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Pass some Etna Passopisciaro

Mount Etna, Sicily’s spectacular volcano, is home to luxury wine growing. The mountain villages, known here as contrade, on its northern side, are excellent participants in the move towards fineness in red wine.

You see you need an address from these villages: Passopisciaro, Randazzo, Castiglione di Sicilia, Linguaglossa or Solicchiata to be an Etnean player in the steady race for wine fame. This is nerello mascalese country.

Wines from volcanic regions such as this high part of Sicily are on trend. They are excellent participants in the move towards fineness in red wine.

Italian entrepreneur Andrea Franchetti bought an old run-down winery (about 200 yo), last used at the time in 1947, which he renovated in 2002, and now our tasting tour party is drinking Passopisciaro wines there.

Icon wine Franchetti- a petit verdot-coda volpe blend

Icon-Franchetti- serious deep tannin, petit verdot-cesanese d’affile blend

The house vineyard, at 800m up the mountain looks a treat, thousands of silver flashers repel birds; harvest is just starting, the chardonnay is off, having malo-lactic fermentation (in a warmed room) and the nerello mascalese is about to arrive to be crushed as 2016 red.

Our Sicily wine tours take guests through the villages of Etna, offering introduction-only visits to wineries, only some open to the public.  If you’d like to find out more about this exclusive guided experience for lovers of wine and food, you can call me direct on +61 427 705 391 or email denisew@uncorkedandcultivated.com.au.

We are at Passopisciaro to be greeted by their affable marketer, Letizia Patane whose forebears made wine on the mountain for the past century. And as she expresses, “Etna as a production region is an island within an island, though a high, cool climate one.”

So we get the immediate impression the place is seen by local makers to be entirely different from production regions elsewhere on the island without black, rocky, knarled and moon-like landscapes.

We hear the only white wine of Passo is chardonnay (an exceptional world example), and that there are red vineyard plantings at varying elevations (500-1000m).

The higher you grow nerello the finer the wine (read that as more linear texture, less fullness), the later and harder to ripen and be fully ripe. At about 800m proper growth of red grapes is halted. Nerello in dialect means light black and wine colour is similar.

We taste the contrada Rampante (700 m) and contrada Chiappemacine (500m) among the five; Porciara, Sciaranouva and Guardiola.

PASSOPISCIARO DRINKS IGP

Passobianco 2015 is the famed chardonnay, such a good drink, fermented and aged in big barrels (700-2000 litre), so little oak shows, lovely green, spearmint fruit, never fat, overt or stonefruit like, taut, trimmed to the bone of acidity, totally linear and mineralising in the mouth. A triumph. Harvested during 20 passes on sunny days when the diurnal swing can be 25 degrees.

Passopisciaro age chardonnay in large oak

Passopisciaro age chardonnay in large oak

Chardonnays made this way are unusual in Australia though the technique is very sound. It minimises the influence of oak in today’s sommelier-led revolution where anything ‘apparently artifical’ does not go down. Released next February.

Passorosso 2014 is the estate blend of wines not reserved for the single vineyard contrade bottlings (specific elevations too). This is good; lovely fresh aromatics of the mountain herbs; laurel, bay and a swish of black fruits, lithe, light bodied, long flavoured. The 100% nerello mascalese Passo is known for, seen as a first level wine, not an introductory wine.

Passopisciaro's Passorosso nerello mascalese level 1

Passopisciaro’s Passorosso nerello mascalese level 1

Passopisciaro R 2014 is a single contrada vineyard selection from Ramparte; the high elevation gives more linearity than body, and bright acidity keeps the taste humming along. Nice wine, understated, long liver, 7-15 years’ potential even at 15% alcohol.

Passopisciaro -Contrada Rampante single vineyard nerello

Passopisciaro Contrada Ramparte –single vineyard nerello mascalese

Passopisciaro C 2014 is the next tasted single vineyard wine from lower elevation, the Chiappemacine vineyard; more the mouthful of nerello showing more body, a direct result of richness derived from warmer ripening conditions in the same year. Great on black fruits.

Passopisciaro - Contrada Ramparte-single vineyard nerello mascalese

Passopisciaro  Chiappemacine — single vineyard nerello mascalese

This is outstanding wine country but like any region where the benefits are great (outstanding wines), the growing process and more important, the ripening phase is very exacting to extract great nerello.

Passopisciaro climb that ripening peak each harvest without extravagant winemaking.

 

Crushing grapes on the Produttori high street

Via Torino in Barbaresco village is just a short 300-metre street. Yet it houses two powerhouse wineries in Produttori del Barbaresco at one end, and Gaja in the middle.

