Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Italian Merlots: Castello di Ama's L'Apparita (Chianti Classico, Tuscany)

Our pursuit of Italian Merlots began at the coastal vineyards of Suvereto and Bolgheri in the Province of Livorno and from there we progress to the heartland of the Tuscan region and the vineyards of  Castello di Ama and San Giusto a Rentennano in Chianti Classico and Petrolo in the Chianti Colli Aretini sub-zone of Chianti. Today's post covers Castello di Ama and its monovarietal Merlot, L'Apparita.

Ama is a small hamlet which sits at 500 meters (1500 feet) elevation in Gaiole in Chianti in the Province of Siena.  During the 1970s, the Roman families Sebasti, Cavanna, Carini, and Tradico formed a partnership and bought property in the hamlet with the express purpose of producing world-class wines. The property they acquired was a rounded hilltop -- with primarily southern exposure and a clayey calcareous soil -- 240 ha in size, 90 ha of which is, today, devoted to grape-growing and 40 to olive groves.

Location of Castelo di Ama (Source:www.casadonatello.com)
According to Sergei Gusovski (Wine, etc., pantagruel.com.ua ), winery management began "experiments with new clones of Sangiovese, differrent variants of vine training, and with four elite vineyards ... " in the mid-1970s and their success attracted the attention of "experts and connesieurs." The winery went to a next level, however (again, according to pantagruel.com.ua), when 23-year-old Lorenza Sebasti, scion of one of the founding families, left Rome and went to Ama to manage the property as a life calling.

To advance their aim of producing world-class wines, the owners hired the young Marco Pallenti as winemaker in 1982. After he was hired, Pallenti went to study in Bordeaux and, upon his return, embarked on a 10-year project to define the site's viticultural characteristics in order to marry the best grapes with the best soils and, in so doing, produce the best Sangiovese in the region. The result of this effort was the division of the property into blocks, based on soil characteristics and exposure.  The property is divided into five vineyards -- San Lorenzo, Bellavista, La Casuccia, Bertinga, and Montebisoni -- with each vineyard  further sub-divided into parcels.

Pallanti's efforts were not limited to the mapping of site viticultural characteristics. Between 1982 and 1987 he managed the re-trellising of 50,000 vines to the open lyre system ("The lyre vine training system uses wide rows, an open canopy, and shoot positioning to increase grape maturity and quality while maintaining production levels" --  Dr. Alain Carbonneau of the National Institute of Agronomic Research in Bordeaux, The Lyre Trellis for Viticulture Bulletin 4242. Castello di Ama sees the increase in fruit quality and maturity as resulting from presenting a larger canopy surface area for capture of sunlight with knock-on benefits for grape ripening.) and grafted new clones onto existing rootstocks to "take advantage of the the geology and topography" of the property.

Marco was named Oenologist of the year in 2003 by the magazine Vini d'Italia. Ownership of the estate was passed on to Lorenza Sebasti in the late 1980s and she married Marco in the 1990s.

The wine L'Apparita is a 100% Merlot which is made from grapes grown on 3.844 ha (9.495 acres) of land constituting parcels 23 to 25 of the Bellavista vineyard. These parcels were initially planted to Canaiola and Malvasia Blanca but were regrafted to Merlot clone 342 between 1982 and 1985. The soil is clay rich and the vine training method is open lyre.

At harvesting, berry bunches are inspected for quality with the accepted grapes harvested by hand and placed into small boxes for transportation to the winery. Once in the winery, the clusters are placed on sorting tables for a second level of inspection. The grapes which pass this level are destemmed and gently pressed and the resulting juice is routed to stainless steel tanks for fermentation. The must was kept in contact with the cap by pumping over in earlier vintages but the practice is currently to punch down the cap. The must macerates for 30 days after which it is placed into 50% new French oak barriques for malolactic fermentation.  Upon completion of malolactic fermentation, the wine is racked off the lees, assembled, and then placed back into barriques for 18 months of aging. Production of the 2008 vintage was 6750 Bordeaux bottles, 700 magnums, and 100 double magnums.

