Tag Archives: Sangiovese

RETURN TO SOUTHWEST OREGON

Dorianne and I are spending three weeks in Southwest Oregon, and wine tasting will be part of the experience (of course!). We were here just about a year ago (LINK).

Our first two winery visits were to 2Hawk Winery (LINK) in Medford and Ledger David (LINK) Wine Tasting Room in Central Point. Both are part of the Rogue Valley AVA (LINK).

2Hawk was within walking distance of where we were staying for the weekend in Medford. The tasting room, winery, and the family home are all on the 23.5 acre estate, where many of the grapes are grown – others are sourced from other vineyards in the area. The tasting room, completed in 2012, is very nice, following historic California architectural styling and using a variety of rustic building materials, both local and imported.

When we arrived, the two “flagship” estate wines were sold out. We tasted their 2015 Viognier and Chardonnay – the Chardonnay is estate grown. Both showed good balance and nice fruit from the nose through the finish. The Viognier was especially nice – in the French style. The reds, a Malbec and a blend, were less impressive, and made us wish those flagship reds had been available, especially their Tempranillo. We also tried their rosé, made from Grenache. A very nice wine. We purchased bottles of the Viognier and Grenache Rosé.

Later in the week, I visited Ledger David Cellars tasting room without Dorianne, but with three friends. The tasting room is a small, but nicely appointed space in Central Point, a small town north of Medford that does not appear the be the central point of anything.

At Ledger David I had one of those amazing experiences where pretty much everything turns out beautifully. A good group of friends, a nice atmosphere, a very high caliber staff, and some amazing wines constellated in that couple of hours – along with some very nice chocolates!

Let’s cut to the chase – the wines. At worst, the Ledger David wines I tasted were better than average. At best, they were superb; all are estate grown just north of Ashland. Production is just 3500 cases, 11 varietals, on about 40 acres of vineyard (some fruit is sold).

White varietals: Chenin Blanc, Malvasia Bianca, Viognier, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc

Red varietals: Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Malbec, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Petit Verdot

We explored beyond the basic tasting list and were ably guided by Scott Oakley, something of a tasting room legend in the Rogue Valley, and a relative newcomer to Ledger David. Scott is one of those people who was born to work in the hospitality business, and would be equally at home in a Michelin Star Restaurant. Our experience was made more amazing because of his efforts to ensure that we had the best possible experience. But I digress.

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Scott and Alecia in the Ledger David Petit Tasting Room

The wines, whether white or red, were superbly crafted, well-balanced, and each had its own character. The 2015 Sauvignon Blanc, as an example, fell somewhere between French and New Zealand Sauv Blancs. It was grassy, but neither heavy on citrus nor on green fruit. There was a hint of minerality and a generous mouthfeel. A nice wine for summer and it will be excellent with oysters. The 2016 Viognier was very nicely crafted, with hints of pear and apricot and a floral nose. This is a very impressive white wine – the winemakers of this area are doing very nice things with Viognier.

The reds at Ledger David were varied. We tasted six reds, and each was unique – to me a good sign of a relatively light touch indicating the winemaker lets the fruit speak for itself. If I were a 100-point scale person (which, as a rule, I am not), I would place all of these wines in the 89-95-point range. I have not checked to see if anyone has done this. One of the wines, a 100% Petite Verdot, was nearly gone, down to 6 bottles (4 when we left), so I won’t critique it other than to say it was unique, full bodied, and cried out for a rack of lamb.

The other reds, mostly blends, were excellent. I purchased a few bottles of a wine called Epitome of ThreeTempranillo, Sangiovese and Syrah – an Old World tour, that was very nice. It’s only available at the tasting room.

Reds that are available via the website include a 2014 Dark Night blend, a 2014 100% Tempranillo, a 2014 100% Cabernet Franc, a 2013 Orion’s Nebula blend (did not taste this one), a 2013 Sangiovese, and a 2014 Sublimus blend. Of these, the Cabernet Franc and the Sublimus blend stood out for me.

