2014 we will be up to full crop." 

~ In this picture of the Brother's Vineyard, you can see the young vines ~

As for 2013, Diana is excited...  "I love the 2013's and what a relief!  When you pick grapes on the early side, before they have metabolized all of their malic acid, it's impossible to judge what you've got until after malolactic pretty much have to to let nature and time work their magic.  It was a little unnerving to bring in Cabernet in the first half of September but I couldn't be more pleased with the results." 

~ This interesting shot shows two newer vines grafted onto older rootstock (bottom center) in the Lost Vineyard.  To the mid and upper right, you can see tiny clusters of green grapes ~
After we completed our tour of the Ranch, we made our way to the Snowden offices for a tasting of their recent releases. Driving the winding roads back down to St. Helena, it was very interesting and rewarding discussing all manner of topics with Diana.  Being a bi-continental winemaker surely is not an easy thing and she manages this with seeming ease in addition to being a wife and a mother to two young children.  It is that passion, the "breath", and that committment to family the drives her.  My partner and I were inspired.

~ The Tasting Room set up for us ~
Tasting the 2010's

As I mentioned earlier, it was a hot day, so we were all pleased to start off with some water and some Sauvignon Blanc.
2011 Sunninghill Sauvignon Blanc:   Full medium golden color, this wine never fails to impress me for it's delicate, yet medium bodied nature.  It's vinified in stainless steel and the freshness and vibrancy of the fruit shines through.  On the nose there's ample aromas of white stone fruits, pineapple and minerals.  These flavors carry through on the palate and are joined by crisp, wonderful acidity.  There's a certain viscosity to the mouthfeel that is wonderful.  As I questioned Diana,  this comes from the natural yeast during fermentation and not any buttery oak infused manipulation.  88 points and a great value at about $20. 

~ 2011 Sauvignon Blanc ~

2010 Merlot:   This is 100% Merlot sourced from the Brother's vineyard.  Due to the replanting of the vineyard, the Snowdens were left with a surplus of blending grapes - if they wanted to continue labeling their Ranch and Reserve wines as "Cabernet".  The result was this wine.  It's a deep purple in the glass with violet reflections.  The terroir shines through here with lots of crushed black berry, mocha, spice and warm dirt on the nose and palate.  The balance and intensity are there on the palate and the wine has plenty of acidity to keep things lively.  No green streaks to dislike here, just a long dusty, mocha finish.  Lovely.  91 points, about $30. 
2010 Cabernet "The Ranch":   Much of the fruit from this wine is sourced from the Lost Vineyard.  The Ranch consists of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.  The addition of the Merlot makes the wine approachable sooner than the Reserve and adds some fleshiness to the wine.  Dark purple in the glass clear to the rim.  The nose is classic.  Cedar, black plums, spices and earth.  Slightly reserved but fairly complex.  On the palate the wine marries what I have always loved about Snowden wines: Napa ripeness meets old world terroir.  As Diana says, you can't take the sun out of Napa.  There's plenty of black fruit, cedar, dusty spice and licorice flavors that are melded together and balanced beautifully. Medium weight tannins are smooth and suggest good mid-term cellaring, but this is great now and elegant right through the finish.  92 points, about $34. 
2010 Reserve Cabernet:  While Merlot softens The Ranch Cabernet, the Reserve is blended with Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.  The result is noticeably different.   This is darker than the Ranch, more brooding as it's purple shade trends toward black.  Aromas of black fruits, road dust, mineral, and cedar are discernible.  On the palate the wine is masculine, with wonderful structure to the rich black fruits that are joined with roasted coffee, licorice, and tobacco notes.  Lots of ripe, dusty, powdery tannins linger on the finish.  This will cellar well for decades.  94 points, about $65. 

~ The Snowden Lineup of 2010 reds ~

We were joined soon after by Scott Snowden, and after a wonderful lunch together we reluctantly made our way to our next appointment.  While I have been happily supporting the Snowdens since their inaugural 1993 vintage, this visit left me shaking my head yet again at the amazing power of wine.  What started as a mere vendor-customer relationship has now grown into one of friendship.  The Snowdens were amazing for their generosity and warmth, treating us as though we were friends for 20 years rather than 2 days.  It is that sort of dedication and passion that sustains them and that's why I am proud to continue supporting them.  
Except from now on my perception is altered.  When I uncork a bottle of their wine, I'm immediately transported back to that day and the time we spent together.  I can smell the dirt road of that ranch, hear Scott telling crazy stories of court rooms and Bob Dylan and instead of remembering vendors,  I remember friends. 