In its review of the 2006 edition of this wine, Wine Enthusiast glowed "L'Apparita is a divine and delicate expression of Merlot with rich layers of black cherry, blackberry, spice, mocha, cedar, exotic spice and polished stone that are seamlessly woven together." Closer to home, Gambero Rosso has awarded the wine numerous Tre Bichieris (acknowledgement of the best wines in Italy in a given year) beginning with the 1990 vintage and continuing through 1992 and, more recently, the 2000, 2001, and 2004 vintages.

This label is a stalwart in the pantheon of Italian Merlots.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Chianti Classico Wine Region

In a January 2001 article on Italian Merlot (New Wave Merlot in Italy, Wine Business.com), Franco Zillani notes that the presence of Merlot in Italy was first documented by one Salvatore Mondini who identified the variety as being present "in various regions of the north as well as in Tuscany, Latium, ... and Campania ..." The Merlots of note in Tuscany today are centered around Bolgheri and Suvereto in the Province of Livorno, Chianti Classico (Provinces of Florence and Siena), and Bucine (Province of Arezzo).  We have covered the Merlots of Bolgheri and Suvereto so far in this series and now turn our attention to the Merlots of Chianti Classico. We begin with a discourse on the region.

The modern Chianti Classico production zone encompasses a series of hills -- elevation between 200 and 600 meters -- that are bordered by Siena to the south, the Florentine town of San Casciano Val di Pesa to the north, the hills of the Arno River Valley to the east, and the Elsa River Valley to the west. Originally referred to as Chianti, the area shaded in blue in the map below was recognized as a wine region since the 13th century but was legalized as such by a decree issued by Grand Duke Cosimi III de Medici in 1714. A Ministerial Decree issued in 1932 expanded the Chianti region to cover eight sub-zones, one of which was the original Chianti. The former Chianti was expanded to its current borders (shown in the map below) and given the name Chianti Classico in a bow to its historical origins. Chianti Classico was granted DOCG status in 1996.

Tuscany wine region map (ateliersetsaveurs.com)

The Chianti Classico climate is continental, with long summers and cold winters. Annual rainfall ranges between 700 and 800 millimeters and occurs primarily in the spring and late autumn.

The region possesses a diversity of soils: marl (San Casciano Val di Pesa); calcareous clay (Greve and all zones at lower altitudes); sandstone (backbone of Chianti Mountains); limestone (central and southern portions of the district); and tufa (around Castelnuevo Berardenga). When limestone and sandstone are found in alternating layers, that soil is called Galestro. Clay-limestone mixes are called Albarese. According to Berry Bros & Rudd, "The sandy alluvial soils of the lower sites yield fuller, meatier wines while the limestone and galestro soils of the higher vineyards deliver finer, more ethereal examples" (bbr.com).

Approximately 10,000 ha of vineyards are planted of which 7100 ha is classified DOCG. Vineyards have traditionally utilized the Guyot training system -- or a derivative known as the Tuscan bow -- but, more recently, spurred cordon is being implemented as it aids mechanization without sacrificing quality.

The DOCG production discipline requires maximum yield/ha of 7500 kilograms, yield/vine of not more than 3 kg, and minimum planting density of 3350 vines/ha. Average planting density runs between 4500 and 6500 plants/ha.

The varieties planted in the region are shown in the table below.

To be designated DOCG, a wine must be made of a minimum 80% Sangiovese and up to a maximum of 20% of the following regionally produced varieties: Canaiolo, Colorino, Merlot, or Cabernet Sauvignon. A Chianti Classico D'annata cannot be sold until 1 year after the harvest and must be a minimum 12% abv. A Chianti Classico Riserva must spend 2 years in oak and a minimum 3 months in bottle. Alcohol levels must be 12.5% or greater.

