Valpolicella: One Gentle Wine from Verona

2016-11-08-09-23-01Looking for a low tannin, high quality red wine? Look no further than Valpolicella!

This fruity, yet elegant, red wine hails from the Veneto region of northeastern Italy.

We tasted a selection of these wines at a recent Wine Media Guild luncheon and, while I had my favorites, there wasn’t a bad wine in the bunch. Even more impressive, most the wines were priced under $20.00.

While Verona is famous for its balcony, the valley (val), just north of the city, is known for its many (poli) cellars (cella). This amalgamated name has been attributed to the wine since the mid-12th century.

The region relies on indigenous grape varieties, with most wines produced as a blend of Corvina and Corvinone and, to a lesser extent, Rondinella (making up 5% to 30% of the total), supplemented with other authorized, red varieties. The resulting wines have aromas and flavors of berries, cherries and flowers, although I did find some herbaceous notes in a few of the wines we tasted.

Unlike its vinous siblings – Amarone and Ripasso – these wines are not aged nor are they influenced by dried grapes. Consequently, they are wines that are honest about their origins. Looking at the vineyards themselves, the focus has been on reducing chemicals through the Consorzio’s “Reduce Respect Retrench” Project. To date, low impact pest control measures have been implemented for 2,000 ha (approximately 25% of current plantings) and growing.

Wines produced from grapes grown within the most historic (aka classic) area are called Valpolicella Classico DOC, while those from the broader designation are simply, Valpolicella DOC.

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All in all, we tasted 12 wines; these were my top selections:
* Buglioni “Il Valpo” Valpolicella DOC Classico 2015, Veneto, Italy, $19.00
* Scriani Valpolicella DOC Classico 2015, Veneto, Italy, $17.00
* San Cassiano Valpolicella DOC 2014, Veneto, Italy, $N/A
* Fattori “Col de la Bastia” Valpolicella DOC 2015, Veneto, Italy, $N/A
* Massimago Valpolicella DOC 2014, Veneto, Italy, $17.00
* Villa San Carlo Valpolicella DOC 2015, Veneto, Italy, $N/A

The 2014 wines tended to be more acidic in style due to the cooler weather conditions of that vintage, while the 2015 wines were more generous. The Consorzio has very high hopes of the 2016 harvest being even better than 2015.

The wines paired quite well with pasta as well as with a pork dish and are a nice option for this transitional period of late autumn with its crisp, sunny days and cooler nights.

NB: Prices are listed when available on Wine-Searcher.com  All other wines are available in the U.S. somewhere, but not somewhere associated with Wine Searcher.

Piper-Heidsieck’s Rare Rose makes its NY debut

2016-09-29-19-51-52Régis Camus, Piper-Heidsieck’s award-winning (he has been named Sparkling Winemaker of the Year eight times) Chef de Caves, likes a challenge and apparently has the patience of a saint.

His latest accomplishment? Crafting a high quality tête de cuvée from the tricky 2007 season.

Camus kicked off his Heidsieck career on the Charles-Heidsieck side of the business before migrating to Piper-Heidsieck in 1994. Once there, he devoted himself to ensuring that the Cuvée Brut NV (non-vintage) – the mainstay of the Champagne house – consistently delivered year in and year out.

Then, in 2000, he expanded his purview to include the company’s prestige cuvée: Rare. His first foray was the beautiful Rare Millésime 2002, adding to the previous seven vintages of this wine. But, in spite of all of this success under his vinous belt, he was anxious to create a rosé counterpart, waiting around for the right opportunity to do so.

In 2007, he decided it was time to pursue this dream. Given its name, it should come as no surprise that part of the concept of Rare is to produce a vintage wine when it is difficult. Only a few Champagne houses crafted a vintage wine in 2007. As Regis quips, “You need guts to do it.”