The Produttori de Barbaresco fascinates me with its successes. It controls 15% of the DOCG, and more single crus, nine, than any other owner in the three villages; Treiso, Nieve or Barbaresco, which constitute the wine denomination Barbaresco.

Prices of this Italian wine category keep firming so let’s discover why.

The Produttori del Barbaresco, a co-operative, consists of 54 member farmers, is successful and as Uncorked’s visit was on the first day of the 2016 harvest, we met a few of them as they lined their tractors in the street to deliver grapes.

Our Italy wine tours take guests through the hills of Piedmont offering introduction-only visits to wineries, only some open to the public.  If you’d like to find out more about this exclusive guided experience for lovers of wine and food, you can call me direct on +61 427 705 391 or email denisew@uncorkedandcultivated.com.au.

Produttori growers on the charge to deliver nebbiolo – Day 1 harvest 2016 on Uncorked and Cultivated’s visit to Barbaresco village.

But Barbaresco (the wine) and Produttori are all about a great drink, made from the thick skinned, leathery actually, nebbiolo grape. It’s the street hero.

Harvested nebbiolo-10 kg crates here

Harvested nebbiolo-10 kg crates here

Drinkers in the know come from all over the world to see this wine town perched on the Barbaresco hill alongside its tower, built there since the Middle Ages to spy on visitors, and past insurgents. Note the tower on their label.

Uncorked’s tours take you where the real taste action is, and on this day, we meet the Produttori board chief, and head winemaker, an affable, historically-knowledgeable Aldo Vacca.

Aldo Vacca CEO & Author

Produttori’s Aldo Vacca CEO-Author

PRODUTTORI NEBBIOLO TASTE

The reason for nebbiolo addiction is simple for this Master of Wine to digest. The flavours of this grape persist in your mouth, they are subtle and never simple or capable of drowning your food. Nebbiolo is light bodied, brisk in tannin and ever present in acidity.

The palate can be extended, not dulled as overt wine fruit jam does from warmer climes, then lead you on to the enjoyment of savoury notes.

Your dinner is not sweet but savoury after all? This is wine pairing. Juicy meats or charred beef or north African spice for example. Food savouriness + flavours which tread lightly. Yum.

DRINK PRODUTTORI

PDB Langhe Nebbiolo 2014 Always the budget option to get into nebbiolo for your first time, an easy drink made from younger vines in grower vineyards. Sold earlier as a non-aging style.

PDB Barbaresco 2013 The new vintage just out for sale now. The real deal wine of the Produttori, a blend of all growers’ grapes not including single vineyard crus (the nine).

Barbaresco 2013

Produttori Barbaresco 2013

PDB Barbaresco 2012 The vintage just gone, very lithe and flavoursome, capable of 5-7 years easy aging to plateau its drinking.

Barbaresco 2012

Produttori Barbaresco 2012

PDB Barbaresco 2011 A vintage showing some aged character so well advanced now. A good example for the visitors to “get” how nebbiolo projects as it ages.

PDB Rabaja Riserva 2009 These are regarded as the reserves of Produttori, and they overlap as families’ single vineyard crus, basically the best expression of the grape in a range of terroirs that occur, and are captured from the three village expanse which is DOCG Barbaresco.

Rabaja cru 2009

Produttori’s Rabaja cru 2009

Grower families Antona, Arossa, Casetta, Lembo, Lignana, Manzone, Rocca, Vacca, Vezza are in this blend this year.

The Produttori takes only nebbiolo grapes – no barbera, dolcetto or pelaverga, or no white variety. Just the top of the pinnacle red variety which keeps the quality and wine purity. Commendable.

DOCG – is the physical and hence geographical boundary of Barbaresco wine producers; production must lie inside or one cannot use the name; Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita.

Certification of a Co-Operative

Certification of a Co-Operative

 

Rocca di Frassinello: read about Maremma’s finest wine

Renzo Piano has no trouble putting a spell on my thoughts. A moment of reflection brings two words; Tuscan orange and green, colours of the winery at Rocca di Frassinello, Genoa-born Renzo’s architectural invention.

Approaching Rocca di Frassinello winery on Uncorked and Cultivated’s Tuscany Wine Tour 2016

Our Italy wine tours take guests through the depths of Tuscany, offering introduction-only visits to wineries, some open to the public.  If you’d like to find out more about this exclusive guided experience for lovers of wine and food, you can call me direct on +61 427 705 391 or email denisew@uncorkedandcultivated.com.au.

There it is; sliced, carved and integrated into a 60 hectare Maremma vineyard landscape 50 km north on the Gavorrano coast of the Tuscan town of Grosetto. Planting from 1996 to 2004 has included the staple local grape sangiovese transported from owner’s Paolo Panerai Chianti Classico Castellina property of foundation plants. Added is cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah, and recently vermentino, now the goto white drink of all Tuscany.