After over two years of study, The Chianti Classico Consorzio has announced the introduction of a new tier of wine that will be positioned above the Riserva. This new tier will be called Gran Selezione and is designed to communicate the quality of the wines resulting from replanting over 60% of the regions vines in the past 15 years. The wines must be: made from estate-grown grapes with yields not to exceed 52.5 hectoliters/ha; 80% Sangiovese; spend 30 months in oak; and spend three months in bottle. Producers can begin offering these wines using their 2010 vintages. While some producers see this as a positive step, potentially leading to single-vineyard offerings, others see the possibility for creating greater confusion as the consumer wades through the thickets of Chianti, Chianti Classico, IGT, and the relevant tiers.

Besides its DOCG wines, Chianti Classico is also known for a sweet wine called Vin Santo and as the birthplace of the now-famous Super Tuscans. Vin Santo is made from Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes which are harvested and dried -- either on mats or hanging from ceilings -- for several months. After pressing, the wines are aged in oak casks for long periods. The Super Tuscan wines grew out of producer-frustration with earlier iterations of the wine laws which prevented them from making wines that were 100% Sangiovese or removing the allowed white varieties from the wine. These producers took this action anyway but the resulting wines could only be called table wine under existing laws. These wines were so finely made, and widely accepted, that the laws were modified such that a new level -- IGT -- was created above the table wine to support their initiative. The current instance of the Chianti Classico wine laws would allow many of the Super Tuscan wines to be labeled as Chianti Classico but many producers continue to retain the IGT label and the success that they have enjoyed as standalone brands.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, March 18, 2013

Augustan sales force "backbones" new Premier Beverage Account Development Team

Premier Beverage, a member of the Charmer Sunbelt Group, and one of Forida's largest distributors of wine, spirits, and other beverages, is streamlining its operations and enhancing its customer-servicing capabilities by melding the Augustan Sales Force and the Premier Account Development Specialist Team (Premier ADST) into a new organization called the Premium Account Development Specialist Team.  I spoke with Andrew McNamara MS, Director of Fine Wine/Master Sommelier, Premier Beverage Company and Augustan Wine Imports (and newly minted member of the Board of Directors, Court of Master Sommeliers) and Proal Perry, General Manager of Augustan Wine Imports, the team is slated to manage this new organization, to get their perspective on the rationale and implementation of this organizational move.

Andrew McNamara MS
Proal Perry
According to Proal, Augustan was founded in 1983 with the intent of bringing small-producer, estate-bottled wines to the Florida market. The business model was successful but the company did not have the size to fully serve the market so it entered into a partnership with Premier Beverage. The organizational structure that was in-place when I interviewed Proal two+ years ago was as follows: a commissioned sales force; a General Manager/Sales Manager who reported directly to Proal and was charged with balancing responsibilities across the company; two Portfolio Managers – one responsible for the U.S. and the other for the rest of the world – who handled issues such as inventory, profitability, costing, and supplier contact and coordination; and a Marketing Specialist who handled referrals. This structure no longer meshes with Premier's strategic imperatives nor the realities on the ground.

The driving forces for the melding of the organizations were two-fold: (i) Customers have a number of sales people calling on them and are always looking to reduce the number of calls that they have to field.  By having a single salesperson calling on a customer, and representing the company's full lineup of products, Premier can show that it is listening and reacting to their stated needs without sacrificing its goals. (ii) The producers that Augustan represents continue to grow and there was a need to provide a sales organization that could continue to effectively represent their products in tandem with their growth. The process of melding the organization began about four months ago with intensive planning regarding the strategy and operation as well as intensive interviewing to flesh out the team.

The new, streamlined organization has two aspects: (i) The Premium Account Development Specialist Team -- headed by Andrew -- with responsibility for selling the majority of the Augustan-sourced offerings plus selected elements of the Premier book and the capability to sell the remainder of the Premier book as the occasion arises; (ii) A sourcing/marketing/product knowledge function with the responsibility for product acquisition, producer management, knowledge acquisition and distribution (both internally and externally), and creation of events and shows which project the products that are being sourced for the market. 

The new sales force is comprised of 19 sales people plus two managers and is deployed in North and South sub-teams. Andrew, in his new position, will report to Alan Paquette, Vice President of Wine. The Marketing Specialist will expand his focus to include all the wines that will be sold by the Premier Account Development Specialist Team and will have primary responsibility for product knowledge acquisition and dissemination. The team is further blessed by having Andrew, with his capabilities, to assist in staff and customer product training. Proal continues as General Manager of Augustan Wine Import. 