Yet, he was resolved and, thus, brought together three key elements to guide the creation of his new wine: color, nose and palate. For the wine’s color, he envisioned the pink hues in stained glass; for its nose, he sought the subtleness of red fruit; and for its palate, he wanted the exotic nature, minerality, freshness and purity of the Rare Brut.

Once the potential wine had been assembled and sent off to age on its lees, he waited nine years to release it, but, it was worth the wait.

Bringing together an almost equal blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (56% and 44%, respectively), the wine is delicate and elegant, yet exotic with spice and tea along with red fruit notes of strawberries and raspberries. The spice components linger on the palate throughout the wine’s long length.

2016-09-29-19-49-44While not the most commonly connected food pairing, the Rare Rosé showed beautifully against a backdrop of Tamarind’s high-end Indian cuisine; its exotic elements holding their own with the complex flavors and seasonings of the food.

At $450 per bottle, and with fewer than 800 bottles in the U.S., this is sadly not a wine that I (nor many others) will get to enjoy with any frequency, but, it is a remarkable (and tasty) testament to one man’s perseverance and patience. Santé, Regis!

Valdivieso and Chile’s land of wine opportunity

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Brett Jackson was born and raised in the north-central area of New Zealand’s North Island, but, as a teenager, had the opportunity to work at Stony Ridge Vineyards on Waiheke Island, off the coast of Auckland. It was there, in the nascent New Zealand wine industry, that he got the desire to pursue a career in wine and subsequently studied horticulture since the local schools didn’t have viticulture programs yet.

Once he was trained, Brett began to get hands on experience, working in the Napa Valley and Stellenbosch before landing a contract to make wine in the South of France for the Lurton brothers. Pleased with his performance, the Lurtons sent him to Chile in 1994 to oversee one of their projects there.

It was in Chile that he finally found his viticultural home and stopped wandering from wine region to wine region. He saw an energy and focus; Chilean wine was just starting to boom and was very open to new ideas. At the time, there were approximately 50,000 hectares of vines planted – inappropriate vines in inappropriate places (as he notes) – but over the next ten years, the industry began to get serious – adding an additional 50,000 hectares and really starting to understand its climate and soils.

At this point in his life, he has a spouse, children and a mortgage, so he isn’t going anywhere, but even if he had the freedom to roam, he doesn’t want to. He says that there is still so much going on. For him, Chile still represents tremendous opportunity and is a great place to make wine in a small area.

More specifically, Brett sees Chile as a mosaic with numerous pieces (places) to craft quality wines. Moving from East to West, the two mountain ranges – the ancient coastal ranges at 1,000 m and the more famous Los Andes at 4,000m – significantly impact the various climates. At the western edges, a cool climate offers an ideal location for Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and others, while the warmer, eastern areas are good for reds.

His present employer – Valdivieso – was established as early as 1869 and cemented a reputation as a producer of high quality sparkling wines. Today, 50% of their current production still centers around sparkling wines; they produce both Traditional Method and Charmat style wines. The former focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, while the latter blends in Semillon for a fresher, more aromatic result.

Among the winery’s extensive portfolio, they offer a terroir series – wines made from single vineyards / particular lots in smaller productions (500 to 3,000 cases each). They are bringing two of these wines to the U.S.: a Chardonnay and, refreshingly, a varietally-labeled Cabernet Franc. These two wines seem to usher in the next phase of Chilean wines; elegant expressions of grape variety combined with traits of terroir, at reasonable price points (in this case the SRPs are $25.00).

Valdivieso also prides itself on its Caballo Loco range. Named for Jorge Coderch (known by his nickname which translates as Crazy Horse), who was instrumental in expanding the winery’s focus to include still wine production, these wines include Grand Cru blends and an intriguing flagship referred to by its iteration number.

This latter wine was “the first great wine from Chile,” initially produced in 1994 with the aim of showcasing the maximum expression of what a blend can be. And, it is a blend in every sense. Not only does it bring together numerous grape varieties, but it also incorporates a percentage of wine from each of the previous vintages. In this respect, the wine is fractionally blended. The result is a serious wine that is both powerful and elegant.