We left with a number of bottles and will enjoy these wines over the next few weeks (I can’t take more than a couple with me to our next stop!).

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The Rogue Valley area wines are showing some maturity, a very good sign that the wines produced here will take their place among Oregon’s best over the next few years.

Copyright 2017 – Jim Lockard

Follow me on TWITTER: @JimLockardWine

APPLEGATE VALLY AVA – TWO WINERIES

Yesterday, several of us went to the Applegate Valley AVA area in southern Oregon to taste some wines. This area, just to the west of Ashland, is in the foothills of the Coastal Range near the Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest. Beautiful country, a growing number of  wineries in the area , but you travel a bit of a distance to get from winery to winery.

The AVA does not have a signature varietal. There are a number of micro-climates present, soil variations, and annual rainfall amounts vary from around 20 to 40 inches in different parts of the AVA. So you have Italian varietals like Sangiovese, Spanish Tempranillo, Rhône Syrah, Rousanne and Marsanne, plus Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and others.

We wanted to taste some of the best of the area, so our local friends took us to Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden (LINK) and to Red Lily Winery both off of Route 238 southwest of the quaint town of Jacksonville.

Cowhorn represents a number of good things about growing and making wine. First of all, the quality of the wines is simply superb. Producing a total of 2300 cases of Rhône varietals – Grenanche, Mouvedre, Syrah, ViognierRousanne and Marsanne, the owners and winemakersBill and Barbara Steele, use state-of-the-art biodynamic techniques. The wines that we tasted (and we didn’t even get to taste the reserve wines, which are spoken for by the wine club – hint) were beautifully crafted, balanced, and tasted much like wines we have had in the Rhône Valley. Their wines consistently score in the low to mid 90’s from such reviewers as Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Robert Parker.

The 2012 Syrah was beautifully crafted and needs a couple more years in the bottle to reach it’s peak. The whites – a Spiral 36 Blend of ViognierRousanne and Marsanne  is delicious and a bargain. The 100% Viognier was a revelation – a beautiful mouth feel with apple, pear, and other green fruit, some minerality, and a very smooth finish. The Marsanne/Rousanne 50/50 was also quite good – all of the whites could have been from top Rhône Valley producers. We did take some of these home with us.

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Some of Cowhorn’s Wines
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Jim & Bill Steele

Second, they are operating a highly eco-sensitive and sustainable operation. Under construction is a new tasting room that is being built to the exacting standards of  the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) (LINK), meaning that the building will add as much as it takes from the environment at every step of the building and operating process. While we were there, a beautiful table made from recovered wood and custom-designed for wine tasting by Barbara Steele, was delivered and set up. Here are a few photos.

If you can get your hands on some Cowhorn wines, do it.

Our next stop, after getting a bit lost on the scenic back roads of the area, was Red Lily Vineyards (LINK), a beautiful property along the roaring Applegate River. Here, Tempranillo is king. Les and Rachel Martin own and operate the vineyard and winery. The tasting room building is beautifully designed and contains facilities for special events. They also have a kitchen that produces some very good food. We had lunch here, accompanied by some of the Red Lily Wines.

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Red Lilly Tasting Room

The wines that we tasted were primarily Tempranillo, some mixed with Cabernet Sauvignon. The 100% 2012 Tempranillo in the tasting was the best of that group. I had a glass of a 2006 100% Tempranillo that showed how well these wines age. Great tannin structure, well balanced between dark red fruit and minerality. A beautiful wine (and, at $51, the most expensive). They also sell some wines made in Spain to compliment the Spanish varietals grown here.

The wine tastings are available poured into test tubes and put in a rack that you can pour yourself when you are ready. There are tasting notes for each wine. You can also have the friendly and knowledgeable tasting room staff pour each taste for you. The Red Lily wines are very well crafted, not up to the level of the Cowhorn, which would be exceptional in any AVA or appellation, but very drinkable and reasonably priced.