This is an exciting time for the new team.  Andrew's challenge will be melding the cultures of two separate organizations such that the end result is a group with a common sense of purpose and the tools to accomplish its goals. The challenge for the sales force will be getting up to speed on a broader array of products, and a different business model, while getting to know new team members, and maintaining the level of production in the short term. On the other side of the coin, they are now able to offer a wider variety of "new" choices to their existing customers and, as such, increase their perceived value.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Part IX -- Production levels and markets: The definitive comparison of Champagne, Franciacorta, Prosecco, and Cava

Champagne production is significantly larger than the levels for the sparkling wines under consideration in this series as indicated in the chart below.  The specifics regarding production levels and market for each wine type follows.

2011 Production (000 bottles)
A total of 322 million bottles of Champagne were produced in 2011 of which 69% (222 million bottles) were produced by the Champagne Houses with the remaining 31% produced by Growers.  Fifty-six percent of the Champagne produced was consumed in France with the remainder being shipped abroad to the United Kingdom, United States, and Germany among others.  This export market is dominated by the Champagne Houses as only 13% of Grower Champagne is exported.  The Champagne House-Grower split is more evenly balanced within France with 55% of consumption being sourced from the Champagne Houses.

Franciacorta production in 2011 was 11,080,000 bottles of which 8% is exported. The primary export markets are Japan, Germany, Switzerland. and North America.

Prosecco production has grown from 5 million bottles in 1970 to 200 million bottles in 2011, a 3900% increase over the period (Ben Cooper, Prosecco leads the sparkling wine charge, justdrinks.com, 9/13/12). There is some disagreement as to the mix of domestic consumption and foreign exports (Gambero Rosso pegs domestic consumption at 70% while Italian Wine Club (itwineclub.com) pegs it at 40% and beveragemedia.com shows it as being 60% (Roger Morris, Prosecco's bubble not bursting ..., June 16, 2011)) but there is no disagreement as to the most significant foreign markets for Prosecco: US, Canada, Japan, Russia, Baltic States, Austria, Germany, and Great Britain.  Foreign markets penetration proceeded through Germany, then the UK, followed by expansion to North America, Japan, and South America (Gambero Rosso).

Cava production in 2011 was 239,556,000 bottles, 63.5% of which was exported. While domestic consumption in 2011 fell by 8.7% over 2010 ( a result of current economic conditions within the country), exports increased by 2% resulting in an overall reduction in production of 2.14%. The primary export markets for Cava are Germany, the UK, Belgium, and the US in that order. The leading Cava producers are Codorniu, Freixenet, and Segura Viudas.

For a look back at previous posts in the series, please click on the appropriate link below.

Part I -- Origins
Part II -- Regulatory histories
Part III -- Macro-Level characteristics
Part IV -- Production zones
Part V -- The vineyards
Part VI -- Fermentation and aging
Part VII -- Wine styles
Part IX -- Production levels and markets

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, March 11, 2013

Part VIII -- The nonconformists: The definitive comparison of Champagne, Franciacorta, Prosecco, and Cava

Over the course of the seven posts to date comparing Champagne, Franciacorta, Prosecco and Cava, I have detailed the accepted orthodoxy associated with the production of these wines. For the most part, this orthodoxy is followed religiously by all participants but there are some dissenters in the worlds of Champagne and Cava. In this post we explore the areas of departure from this "natural order."