However Rocca were not the first growing grapes here on the old tin mining, grazing and once malaria-ridden country. The Etruscians were pre-Roman, as recent small necropolis excavations have revealed. But maybe not growing sangiovese then? One day we will know.

Etruscian Urn-Necropolis of San Germano

Etruscian Urn-Necropolis of San Germano

Rocca through its winemakers, and grape whisperers have trodden lightly with the mix. This is about respect for local sangiovese, a tough variety, hard to get excellent responses, is given a high priority to grow best, show its naturally grippy tannin to ripen to the top of that expected. Work hard, ripen. So as in all Tuscany it is a late finisher, cranky but fulfilling to get there, causing some lost bunches along the way. That’s cool if a few end up on the ground.

Colleague & Rocca Winemaker Massimo Cassegrande

Colleague & Rocca Winemaker Massimo Cassegrande

What would you drink from Rocca?

Well sangiovese and international variety blends with increasing levels of oak time, fruit strips and time investment. This is in common with a Bordeaux Chateau approach of scaling price and perceived quality – Rocca is a half share venture with Domaines Rothschild in Pauillac. That’s the labelling. All wines are DOC Maremma Toscana.

Entry stage is the unwooded (cement tank aged, an increasing trend) Poggio alla Guardia 2014; 50% cabernet sauvignon, 30% sangiovese, 20% merlot, nice and rounded, fruity, soft, easy, drink early and don’t concentrate too hard; that’s the intention. Smash it down.

The Ornello 2013 is drinking and softening very well; created from 2006 to take advantage of what the syrah grown here can provide for your drink. Try 40% sangiovese, 20% cabernet, 20% merlot, 20% syrah to make a successful rounded wine; look for the chocolate such is the great ripeness.

Le Sughere di Frassinello 2013 is the deputy wine to the top property wine. Think 50% sangiovese, 25% cabernet, 25% merlot; a terrific wine to handle some aging time though long is not needed; cedary, red-fruited, silky tannins and long on taste. Shaped by some master sangiovese blenders here.

Le Sughere di Frassinello 2013

Le Sughere di Frassinello 2013

Rocca di Frassinello 2013 is on song now, very deep colour alongside its brothers, so expect little change unless age kicks in 3-5 years time. It is well composed; layered, cherry fruit, from 65% sangiovese, 25% cabernet, 10% merlot, some leafiness, refreshing is the brightness of the fruit, just outstanding, nicely wound tannin from 18 months in barrel; just a super Maremma wine. Needs you to drink one.

Rocca di Frassinello 2013

Rocca di Frassinello 2013

Tuscany is a battleground for grand wines called Super Tuscans since the 90s. By old definition all the past wines just reviewed are Super Tuscan as sangiovese-international variety blends. So Super Super Tuscan is a greater category now.

One perverse result is Baffonero 2013; a creation since 2007 made totally of merlot, grown extremely and heavily emphasised in detailed winemaking which could be repeated from Bordeaux’s hyper-expensive Pomerol merlots. The leader in Tuscany is Ornellaia’s Massetto, so here is Rocca’s contender.

Baffonero 2013

Baffonero 2013

Baffonero is very dense, deliberately concentrated by its viticulture, extreme, layers of fruits, coffee and cacao, new oak sweetness, powdery tannins, many but soft and round. That’s a deep play on merlot.

No doubt the Etruscians did not make merlot, just early versions of sangiovese which lasted a few days.

Champagne: bubbles plus

Champagne is a terrific wine sparkling region, now UNESCO-listed. There are so many bubble makers.

And Uncorked’s mission for travellers is to visit a clutch of houses of bubbles, take happy groups into very dark and cold places, then emerge into sunlight to drink the fizz they make.

Easy.

In 2016 the Champagne visit list read: Bollinger,  Canard-Duchene, Charles Heidsieck, Krug, Pol Roger, Taittinger, Tresors de Champagne Boutique, Veuve Fourny and Veuve Clicquot. A good geographic selection.

Some are corporate makers (think Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy-LVMH), some are collectives (Tresors) and the rest are private family businesses. All types comprise Champagne and there are many tastes.

The cultural side of this writer says Champagne drinkers need to appreciate all offers from all houses (if there is time to taste everything); or better still visit Champagne for some structured indulgence and first-hand plays.

Old pinot noir clos in Vertus

Old pinot noir clos in Vertus

Champagne bubbles are great levellers. Of course it is the national drink in cities like Reims or Epernay, and again in the quaint flower-box lined villages like Verzenay and Vertus.

And these collections of picture-perfect stone cottage aggregations are dotted all over the Champagne landscape. The production around each village is defined in the appellation, by its boundaries (just like a shire or city boundary). One is called Chouilly.