Tasting Notes

Valdivieso Blanc de Blancs NV, Leyda Valley, Chile, $25.00
Produced from 100% Chardonnay, this wine is a bit shy on the nose, but opens up to a complex palate with citrus, pear and slight yeast notes; creamy and rich, with long length.

Valdivieso Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2013, Leyda Valley, Chile, $25.00
On the nose, this wine offers apple, stone fruit, citrus and smoke. It is full-bodied, yet very elegant, with good acidity, nice fruit and only a subtle hint of oak from its 9 months in barrel. Brett advises that the apricot aromas and flavors will continue to develop with age.

Valdivieso Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2013, Curico Valley, Chile, $25.00
Made from vines planted in the 1920s, this is one of the first varietal Cab Francs in Chile. Aromas of wet leaves, plum and mulberry greet the nose and persist on the savory palate, with gentle tannins and good freshness.

Caballo Loco Grand Cru Apalta 2013, Colchagua Valley, Chile, $35.00
A blend of Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine is rich and ripe, with nice herbal notes. It comes from a warmer climate and is more New World in style than many of the other wines.

Caballo Loco No. 16 Maipo, Apalta and Central Valleys, Chile, $70.00
Bringing together 50% of No. 15 and 50% from the 2011 vintage, this is a unique, non-vintage wine. This wine displays black and red fruit on both the nose and full-bodied palate, with power and elegance, culminating in long length.

A Harvest Celebration: It’s Never Too Early

2015-11-26 11.50.46The third Thursday of November is Beaujolais Day – the day on which the new vintage of Beaujolais Nouveau is released. Georges Duboeuf, the largest producer, generally hosts a festive affair heralding the wine’s arrival on America’s shores with a bang; from chefs on motorcycles to trapeze artists to graffiti artists. This year, there wasn’t even a whimper. Instead, I received only a single email from retailer, Sherry-Lehmann to mark the occasion. I thought perhaps I had fallen off that invite list, but, in speaking with a colleague, learned that there was no party this year.

While many decry the quality (or rather the lack thereof) of Beaujolais Nouveau, I have always enjoyed the quasi-holiday and, if not the wine itself (which, in fact, I generally do), then what it stood for: a celebration of the arrival and completion of yet another harvest. Another year of toil in the soil and effort in the winery.

We can easily see the bounty of the year’s harvest in the cornucopia of fruits and vegetables in the farmer’s market. But, unlike fresh grapes (and other produce), which provide immediate gratification from vine to vendor, wine takes time to make.

Wines like Beaujolais Nouveau are the exception, going from grape to glass in just a few weeks. It may not be complex and age-worthy, nor is it meant to, rather, it is fresh and fruity and a reminder of what is to come with more time and effort… other wines from this vintage. A time to celebrate the season and give thanks for what Mother Nature has once again provided.

Without the usual Beaujolais Day hoopla, something seemed missing. But, the arrival of Macari’s Early Wine 2015 gave me my much-needed fix. The grapes for this Chardonnay wine were harvested in early September, making their way to bottle by the end of October and released during the first week of November.

On the evening before Thanksgiving, I took a moment to open up this wine and pause and reflect on my deep gratitude in anticipation of the following day’s holiday. I also took time to reflect on what was in the glass – white floral and peach aromas; slightly off-dry palate with vibrant acidity; citrus, peach and floral flavors; and a long finish.

And, more importantly, I took time to notice what the wine reflected back: the remembrance of the freshness of summer as we head into winter; the long days of toil and effort in the vineyard; the gentle care taken by Kelly Urbanik in the winery; and the promise of what is to come from the other fruits of 2015’s labor.

Buying German Wine – Understanding the Label

Sprechen Sie Deutsch (Do you speak German)? Looking at the text on German wine labels, it is leichter gesagt als getan (easier said than done), or, more correctly, easier said than understood. And, for that matter, it isn’t even very easy to say.