Source: personalitycafe.com


Champagne undergoes layers of manipulation before the final product emerges. The wine undergoes:
  • Chaptalization -- as necessary to bring the juice up to 11% potential alcohol
  • Alcoholic fermentation
  • Blending
  • In-bottle fermentation
    • Solution of wine, sugar, and yeast added
    • Captured carbon dioxide dissolved in wine
  • Aging on lees which (Aromas & Flavors: Explanatory Notes, wine-pages.com):
    • Releases reducing enzymes that inhibit oxidation
    • Absorbs certain essential yeast nutrients (limits potential for refermentation at dosage)
    • Increases amino acids and other nitrogenous matter, precursors to "Champagne character"
    • Produces acetal which possibly adds a biscuity or brandy-like complexity
    • Produces MP32 which reduces tartrate precipitation
  • Liqueur de dosage
    • Adds sweetness, roundness, and complexity (Walters)
The vines in Champagne average 20-25 years old and that average is maintained to ensure vigorous output of less-complex fruit.  A combination of less-complex fruit picked early aids in the production of the austere base wines which the Houses prefer as the starting point for Champagne.  The argument for austere base wines is that the complexity and richness added by the process would make the wines heavy and elegance-free if less-austere wines were used as starters.

A number of growers in the Champagne area are walking away from this model in favor of what Walters (Alternative Champagne 2, The World of Fine Wine, Issue 35, 2012) refers to as "Champagne de Terroir," a wine which "maximizes the expression of the vineyard and removes the influence of the winemaker."  These Champagnes de Terroir are, according to Walters, "only produced successfully by a handfull of the finest growers." In Issue 36 of TWoFW, Walters describes the methods of these "Superior Grower Producers."  They:
  • Own or manage their own vineyards
  • Make wines from their own grapes
  • Begin with a desire to make wines that reflect their origins
    • Single-vineyard or single-commune wines
  • Manage the vineyards with little or no chemical input
    • Biodynamic or organic
  • Plow the soil
  • Seek lower yields than customary for the region
  • Pursue intense fruit so that lower dosage is needed
  • Use dosage in minimal amounts (when used) to balance acidity
  • Mature slowly; no fining or filtering.
The products emanating from this process are wines first and Champagne second, according to Walters.  They are drier, more vinous, clean, pure, and long of finish.  They tend to age well and, in his view, are better with food than a traditional Champagne.

The Growers that fit this mold are Egly-Ouriet, Selosse, Agrapart, Larmandier-Bernier, Jérome Prévost, and Cedric Bouchard (Walters).


A 1972 Spanish Ministerial Order established the Regulatory Board of Sparkling Wines to oversee the growing, production, and marketing of Cava and the wine was granted DO designation in 1986. According to an article on decanter.com (Friday, November 2, 2012), producers in the Penedès wine region are deserting the Cava appellation and branding their offerings as Spanish sparkling wine or building their own sparkling wine brands. According to Josep Albet, President of the Regulatory Council of Penedès (as quoted in the article), nine producers have already deserted the appellation and five others were poised to follow. The producers were taking this action because they felt that the Cava brand had a poor image, with low prices the accepted norm in many markets. One of the producers identified in the article was Mas Comtal whose proprietor claimed to have left the DO in 2011 because the Cava brand was "detrimental" to her business. Another producer, Raventos i Blanc, announced plans to "adopt a new and un-certified regional appellation designation named Conca Del Riu Anoia" (decanter.com, 11/14/2012).

Further, these producers felt that the appellation is too large to be managed or regulated effectively. Josep Albet promised to make two recommendations to the authorities as potential solutions to the problem: (i) shrink the appellation and (ii) have the entire Penedès region designated organic. The latter proposal was seen as adding value and allowing market differentiation.

This is an issue in its early stages and it is not yet clear how it will evolve but the Prosecco approach could point the way to a viable solution. The driving forces were different but Prosecco ended up with a broader DOC, more narrowly defined DOCGs, and specific, high-quality labels (Cartizze, Rive).


For a look back at previous posts in the series, please click on the appropriate link below.

Part I -- Origins
Part II -- Regulatory histories
Part III -- Macro-Level characteristics
Part IV -- Production zones
Part V -- The vineyards
Part VI -- Fermentation and aging
Part VII -- Wine styles

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Italian Merlots: Petra's Quercegobbe (Suvereto, Tuscany)

The Merlots of note in Tuscany are centered around Bolgheri and Suvereto in the Province of Livorno, Chianti Classico (Provinces of Florence and Siena), and Bucine (Province of Arezzo). The Merlot that will be discussed in this post is Quercegobbe, a product of the Petra estate in Suvereto.