~ Scott Snowden ~ 

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Lady of Morellino

~ Elisabetta Geppetti ~

"This land is my choice of life, as making wine has always been my profession...." 
Since she was 20 years old, Elisabetta Geppetti, a fiery redhead with passion and youthful energy to match,  knew that she wanted to make wine at her family estate.  After a remakable 30 year career she has created one of the most significant wine estates in the Maremma and has been instrumental in bringing the recognition so deserved to this winemaking region along the Tuscan coast.
Since 1992 she has served as President of the Morellino di Scansano Consortium; the first woman to serve as head of any Consortium in Italy.  She has earned the title of how many refer to her:  The Ambassador of Maremma. 
Elisabetta's eldest daughter Clara has a growing role within the winery, ensuring the continued success for future generations of Fattoria Le Pupille.

~ The Winery Gates ~
The heart of the Le Pupille Estate revolves around two of the greatest vineyards in Maremma; Saffredi and Poggio Valente.  The former is a small 5 hectare vineyard that was originally conceived and planted in 1987 with the help of the renowned consultant Giacomo Tachis.  The Poggio Valente vineyard was replanted in 1996 and the 14 hectares of Sangiovese planted there generate grapes that give amazingly full bodied, luscious wines. 

~ Le Pupille Cantina ~

Recently I had the opportunity to sample some new releases from Fattoria Le Pupille and the quality across the board is outstanding. 
The 2011 Morellino di Scansano  could be considered the everyday workhorse red of the region.  A blend of predominantly Sangiovese with additions of Malvasia Nera and Alicante, the wine is a deep violet color.  Wonderful aromas of ripe cherries, flowers and underbrush and plentiful and carry through to the palate which is vibrant and juicy. This is very lively and 100% vinified in stainless steel.  Medium bodied acidity with moderate tannins to match, this was perfectly paired with Rigatoni alla Norma.  A great value here at about $15 and one of the best entry level Morellino I've ever had.  88 points.  Disclosure:  This bottle was a winery provided sample.

~ A very pretty red in a less than ideal vintage ~

The next wine we enjoyed was the 2009 "Poggio Valente" Morellino di Scansano Riserva.  I've only had this wine in one other vintage, the 1997, and it was an eye opening experience then.  This current vintage is everything I remember the 1997 being and more.
~ The Poggio Valente Vineyard ~
The 2009 is predominantly Sangiovese with a small addition of Merlot.  It's fermented in stainless steel and then refined in large barrel and tonneaux.   It's a dark blackish red in the glass.  Impenetrable.  I decanted the wine for 90 minutes before dinner and removed a slight sediment.  The aromas leap from the glass.  There's ripe crushed cherry, sweet tobacco, flowers, warmed earth and freshly ground herbs.  On the palate this is a massive, brick house of a Sangiovese.  Full bodied but silky with waves of crushed red fruits, espresso bean, autumn leaves, and pipe tobacco.  Acids and tannins are all in perfect balance.  A monstrous wine that drinks wonderfully now but will easily gain further complexity over the next 10 years if cellared.  95 points.   About $35.  Disclosure:  This bottle was a producer provided sample.
~ The Best Morellino di Scansano I've ever had ~
E vero!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Gambero Rosso: 2014

Last month hundreds of wineries once again descended upon the Metropolitan Pavilion in lower Manhattan for the annual Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri award tasting.  
In large tastings like this, my goal is always to seek out wineries that are somewhat under the radar, despite the Gambero Rosso notoriety.  Further,  I attempt to spend as much time as possible with wineries represented by their own principals, instead of by the importer or distributor.  In doing so,  I and my readers gain a much more valuable insight into the wines. 

As a member of the press I was able to access the tasting a full 90 minutes before the event was opened fully and I took full advantage of the lack of crowds.  I meandered, I chatted with friends old and new and was able to taste many wines before the chaos ensued.  Unless otherwise noted, the tasted wines received the Tre Bicchieri award.   Allora......

Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri Tasting - 2014

Having just arrived from the completed interview/tasting with Pala winemaker Fabio Angius,  I decided the first wine I should try was his Tre Bicchieri Cannonau Riserva. 


Fast becoming one of Sardinia's major players, the Pala winery is spearheaded by the young and energetic winemaker, Fabio Angius.  His wines are excellent and show tremendous promise for reaching even grander heights.
2011 Cannonau Riserva:  A dark violet trending to black in the glass. This is lovely.  Full bodied and long with loads of juicy, ripe plummy fruit with smoke, meat and flowers.  Touch of salinity.  This is so young, but will blossom wonderfully and have a long life ahead.  92-95 points.

~ 100% Cannonau di Sardegna ~

This just may be among the best Aglianico made.  Even better than may Taurasi.   Represented by the folks from Banville & Jones, the Paternoster family has been making wine in Basilicata since 1925.  Started by Don Anselmo the Tre Bicchieri wine is named in his honor. 
2009 Don Anselmo Aglianico del Vulture:   Fermented entirely in stainless steel and then aged 50% in Slavonian barrel and 50% French barrique for 12 months, the Don Anselmo is classically structured and well balanced.  Deep ruby, with a medium to full body, this displays solid berry fruit with olives and ash like earth on the nose and palate. Very good.  89-91 points.  This is the third Tre Bicchieri for this wine. 

~ Don Anselmo ~
Tenuta Argentiera 

A relative newcomer to the Tuscan wine scene in Bolgheri, Argentiera was represented by the charming principal Jeanette Servidio. No one was at this table.  Frankly, it was mind boggling to me.  I chatted, tasted, chatted, and tasted again and yet the crowds passed by with nary a look.  It was their loss. 
2010 Argentiera:  This is the first Tre Bicchieri for this young winery and it is well deserved.  The blend here is 45% Cabernet, 45% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc.  The wine is a pretty dark purple color through and through.  Classy aromas of black fruits, Mediterranean herbs and brush and tobacco are all noticeable. Flavors follow the nose with a lovely mineral note.  So texturally fine. So balanced.  Argentiera's aim is to make wine as good or better than the more notable Bolgheri mainstays and to do it at an affordable price.  Argentiera retails for about $65, compared to the three digit fares of similar wines.  92-95 points.  Argentiera will be the subject of a future in depth TuscanVines feature article.

~ Classy label, Classy lady, Classy wine ~

Tenuta di Biserno

After the sale of Ornellaia to the Mondavi/Rothschild joint venture,  Lodovico Antinori found the Tenuta di Biserno estate. Subsequently joined in partnership with his brother Piero, the wines here have never been better.  Represented by the friendly and knowledgeable folks at Wade & Clark Imports.
2008 Il Pino di Biserno:  Il Pino is oddly the second wine of the estate.  A blend of Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot.  The deep purple 2008 needs some cellar time.  It seems disjointed a bit right now and a bit too oaky for my tastes. Nose of  wood, buttered popcorn and rich black fruits.  Flavors follow but need time to integrate.  88-90 points.  Due Biccheri.
2009 Il Pino di Biserno:  This is a different animal altogether from the 2008.  Really lovely aromas of black fruits, coffee and herbs.  Wonderfully vibrant fruit on the palate with a slight touch of animal.  Meaty and complex. Very fine.  91-94 points.

~ Twins ~
Umani Ronchi

Long a fan of this winery since a friend introduced me to Pelago,  the quality exists here from top to bottom.  Represented by winemaker Michele Bernetti who was once again friendly and enjoyable to chat with. 
2010 Castelli di Jesi Vedicchio Classico Pelnio Riserva:   Plenio derives from the Latin Plenium meaning full and complex.  It is aptly named.  This is a pretty medium gold color with pretty white stone fruit, minerals and light grassy aromas and flavors.  Well balanced.  Stainless steel with 20%  barrique, but it's barely noticeable.  Excellent.  90-92 points. 
2009 Cumaro Rosso Conero Riserva: 100% Montepulciano grapes aged in a combination of barrel and barrique for 12 months and then 8 months in bottle before release.  Deep ruby with black cherry, meat and alpine aromas and flavors. Very good and a good value too.  88-90 points.  Due Bicchieri
2009 Pelago:  This is the typical blend of Montepulciano with Cabernet and Merlot included - a "Super Marche" if you will.  Aged for 18 months in barrique and an additional year in bottle before release.  This is deep purple and massive. Loads of fruit with tannins to match at the moment.  Black plums, mineral, licorice and cedar are prevalent on the nose and palate.  This is classy and well done but needs cellar time to restrain those tannins.  Hard to believe this is not a Tre Bicchieri.  92-95 points. 

