Monday, January 9, 2017

Learnings from the recent spate of actual and rumoured sales of prestigious French and Italian wine estates

With the recent acquisition of the Burgundy property Bonneau du Martray (BdM) by American billionaire Stan Kroeneke, the Louis Vuittonification of Burgundy rolls on. BdM is one of the most prestigious estates on the hill of Corton with its 11 hectares dedicated solely to the production of the Grand Crus Corton and Corton-Charlemagne. This Burgundian biodynamic pioneer had been owned by the same family for over 200 years prior to the announcement of the sale to the Screaming Eagle owner.

Announcements -- or rumours -- of the sales of prominent French and Italian wine estates seem to be hitting with increasing regularity. The table below lists the recent sales and rumors with which I am familiar.

Recent Actual and Rumored Sales of Estates of Significance
Deals Region Estate Size (ha) Purchaser Purchase Price Acquisiiton Year
Verified Barolo Vietti
Krause Holdings €50 million+

Enrico Serafino
Krause Holdings €6.1 million

Burgundy Bonneau du Martray
Stan Kroeneke N/A

Clos de Lambrays
LVMH €100 million?

Tuscany Biondi-Santi
EPI Group N/A

Rumored Barolo Roberto Voerzio

Loire Valley  Clos Rougeard
Martin Bouygues N/A N/A

I have previously written on the Vietti sale (and its potential implications) and Voerzio rumor and some of the factors that are potentially driving this wave. In this post I would like to highlight some of the things learned as a result of this spate of activity.

First, these deals take time. According to Jacopi Biondi (Decanter, January 5, 2017), the talks with EPI for the acquisition of the majority of the shares of Tenuta Greppo took 6 months. This leads to the conclusion that the Vietti sale had been in the works long before its actual announcement. It also leads one to speculate that there are discussions currently underway which will lead to future sale announcements.

Second, most of the sales transfer majority ownership to the acquirer, leaving some ownership (and upside potential) in the hands of the former owners. As both Antonio Galloni and I have pointed out, the lack of retention of any ownership by the Vietti family is one of the troubling aspects of their deal.

Third, buyers are aiming for the most prestigious estates in the region. That is, they are not seeking to gain a foothold in the region by buying underperforming assets and building them up. They are after the highest value estates and paying top Euro, thus driving up the value of all market players. This gets to the motivations of the buyers. In the case of LVMH and EPI, their acquisitions are focused on brand-building. And not building the brand of the acquired companies (although this may result), but extending the brand of the parent company as a purveyor of luxury goods. By acquiring these properties LVMH and EPI are able to cross-sell their luxury brands to a wider customer base and to increase the prices of the acquired products as a result of the cachet associated with the brand. I address the motivation of someone like Kroeneke in the below while I think that Krause truly wants to build a franchise in Piemonte.

Fourth, in this new environment, winemaking could become more a value-retainer than a raison d'etre. With the prices being paid for these luxury estates, the investment will not be recouped by the sale of wines. Players like Kroeneke have a very good understanding of the sports-franchise business model. In this model, you can never pay too much for the product as the new purchase price sets the industry floor. As a participant in that industry, all you have to do is to maintain the value of your franchise, hold that franchise operationally profitable for X number of years, and then capitalize on a sale sometime down the road. In this case, the value of the estate to the owner is not the wine that it produces today. Rather, it is the value that it will yield in the sale tomorrow.

Fifth, family-owned estates cannot compete in this acquisition market.

Sixth, conditions are ripe for more deals of these types. Buyers are motivated and sellers are torn. In the case of France, the difficulties of paying the inheritance taxes on these estates are well known. It is much simpler for a family to transfer assets to the upcoming generation as part of a payout on a sale rather than as a transfer upon the death of a p(m)atriarch. In addition, the economics are heavily tilted to selling if you are a family in Barolo, for example. If you use Vietti as a case in point, Luca could theoretically invest the family's €50 million at 5% compounded and in 10 years would have €84 million in hand (One would expect that his daily needs would be met by the salary he will now be drawing as the leader of the Krause Barolo holdings.). Try as he might, Luca would not have been able to approach those types of returns for his family by continuing to operate Vietti as a family holding. These operators are torn between upholding tradition and cashing in in a real big way on the works of the generations that have gone before.

Further, if the industry is becoming a real-estate play, and you are a viticulturist/winemaker, then you are miscast. You are not truly equipped to play in that game as an owner (and may not be motivated to) so why not cash out.

Seventh, in the majority of cases, the acquirer is retaining the services of the current operator. In the Vietti acquisition, Luca has been retained as the CEO while Jacopi and Tancredi Biondi will oversee vineyard operations and winemaking and serve as brand ambassadors for Biondi-Santi. In the latter case, EPI will have control of the business point of view. In the case of Clos de Lambray, LVMH retained the services of its longtime chief winemaker Thierry Brouin, the architect of the previous 35 vintages of the estate's wine. BdMs current Estate General Manager, Jean-Charles Le Bault de la Morinière, is the exception to this trend in that his position will be taken up by Armand de Maigret, the French general manager for Mr. Kroenke’s vineyards, after a "suitable" period of time.

Eighth, given their prestige, and the motivations of today's buyers, I predict future acquisition activity in the Cote-Rotie and Champagne regions, in addition to ongoing activity in the regions currently under "siege."