In November 2011 Suvereto was elevated to DOCG status with its wines awarded the right to label varietally if the contents were constituted of at least 85% of the named varietal. The petrified clay soils and the Mediterranean climate of the region provides the perfect environment for fully ripening Merlot grapes and the soils are viewed as being richer in minerals, and more structured, than its more famous neighbor to the north, Bolgheri.

Petra -- translates to "stone" -- was founded in 1997 by the father-daughter team of Francesca and Morette Vittorio who had established their winery "chops" on the Bellavista (1977) and Contade Castaldi (1987) estates in Franciacorta. The estate, located in San Lorenzo Alton in Suvereto, is 300 ha in size, with 100 ha dedicated to vineyards and the remainder to olive groves and woods.

The estate's overarching philosophy is “Respect for the identity of the territory and of the soil” According to the estate, "We are in a place where producing healthy grapes is not difficult. The climate and weather here are ideal. Daily sea breezes make sure that the grapes are always dry, and therefore less likely to have problems. We always start to make wine with top fruit conditions, and in the winery we don’t need to make miracles; we only guide the natural process of the more traditional winemaking techniques in a very modern and technologically sound environment. Grapes are grown and picked at different times and with different yields per hectare, according to the wine that we are going to make. The grapes for top wines are picked only when total tannin maturation is reached. After fermentation the wine is already soft. For simpler wines, we tend to produce more grapes per hectare, and the picking is done earlier to preserve drinkability and maintain  a fresher  tasting experience. The aging is long, 18 months in oak and 18 months in barrel. The wine goes on the market already elegant and with good drinkability, then with patience the expert could wait longer. We try to avoid strong wood flavors in our wines and to enhance elegance, drinkability and longevity."

As I have mentioned elsewhere, in the 1990s, Franciacorta producers utilized the services of the University of Milan for extensive zoning studies in order to gain a clear understanding of the soil differentials in the area. That was, apparently, a worthwhile effort from the Vittorios' perspective because they contracted with Professor Attilio Scienza of the same University to conduct a similar agronomic survey on their Suvereto property. The survey identified 12 different soil zones on the property and this information was used as the basis for planting decisions.

Old part of the property where Attilio Scienza conducted soil studies. (Used with permission of Petra)
Old part of the property where Attilio Scienza conducted soil studies. (Used with permission of Petra)
Old part of the property where Attilio Scienza conducted soil studies. (Used with permission of Petra)

Of the estate's three vineyards, the one closest to the winery is farmed organically and this has been the case for the last three years.  Vines are trained Simple Guyot and planting density is 6300 vines/ha. Yields for the top wines are 6 tons/ha and 9 tons/ha for "less-structured" wines. Grapes are hand picked and selected before crushing and after destemming.

Fermentation is facilitated with inoculated yeast. The estate's top offerings are macerated for 25-28 days while lesser offerings are subjected to 12 to 15 days of maceration. The must is kept in contact with the cap through pump overs but , additionally, the top wines are punched-down to ensure maximum extraction.

Top wines undergo malolactic fermentation in oak barrels while the less-structured wines undergo malolactic in stainless steel tanks.

Annual production is 400,00 bottles with 60% destined to foreign markets the most important of which are Switzerland, Germany. Japan, the US, and Canada

Quercegobbe is the estate's 100% Merlot offering. The grapes for the wine are grown on 35 ha in the old part of the property around the winery at 120 meters elevation. The oldest of these vines date back to 1997. The grapes are vinified in 620 hl oak barrels and aged in new French barriques for 18 months. An additional 18 months is spent in bottle in the cellar before the wine is deemed market-ready.

I had been unaware of this wine prior to Alfonse Cevola remarking in a comment on my Masseto post that Petra was just down the road from Masseto  and was "an interesting winery making very dramatic wines." Serena Sutcliffe (Tunnel Vision, Sotheby's Preview, 11/2008) referred to the 2005 vintage of this wine as "pure layered chocolate and balsamico." This is another of the wines I am really excited about tasting at our upcoming event.

(Updated 4/8/12)

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Part VII -- Wine styles: The definitive comparison of Champagne, Franciacorta, Prosecco, and Cava

In Part VI of this series, I examined the fermentation and aging processes of the considered spartkling wines. In this post I examine the styles of wine that result from the application of those processes, beginning with the termination of the aging process.

As described previously, practitioners of the methode champenoise age their wine on the lees (the dead yeast that falls to the bottom of the bottle after all the sugar has been used up in the in-bottle fermentation process). When the producer deems that the sparkling wine has spent enough time on the lees, steps are taken to remove said lees from the bottle.  This is a two-step process with the first step (remuage) designed to move the sediment from the body of the bottle into the neck and the second step (dégorgement) designed to expel the sediment from the bottle.  In the first step, the bottle is moved slowly from a horizontal to a vertical, neck-down position, while simultaneously turning it a few degrees at a time to dislodge the sediment from the walls.  This process had historically been done by hand but is now done by a machine (gyropalette), a change that has yielded dramatic reductions in transit time and a marked increase in throughput. Large format bottles are stilled "riddled" by hand.

In the disgorgement phase the bottle is passed neck-down through a cold brine solution which freezes the sediment-containing liquid in the neck of the bottle.  Removal of the crown cork seal will cause the pressure in the bottle (6 atmospheres) to forcefully expel the frozen material from the neck.

There is no such remuage and disgorgement process for Prosecco. Secondary fermentation occurs under pressure in large vats and when the desired sweetness level is attained, fermentation is arrested and the wine drawn off the lees and placed into bottles under pressure.

Once the lees have been expelled, a mixture of base wine and sugar (liqueur de dosage) is added to the bottle in order to top it up and to attain the desired sweetness level. The bottle is then plugged with a standard Champagne cork and a steel cage placed around the neck and over the cork to hold it in place.  The bottle is shaken vigorously and left to sit for 6 months to ensure full integration of the liqueur de dosage into the wine.

There is no dosage process for Prosecco. When the desired sweetness level is attained, fermentation is arrested and the wine is drawn off the lees and placed into bottles under pressure.

The range of styles utilized in sparkling wines made using the traditional method is shown below.

The in-bottle fermentation process, with its associated autolysis, strips out aspects of the varietal flavors and replaces them with signature yeasty, sourdough flavors.  The longer the wine remains on the lees, the more pronounced these flavors become. Also the longer the residence on the lees, the richer the wine. Champagne is heralded for its elegance and complexity but the greater ripeness of its fruit, and the longer residence on the lees, renders Franciacorta a little richer and fuller and possessing a "softer, more generous mouthfeel" than does Chamapagne.

The attractiveness of Cava is tied to its perception as a "crisp, fruity, well-balanced" sparkling wine with straightforward flavors which can be acquired at prices well below the cost of Champagne. For example, I have called upon the services of the NV Segura Viudas Cava Aria Brut on many an occasion and have been impressed by the pineapple, honey, pear, and bread aromas and flavors which have been delivered at the pocket-pleasing price of $12/bottle

The range of Prosecco styles are shown below. Once the fermentation has been

arrested, the Prosecco is filtered off the lees thus preventing significant erosion of the variety flavor profile. Gambero Rosso characterizes the Prosecco profile as being "fresh and light" with a fruity, floral fragrance and a slim, graceful structure.  Ben Cooper (Prosecco leads the sparkling wine charge, justdrinks.com, 9/13/12) sees Prosecco as being less acidic, having softer bubbles, and having lower alcohol levels than Champagne.  Ben O'Donnell (The Italian (Sparkling) Renaissance, winespectator.com, April 4, 2011) sees Prosecco as being lighter and less yeasty than Champagne.

In the next installment of the series I will be examining the heretics -- those who have strayed from the accepted path. For a look back at previous posts in the series, please click on the appropriate link below.