~ The Lineup from Umani Ronchi ~


I'm confounded by this once proud estate that is largely credited for putting Campania on the winemaking map.  Owned by Michele Mastroberardino's sons for much of the 20th century, when the eldest son Angelo passed away, a feud broke out between the two remaining brothers that culminated in the 1994 division of the estate.  Brother Walter took the best vineyards and formed his Terredora estate while brother Antonio retained the family name and trademarks.  Radici fell in price as a result from about $45 to $19 retail and the quaity reflected the new price through much of the 2000s.  Things seem to be improving, but they're not back to where they were before the split.  Shame. 
2008 Taurasi Radici:  100% Aglianico.  This is a dark to medium ruby color.   There's some flowers, oak and dusty berry fruit on the nose and palate.  Well done, but not intense. Not nearly as complex as older Radici's nor as the Paternoster reviewed above.  It's good, and nothing more than that.  Surprised by the Tre Bicchieri here.  85-88 points.

~ Still aways to go before returning Radici to past glory ~

Colle Massari

Winner of the 2014 Gambero Rosso "Winery of the Year Award"....
I almost walked right past this table because the name didn't register with me at first until I saw the flagship wine, Grattamacco sitting there.  Presented by the winemaker, who seemed greatly humbled when I told him how much I enjoyed the 1985 Grattamacco....  I asked him if recent vintages would turn into that, and he laughed and said he could only hope. 
2011 Colle Massari Montecucco Riserva:  This is 80% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet and 10% Ciliegiolo.   The Montecucco DOC lies just to the north of Maremma and is also just outside the Brunello zone.  This wine spends 18 months in barrique, half of which are new.   A deep ruby color with aromas and flavors of berries, oak and earth.  It's a bit one dimensional and seems to lack any specific personality.  It's good.  85-87 points.  Due Biccheri.

2009 Montecucco Riserva "Lombrone":  100% Sangiovese and would be a dead ringer for Brunello.   This is a perennial Tre Bicchieri winner and rightfully so.  Classy and elegant with aromas and flavors of wild berries, tobacco, herbs, and spice. Lovely - the best wine of the three on this day.  Botte aged.  91-93 points.

2010 Grattamacco:  A blend of 65% Cabernet, 25% Merlot and 10% Sangiovese, Grattamacco is also a perennial Tre Bicchieri winner.  Barrique aged for 21 months in a combination of new, first, and second passage barrels.  This is largely structured. Deep purple color with violet hues.  Lots of blackberry, tobacco and spice on the nose and palate with loads of tannins.  This seems to have all the stuffing it needs, but what it surely needs, is time in the cellar.  Potential is there. 91-93 points. 
~ 2010 Grattamacco Bolgheri Superiore ~
Famiglia Cecchi

The Cecchi family of wineries may be one of the most underrated and overlooked group of wineries in Italy.  I'm not sure why that is.  As I sat here drinking this range of wines with winemaker Andrea Cecchi and his ubiquitous brother Cesare, I can't imagine nicer people with more passion and talent than these two display.   This was my second recent opportunity to taste Andrea's wines with him.  I chronicled the first here.   I hope to visit him in San Gimignano this summer.
2010 Villa Cerna Chianti Classico Riserva:  Pretty ruby color to this Riserva.   Flowers, berries, cured meat and pepper on the nose with classic similar flavors on the palate. I've had this wine several times and it's alwasy consistently excellent. Fermented in stainless steel and then aged for 18 months in a combination of barrique and large botte - then a further refinement in bottle for at least 10 months before release.  Delicious.  91-93 points.  Due Bicchieri. 