Both of these wineries were a joy to visit, with the usual great people that one tends to meet in the wine industry. If you are visiting southern Oregon soon, make it a point to check these two out.

We will be doing some more exploration on this visit – so watch this space.

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Copyright 2016 – Jim Lockard

 

AN ITALIAN OASIS IN OAXACA

Dorianne and I are spending a month in Oaxaca, Mexico. We knew coming in that this culinary capital, known for molè sauces, chocolate, and coffee was not wine country. The drinks here are mescal and cerveza. Indeed, we have had some wonderful meals, both in the city and out in the pueblos, where indigenous people make amazing foods.  But wine – not so much.

There is a large supermercado near our Colonial Reforma AirBnB.com house that has a wine section featuring a few South American and Mexican wines, plus a smattering of French, Italian, and Spanish bottles – all at the lower end of the spectrum.  The U.S. is represented here by Gallo. You don’t really find fine wines here, but some decent bottles are available if you know where to look. Better restaurants feature Mexican wines, but the local cuisine, driven by spicy molès, salsas, etc., does not pair well with wine for the most part. Beer (cerveza) is just fine for most cocina oaxaqueña meals.

And, I was, truth be told, growing a bit weary of the local cuisine after two weeks of nothing  but . . .

T2015-11-27 18.56.15hat is why we were so happy to discover Ristorante Italiano Epicuro (no website, LINK to FB page), an oasis of fine Italian dining with a small, but welcome list of Italian wines – a regular list and an artisanal list with a total of about 30 wines. Stepping in off of Calle Guerro into number 319 one is transported, if not to Italy, to a sophisticated setting that could  be in any major city. The decor consists of light green walls, very high ceilings, with a portion that has a retractable roof for this climate, scenes of things Italian on the walls, and nicely appointed tables. There are not a lot of restaurants in Oaxaca that are not oaxaqueña, so there are really few guidelines for how to handle the mix of cultures in terms of food and decor. Ristorante Italiano Epicuro goes purely Italian on the food and a more general upscale look on the decor.

Our good friends Richard Clark and Mary Stec were in town visiting for a few days. They used to own a gourmet chocolate business and sourced their chocolate and molès from Oaxaca. It was their last night with us in Oaxaca, so we went for dinner early – before 7:00 pm, so the place was nearly empty.

Our waiter, Juan Carlos, a veteran of the high-end Los Angeles restaurant scene (Valentino and others), greeted us warmly and masterfully guided us through the evening. Chef Valter Epifania is from Genoa, and knows his way around the kitchen. He came to our table near the end of the meal. We also met Eder, the owner, who came to Mexico from Italy six years ago and opened the restaurant a year later.

We ordered two bottles of wine from the smaller “artisanal wine list.” All were under 600 pesos, or about $35 U.S. at the current exchange rate of 16.8 pesos to the dollar. The most expensive bottle on either list was an Italian Cabernet Sauvignon on the main wine list for 820 pesos, or about $48 U.S.

Our first bottle was a 2010 Il Gargaiolo Chianti, 85% Sangiovese & 15% Merlot. It was very dry and tight at first, but it opened up after a while. I would say that the Merlot added a richness to the Sangiovese. A decent, but not a great wine.

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Next we opted for a 2013 Francesco Cirelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, and organic wine. Aged in stainless steel, the wine had a sense of terroir and a decent balance of dark fruit, with leather and chocolate overtones. Dorianne was the only one of us who preferred the Chianti to this wine.

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The menu is purely Italian, with first courses, pastas, and secondi (not the terms on the menu). A complimentary eggplant appetizer (deliciously rich) is provided. We also received a sampling of their ice cream dessert after not ordering dessert. When Dorianne could not eat that due to allergies, a pear poached in red wine was substituted by the chef for her. Very nice!

We shared a pulpo carpaccio appetizer that was delicious and reminiscent of the pulpo in Spain. The octopus for this dish was sourced in the Gulf of Mexico we were told.

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Pulpo Carpaccio – Delicious!