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Out and about in Havana: In search of the co-op

I was awakened by sunlight streaming into our room through the sliding glass door leading onto the balcony. After a top-level breakfast at Sierra Maestra, we went down to the hotel lobby to explore options for our second day in the city.

We decided to start off with a city tour and opted for one of the Classic American cars parked outside the hotel. The problem, though, was that the person who solicited our business was not the same person driving the car. The person with whom we negotiated the deal spoke perfect English. Once we got into the car and engaged the driver, we realized that this was not going to work. The driver had very little English; a slight problem when you are looking forward to a narrated tour -- in English. We asked the driver to pull over and got out. We then went to plan B: the hop-on, hop off buses.

Hop-on, hop-off service is ubiquitous in tourist destinations around the world and is a great way of getting an overview of a new city at your own time and pace. The problem with the Havana service was the frequency (or, rather, the lack of same) and the paucity of information conveyed by the onboard "tour guide"(who also doubled as the cashier). After a frustratingly long wait, the bus showed up and we (wait for it) hopped on.

We began our ride in Verdado and traversed the entire length of the Malecón to Old Habana, with one or two stops along the way.

View of the Malecon with Straits of Florida in background

Sea wall and promenade of the Malecon

View of the waters from the Malecon sea wall

View Vedado to Old Havana

Hotel Nacional, as viewed from the Malecon
We disembarked at Central Park and immediately made our way over to the brightly colored vintage American cars that were lined up waiting for passengers. As we walked among the cars, we were constantly asked whether we wanted to take a tour of the city in one of the cars. Or if we wanted to have our pictures taken sitting in one of the cars.

The area was bustling with tourists walking among the cars, getting into cars at the beginning of trips, or getting out of cars at the conclusion of tours. As I stepped across the street to take a wide-angle shot of Parlo among the cars, I sensed someone coming towards me. Out of the corner of my eyes I saw him pause and look down at my socks (The tops of my socks displayed the colors of the Jamaican flag.). I could see the wheels turning over in his head as he sought to incorporate this observation into his approach. And then he pounced. He greeted me like a long lost brother. He loved Jamaica (I am not Jamaican); his Grandmother came to Cuba from Jamaica when she was 5 years old; etc., etc.

After this hearty opening, he proceeded to the lines of whether we wanted to take a city tour in one of the cars; or wanted to have our pictures taken sitting in one of the cars. Now he did not own a car. He was what I have previously described as a "steerer." When he realized that we were not interested in any car-related activities, he pitched going to the co-op where we could purchase cigars significantly below the price being charged at the hotel. This sounded interesting because I thought I would see some cigar production activities. And, according to my guy, the co-op was within walking distance.

We headed west away from Central Park and then turned south. Conditions deteriorated rapidly and we appeared to be swimming upstream against a mass of humanity that was hell bent on getting out of the area that we were going into. After walking for a little while I realized that this was the area that my wife's friend had pointed out to me from my hotel room as an area to avoid. Well, we were already in it.  My wife was cheerily taking photographs of her surroundings as we went along and I kept thinking "I know the crime rate is low in Cuba but I wished you had left that ring in the US."

We walked for a while. People looking at us because we were obviously tourists. Our "guide" hailed folks along the street and in some of the apartments which lined the street on both sides. He was as a big game hunter returning to the village with a trophy kill. Us.

After what seemed like an eternity, we turned into a dilapidated apartment building and walked down a hallway off which a number of doors opened. Living quarters all; and not very palatable. This was definitely not what I had expected when we set out on the "visit to the co-op."

There were a few other souls in the room perusing the cigar display. A woman was attempting to close a sale with a reluctant buyer so my guide launched into sales mode. Purchasing the cigars here would be helping these people and the price was significantly lower than at the hotel. As he went through the spiel, he was handing me different packaging options: Cohiba in bulk; smartly packaged Robustos; and a pocket-sized edition.

During the time that I smoked cigars seriously, Cohibas had always been my favorite. But there was an adage among Cohiba smokers: There are many more Cohibas sold than are made. There was no controlling for authenticity in this environment so I would not bite. My guide was not happy.

But he perked up when we said that we needed to have lunch. He knew just the place, he said. So we embarked on another long march to the other side of the old town. I will cover that experience in a subsequent post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Selection of the best wines tasted during 2016: Part III, other venues

This is the final of three posts recapping a selection of the "best" wines I tasted during the past year. This post covers wines tasted outside of the Galloni or winery-visit environments. Of course, the list is both subjective and incomplete as one of the requirements for inclusion is documentation of my thoughts at the time of the tasting; or shortly thereafter.

Norman's Tasting
Juan David Valencia is one of the bright young Somms on the Orlando wine scene who had (i) recently passed the Court of Master Sommeliers Certified Sommelier exam and (ii) taken the position of Assistant General Manager at Norman's, one of the most prestigious Orlando-area restaurants. I was extremely pleased with both of these developments as I have played the role of mentor to Juan. I told him that we would be there on his first night of work to lend support and enlisted Ron for this effort. Ron suggested that we each bring along a Champagne, a Bordeaux, and red and white Burgundies as dinner accompaniments. The wines from that tasting that made the "best" list are presented below.

Ron began the proceedings by opening a bottle of Jacques Selosse Substance. Substance always impresses me with its vibrancy. On the nose, honey, orange rind, nuttiness, and creme brulée. Weighty on the palate with burnt orange, bitter lemon, walnut, a syrupy tangerine, and a rich creaminess. As the wine matured in the glass, the sensation of floating on a tangerine sea. The 1999 Cristal that I took was yeasty on the nose with notes of golden apple. On the palate, rich and fresh with great acidity. Two radically different Champagne styles.