If wine labels are generally intimidating to the uninitiated, German wine labels are among the most intimidating of all – unfamiliar names; lengthy, unpronounceable terms; and just an all around use of a lot of words could scare off even the most avid wine drinker.

But, in truth, German wine labels actually provide the consumer with a wealth of information about the wine in question. You don’t need a secret decoder ring, but learning some basic German wine vocabulary will assist you in understanding what you are looking at on the wine store shelf.

To begin, there are two levels of German quality wine – Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete(QbA) and Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP).  The first category designates wines that come from one of Germany’s 13 wine regions and account for the majority of German wine production. The latter (QmP) are more complicated because, in addition to coming from a particular wine region, they also indicate wines produced from grapes that have achieved certain levels of ripeness at harvest. These are considered to be higher in quality than QbA because Germany’s cool climate makes it more challenging to reach full ripeness, thereby placing a premium on riper grapes.

Prädikat Levels

Once one has worked out the two quality levels, they may encounter some confusion with regard to the grape varieties themselves. Spätburgunder? Grauburgunder? Weissburgunder? Sure, they sound exotic, but actually, these are just the German names for Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, respectively. Other grapes likely to be seen include Müller-Thurgau (white), Silvaner (white) — particularly prized when it hails from Franken, Portugieser (red) and the more respected Dornfelder (red). Also of note is Lemberger (elsewhere known as Blaufränkisch) which offers red fruit, spice and nice tannin structure. Above all else, there’s Riesling; this vaunted white grape accounts for over one-quarter of all German plantings.

Dry or sweet? Although many people associate Germany with sweet wines, the majority of German wines produced today are dry. Admittedly, a lot of the drier style wines never make it to our shores (the Germans keep much of it at home for themselves), but consumers can find dry style German wines on U.S. shelves. Some of these wines are distinctly labeled as being dry – if you know how to decipher the label. The specific words to look for are trocken (dry) and halbtrocken (off-dry).

Charta logoIn addition, the label terms “Classic” and “Selection” may also be used to indicate a dry (or high-acid, off-dry) wine.  Similarly, wines bearing the double Romanesque arch of the Charta Association, created in 1983, are dry to off-dry QbA- or prädikat-level Rieslings from the Rheingau region that meet the organization’s strict quality regulations.

In general, wines that have no indication of their sweetness level can usually be expected to be somewhat sweet. Another hint is to check the alcohol level since lower alcohol levels (9% abv and lower) generally mean that at least some of the grape’s sugar content hasn’t been converted into alcohol and, thus, remains in the wine as detectable sweetness.

As with many other wine producing countries, Germany’s wine regions can be further broken down into smaller areas – bereiche, grosslagen and einzellagen. A bereich is a regional or district designation, while a grosslage is a group of vineyards and an einzellage is, theoretically, a single vineyard.  Unfortunately, it is these last two territories that cause the most confusion since it is often difficult to ascertain whether the label refers to a grosslage or einzellage.

However, this uncertainty can be overcome by either memorizing a list of the top sites, limiting purchases to wines from well-known/well-respected producers or simply giving up and taking a chance on the bottle in hand, despite its murky label (well, not really).

Thankfully, an additional classification system was launched in 2002 by the Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates (Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter, can boost one’s confidence in choosing a wine. VDP LogoEstablished in 1910 and abbreviated as VDP, this association represents Germany’s leading wine estates, with a dual focus on quality wine production and classified vineyard sites. All of these wines sport the association’s eagle logo, making them easily identifiable to the consumer.

In 2012, this classification system was further refined, closely modeled on Burgundy’s regional and vineyard hierarchy. Accordingly, the top category, VDP. Grosse Lage (translating as Great Site) is awarded to the best vineyard sites, equivalent to Burgundy’s Grand Cru vineyards. Dry wines in this upper echelon are further designated as VDP. Grosses Gewächs “Great Growth” and labeled “Qualitätswein trocken” while naturally sweet wines are labeled with the appropriate traditional Prädikat term.