Part I -- Origins
Part II -- Regulatory histories
Part III -- Macro-Level characteristics
Part IV -- Production zones
Part V -- The vineyards
Part VI -- Fermentation and aging

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Doug Shafer (Shafer Vineyards) in da house

At a recent coming-out party for wineontheway.com proprietor Adam Chilvers (No not that kind. He recently became a dad for the first time and had been confined to barracks. This was his first night out on the town in a while.), I got into a discussion with John Allport of Augustan Wine Imports about the possibility of hosting a winemaker from the Augustan portfolio at my home (something I had done previously). John said that Doug Shafer was coming into town in late February and he would look into the possibility of having Doug participate in such an event. And he came through. Not only did he gain Doug's agreement to attend, he also locked in Kevin Fonzo of K Restaurant (one of the leading chefs in Orlando) to prepare the evening's dinner. I was, needless to say, very excited.

The dinner was scheduled for Tuesday February 26th. We had spent the prior weekend in Napa attending Premier Napa Valley (PNV13) and had only arrived back in Orlando on Monday night. My wife did a yeoman job getting everything in place to allow us to receive guests by the 5:30 pm start time.

A total of 17 people were invited, drawn primarily from the restaurant and wine-retail industries and preferred customers of the wine retailers. I had invited Ron and Adam to come a little ahead of the others and, true to form, Ron brought along a bottle of Jacques Selosse Initiale which he opened to initiate the proceedings.  Doug and Rob Chase, also of Augustan Imports, arrived shortly before 5:30 and the party was officially underway.

The dinner was being held on the lanai off our pool deck but we started drinking Champagne at the kitchen counter. My wife tried to nudge us outside but she was not making much headway. She eventually banished us down to the wine room so that she could have the kitchen area free for the chefs sole use. Once we were in the wine room, Ron whipped out a 1957 Gevrey-Chambertin Les Combottes which I followed with a 1967 Biondi-Santi. This was going to be a good night.

Ron and Doug
My initial plan was to have current-year Shafer wines accompany the dinner and then to taste a four-vintage vertical of Hillside Select to wrap up the evening. Doug was cool with this plan when it was floated.  Once on site, however, he said we did not have to hew to that line. He drank the stuff every day and would not be averse to a different experience. Music to my ears.  Allowed me to do what I love doing best.  Raiding the slots in my cellar.

But before we started free-styling, there was some business to be taken care of. In anticipation of the vintage Hillside vertical, Ron had brought along some old Shafers from his cellar and we thought we would taste those first and get Doug's thoughts on them.

The wines were 1979, 1982, and 1985 vintage and a close examination of the labels show the evolution of the Shafer branding process.  The 1979 and 1982 labels appear at first glance to be similar but on closer inspection the 1982 label has a gold outer banding and an inner gold banding which is wide at the base and has written on it the word Reserve. According to Doug's conversation with Ron, the 1979 was 100% Hillside fruit and was the estate's second vintage. The 1982 Cabernet Reserve was 100% Sunspot (Shafer's best vineyard) fruit and it was the only time that they have ever put the word reserve on the label. The words "Hillside Select" feature more prominently on current labels than it did in the 1985 but overall it is a more recognizably modern label.

We had been munching on cheese and nuts during this period but the word came down that the chef-made appetizers were ready and would be served on the lanai. Hunger was our guide.

Chef Fonzo started us off with two appetizers: (i) goat cheese in a puff pastry and (ii) crab avocado on a crostini. The appetizers were followed in turn by a micro-salad under shrimps and apples.  I paired the salad with a 2008 Bouchard Père & Fils Meursault Perrières.

Doug is a wonderful, unassuming conversationalist and by this time he had had a personal conversation with everyone present about every topic under the sun. The juice kept flowing and so did the courses: a fish course followed by a meat course then a cheese plate.

By now it was close to 9:30 pm, the appointed time for Doug's departure.  The car that had been arranged for him was waiting in the driveway. He had been a perfect guest of honor and we hated to see him go. But the party must go on; and so it did. In his honor of course.

Doug, you are welcome in our town anytime.

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