The 2007 Remoissenet Le Montrachet was sublime. It was pale gold in color and restrained on the nose with elegant, classic apple-pear notes and hints of baking spices. Lemon, orange, pineapple, faded lemon rind, and a hint of smokiness on the palate. Perfect weight. Perfect texture. Perfect balance. Tight focus. Elegant, lengthy finish.

The 1988 Echezeaux was rich and creamy on the nose with red fruits, smoke, baking spices, tobacco, thyme, and beeswax. Savory on the palate with a balsamic note. Balanced with a long finish.

The 1982 Pichon-Lalande exhibited green-bean, bell-pepper notes along with sweet spices, dried herbs, cedar, and mocha chocolate. On the palate mature black fruit, dark chocolate, and smoke. Drank younger than its age. A producer and vintage that Ron does not mind trotting out because it always shows well.

The 1995 Latour showed earth, soy, spice, nutmeg, squid ink, dried tree bark, graphite, roasted coffee, and black fruits. On the palate, saltwater taffy, butterscotch, black olives, soy, dark fruit, and a savoriness. Focused. Balanced. Long finish.

Cavallotto Barolo Winemaker Dinner at La Pizza Fresca Ristorante
At the conclusion of the formal tasting, a small group of hardcore Barolo fans refused to leave the premises. We stood around talking for a bit and then decided to order something off the vaunted La Pizza Fresca list. The wine we opted for was the 1964 Barolo Giacomo Conterno. This wine was decanted. When poured into the glass, it displayed a delicate golden color, as of a faded tawny port. Heavenly on the nose. First scent as of an elegant rose. The tar was also delicate and faded into a hint of molasses. Burnt orange. Savoriness and spice on the nose as well as on the palate. A textured wine with an exceedingly long finish. We meditated on this wine.

Rioja Blind Tasting
There is a group of young Somms here in the Orlando area who are at various stages of the Guild Of Sommeliers certification process and have banded together to hone their skills as they pursue higher levels of individual accreditation. From time to time I act as a resource for the group by facilitating focused tastings which allow the group to do deep dives into a region, variety, or soil type. Earlier this year we conducted a tasting focused on the wines of Rioja. In addition to the Somms, I had invited Ron Siegel and Andres Montoya to lend their expertise to the effort. The tasting was conducted blind. At the reveal, it was discovered that the wines that showed best fell into what we classified as the "traditional" category.

The 1994 Rioja Alta 904 was both Ron and Andres' Wine of the Night! "Gorgeous nose of mushroom, forest floor, pine needle, pickled fruit, beef broth (umami sensation) and great acidity. Drinks like a Gevrey Chambertin." 

The 1991 Lopez Heredia Bosconia exhibited coffee, earth, and great integration between oak and fruit. Intense pepper spice, great acidity, and an expressiveness on the palate. This wine was drinking beautifully. Andres tagged it as his second wine of the night: "dried flower, wet earth, forest floor, road tar, lovely aromatics, very Burgundian." 

The Cune Imperial 1994 showed barnyard, cherry, spice, fruit, herbs and flowers. Restrained, subtle, elegant. For Andrew, "Delicate, floral, pinot-noir-like intensity, gravel/mineral, chewy tannins.

Andres found the 1973 Valoria to be surprisingly youthful, exhibiting scorched earth, ripe cherry, and tobacco. Bold. He was extremely surprised at the reveal because he had had this down as a wine from the 90's.

One of the surprises for us all, and not necessarily fitting neatly into this category, was the 2011 Vivanco Maturana Tinta. It had an intense color along with black cherry, olives, and leather on the palate. Balanced. Northern Rhone character. Everyone liked this wine.

Photo Credits: Anne Ryan
Hipster Tasting
In Orlando, distance, consumer demand, and distributor choice conspire to restrict the types of wines available on the market. To combat this state of affairs, a number of wine lovers travel to the major metropolitan areas in order to stay abreast of trends "under the brighter lights." One such traveler is Ron Siegel, a good friend, travel buddy, and, in addition, one of the biggest collectors in town. We tend to drink mostly the five Bs but, over the last few trips that he has taken to NYC, the Somms have been recommending wines that are not normally on his radar screen.

Ron thought that this required further attention and had some discussions with Pascaline Lepeltier MS (Rouge Tomate) and the Wine Director at Jean-Georges to get a sense of some of these "new wines" that he should be drinking. At the conclusion of that investigation, Ron curated a number of wines for a Hipster tasting and invited a number of local Somms and friends to participate. The wines from that tasting that made the list are shown below.

White Wines
The whites were tasted in two flights, an approach grounded in convenience and ease of use. The order of, and within, the flights is illustrated in the pictures below.

The 2011 Antoine Arena 'Grotte di Sole' Blanc was the most interesting of the wines in the first flight and was so designated by the team. This 100% Vermentinu from Corsica had apple and smoke on the nose and a Montrachet-like quality (more Chassagne than Puligny). Weighty, waxy, and oily on the palate. Complex with a long, spicy finish.