VDP LevelsAnalogous to Burgundy’s Premier Cru vineyards is the VDP. Erste Lage (First Site), while VDP. Ortswein (Classified Site) is akin to Burgundy’s Village-level wines. The lowest tier of this system is the VDP. Gutswein (Estate Wine), which is similar to the regional designation in Burgundy (i.e. AOC Bourgogne). Dry wines in these categories are also labeled “Qualitätswein trocken” while the sweet wines retain the Prädikat designation on their labels.

Bearing all of these clues in mind, the careful consumer can more readily choose among the selection of German wines on the shelf of their neighborhood wine retailer and find the bottle that best meets their preferences.

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Castell-Castell Silvaner 2012, Franken, Germany, $18.00 
With aromas of pear, wax and white flowers, this dry wine offers medium acidity and medium body on the palate with flavors of almond, wax and pear and medium+ length.

Grafen Neipperg Lemberger
Trocken 2011, Württemberg, Germany, $20.00 (not pictured)
Medium aromas of cinnamon, berry and wood are joined on the (clearly stated –trocken) dry palate with flavors of cranberry, mulberry and a hint of earth in the finish.

Undone PNUndone Pinot Noir
2012, Rheinhessen, Germany, $11.00
A Pinot Noir from Germany isn’t so surprising these days (Germany is #3 in PN production), but this wine’s origin from Rheinhessen (as opposed to Ahr or Baden) makes it somewhat unusual as does its great quality at this price. With cherry, herbal and wet leaves on the nose, this dry wine has lively acidity on the palate. Medium+ length.

 

Schloss Saarstein Riesling Kabinett 2012, Serrig Schloss Saarsteiner, Mosel, Germany, $25.00Schloss Saarstein
Located within the municipality of Serrig, the Schloss Saarsteiner property, so named for the large castle (schloss) that sits amidst the vines, above the Saar River (a tributary of the Mosel) is an Erste Lage site. The wine offers peach, floral and wet stone aromas on the nose. Its palate is off-dry with high acidity and flavors of lime zest, peach and wet stone, culminating in long length.

Prinz SalmPrinz Salm Roxheimer
Berg Spätlese 2012, Nahe, Germany, $28.00
With an alcohol level of 7.5% abv and a designation of spätlese, there was no question that this wine (from a Grosse Lage site) would have some sweetness. However, its sweetness is beautifully balanced by its high acidity, so it is perceived as off-dry on the palate, with lemon zest, lime, peach, honey and minerality aromas and flavors.

Johannishof Charta Riesling 2012, Rheingau, Germany, $25.00Johannishof

A pronounced nose provides aromas of floral, straw, wet stone and Asian pear. The dry palate displays high acidity with notes of granny smith apple, lime, stone, pith, blossom and minerality. Long Length.

 

 

Kesselstatt Josephshöfer Riesling Kabinett 2012, Mosel, Germany, $30.00thumb
First documented 1,100 years ago, the Josephshöfer Grosse Lage site has been wholly owned by Kesselstatt since 1858. Citrus, floral, apricot and slight honey aromas greet the nose and persist on the dry, but ripe, palate. Long length.

A Tale of Two Vintages

SAUV_BLANC_2012_web_1024x1024New York wine producer, Macari Vineyards, recently released the newest vintage of its Katherine’s Field Sauvignon Blanc – 2012. Produced from 100% Sauvignon Blanc fruit sourced from the winery’s estate in Mattituck on the North Fork of Long Island, the wine is made entirely in stainless steel tanks to preserve the fresh fruit character of this grape.

Since I had a bottle of the 2011 remaining in our cellar, I decided to taste the two wines (2012 and 2011) side by side to see how vintage variation and extra aging (for the older wine) might impact what I tasted in the glass.

Not surprisingly, the 2012 had a more pronounced nose given its (relative) youth, but the 2011 was still quite fresh despite its additional year in bottle. Instead, I attributed most of the difference between the two wines to their respective vintage conditions.