~ The Villa Cerna CCR is 95% Sangiovese and 5% Colorino ~
2008 Sagrantino di Montefalco "Uno":   This sports a slightly different label than the US version I included in my report on the Reds of Montefalco, but it's all the same inside.  Rich and massive, this Sagrantino has cedar, coffee, blackfruit, licorice and tar aromas and flavors.  Massively framed.  Stunning.  91-94 points.  More detail on this wine in my aforementioned report.  Due Biccheri.

~ The nearly black Sagrantino is in the Decanter in the background ~

2010 Famiglia Cecchi Coevo:  Perhaps Coevo, which means "Contemporary", is best explained by Andrea himself:  "Coevo means "Contemporary" in Italian. Tuscan wine quality has never been greater and I wanted to create a wine that would capture this spirit. Coevo represents two of the great regions in Tuscany: Chianti Classico and Maremma. The grapes for Coevo come from our Villa Cerna and Val delle Rose estates and by combining these two terroir, we create a wine that has a contemporary representation of that specific vintage across Tuscany."
Coevo was first created in 2006 - it immediately won a Tre Bicchieri award. This represents the second such award for Coevo. The 2010 is nearly black.  A blend of 60% Sangiovese, 20% Petit Verdot, 10% Merlot and 10% Cabernet, the blend for Coevo changes slightly with each vintage.  This is a massive, massive wine.  It has an absolutely monstrous core of wild black fruits, cocoa, coffee, licorice, cured meat and spices on the nose and palate. The tannins are substantial - I mean seriously substantial in this young, intense primary red. The balance is there with acids to match. Everything is turned up a notch.  I can't wait to try this wine with food and 15 years down the road. Absolutely deserving of the Tre Biccheri. Stock up.  94-97 points.   

~ A must for Tuscan lovers ~
Badia a Coltibuono

This is a classic estate.  What can be said for this iconic Chianti producer that hasn't already been put to paper?  The charming Emanuela Prinetti was on hand to present the wine in addition to the gentleman from Dalla Terra who was grief stricken by instructions from Gambero Rosso that any remaining wines could not leave the building but instead had to be destroyed.  Consequently,  he was insistent upon large pours!  Well, schucks.... 
2009 Chianti Classico Riserva:  They don't come much better.  Classic in every sense of the word.  Deep ruby with bright aromas and flavors of berries, pipe tobacco, Tuscan brush, earth and mushroom. Interwoven well and supplanted by medium weight tannins this is approachable now but has beautiful structure to age well.  90-92 points. 

Casanova di Neri

Unfortunately Giacomo Neri wasn't present this year.   At last year's event,  I was blown away by the 2006 Cerretalto and rated it at 100 points.  While the encore wine is very good,  it doesn't compare as favorably to the 2006. 
2007 Cerretalto Brunello di Montalcino:  Dark violet with black reflections.  Loaded with sediment. Not typical of most Brunello but correct for the modern bent of this wine.  Aromas are expressive with mocha, coffee, pepper and berries.  This has lots of power and finesse. Very silky on the palate with flavors that mimick the nose.  Very tightly wound and tannic.  Yet still, not the 2006.  92-94 points. 

Stefano Amerighi

This was one of the first wines my friend Daniele, from Tabarrini, insisted that I taste.  I spent some nice time chatting with proprietor Stefano.  This new winery hails from the area quickly becoming the King of Tuscan Syrah, Cortona. 

~ Daniele Sassi from Tabarrini (l) and Stefano Amerighi (r) ~

Old school winemaking here.  Organic, no chemicals, all natural.  Inert wood and cement vessels for fermentation and aging - a sembiotic relationship with grains, livestock, cereals and vineyards. 
2010 Cortona Syrah:  This is a dark purple in the glass.  Aromas strike of cool climate Syrah.  Lots of graphite, pepper, wet stones and smokey meat accent the black fruit that forms the core of flavors and aromas. All is in balance and while this could cellar well, I find it appealing now.  89-91 points.  Poured from magnum

~ The Big and the Little ~


A prominent fixture in Montefalco wine scene that is here to stay.  A simple search on "Tabarrini" on this website will turn up plenty of reading material.  The quality keeps coming in this trio of recent releases. 
2010 Montefalco Rosso:  A very worthy successor to the stunning 2009.  This is bright ruby with loads of Sangiovese character backed by a solid dollop of Sagrantino.  Berries, pipe tobacco and that Tabarrini dust complete the package. A terrific value.   90-92 points. 

2009 Sagrantino di Montefalco Campo alla Cerqua:  This is my favorite of the Tabarrini trilogy.  It possesses such a finely knit powedery, dusty texture to the fruit and tannins that simply brings me joy.  The 2009 is ripe and full bodied and loaded with fruit and tannins.  Deftly balanced, this is elegant with coffee and fennel notes.  I love it.  Due Biccheri. 92-94 points.
2009 Sagrantino di Montefalco Colle alla Macchie:  Power.  Brawn.  Most closely mimics Giampaolo's personality.  An in your face wine loaded with fruit, tannin and acid. Boisterous and intense.  Needs lots of cellaring, just like it's 2006 and 2007 counterparts sitting in my basement.  92-94 points. Tre Bicchieri. 

~ The Tabarrini Line Up ~

Podere Boscarelli

Boscarelli is one of the best producers in Montepulciano, bar none.  Their flagship single vineyard wine is among the tops from the DOCG.
2009 Vino Nobile Nocio dei Boscarelli:   This  is 100% Sangiovese and very elegant for the vintage, with complex aromas of flowers, dirt and berries. It's a single vineyard wine, named for the gigantic nut tree that graces the vineyard, and is aged in Slavonian oak botte for almost 2 years prior to release.  Flavors follow the nose with good freshness and intensity. Really delicious, but still at the top end price for Vino Nobile.  90-92 points. 

~ 2009 Boscarelli Vino Nobile di Montepulciano ~

Nanni Cope

This was a new estate and suggested to me by my friend Daniele from Tabarrini.  He insisted that I couldn't leave the tasting without trying this wine and practically walked me over there himself.  He was right. 
Who has heard of Pallagrello Nero?   That's what I thought.............. 
Pallagrello Nero is an ancient grape that dates at least to the 18th century.  In the small Terre del Volturno IGT appellation - within Campania - winemaker Giovanni Ascione resuscitated this magical grape.  His first vintage was 2009, yet he describes the 2011 as "his dearest wine" since he worked that much harder in the difficlut vintage to achieve these amazing results.
2011 Sabbie di Sopra il Bosco:  This wine is a blend of 90% Pallagrello Nero, 5% Aglianico, and 5% Casavecchia.  The vines were planted in 1987 with the exception of the Casavecchia which in sand, are pre-phyloxera and over 140 years old.  Aged one year in cask, varying in age from 1-4 years and then in bottle for 8 months prior to release.  A miniscule production of 600 cases.
An intense perfume greets the taster with flowers, ripe crushed wild cherry, tobacco and mushroom. On the palate there is a large core of beautiful fruit, amazing complexity of flavors and balance. This is a stunning effort and really eye opening. A unique experience for me.  92-95 points.

~ Beautiful color in this unique gem.  Grazie Daniele! ~

Marchesi di Barolo

I tasted Sarmassa 2008 at last year's Gambero Rosso and was blown away.  It was stunning.  I'm happy to say that lovers of this vineyard will not be disappointed as the 2009 is a worthy successor.
2009 Barolo Sarmassa:   This is deep ruby, with deeper garnet reflections.  The nose is full of flowers, anise, earth and leather.  It is so perfumed.  On the palate this has pretty, delicate floral tones surrounded by massive fruit that is well balanced.  The graceful nature of the 2008 is not quite as present in this ripe 2009 - but overall, this is still delicious.  91-93 points. 

~ Single Vineyard Barolo from Marchesi di Barolo ~

Tenuta Sette Ponti

I buy some of this wine each vintage.  It's become a classic and a wonderful expression of the classic Cabernet based Super Tuscan.  The rep. from Kobrand was on hand pouring and I couldn't imagine a more disinterested soul. 
2010 Oreno:  This blend was tweaked significantly in 2010 with Merlot eclipsing Cabernet.  45% Merlot, 40% Cabernet and 15% Petit Verdot.  This is dark purple all the way to the rim. Right now, the 18 months barrique aging is a bit too obvious - minty green herbs, flowers and fruit dominate the nose.  On the palate, this is tight, tannic, green (wood) and not yet very expressive.  I have at least 3 vintages of this wine in the cellar and this one makes me pause when I consider adding it.  I probably will - but I won't get more than 2 or 3 and they need to be buried.  90-95 points.  Approach carefully.

~ New blend on the 2010 Oreno ~


I've known Silvia Vannucci for several years now and from the time I first interviewed her and winemaker Emiliano Falsini, I've been consistently impressed with their wines.  There seems to be no ceiling here as each vintage brings increased success.  And yet there the charming Silvia stood, alone.  Sometimes the sheeple don't connect the dots.

~ The charming and fun Silvia Vannucci ~

2010 Piaggia Carmignano Riserva:   The original and legal Super Tuscan.  This is Piaggia's flagship wine and is a blend of 70% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet, 10% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc.  Grape selection is severe and only the best fruit makes the cut for this wine.  This has loads of crushed berry, flowers and tobacco on the nose. The flavors follow with smokey tobacco, loads of ripe fruit, flowers, and anise. This is delicious.  My tasting sheet says: "A big wow!"  93-96 points. Due Biccheri.

~ Maybe the most expressive 2010 I've had to date.  Stunning effort! ~

2011 Poggio de' Colli:   This is 100% Cabernet Franc.  This is 100% drop dead gorgeous.  Silvia was not certain how the vines came to be on the Piaggia estate but they have had them identified and they are of original French origin.  Cabernet Franc can be very herbal and frankly nasty if it doesn't get ripe enough.  No worries here.

This is deep, pretty purple in the glass with violet reflections.  The aroma is full of flowers - lavender, wild berries, mint, and sweet pipe tobacco. I could smell it forever.  Flavors are juicy, ripe and round. Delicious long and elegant and center on the crushed berries and sweet herb notes in the wine.   This will end up in my cellar.  An off the radar perennial Tre Bicchieri winner.  93-96 points. 

~ Long luscious legs ~
After I was done tasting, I went back to Silvia for final tastes of the day.  Speaks volumes.  Again, she was essentially alone.  And again, after 4-5 hours of air, the wines were singing. 

Canalicchio di Sopra

I've always found the wines of Canalicchio to be very good and seemingly under the radar.  You don't hear much about them - even on internet wine discussion forums, yet I've always found them enjoyable.  I was excited to try this, but was very underwhelmed.
2007 Brunello Riserva:  This is deep ruby with a pronounced copper to orange rim.  A classic look, but in this case, I think a tired look.  The nose is centered around soft cherries and autumn leaves with a hint of orange zest. On the palate this seems tired and slightly dried out.  Moderate fruit and dry herbs. Not sure what happened here.  86-88 points.  

~ Off bottle or already showing it's age? ~


Estate grown grapes sourced from the famed Conca d'Oro.  Franco Bernabei.  Certified Organic.  80 hectares in Panzano.  It's no wonder they are in the Hall of Fame of Chianti Classico producers.
2010 Flaccianello:  Oh how I love this wine.  Oh how disppointing is the price.  I sound like a broken record, but such is the reality of this estate. This is deep black red with penetrating  aromas of ripe fruit, new leather, earth and fresh herbs.   Very floral.  Has masses of fruit on the palate with juicy ripe, viscous flavors and wonderfully perfumed aromatics.  It's a stunning Sangiovese.   Just like it's 2009 brethren.   94-98 points.
2010 Chianti Classico:  This is very nice too with lots of character on the nose and palate.  Ripe cherries, anise, tobacco and flowers.  But the price on this is creeping way up relative to it's competitors. Very good, but worth the tariff?  88-91 points.   One or two bicchieri?

~ Excellent wines - but hardly values ~

The winemaker for Antinori and one of the best consultants in all of Italy.  What could go wrong?  Not much....
2011 Ferentano:  This is 100% Roscetto.  Grown in an IGP are of Lazio this dry white is bursting with rich tropical fruit aromas and flavors.  Banana, pineapple and citrus dominate.  Full bodied and viscous, this would excel with seared scallops or lobster.  Delicious. 90-92 points. 