The Moreau-Naudet Chablis 'Forest' 1er Cru 2012 destroyed all of my pre-conceived notions as to what a Chablis is. I approach a Chablis looking for that knife-edge, flinty sharpness but this wine did not exhibit any of those characteristics. It was more tangerine than lime. Excellent, rounder, fuller Chardonnay than expected. This wine is a result of the winemaker picking later than his peers in search of riper fruit.

The Stephane Cossais Montlouis Sur Loire 'Le Volagre' 2008 was the wine of the second flight. Barrel spice, vanilla, nutty, rich, waxy, oily, and lime. Lees character evident. Great acid level. Steve characterized this wine as lush and balanced.

Courtesy of Steve Alcorn

Courtesy of Steve Alcorn
Red Wines
Pierre Gonon St Joseph - "The epitome of hipster juice" according to one of our panelists. "I put this alongside Jamet Cote-Rotie with its hipster upbringing."  "Wow. Mind-blowing quality here! Extremely eye opening...This is what amazing Syrah is about." according to another.

Benetiere Cote Rotie Cordeloux 2012 - Fresh game (blood), orange rind, elegant and refined finish. According to one of our panelists: "Beautiful. I hope this producer stays under the radar because I could definitely see these wines doubling in price in the near future. I loved the finesse for a region that typically commands aging to be accessible. Jet black minerals, black olive, and dark brooding fruit yet it came with a snap and brightness I wasn’t expecting. This guy only owns 2.5ha. If I come across this wine, I will buy it."

Thierry Allemand Chaillot Cornas - Packed with layers of earth, game, spice, olive and fresh herbs. Very polished, very tight. 

Flight 2. Courtesy Steve Alcorn

Flight 3. Courtesy Steve Alcorn

Wednesday Lunches
On many a Wednesday, Ron and Bev Siegel and Parlo and I go to one of the local restaurants for lunch. We tend to bring nice wines to accompany the establishment dishes.

1937 Giacomo Conterno Monfortino Riserva
This was an awesome wine. Had it at lunch at Dovecote. Evolved beautifully. Muted to begin, with a hint of maderization. Dried stewed fruit and olives with pine tar resin. Then moved to a cupric finish with blackpepper. Ended up with tar, roses, olives, and balance.

1983 Cheval Blanc
At a perfect place (Also at a Dovecote lunch). Very complex nose to include mint, chocolate, cocoa, plum, red fruits. Palate delivers with perfect balance.

2013 Louis Benjamin Daguenau Pur Sang
Assyrtiko-level acidity, intense lime. Stony, crisp minerality, citrus rind. Engages all aspects of the palate. Long, sour finish.

1967 Enrico Serafino Barolo
Impressive. Rose petal, tar, earth, sweetness, balsamic, mushroom, dry cherry, licorice, and moth balls. Great acidity. Linear. Orange peel. Drying character. Drying finish. Balsamic tang. The acidity keeps it going. Leathery finish.

2001 Romanée-St. Vivant
Also at a DoveCote lunch. Expressive on the noseDelicate rose petal along with soy, sandalwood, cinnamon, and blackpepper. Rose, charcoal, and beer on the palate. Drying finish with a rose-petal aftertaste. Elegant.

Ron's Birthday party at Bern's
The wine that stood out on this evening was the 1970 Romanee-St Vivant. Rusty nail strawberry initially, yielding to rich, floral pinot fruit. Alive. Drying tannins. Long intense finish. Beautiful representation of Burgundy. Vineyard owned by Leroy in this vintage but wine made by Romanee-Conti.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, December 26, 2016

Out and about in Havana (Cuba): Day 1

First some context. We traveled to Cuba during the official period of mourning for Fidel Castro's death. The restrictions on public activity put in place to honor his death colored the lenses through which we saw Havana and served as a limiting factor on our Havana experience.

When Fidel's death was first announced, I was unsure as to whether it would be a good idea to embark on the planned trip. After many consultations with my wife (who would be accompanying me on the trip), my family, and friends, I decided to continue as planned.

Once we got to Cuba, the effects of the mandated restrictions on daily life became readily apparent. First, no public playing of music or dancing was allowed. And this held true for the man (or woman) in the street as well as the professionals plying their trade in the nation's cultural centers.

On the day of our arrival, the restriction on alcohol sales was still in effect. This curtailed the sales of alcohol beverages except at a restaurant in a hotel. And if the hotel/restaurant was government owned, they were excluded from the exception. The restriction on alcohol sales expired on our second day in town but the restrictions on music and dancing remained in place for our entire stay.

The impact of these restrictions manifested itself in interesting ways. For example, we met a group of Rice University boosters who were traveling with the baseball team as part of an educational visit. The team was slated to travel around the country, playing against teams and attending lectures, all contributing to college credits for the athletes. With Fidel's death, the Cuban players were no longer able to play the scheduled games, leaving the Rice University tour leaders with the unenviable task of keeping 40+ players occupied when more than half of their daily activities had been wiped out.

So back to the task at hand.

After a lengthy check-in process (not the norm), we decided to do lunch in Sierra Maestra, the Havana Libre's top restaurant located on its 25th floor. The views of Havana and the sea from the vantage point of the dining room were stunning. One of the things which struck me as unusual though was the lack of boating activity in the waters around Havana. The waters off the coast of Havana are the Florida Straits, the body of water that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. One of the givens in the waters of the coasts of Florida and the Caribbean islands, is a lot of boating and other water activities. For the duration of my stay in Havana, the only boats I saw in the water were the two cruise ships pictured below and a Roll on-Roll off cargo ship exiting the harbor.