Then, Dorianne opted for a seafood pasta for her main dish. Mary and I ordered the rib-eye steak made with Ecuadorian beef; Richard had the special of the evening – rack of lamb.

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Ecuadorian Beef Rib-Eye Steak
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Seafood Pasta
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Pear Poached in Red Wine

All of the main courses were excellently prepared and delicious. We remarked that this quality of Italian dining in the US would command a much greater price. The bill, with tip, was just over 2440 pesos, or under $150 U.S. for four of us, including two bottles of wine!

Richard and Mary have left, leaving Dorianne and I to return to this Italian Oasis a few times in our two remaining weeks in Oaxaca.

 

 

 

WINEMAKERS’ MIXER AT THE 2015 GARAGISTÉ FEST IN PASO ROBLES.

The Garagistè Festival (LINK), for the uninitiated, is a gathering that promotes and celebrates small production winemakers from Paso Robles and elsewhere in California. These are folks who produce under 1500 cases per year. Some are new and plan to grow into the future Mondavis or Kendall-Jacksons of the world; others are doing it as a labor of love and have no plans to expand; still others are winemakers for larger concerns and this is their hobby-like “side venture.”  There are also now Garagistè Festivals in Solvang and in Los Angeles each year.

This is the fifth annual Paso Robles event, and I have attended all of them. Dorianne and I drove up from LA County where we are staying with friends for last night’s Winemakers’ Mixer and today’s workshops and Grand Tasting (which I will blog about later).

The mixer was added a few years ago, and has been held in different places. This year, it was in the barrel room at Broken Earth Winery (LINK). There were about 35 wineries represented (and one local hard cider maker), including about 1/2 dozen who had been at all five festivals. There were some snacks provided and the Pairing Knife Food Truck (LINK) was also on hand with some great food.

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The focus of the evening was new releases and tastings of wines that had not yet been released. You might say that this concept is loosely observed. There were some new releases, and some yet-to-be-released wines (one, just pressed and served from a 5 gallon plastic container), but there were also some 2007 Cabernets and other regular production wines, but really, who cares?

The fun of this evening was meeting young (and not-so-young) winemakers who are following their dream and doing what they love. They are eager to talk about their wines and really enjoy it when someone with some knowledge shows up. There were over 70 wines to taste, so spitting was in order. The general quality of the wines at the Garagistè Festival has improved significantly over the past five years. But, there is still a pretty wide range of quality, which is also part of the fun.

Here are a few highlights from the evening for us – we did not taste every single wine (you can get wines from most of these small producers via their website):

Ascension Cellars (LINK), Paso Robles. Currently produces 8 wines in the Rhône style. We tasted their GSM called Trinity and a Syrah – both were very well-crafted and balanced.

Deno Wines (LINK), Templeton, CA. The last wine we tasted before departing, the wine was a pre-release of the blend of 50% Zinfandel and a 50% GSM blend. This surprising combination produced a very spicy and well-balanced wine. Dennis Sharpe will have some other GSM’s out today for the Grand Tasting.

Incendium Wines (LINK), Napa Valley, CA. Winemaker Vince Kalny is a firefighter for Cal Fire. His wines reflect his primary calling, with beautifully designed labels. A portion of the proceeds from sales go to The National Fallen Fire Fighters Foundation. That said, his wines are very well made. There were 3 Chardonnays, 2 Cabernet Sauvignons and a Syrah to taste. The Cabs (2012 & 2013 – pre-release) stood out as very well-crafted and were smooth and ready to drink.

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Incendium Wines – The Reds
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Vince Kalny – Firefighter and Winemaker.

Stanger Vineyards (LINK), Paso Robles, CA. Last year, when we entered the mixer, the first person we saw was J.P. French holding a 5 gallon plastic water jug that was filled with Malbec that had just been pressed. He sloshed some of the juice into our glasses and moved on. Later, we returned to his table and discovered some amazing wines. J.P. was back this year, with the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon in the plastic jug – again, just pressed. He also had a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon that was spicy, earthy, but with nice red fruit on the nose and palate. If you are into wine, Stanger Vineyards is a good bet.