~ 100% Indigenous Roscetto ~

2011 Montiano:  I love this 100% Merlot from the hills outside Roma. It's the wine that turned me on to Falesco and I have many vintages in the cellar.  It's a great value.  The 2011 sports a nifty new label design.  Full of rich dark fruit flavors, this is very primary and showing it's oak a bit too much at the moment. Experience tells me this will flesh out and I'd cellar this with no worries for 5 years before enjoying.  Great mouthfeel.  91-94 points. 

~ New Label: Same great Merlot ~

The team at Mastrojanni is on a roll.  I've covered this estate well on these pages, so it comes as no surprise to me that one of their Brunello - and a 2008 at that, received a Tre Bicchieri award.  I was looking forward to meeting a friend at their table, but he wasn't able to attend at the last minute.  The lovely principal Rada Linke was there representing her estate.  I lingered....
2008 Schiena d'Asino Brunello:   This is not a Riserva, but a single vineyard sourced wine that receives the utmost care and best selection of grapes.  The results are magical.  This is a dark ruby color with explosive aromatics of flowers, dried herbs and abundant crushed berry.  Flavors follow the nose with wonderful concentration, fresh acidity and intensity.  This wine stunned me.  It is the best 2008 Brunello I have tasted to date.  93-96 points. 
They were also pouring their 2008 Brunello,  but I told Rada I had it many times and it was ok if I didn't try it again.  She said to me:  "Do you want to try something else?"   I have no idea if she thought for a moment that I might say "no", but anyway.....
She reaches under the table and emerges with a wine bottle covered in nothing but white paper.  This is our 2009 Brunello she says - but it's not yet been bottled. 
2009 Brunello:  This is a deep garnet red color.  Lots of spicy berry fruit on the nose with black cherry, licorice and warmed earth.  Flavors follow the nose with a streak of roasted coffee on the finish.  A striking contrast in vintages, but this is much more expressive than many of the 2009's I tasted at Benvenuto Brunello.  It's one to watch for.  90-93 points.

~ A Stunning 2008 Brunello ~

Perticaia boasts a mere 15 hectares of vineyards, 7 of which are devoted to Sagrantino. The brilliant enologist Emiliano Falsini is in charge of the winemaking.  Principal Alessandro Meniconi represented the winery.   The wine is aged for 36 months prior to release: 12 months each in barrique, steel vats, and then bottle.
The 2009 Sagrantino can be described in one word: Massive! A stunning effort. This wine is deep purple in the glass and already has aromas of cinnamon, exotic spices, blackberry and smoke. On the palate, the wine is simply gargantuan. There are masses of fruits and tannins that are so aggressive at the moment they feel as though they are literally grabbing at your cheeks. The core of fruit is ripe and mammoth, but this needs some long cellaring to settle down. It's so young and primary right now.  92-95 points.
~ Note the thick viscous "legs" here ~

Final Thoughts

Notably absent from this year's tasting were some major players on the Tre Bicchieri scene:  Redigaffi, Solaia, Ornellaia, Masseto, Sassicaia....  I don't know if they weren't awarded Tre Bicchieri or decided simply not to attend.  But I noticed the absence and overheard a few others wondering where these wineries were. 
Argentiera... A new winery for me and one that seems very interesting and worth keeping an eye on.  As I mentioned, I'll be writing a feature on them in the coming months.  The quality is approaching the level of other more famous Bolgheri wineries and the price is less than half.  Stay tuned. 
The wines of Famiglia Cecchi are either underrated, under the radar or both.  A little poking around this website will find lots of excellent wine at great values in addition to the ones mentioned above. And Andrea and Cesare Cecchi could not be better people to support. 
The wines coming out of Montefalco are getting better and better.  To not see more coverage of this area mind boggling to me.  This is partly what spurred my large article earlier this year.  This is a DOCG area producing ageworthy complex wines that are more accessible than ever in their youth. They are available at fair prices relative to wines of comparable quality. Seek them out.
Finally, many of the wines tasted above have not been released yet.  Therefore, this advance look can hopefully assist your purchase planning. 
Thanks to the fine folks at Gambero Rosso for organizing another fine event.  And thanks to all the great winemakers!