While we were at lunch, Parlo struck up a conversation with a grandmother, mother, and kid and was so engrossed in it that I decided to vacate the premises. I figured I could get some writing in while she was otherwise engaged. After a while, the daughter and son accompanied Parlo back to our room (the young lady was of Cuban heritage and lived in Miami) to give me pointers as to the way things were during the mourning period, things I could and could not do, and places to avoid. From our room we had a pretty good view of Old Havana so she was able to physically point out areas to me as she spoke.

After the young lady left (we were going to meet them for dinner at 8:00 pm at a location outside the hotel), Parlo and I began discussions as to what to do with the remainder of the day. I preferred to start exploring on the morrow but she wanted to get out immediately. Neither of us were budging so she decided to go tour the city on her own. She rented a CoCo taxi (a three-wheeled vehicle with a single seat for the driver upfront and space for up to three passengers in the rear). She was gone for  a while and came back all bubbly and full of stories of the places they had visited and the pictures she had taken. I regretted my decision.

After Parlo's return, we began preparations for dinner. As mentioned, Parlo had arranged for us to have dinner with the family she had met at lunch. The dinner was scheduled for 8:00 pm at a restaurant called La Torre, located on the 35th floor ( or 33rd or 36th, depending on your source) of the Focsa Building. The Focsa building was within walking distance of our hotel so we strode out of the hotel lobby and into the streets of Vedado. Our destination is the tallest building in Vedado so finding our way there was not going to be a problem.

As we were walking a man approached us, engaging us in conversation as we went. He asked where we were from (He loved the US), how did we like Cuba so far, and where we were going. When we told him the name of the restaurant, he told us that it was closed as a result of Fidel's death. We said we wanted to see that for ourselves so he offered to show us the way. We got there and the restaurant was closed. He then offered to take us to one of the best paladares (small, family-run restaurant, usually setup in a converted part of a home) in Vedado for our dinner. We walked with him to this paladar named Santa Barbara, but it was full. He walked us to a second paladar but, after we were seated, we found out that this establishment was not selling alcohol beverages because of Fidel's death. Faced with the choice of a drinks-free dinner at that establishment versus dinner with wine at the hotel, we opted for the latter.

In Havana, tourists are a key part of the city's income source. The needs of these tourists are met by restaurants, hotels, bars, nightclubs, craft shops, and suchlike. But there is a thriving industry of business facilitators. These are folks who approach you on the streets and try to steer you to a particular establishment be it a restaurant, a taxi, or cigar co-op (as we will see in my upcoming post). These "steerers" are compensated by the benefiting establishment but are not averse to receiving a token of the buyers appreciation. The gentleman who attempted to help us find a place to eat that night was a steerer.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A selection of the best wines tasted in 2016: Part II, winery visits

In Part I of this topic, I had promised to complete the series in two posts. I lied. After compiling the data for the second post, I realized that I had to further segment my intended second into two distinct posts, one dealing with winery visits (mostly current releases) and the other with wines tasted "around the way" (older wines). This post covers the winery-visit wines.

Winery visits reported on the blog during the course of 2016 include:
  • Portions of the North Greece wine tour not otherwise reported in 2015
  • Visits to Domaine Skouras in Nemea and the Wines of Athens producers during the Winelovers 4th Anniversary Trip
  • Visit to wineries in Sicily, as facilitated by Brandon Tokash
  • Visit to Piemonte for the launch of Suzanne Hoffman's Labor of Love
  • Visits to port houses and estates in Porto and Douro as part of a DWCC-reverie trip
  • Visits to port houses and estates as part of the recent Winelovers Conference
  • Visit to Umbria as part of an Art in Voyage trip.
The regions, and the selected wines, are presented below.

North Greece 
Ktima Kir Yianni
Ramnista 2011 and 2005 (PDO Naoussa Xinomavro) -- More muted on nose; spicy; more vegetal character but more elegance. The 2005 exhibited some more developmental characteristics to include truffles and kerosene.

Wine Art Estate
The first wine poured was the 2013 Techni Alipias, an 80/20 Sauvignon Blanc-Assyrtiko blend. The wine was aromatic with a grassy nose accompanying grapefruit and tropical aromas. The minerality and mouthfeel reflected the Assyrtiko contribution. Bright acidity with some bitterness and a lengthy finish.

The next wine up was a 2015 Malagousia. This wine exhibited fruity and floral aromas and a slight reductiveness. White flower, white peach, white melon. Uber pleasant.

The 2011 Assyrtiko was tank fermented. Less mineral than Santorini Assyrtikos. As is the case for all the estate's white varieties, the fruit was sourced from the Kali Vrisi vineyard. Citrus and complex tropical fruit suggestive of riper grapes. Citrus rind. The 2014 Assyrtiko was barrel-aged and showed toast notes and grapefruit. The oak (medium toast) was beautifully integrated.

The 2014 Chardonnay spent six months on oak. Sweet vanilla notes and great acidity. A burnt toast flavor is late-arriving. This could be a Chardonnay in the class of Leeuwin Art Series Chardonnay or Capensis were it not for an overt oak presence

Cantine Paolo Cali
Cantine Paolo Cali is located in the Salmé district of Vittorio in the heart of the Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG and Vittoria DOC regions. Within the larger estate, 15 ha of organic vineyards are planted on pre-historic marine dunes at elevations of 180 m. Two of plots -- Forfice and Frappato -- are planted on these beach sands.