Theopolis Vineyards (LINK), Anderson Valley, CA. Theopolis, run by Theodora Lee, a Texan and an attorney by trade, had 7 or 8 wines (we were well into the tasting) on display. Theopolis  has a focus on Petite Syrah on the red side, and the Symphony Grape – a California crossing of Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris developed in 1948 (but not commercially released until 1982) by the late Harold Olmo, professor of viticulture at the University of California, Davis.   As its pedigree suggests, it is a seductively aromatic wine with delightfully captivating aromas that are markedly floral with slightly spicy flavors (from their website). She also produces a very seductive Petite Syrah Rosè. The wines were among the best of the evening and I look forward to visiting her again today at the Grand Tasting.

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Theodora Lee of Theopolis Vineyards

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Turiya Wines (LINK), Lompoc, CA.  Turiya means “pure consciousness” in Sanskrit. Winemaker Angela Soleno brings a consciousness to winemaking that produces some exceptional wines. We tasted a Sangiovese  and a Bordeaux Blends, and both were excellent. A one-woman operation, Angela produces about 200 cases annually, all reds, featuring a number of varietals – Red Blends, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Malbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese. Wine prices begin at about $100/bottle and you have to be on the allocation list to receive wine. Visit the website for more information.

Angela Soleno of Turiya Wines.
Angela Soleno of Turiya Wines.

Vinemark Cellars (LINK), Paso Robles, CA. Mark Wasserman, who runs Vinemark with his wife, Julie, was present with two wines, a 2013 Reserve Pinto Noir and a 2012 Mezzanote, a blend of 75% Primitivo and 25%  Petite SyrahMark is the classic Garagistè, in it for the love of winemaking. He loves to talk about his wines, and they are wonderful.

Mark Wasserman of Vinemark Cellars.
Mark Wasserman of Vinemark Cellars.

So that is a taste of the tasting mixer. There were a number of other quality wines present and, again, try as we might, Dorianne and I did not get to taste everything. Today – the Classic Tasting with about 70 producers and a couple of hundred wines. We will do our best.

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IN BORDEAUX – LE WINE BAR

Le Wine Bar in Bordeaux, is always at or near the rankings of best wine bars in Bordeaux. There are a number of reasons for this, but Giancarlo is the main one – the co-owner and host is a raconteur about all things wine.

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Giancarlo and Dorianne on a previous visit to Le Wine Bar.

I visited Le Wine Bar tonight to talk about bringing some tour groups in for a special evening during the next year. I met with Ginacarlo Savini and Emmanuel Cadei, the owners to discuss our options. Ginacarlo handles the wine and the front of the house duties and Emmanuel handles the kitchen and all things food. We came to an agreement and our entire Bordeaux and Paris Tour Packages will be announced soon.

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Le Wine Bar – Interior.

After our meeting, I stayed around to spend some time talking with Giancarlo and sampling some wines and some of the food. I started with a glass of 2011 Chateau Beauregard, a Pomerol red blend. Very nice, smooth and excellent with the Charcuterie and Fromage Plate served up by Emmanuel. Now, the food at Le Wine Bar, basically, appetizers and platters of meats and cheeses, lean heavily to the Italian, as that is Giancarlo’s heritage.

Le Wine Bar is not a high-end fancy place. It is very down-to-earth, and features less expensive wines for the most part. But, when you look at the bottle list, it is a different story. A wide range of wines from both the Old Word and the New World are available, and at good prices.

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Le Wine Bar – Exterior.

So for my second glass (and for the third) of wine, I asked Giancarlo to give me something that he enjoys. He opened a bottle of 2012 Bevilo Toscano, a Tuscan Bordeaux-style blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. An amazing wine (apparently not available in the US) with very up-front fruit and medium tannins. Very velvety on the mouth with a long finish. The wine was noticeably better with the Italian Charcuterie and Cheese than the Bordeaux was. Coincidence?