The 2011 growing year was among the wettest and rainiest in Long Island’s history, making it challenging to combat mold and mildew in the vineyard as well as to coax the grapes to full ripeness. Likely given these conditions, the citrus and herbaceous aromas, which are typically inherent in cool climate Sauvignon Blanc, were more prevalent in the 2011 vintage wine. With its slight age, the acidity in this wine seemed to have rounded out and a hint of earthiness was evident on the palate.

Conversely, during the 2012 season, Long Island was blessed with warm, dry days, which meant that grape maturity was achieved more easily. Thus, while the 2012 wine displayed notes of white grapefruit, it also offered some floral aromas and tropical fruit on the nose and palate. In spite of the warmer weather, this wine appeared to be more tart, likely due to its more recent bottling, and also offered some minerality.

I enjoyed the opportunity to evaluate these two wines together, closely comparing and contrasting their individual characteristics. And, although I slightly preferred the 2012 to the 2011, I certainly did not feel that the 2011 was over the hill, and, in fact, might have preferred the 2011 instead, if I had tasted the wines with food.

While it is more difficult to find previous vintages in the market, Union Square Wines & Spirits does appear to have the 2011 in stock. The newest release should be more readily available at retail (SRP $23.00) and is also available for purchase at the winery.

Eccoci Wine: Hard to Read, Easy to Enjoy

Eccoci_rosadoWhen I first received the Eccoci wine samples, I was a bit confused. I couldn’t quite read the script signature written across the label. Fortunately, while the logo is a bit challenging to  decipher, the wines themselves are straightforward and easy to enjoy.

Although the area near Barcelona is well known for its production of Cava and Priorat wines, the Eccoci winery is producing some unusual wines in the province of Girona. Drawing from its close proximity to France (the vineyards are only one hour south of the border), the wines are made with French grape varieties including Viognier, Marsanne, Petit Manseng, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Marselan and Petit Verdot.

Eccoci practices sustainable farming methods and, while the term leaves a lot of room for interpretation, the winery’s commitment to preserving the environment is clear. In fact, it was the first Spanish winery to be Carbon Zero certified as of 2009, only one year after its first vintage.

Eccoci currently produces four wines: Blanco (white), Rosado (rosé), Tinto Premium and Tinto Super Premium (both red blends). I was immensely impressed with the white and rosé, which displayed lovely fruit and freshness. While I liked the two reds very much, they are still quite tannic and need more time before coming into their own.

Eccoci Blanco 2011, Spain, $15.00
A blend of 50% Roussanne, 30% Viognier and 20% Petit Manseng, this wine offers up floral, musk, tangerine and peach aromas. It is dry on the medium-bodied palate with ripe peach and tangerine fruit, coupled with blossom and crushed stone notes, reminiscent of a southern Rhône white.

Eccoci Rosado 2011, Spain, $18.00
This 100% Petit Verdot rosé displays musk, berry and blossom/floral aromas. The dry palate has high acidity with berry, slight citrus, mineral and herbal characteristics, culminating in long length.

Eccoci Tinto Premium 2008, Spain, $34.00
This wine brings together 34% Marselan, 33% Merlot and 33% Cabernet Franc. It was aged for three months in new Merrain French oak barrels followed by six months in bottle before release. Berries, herbs and dried floral aromas give way to rich and ripe black cherry fruit with spice and mint notes co-mingled.

Eccoci Tinto Super Premium 2009, Spain, $48.00
A blend of 60% Marselan, 20% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc and 10% Petit Verdot, this wine was aged for 12 months in new Merrain French oak barrels, with another 12 months spent in bottle before release. Meaty with red fruit, leather and spice, the wine has high acidity, full body, firm tannins and long length.

All Dried Up: The Wines of Mister Amarone

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Image courtesy of Masi Agricola.

Some people might address Masi Agricola’s president as Signor Boscaini, but a recent book profiling the well-known Venetian wine producer refers to him as “Mister Amarone.” A leader in the Amarone denomination, it is likely that Sandro appreciates the moniker, having tirelessly worked to improve the quality of this wine since the 1950s.

Of course, some might even say that the man is all dried up. Well, not him exactly, but most of his grapes. While the process of drying grapes is de rigor for Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG, this practice is found in few other places, but Masi’s president has exported the technique both far and near. In fact, many of his wines feature a special logo, Appaxximento, Masi Expertise® coupled with Sandro’s signature, further emphasizing the winery’s commitment to this wine production style.

Boscaini’s initial efforts focused on maintaining the concentration for which Amarone has always been known, while losing the oxidized character. In this regard, he aimed to preserve Venetian tradition, while improving the wine’s quality, introducing new yeast strains that could work at higher alcohol levels and adjusting the fermentation period from 60 days to 45 days. In the 1950s, fermentations often took as long as 18 months. As a result, today’s wines are much fresher than their predecessors.

But despite technological embraces, other aspects of production remain quite traditional such as the use of wood mats on which to dry the Amarone-bound grapes. For this purpose, Masi prefers bamboo, the spherical surface of which reduces the contact between the mats and the grape skins and ensures good air flow. Whereas some producers have shifted away from this traditional approach

This delicate balance between tradition and modern practices further comes into play when controlling the environment in the drying facilities. When possible, the room’s temperature and humidity are regulated naturally, with vents opened and closed to create the ideal conditions for drying. However, when necessary, a computer takes over to provide the ideal climatic parameters. Designed by the Masi Technical Group in the 1990s, this complex system is referred to as NASA (Natural Appassimento Super Assisted).

In neighboring Friuli, Boscaini has brought the appassimento procedure to bear on the Verduzzo grape. Harvested rather late to achieve full ripeness, the grapes are then dried on racks for three weeks to concentrate the fruit and permit evaporation of the water content. These raisined grapes are fermented  on their own before being briefly aged in barriques. They are then blended with Pinot Grigio, which has been picked much earlier to retain its acidity and fermented in stainless steel. When brought together, the result is Masianco, a complex wine with full body, depth and richness.

Conversely, the appassimento process is eschewed when producing Bonacosta, a Valpolicella Classico DOC made from Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. Intended to be a fruity, young red wine, the simple production process, using non-dried grapes, retains this freshness.

Building in complexity among their Venetian reds, is Masi’s Campofiorin. Initially created in 1964, this wine had previously been called a ripasso, but Boscaini feels that this term has become corrupted and opts instead to label it as a Rosso del Veronese IGT and refers to it instead as a Supervenetian.  Instead of conducting a more common technique of using the wine equivalent of an old tea bag, Masi dries grapes specifically for inclusion in the Campfiorin. Regardless of its name or label, the wine falls somewhere in between the fruity character of the Bonacosta and the big, Baroque style of an Amarone.

Masi also produces several different Amarone wines, including its entry-level, Costasera and Costaserva Riserva, as well as several different single-vineyard wines. However, the single-vineyard wines are only produced in excellent vintages, when conditions are right not only during harvest, but also once the grapes have been picked.

Farther afield, Boscaini’s imprint can be found in Argentina, where Masi launched a partnership with Norton in 1995. Here, Corvina grapes receive the same royal, dried-grape treatment and are then blended with Malbec. Appropriately named Passo Doble, this is a decidedly unusual and modern wine.  All dried up? Maybe. But, all washed up? Never! Mister Amarone strikes again!

Grand Cru Grapevine: France’s Southwest ~ The United Nations in a Glass (November 2012)

Just a proverbial stone’s throw from Bordeaux, the wines of southwest France offer an interesting perspective. Located south of Bordeaux and north of Languedoc, winemaking in this region is not new; it dates to 125 BCE. Yet, while Bordeaux has held fame and fortune for centuries, these smaller appellations cover a vast area, but have been largely ignored…until now.

Despite the area’s relative obscurity, many of France’s heralded grapes are given space in these vineyards. Bordeaux’s key grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet France and Merlot – are joined by the Rhône Valley’s Syrah and Beaujolais’ Gamay. Even more remarkable, these same grapes come together in a single glass, proving that, at least viticulturally, we can all learn to get along.

Meanwhile, other varieties grown in the region are found nowhere else – Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng, Mauzac and Arrufiac are among the top whites, with Fer Servadou, Prunelard and Négrette leading the reds. And the vast diversity is impressive; wines range from dry whites and sweet whites to tannic reds and softer, easy-drinking reds to sparkling wines produced in ancient methods that predate Champagne’s rise to prominence.

Those appellations which might draw some recognition include: Cahors, Madiran, Gaillac and Jurançon (not to be confused with the Jura, located in northeast France). However, names like Marcillac, Brulhois and Fronton are likely known to only to a few die-hard, franco-oenophiles. But, these are all names you should consider getting to know.

Why? Well, for starters, the reputation may not precede them, but the quality is certainly there. And, as the land of gastronomy – foie gras, duck cassoulet and delicious cheeses – you can be sure that these folks know their food and wine, meaning that the wines are extremely food-friendly. Moreover, as already mentioned, there is a wealth of wine styles from which to choose. But, if that’s not enough, perhaps their price tags will convince you. Of the six tasting notes included below, all are under $25.00, most are $12.00 or less and one even has a suggested retail price of $5.00.

So, truly, there is no reason not to embrace these magnanimous wines.

Domaine Tariquet Classic 2011, Côtes de Gasgogne IGP, France, $9.00
45% Ugni Blanc, 35% Colombard, 10% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Gros Manseng
Family-run since 1912, Domaine Tariquet also produces the local spirit, Armagnac. Melon and citrus aromas greet the nose. Dry with medium+ acidity, this wine shows flavors of apple and melon with a leesy character lingering in the long finish. 

Domaine de la Chanade La Coste Blanche 2011, Gaillac AOP, France, $5.00
80% Loin de l’Oeil, 20% Mauzac
Among the newer producers, Domaine de la Chanade was established in 1997. With citrus and pronounced floral notes, this wine displays piercing acidity on the dry, light-bodied palate, with honey, apple and almond flavors.

Domaine Le Roc Le Roc la Saignée 2011, Fronton AOP, France, $12.00
Located near Toulouse, Domaine Le Roc has created a rosé that can stand up to steak! A blend of Négrette and Syrah, this wine spends four to five months on the lees. It has a red wine nose with black fruit, slight herbs and meat, all of which persist on the palate. Dry with a fruity attack, the medium tannins are especially perceptible on the finish.

Domaine du Moulin Méthode Gaillacoise 2011, Gaillac AOP, France, $18.00
The Hirissou family has been making wine for three centuries. This sparkling wine is produced from 100% Mauzac and offers up yeasty, floral and apple aromas. On the palate, it is slightly off-dry, but finishes very cleanly with yeast and apple flavors and a nice, creamy mousse.

Vignobles Arbeau Château Coutinel Tradition 2009, Fronton AOP, France, $9.00
60% Négrette, 20% Gamay, 10% Syrah, 10% Malbec
Vignobles Arbeau was created in 1878. A fruity nose displays aromas of black berries, floral and herbs. The palate is dry with bright acidity, cherry flavors and ripe, medium tannins.

Plaimont Producteurs Saint Albert 2011, Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh AOP, France, $24.00
Petit Manseng, Gros Manseng, Petit Corbu, Arrufiac (percentages not stated)
Plaimont Producteurs was established when three co-ops came together in 1979. This dessert wine shows notes of peach, yeast and honey on the nose. Its medium sweet palate is decidedly a dessert wine, but, with medium+ to high acidity, it is not cloying. Peaches, honey and yeast all persist on the palate throughout the wine’s long length.