As the capper to the morning's tastings, Paolo brought out a bottle of 1932 Cerasuolo. As he explained it, this was a family wine that has been stored in a 250 L chestnut vat and is only tapped for special events like holidays, festivals, and family occasions. He was somewhat sheepish in offering it, apologizing ahead of time for any injury that it might cause. He had nothing to apologize about.

The wine was golden in color, providing a visual clue to the presence of oxidative notes (or oxidation). On the nose, an elegant tawny port, figs, dates, walnuts, coffee, dried cocoa, and burnt orange. On the palate smooth, balanced with a surprising amount of acid still present after all these years. Oxidative notes that struck the right tones. Surprisingly different than what I was expecting. Still a lot of life left in this baby. Long, smooth tropical finish. I luxuriated in this wine and rued the fact that we had to leave abruptly -- with most of the bottle still intact -- in order to get to another appointment.

Barone di Villegrande (Milo, Mt Etna)
The 2012 Etna Rosso was unctuous with faded sweet strawberries, red plum, nutmeg, dried herbs, dried bark, and mahogany on the nose. Great weight on the palate along with strawberry, raspberry, and spice notes. Great acidity. Long, dried herb, spicy finish. The tannins and acidity tell of a long life to come.

Barbara Liuzzo preparing to lead us in a tasting
Lineup of the wines tasted
Azienda Frank Cornelissen
After our discussion and tour of the cellar we tasted four of the Cornelissen wines beginning with the Munjebel bianco 2014. This white wine is made from 60% Grecanico Dorato and 40% Carricante. Unlike the majority of Etna producers, Frank does not see Carricante as the best grape for the region's white wines. He feels that it is too acidic. The grapes for this wine are grown on 40+-year-old vines grown in the Calderara soprano and Borriglione vineyards. A total of 4000 bottles of this wine is produced annually. This wine is amber in color, a result of fermentation on the skins. Florality, spice, and a savoriness on the nose. Savoriness flows through to the palate. A textured wine with great acidity and a long finish.

Our next wine tasted was the estate'e entry-level red wine, the Contadino 2014. This wine is made from 85% Nerello Mascalese with contributions from Nerello Cappuccio, Alicante Bouchet, Minella nero, Uva Francesca, and Minella bianco. This 24,000 bottle production is sourced from 50+ year vines grown in the Piccolo, Malpasso, Campo Re, Crasa, Piano Daine, and Porcaria vineyards. This wine is red-fruit dominant but has some blueberry notes. Rich and earthy. Structured.

The Munjebel rosso 2014 is a pure Nerello Mascalese from 60+ year vines grown on the Chiusa Spagnolo, Monte Colla, Porcaria, Barbabecchi, Rampante, Piano Daine, and Crasa vineyards. Red berry fruit and drying tannins. Rich and balanced.

The final wine tasted was the 2014 Munjebel Feudo di Mezzo, in this case an en primeur sample. Savory with a preponderance of black olives. Long, bitter finish.

The tasting included 2011 and 2012 Rovitellos. This is a Nerello Mascalese-Nerello Cappuccio (10%), single-vineyard blend which has been aged for 12 months in barrique and an additional 12 months in bottle. Savory dried-herb note overlaying tobacco, cigar box (more prevalent in the 2011), mahogony, spice and fig. On the palate, raisin, fig, dried and green herbs, spiciness, and an oily finish. Raisiny character more prevalent in 2011 but beautiful fruit character on both wines. The fruit masks some of the complexity of the 2011.

Tasting lineup

The first wine tasted was the Arneis 2015. The grapes for this wine are sourced from vineyards planted in 1967 in Santo Stefano Roero on calcareous clay soils. The training system is guyot and the planting density is between 4500 and 500 vines/ha. The wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks and remains on the lees for 25 days.

Walnut and creamy richness. Lime and lime rind. Minerality. Attention-grabbing acidity. According to Elena this wine should be put aside for a while; maybe 1 year.

The La Crena Barbera d'Asti 2012 is sourced from vines planted in 1932. South-facing vineyard on clayey silt soils and vines trained guyot. Twenty-day fermentation in open-top steel vats and then transferred to barrels for MLF. Aged in barrels and barriques for 16 months. The old vines generally yield structured, powerful wines and this drives the decision to keep the wines in bottle for an additional year before commercial release.

Rich red fruit. Savoriness. Oily. Concentrated. Hint of sweetness. Great acidity. Full round mouthfeel yielding to a long finish.

The Barolo Brunate 2012 is sourced from 43-year-old vines grown on chalky-clay soils in the historic Brunate vineyard in La Morra. The 1.6-ha plot is planted to 4600 vines/ha. Three days of cold maceration is followed by 15 days of fermentation and five days of maceration. MLF in barrels followed by 36 months of aging in large barrels and barriques. Blended and bottled without filtration.

Classic tar and rose notes. Pine. Asphalt. On the palate, rich yet focused. Silky tannins. Fresh, fruity, and elegant.

As was the case for the Brunate vineyard, the Lazzarito vineyard is also blessed with chalky-clay soils. The 1.7 ha Vietti plot is SW facing and the 39-year-old vines are planted 4500 vines/ha. The 2012 Lazzarito had a nose of beautiful, rich red fruit with baking spices, black pepper, and a savoriness. Powerful wine with sweet red fruits dominating the palate.