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If you are coming to Bordeaux, put Le Wine Bar on your list. Or, you can join us on our upcoming wine tours and visit Giancarlo and Emmanuel with us. More information coming in June!

MIDDLE EASTERN WINES – KURDISH FOOD – LUNAR NEW YEAR

Last night, Dorianne and I joined Richard Clark and Mary Stec at Niroj Restaurant in Agoura Hills, CA. Since it was the eve of the Lunar New Year, I figured (correctly) that it would not be a big night for Kurdish food. The restaurant was not crowded, and we had a leisurely and delicious meal and some good wine.

I brought a bottle of 2009 Dover Canyon Che Vito Da Cano, a 70% Sangiovese, 30% Syrah Blend. This wine is smooth, fruit forward without being out of balance, and had a very nice finish with a hint of spice aftertaste. Delicious. The wine doesn’t even appear on their website, so I guess there is no more of it to be had. Dover Canyon Winery is a great stop if you are in the Paso Robles area.

Luqman Barwari, the owner, oversees Niroj Cuisine with a loving hand. A former executive at Amgen, he began the restaurant a couple of years ago to follow his passion for the food of his home culture. Niroj is, I believe, the only Kurdish Restaurant in the southwestern U.S. The food is beautifully prepared – very much like the variety of Middle Eastern cuisine. We shared a cold Mezze Platter of appetizers with the made-on-the-premisis soft bread, then the four of us shared two entrees – a lamb shank and a shrimp tawe – all excellent.

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Mary, Luqman, and Richard

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Then, for our second bottle, we ordered a Lebanese wine – a 2010 Massaya Silver Blend from the Bekaa Valley. This wine with its unusual blend of Southern French( 40% Cinsault, 30% Grenache, 15% Mourvedre) and Bordeaux (15% Cabernet Sauvignon) grapes benefits from the sunny climate of the Lebanon tempered by cool night-time temperatures as a result of the height of the vineyards. The wine was very smooth, with medium tannins and a nice blend of fruit and minerals on the palate.

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Some house made Baklava ended the experience at Niroj Cuisine. I took a photo of the Lebanese and Turkish Wines on the menu.

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A 2008 SANGIOVESE FROM OUR CO-OP

Tonight for dinner, we had a 2008 Sangiovese from the Conejo Valley Wine Co-op. This wine was made before Dorianne and I joined. We were gifted two bottles by our winemaker, Richard Clark, after a former member turned some wine back to the co-op.

From Wikipedia: Sangiovese (san-jo-veh-zeh[1] [sandʒoˈveːze]) is a red Italian wine grape variety that derives its name from the Latin sanguis Jovis, “the blood of Jove“.[2] Though it is the grape of most of central Italy from Romagna down to Lazio, Campania and Sicily, outside Italy it is most famous as the only component of Brunello di Montalcino andRosso di Montalcino and the main component of the blend Chianti, Carmignano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano andMorellino di Scansano, although it can also be used to make varietal wines such as Sangiovese di Romagna and the modern “Super Tuscan” wines like Tignanello.[3]

Sangiovese was already well known by the 16th century. Recent DNA profiling by José Vouillamoz of the Istituto Agrario di San Michele all’Adige suggests that Sangiovese’s ancestors are Ciliegiolo and Calabrese Montenuovo. The former is well known as an ancient variety in Tuscany, the latter is an almost-extinct relic from the Calabria, the toe of Italy.[4] At least fourteen Sangiovese clones exist, of which Brunello is one of the best regarded. An attempt to classify the clones into Sangiovese grosso (including Brunello) and Sangiovese piccolo families has gained little evidential support.[5]

The wine was simply amazing – elegant, with a nose of fruit and spice, smooth in the mouth and clearly a wonderful wine. Kudos to Dennis Weiher, our former winemaker for this one!

For more info on our wine co-op, go to this link.