Archives for November, 2010

Watershed Wines teams up with Indian label

Margaret River winemaker Watershed Premium Wines announces a joint venture with India’s Mittal Vineyards.

Mittal Vineyards will be launching their brand Silk Route, a range of fine Indian wines with the technical assistance and know-how provided by Watershed Premium Wines.

Geoff Barrett, Managing Director of Watershed Premium Wines said: “Mittal Vineyards will market and distribute Watershed wines throughout India. Our joint venture has acknowledged the excellence of Watershed’s wines and winemaking processes and that contribute towards Mittal’s future products.

“This places Watershed in an ideal position to participate in the ongoing growth of this important international wine market and reinforces Watershed’s commitment to grow its brand throughout the South East Asian market.”

Although the development of vineyards has flattened over the past two years, and production has exceeded sales demand, over the medium term the domestic Indian wine industry is expected to show strong growth.

”We at Mittal Vineyards are really excited about this venture and are looking forward to launching Premium Wines in India along with the Watershed Premium Wines Portfolio. We believe they will complement each other well in India’s dynamic market with the help of the excellent team set in place by Mr Barrett at Watershed which can be seen by the cascade of awards being added to Watershed’s walls” said Ankush Mittal, Director Operations and Marketing.

The vineyards are situated in the hills of Nashik, about 200 kilometres north of Mumbai. The winery is being built in the famous Dindori district. Watershed Premium Wines have entered into a technical collaboration & marketing assistance agreement with Mittal.

Mittal Vineyard’s website is short on detail at present but boasts plenty of high end ideas and claims such as “Premium Quality Wines, Coming Soon from the vineyards of the Mittal Vineyards Estate at Nashik, India, the Vitis vinifera city of South Asia (Also referred to as the Bordeaux or Napa Valley of India)”.

Amit Mittal, Managing Director and Chairman of Mittal Vineyards said: “Margaret River has produced the winner of the prestigious Jimmy Watson Memorial Trophy in two of the past three years and has demonstrated that it is a world class producer of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet blends.”

He has hooked up with a suitable producer here. Watershed’s 2008 Awakening Cabernet Sauvignon has recently won three gold medals and three trophies in the space of one month in Australian wine shows, showing how excellently Margaret River grows cabernet.

In early October Australia’s largest maker, Treasury Wine Estates, launched their Wolf Blass range through the Delhi-based builders the Pearls Group. Founded by business man Nirmal Singh, it’s primarily a real estate group expanding into education, hospitals and imports of Australian beer, wine and food products.

Mittal Vineyard are a subsidiary of Dooars Transport which has been in logistics in South Asia for over 50 years and

Rocca di Frassinello: Big new venture, Italian wine

The drive from Montalcino to visit Rocca di Frassinello was from the heights of Tuscany towards the sea near Grosseto. Grape growing in this part of Italy continues the adventure.

This is an aggregate of properties now reaching 500 hectares with 75 planted, done over the period 1997-1999. There is room for expansion.

It would be imagined that this powerfully thought-through tenuta had a magnificent opening on June 30, 2007. I wished I was there.

But this Domaines Lafite Rothschild (Bordeaux)-Castellare in Castellina (Chianti Classico) joint venture has been cleverly designed; in parts with its conservative Tuscan thinking yet in other ways very much out there-chic, modern, even colour coordinated.

Castellare owner Paulo Panerai had a small dalliance by planting some sangiovese on this coastal strip 20 km north of the Grosseto in the early ’90s, whereas the heavyweights (Ornellaia, Sassicaia and crew) have shone with Bordeaux-origin grapes plus some syrah.

You see the patter went that sangiovese would neither grow well nor produce high end red wine here akin to its cousins in Chianti or Montalcino.

The Tuscan thought is that sangiovese must struggle during growth and that its major natural environment to do this is in its existing homelands.

I am not entirely convinced on this but am firmly of the opinion that the grape variety’s crop load has much to do annually with quality in the bottle. Growth with this variety is hardly backward.

Paulo Panerai proved this generalisation wrong, as his sangiovese test site provided ample ammunition to proceed with a larger planting; also including cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and petit verdot. A small patch of vermentino has since been added in front of the winery.

Three more farms were purchased for that planting, essentially old olive groves and country with a previous history of minerals and mining, sheep country and marshland not previously taken to viticulture. But that is a similar story for Bolgheri, Scansarno and Montecucco.

That’s where the Bordeaux producer Domaines Rothschild joined in the plans and has since conspired with Panerai to make French sensed Italian-style international wines typical of the coastal terroirs (the sea is 10km away) from this region.

From my visit and tastings the wine reliance is on sangiovese with support from oak-tensed blending parcels of cabernet sauvignon and merlot.

And another wine, Baffonero is conceived along the lines of challenging the supremacy of Ornellaia’s Masseto merlot, with super-charged oak handling and assertive, fleshy tannins as found in a few garargiste style merlots from Pomerol.

Unlike typical left bank Bordeaux or the Bolgheri clans, this tenutas major wine output centres around the highest quality sangiovese that can be grown in this new terroir. Driving past the vineyards post the harvest, it is clearly easy to see how much is left behind when harvest comes, as the reject bunches still litter the vineyard floor.

In the case of the Baffonero vineyard, the bunch selection is sequential, first by removing down to one bunch per shoot (merlot often produces three), and eventually removing all bunches save one for the vine, in pursuit of hyper-concentration of flavour, ripeness and high levels of ripe skin tannin.

Rocca di Frassinello is also a statement about balance; that of colour and harmony as the design skills of young architect Renzo Piano permeate the daily activities of the winery staff.

They drive towards the place of business to see a modern winery on the hill painted orange (earthy) and see the doors and window trim (bright green) as perverse tints of the surrounding landscape.

The winery in its different levels occupies 9000 square metres, with the cellar door section morphing into a huge flat roof top. Part of this is used for the grape preparation, under the cover of umbrellas, the hand harvested grapes are drawn up to the roof top to be berry sorted, then dropped by gravity through the roof into fermenters below.

Piano designed this winery to have few windows, preferring on a central light source originating from the roof and making its focal point the floor of the barrel room. This could be an ampitheatre but each shelf is occupied by barrels.

As winemaker, Florentine-born Massimo Cassegrande, notes “this is the eyes of the wine”. The large cellar is kept partly dark, naturally holding 14-15 oC in winter, stretching to 19-20 oC in summer without any environment control.

The 2007 wines from the property were reviewed last July 16; but I was fortunate to try the 2006 release not previously sold in Australia.

The entry, unwooded wine is Poggio alla Guardia, here tasted was 2008 (90), 14%, a fruity, generous wine, expressive in its main component of merlot (45%), then cabernet (40%), a touch of petit verdot and the rest sangiovese. Though it’s looked down on as a basic wine, it has full personality for accessible drinking and loads of ripe varietal character (leaf and black fruits).

The next level, Le Sughere di Frassinello 2006 (92), 13.5%, is strong on the nose, oak cedar, no traditional fast-aging sangiovese notes, fruit sweet then long and well woven tannins from 50% sangiovese, 25% each of merlot and cabernet. New oak use is 30%.

Rocca di Frassinello 2006 (94), 13.5%, is a wine driven by its concentration, then around that comes the longer 100% new oak aging, so that the plump fruit takes on a chocolate and mocha coffee aroma, stretching to a drying, weighty palate (60% sangiovese, 20% each of merlot and cabernet).

The 2007 has been modified to more sangiovese, 65%, 20% cabernet for backbone, 10% merlot and 5% syrah.

The 2007 Baffonero was retasted: this is very ripe, 13.5%, very deep coloured, supple and fruit sweet.

On ageworthiness Massimo says “my opinion is that Poggio alla Guardia, it’s a bottle that can live at least five years from the release, Le Sughere di Frassinello from ten to twelve years, Rocca di Frassinello and Baffonero, probably, twenty or more years.” So we start the wait.

I came away with a quaint Italian descriptive phrase for wine with obvious elevated volatile acidity caused by extended oak aging. It’s the “balsamic effect”.

Bruno Giacosa: Champion of Neive, Barbaresco, top arneis, Italian wines

Next to the small town of Barbaresco I hesitantly drove around the hilltop town of Neive seeking out the cantina of Bruno Giacosa (producer of wines and sparkling wines).

But the steep slopes are better for growing nebbiolo than extending this hill town so I eventually found his advertised office address, and that turned out to be the warehouse and packing building (again a very old one).

So Bruno’s production facility was soon located elsewhere in Neive, and I was greeted by a smiling, quietly spoken assistant winemaker, Roberto Garbarino. He had done past vintages at Nautilus and Rapaura Vintners in New Zealand, so he knew the sorts of New World questions to expect on this visit.

The first intrigue was the level of the production of white wine on this property. It’s made from arneis, the hero grape of the Roero region which grows this stuff.

Giacosa makes 110,000 bottles, mainly for the US market, and now it comes from 40 small growers. This varietal has been made here for 35 years.

Bruno, now 81, was previously a wine broker before he commenced to invest in vineyards. So he knew his way around the vineyards, both good ones and bad ones.

Total production is 400,000 bottles; Barolo is 30,000, Barbaresco is also 30,000 bottles.

His wines now come under two banners: Falletto di Bruno Giacosa which are his own vineyards (24 hectares) and the more simpler label Bruno Giacosa which is grape grower supplied.

“The numerous growers have only hand shake contracts, and continue to supply white grapes spot on specification for our style. It’s the easiest part of the vintage, one month before harvest we start sampling, and all the grapes come in at expected ripeness,” adds Roberto.

Bruno Giacosa Roero Arneis 2009, (90) 13%, USD 22, is delightful white wine, pale emerald green which glints in the glass, has a fresh nose of international standard, fermentation perfume from cultured yeast, then a clean, juicy palate, mild flavoured and tight, also dry.

The wine is bottled in the fifth month after vintage (February) and sold thereafter.

The other big grape grower supplied wine is in fact a sparkling; traditional method vintage dated pinot noir, aged three years on less, supplied from the cooler sites in Lombardia’s Oltrepo Pavese.

Bruno Giacosa Spumante Extra Brut 2006, (87), 13%, USD 30, has been made for 40 years, so no doubt this modest style has a firm following of the plainer types of pinot fizz. Production is 30,000 bottles, not made by whole bunch pressing, left very dry at 4 g/L residual sugar.

Bruno Giacosa Spumante Rose 2007, (90), 13%, USD 35, is lovely wine, it has personality from its smart base wine making, ample yeast aging, and now a building complexity, sugar 5 g/L. 5000 bottles were made, and it looks like the winemaking was a little more venturesome here.

Bruno Giacosa Nebbiolo d’Alba Valmaggiore 2008, (88),14%, USD 25, is not wine from the south but a compilation of growers from Monteu Roero, Montaldo Roero and Vezza d’Alba; a northern end blend; it’s very good, some vines are over 50 years old, fruity, soft, plump but ripe.

Falletto di Bruno Giacosa Asili Barbaresco 2007 (91), 14.5%, USD 90, was from a vineyard supplying grapes for a long time, and 20 years ago Bruno bought it. There are five owners of the Asili vineyard. Has cherry colour, a little dumb on nose, herbs but a very ripe, very big mouthful of tannin, though they remain powdery. This is a high sand content vineyard (20 per cent).

Roberto calls this a wine with fruitiness and balance; it finds agreement with drinkers from northern Europe, particularly with those drinking the wine at 5-7 years of age (2012-2014). Such buyers describe the wine as “classical”.

Producers experiencing the very ripe 2007 vintage have seen many of their Piemontese nebbiolos quite a deal chewy and hyped on richness; and a few have strayed up to the 15% alcohol mark. They are big wines, not entirely characteristic of milder-mannered nebbiolo.

Falletto di Bruno Giacosa Le Rocce White Label Barolo 2007, (96), 14.5%, USD125, cherry but brown edges; has nose intensity and is sweet smelling, it’s nose power and cleverly anticipated ripeness, the taste is tending to bitterness, that’s how concentrated the wine is, and the tannins are powdery – suggests softness but 2-3 years until the powder receives and the palate silk appears.

Falletto di Bruno Giacosa Le Rocce White Label Barolo 2005, (92), 14.5%, USD 125, has mature colour, spice yet a little closed, and it tastes like a fast maturing vintage, it is soft now, so the acidity comes up to greet the finish, a sure sign, and it has the right balance.

Falletto di Bruno Giacosa Le Rocce Red Label Barolo 2005, (96), 14.5%, USD 150, is cherry-purple with browns, has a lot of character (three days breathing), barley sugar, sweet, honey ripeness, then a long silky palate, all in line, not unlike the balance that great pinot noir can accomplish. This is a pinot reminder.

White Label is the standard bottling, Red Label is regarded as Riserva standard, the last releases of Red being in 2004. There will be some in 2007 too.

So driving up the hill of Neive (where Bruno Giacosa’s cellars are not found) I had cause to dwell more on these great wines. And muse that this is probably the reason that the tasting panel at Gambero Rosso gave this great man “Winery of the Year” for 2010. The wine which GR really liked was Asili Vineyard 2005.

Bartolo Mascarello Eccentric nebbiolo winemaking

There is always a terrific amount of respect to be had for an eccentric style of nebbiolo winemaking; and I found it at Bartolo Mascarello, with winemaking conducted like a traditional orchestra by its owner, Maria Teresa Mascarello.

But then it was at via Roma, number 17 in Barolo village that Maria Teresa produced large barrel samples of 2009 and 2008 Barolos, a terrific opportunity to get a handle on emerging wines at younger ages than other producers who poured from older bottled vintages.

2010 was not testable, it was on skins.

She says “this is an artisan cantina, the nebbiolo from the four highly respected sites are simply harvested when deemed ripe and the origin wines co-fermented. There is no effort to separate between the 5 hectares of sites in La Morra, Bussia, Cannubi and Serralunga (0.2 ha), purchased in 1918 or since”.

2009 Barolo out of big barrel: finished malo-lactic fermentation in August this year-quite recent really, so not long ago SO2 had been added for the second time (and Maria Teresa went to great pains to estimate what minimal SO2 went in).

I felt she needed more or could be more precautionary. But this is her cellar.

This wine was quite bland in colour (a nebbiolo thing), nose dumb from recent handling (again no real problem) yet the palate was long and fine, some bitter almond fruit intensity which was great, and a wine quite drinkable now.

Why age longer in barrel? Well that is the tradition practised by such artisans, probably part of a formula yet well tested.

The 2009 was not an intensely concentrated vintage, so that’s why a new Piemontese recruit like me would be tipping this wine to be a bit short. However, after a wrap over the knuckles I learnt that the house style was about elegance, not power which comes slowly with aging in bulk.

2008 Barolo out of another big barrel (Maria Teresa produces a ladder, climbing on to the tall barrel to collect our tasting samples).

This wine has established itself some more while in barrel longer. Part of the intensity of this wine is the vintage – it’s a cracker. The wine is a class act: complex nose down the floral, honey, barley sugar direction (ripeness on the nose), has a long palate shape, gentle warmth, very, very fine on the tannins, has nothing astringent yet the flavour goes on forever.

I cannot understand why this wine needs another year in barrel before its bottled. Probably nebbiolo heresy to suggest such an act! Here goes: it’s the drying out of the wine, and its fruit to some extent which causes some decent astringency once this wine is sold!

Going back to the artisan principles, Barolo in this cantina is just progressively aged before it is sold, and all is expected to come naturally with the least of intervention. Malo-lactic may be short, delayed or prolonged, and it all happens when the wine does it. No forcing cultures here, just the waiting bacteria sitting in the barrels from previous wines.

“It will happen in the wine life cycle. There are no pressures of the market here, this business makes 30,000-35,000 bottles each year, supporting the family and workers,” says Maria Teresa.

Each wine spends two years in oak (barrels 1500-3500 litres) which are up to 34 years old, then goes through assembly and bottling by August in the third year (before vintage), then receives bottle age up to its four years, and then sale commences. Magnums receive a year extra.

I did not taste 2007. Bartolo Mascarello Barolo 2006, (96), 14%, USD 100, is cherry with the brown edges (nebbiolo!), nose is expressive, the total package of traditional funk (including brett), herbs, honey, mint, a very powerful palate, violets, big tannin though not yet settled.

Bartolo Mascarello Barolo 2005, (94), 14%, USD 90, is mild coloured, has the toffee ripeness, roses, followed by the strong skin aromas (must have been a decent maceration), has svelte tannins, softness and elegance (opposite to the slower-evolving 2006).

Later we sat in the wine library room. Its starts 1955, 1958, 1964, 1974, 1985, 1988, 1996, 1999, 2000, and there were 2007s added. Usually each great year starts as 1000 bottles plus magnums. Wines are sold off to restaurants over time on request.

Recorking occurs every 20 years.

Colorado-born Alan Emil Manley, and cellar hand is our contact with the English-speaking world, working every vintage here since 1993. “Here it is all about tradition. We even practice the ancient practice of passing the freisa (a less well-known Piemontese grape) over the lees and pomace of the nebbiolo to pick up tannin,” he explains.

The following day, Bartolo Mascarello 2006 had collected 3+ glasses for the 2011 Gambero Rosso awards (the most authorative national assessment review in Italy; only 30-odd were awarded for next year), but the media-shy Maria Teresa asked Alan to travel to Rome for the presentation ceremony.

Maria Teresa lost her father, the famous Barolo man Bartolo Mascarello in March 2006, so her first vintage in control was that year. Her dad had been confined to a wheelchair for an extended period following an industrial accident.

To contribute in a special way he hand-painted labels, not as an artist but more as a naive art imitator (he swore he could not paint). Today over 300 colourful pictorial labels are in existence, cleverly added to any sales over a dozen bottles.

To read more of the intrigue of older Bartolo Mascarello and its history: or follow Barolo di Barolo

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