I have described the Rocche di Castiglione MGA in greater detail elsewhere. The Vietti plot is 1.3 ha in size, is SE-facing and is planted to 4600 plants/ha with 47-year-old vines. A 29-day fermentation-maceration period is followed by MLF and 31 months in barrel.

The 2012 Rocche di Castiglione exhibited red cherries, roses, licorice, and spice on the nose. Power and bright acidity on the palate. Full, round mouthfeel. Lengthy finish.

Paolo Bea
The first wine tasted was the 2011 Arboreus. The Trebbiano Spoletino vines are more than 100 years old and each plant can produce between 40 and 60 kilo of grapes. The vines are in excess of 3 m tall and grow around trees, eventually killing them. The wine spent 22 days on the skins during fermentation. The wine had an orange color and and orange peel on the nose along with a savory, nutty, asparagus character. Spicy and bright on the palate. A lovely wine.

The second wine was the 2009 Sanvalentino Umbria Rosso IGT and is made from second-passage grapes from all vineyards. In 2009 it was a blend of Sangiovese (60%), Sagrantino (30%), and Montepulciano (10%). This wine spent 32 months in oak. On the nose, sweet herbs, baking spices, and a savoriness. On the palate, sweet red fruit and power with biting acidity. Full-bodied. Mouth-coating tannins. Lengthy finish

The 2008 Pipparello Montefalco DOC Rosso Riserva is a blend of Sangiovese (60%), Montepulciano (25%), and Sagrantino (15%). This wine spent 10 months in stainless steel tanks and 33 months in 25 hl slavonian oak barrels. High-toned, focused, concentrated dark fruit with spice. Huge wine on the palate. Concentrated. Savory with tar and mint notes.

The 2008 Rosso de Vèo Umbria Rosso IGT exhibited red fruits, tar, and a little bit of stewed fruit on the nose. On the palate it showed as relatively simple and lacking in concentration. Giampiero was not satisfied with this wine and opened a second bottle. This second bottle was far more expressive on the nose and showed a lot more concentration. Anise, licorice, tar, and black fruits. Balanced.

We next tasted the 2008 Pagliaro. This is the estate's flagship wine, a 100% Sagrantino that was macerated for 38 days after which it spent 10 months in stainless steel and 33 months in large oak barrels. The vines from which the grapes for this wine are sourced are between 35 and 45 years old. Spice, anise, licorice, tar, and jammy sweet fruit on the nose. Dense and fleshy on the palate with expressive tannins.

The final wine tasted was a new entrant onto the market, the 2007 Cerrete Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG. The vines for this wine are planted in a 3-ha vineyard at the highest point of the Sagrantino area. Total production is 4000 bottles. This wine was produced in 2007 for the first time and was not produced in 2008. Grapes from the vineyard that were not used in this wine in 2007 were used in the Rosso de Vèo wine. Sweet, concentrated, dark fruit along with licorice and tar.  Delivers fully on the palate. This is a beautiful wine. I was so impressed that I bought a six-pack on site.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The best wines tasted in 2016: Part I, Antonio Galloni events

This year, I am going to present this topic in two parts: the wines tasted at Galloni events and the wines tasted everywhere else. As the title indicates, we begin with the Galloni-events wines.

I attended a total of four Galloni tastings during the course of the year:
  • Bartolo Mascarello: A Historical Perspective (1958 - 2010), a tasting dinner held at the 28º - 50º Maddox Street location (London, April 26th)
  • Soldera: Brunello di Montalcino Through the Ages (1981 - 2006), a tasting dinner held at maze Restaurant in London, on April 27, 2016. 
  • Vietti Barolo Rocche di Castiglione: A Historical Retrospective (1961 - 2011), a tasting dinner held at Vaucluse in New York City, May 10th, 2016
  • Ornellaia and Masseto Retrospective (1995 - 2010), from Magnum, a tasting dinner held at Bouley Test Kitchen, December 5, 2016.
The Bartolo Mascarello Tasting

Used with permission of Vinous Media LLC
The wines that were on my radar screen coming out of the tasting were the 1995, 1997, and all of the wines in Flights 4 and 5.

I had tasted this Mascarello vintage three years ago and at that time had described it as having "a bouquet of dried cherry, soy, and sandalwood. Medium length with red fruits, leather, and mushroom." I found the wine at this tasting to be elegant on the nose with evidence of sweet flowers, tar, asphalt, and dark fruits. Intense red fruits on the palate with some stemminess. Dried rose petal, mushroom, and tobacco on the palate. Long sour finish with a drying towards the end.

This wine exhibited the classic tar and roses but, in addition, an intense spiciness. Great structure and acidity. No rough edges on the palate. Long, sour finish. Best wine tasted up to that time. Antonio had similar sentiments, remarking on the sensuality, roundness, and harmony of the wine. He thought that it was the best wine of its flight.

Flight 4: Greatest Four Wines of Recent Vintages
Tar, roses, green herbs. Young, balanced, focused, round. Sensation of heat. One of the first great vintages that Antonio had reviewed and he sees it as a vintage of incredible pedigree.

Not very expressive on the nose. Cherries. Red fruit on the palate. Tannins present. Rich with a hint of molasses. Long, sour finish. I loved this wine. This, according to Antonio, was a vintage of structured Barolos, masculine and brooding. These wines will be long-lived.