Champagne has 33,000 hectares of grapes in the Champagne-Ardennes prefecture, selling 315 million bottles a year. As regions go, only Languedoc and Bordeaux sell more bottles.

So there is an appellation of Chouilly which is defined as grand cru for grower payment purposes (sold grapes); this village produces mainly chardonnay.

A top presentation came from Chouilly grower-producer Carol Champion of Roland Champion showing off a great Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut Carte Blanche NV (all chardonnay, 2012 bottling) at the Tresors Boutique.

Tresors Boutique Reims

Tresors de Champagne Boutique in Reims; manager Laura Junker pouring

There are entities who buy grapes (negociant brands) because they grow too little, those who sell grapes (growers) to negociants and those who make Champagne from just the grapes they grow (grower brands). The small and the large.

Veuve Clicquot is large, Veuve Fourny is small. Both make different wine. (Veuve is French for widow by the way).

Veuve Clicquot in Reims presented their standard drop, Yellow Label Brut NV, with a label colour you cannot miss, so bright it is in one’s face. And it was impossible to resist the more elite La Grande Dame 2008 (contains 8 grand cru villages), lovely, lithe, memorable.

Veuve Clicquot on show-Reims

Veuve Clicquot on show-Reims

Veuve Fourny’s Charles Fourny, part of the small concern, showed with family passion Grande Reserve Brut Premier Cru NV from his native village of Vertus (2012 bottling, 80% chardonnay, 20% pinot noir). From a chardonnay village; lithe, long and delicate.

Veuve Fourny- grower chardonnay maker in Vertus

Veuve Fourny- grower in Vertus

On the Avenue de Champagne in Epernay, at Pol Roger’s most drinkable address, poured were two of the now-saluted 2008 harvest wines, Blanc de Blancs and Rose, both definingly different, delicious, deep and positively enchanting to the mouth. Rose has body.

Magnificant 2008 vintage chardonnay-Pol Roger

Magnificant 2008 chardonnay-Pol Roger

Nearby in Ay, after touring the underground tunnels that store reserve wines in magnum size quantities, Sonia de la Giraudiere from Bollinger poured two glorious vintages, 2005 and 2002 which epitomise oxidative-style base wine fermentations in old barrels, the  Grande Annee and then RD (recently disgorged or older vintage yeast removed and sold later).

Bollinger Chateau Ay

Bollinger Chateau in Ay

At Ludes, which is in the countryside on the Montagne de Reims, Canard-Duchene’s Aurelie Lelarge chose the clever Cuvee Leone Green Brut NV, a responsible organic fizz with creaminess, delicacy and streams of nice fresh brulee yeast characters. Yum. The Leone range is exciting.

Canard-Duchene Leone Green NV Organic

Canard-Duchene Leone Green NV Organic

Back in Reims it was time to visit one of the five houses with Gallo-Roman excavations, made as deep as 30 metres around 200 AD into the mountain of chalk which sits within the city.

These crayeres have a peculiar shape due to the special engineering feats of the Romans, now adopted by Champagne makers such as Charles Heidsieck post the French Revolution to store champagne. The natural temperature of 9-10 oC slowly matures the wines.

Dominique Cima-Sander presented Charles Heidsieck 2006 twice, at a pre-lunch tasting, then with a plate choice of crevettes, potato, fresh asparagus and orange sauce. The wine has good spine but now also a roundness to make it fine drinking today, and a good recollection of the year in Heidsieck’s vineyards.

Crayeres-Charles Heidsieck Cellars Reims

Chalk crayeres-Charles Heidsieck Cellars Reims

Sebastian at Krug presented the 2016 release of Krug 2002, which came alongside the much-discussed Krug 2003, with a truly hip blackboard menu displaying the Krug identity code of each bottle. Wines are outstanding, deep, different, powerful, masterful, both long livers.

Krug on the menu: Grande Cuvee, 2003, 2002

Krug on the menu: Grande Cuvee, 2003, 2002

Christine Tellier of Taittinger took travellers into the once historic Reims Church-owned crayeres to view the famous company blanc de blancs aging on lees in all sizes from 375 ml to 15 litre. Later pouring Comtes de Champagne 2006, personified in its elegance, always a poised wine, white flowers, with delicacy and freshness. Wine to love. Never miss tasting this.

Taittinger-style range, lovely drinks, poured in Murigny

Taittinger-style range, lovely drinks, poured in Murigny

Start the voyage, never miss the opportunity. This was the writer’s 16th visit, twice as Vin de Champagne Laureate, 1985 and 2014.

Uncorked and Cultivated’s wine tourists visited Champagne during May and June 2016

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