Hints of roses, tar, cigars, tobacco. Antonio saw it as having incredible aromatics and being light and delicate on the palate. He described it as being Pinot-like.

Young. Spice and high-toned red fruits. Not very expressive of traditional Barolo aromas. Structured. Rich. Powerful. Brooding. Antonio considers it the greatest vintage of his time.

Flight 5: Magnum Flight
This flight included the 1986 and 1958 vintages in magnum.

A very special vintage in Piemonte, according to Antonio. This vintage was under the radar. No one had paid any attention to the vintage because of hail. Few producers actually made Barolo in that year. When he speaks to producers who made wine in 1986, they consistently tell him that they prefer the 1986 to the 1985. This magnum was sourced directly from the winery.

Dried rose petals, tar, sauvage, dried herbs, leather, cigar box, and spice. Ripe and lively on the palate. Balanced. Long, sour finish. A beautiful wine. Antonio described it as powerful and pungent.

Antonio thinks that this is the greatest wine ever made at Mascarello. The magnum is actually 1.9 L so that it could be used to fill two .750s while leaving the sediment in the wine remaining in the bottle.

Pungent, piercing nose with laser-sharp focus. Tar, roses, cherries, peeled green mangoes, and coriander. Savoriness. Hint of sweetness. Drinking younger than expected.

The Gianfranco Soldera Tasting

The tasting was organized into five thematic flights with the intent of allowing attendees to "trace the evolution of the wines and house styles all the way back to 1981." The flights were named and ordered as shown in the table below.

FlightNomenclatureInclusive Vintages
The Early Years1981, 1982, 1987, 1988
Sleeper Vintages2000 Riserva, 2003 Riserva, 2005 Riserva
The Mid-1990s1993 Riserva, 1994 Riserva, 19995 Riserva, 1996 Riserva
Reference Points1997 Riserva, 1999 Riserva, 2001 Riserva, 2004 Riserva
The Icons1993 (Magnum), 1983 Riserva (Magnum), 1990 Riserva, 2006 Riserva

After this tasting, it was clear to see why Antonio had fallen under the spell of this wine. High quality across the board and basically variations on a theme. Even in the years when vintage effects significantly affect the quality of his competitors' products, Soldera manages to produce wines that are clearly recognizable as his. I kept all of my glasses during the course of the tasting and went back at the end to taste all of the wines. Even with some of the wines being in the glass for well over three hours, they had all retained their integrity.

As it would be impractical to reproduce the notes for all of the wines in this post, I encourage you to follow the link in this title section to get to the tasting notes. Each one of these wines fall into the category of the best wines I tasted in 2016.

The Vietti Barolo Rocche di Castiglione Tasting

Used with permission. Courtesy of Vinous, LLC.
The first wine tasted was the 1986. Luca was attending enological school during this vintage when the area was hit by hail on a late morning in early May, causing the loss of 2/3 of the crop. If the hail occurs early enough, you can still make good wine. And they did. This was the wine of its flight. Balsamic, stewed fruit, iron, tea, dried rose petals, herbs and a savoriness on the nose. On the palate intense red fruit along with olives, mushroom, leather, licorice, and white truffle. Balanced with a long, elegant finish.

The 1996 was the wine of its flight. Balsamic, dried rose petals, and dried herbs on the nose. Tight focus. Elegant. Engages all elements of the palate. This wine will age forever. According to Luca, Rocche likes cool vintages and such conditions prevailed for this wine. Luca likes it because of its freshness. He called it "super classic."

The 2004 exhibited spice, red fruit, lead pencil, and licorice. Unctuous. Sweetness on the palate along with great acidity, tar, licorice, and anise. Weighty. Rich, long finish. A long growing season and the first vintage of finesse in Barolo (Antonio Galloni).

The 2006 exhibited tar, earth, and licorice on the nose and licorice and anise on the palate. Virile and powerful but with silky tannins.

Rich red fruit on the nose of the 2010 along with rose petal, mint, and tar. Rich red fruit and anise on palate. Powerful. Lengthy, tart finish. According to Antonio, has been fantastic from the beginning.

The Ornellaia and Masseto Tasting

The 2006 Ornellaia was the first of the wines tasted to exhibit any noticeable acidity. Rich and intense, with juicy acidity surrounded by a beautiful core of fruit. Good levels of fruit and acidity in the 2006 Masseto. Rich, structured, powerful, and balanced. This wine is a buy.

The 2004s were the first wines to show really well on the nose. This illustrated the relative youth of the previous wines. The Ornellaia had floral notes along with tea, licorice, and olives. Full-bodied. Heavier than the earlier vintages. The Masseto was a beautiful wine. Classic older Merlot. Granny's attic, spice, and a dankness. Weighty and structured.

The 1998 Ornellaia was a beautiful wine. Cigar box, tobacco leaf, and black fruit on the nose. Textured and structured. A "come-hither" wine. The Masseto presented cigar box, tobacco, orange peel, and spice. Textured and balanced with a long finish. Axel remarked on the "smoky tobacco leaf character" of both of the wines in the 1998 vintage.
The 1997 Ornellaia was a desirable wine with still a lot of life ahead. A little green pea and coconut on the nose along with a restrained orange peel. Fresh on the palate. Fine-boned and elegant. Long finish. 

The 1995 Masseto showed tobacco and Granny's attic. Great acidity and sharp red fruit. Lengthy finish. An excellent wine.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme