Sunday, January 26, 2014

15-Vintage Solaia tasting, 1982 - 2009

Last night's tasting demonstrated that, when mother nature cooperates, Solaia is one of the world's foremost Cabernet Sauvignon's and, definitively, one of the leading Super Tuscans. The tasting (previewed in a prior post) was held at K Restaurant, whose chef, Kevin Fonzo, is considered one of the best in the Orlando area.


The evening's plan called for hors d'oeuvres, followed by the formal tasting, and then dinner. I arrived at the venue 30 minutes before the scheduled start time in order to check out the setup, ice-down the drinks that would accompany the hors d'oeuvres, and extract the corks from the bottles. No wines were decanted and, with two exceptions, the corks were in fine fettle.



Used with permission

Attendees began filtering in during the cork-extraction process. The group was comprised of regulars (Steve, Ron, and me plus our spouses), Niccolo' Maltinti (US Brand Ambassador for Marchese Antinori), Tobias Fiebrandt (General Manager, Weingut Josef Leitz, a Rheingau-based winery), and the Frontarios.

The wines that actually made it into the tasting are shown below. The booklet above shows that the series extended to 2010 but I messed up and brought two bottles of 2009, rather than one '09 and one '010. My wife shot daggers at me with her eyes before proceeding to throw me under the bus.

Vintage
Avg Price($)*
JS
AG
WE
WA
WS
ST
1982(1)
299.00




91

1985(2)
394.00



95
94

1987(3)
219.00




88

1989(3)
239.00






1990(2)
335.00




97

1991(3)
191.00




90

1993(3)
210.00






1994(2)
210.00




93

1997(5)
386.00

96
97
96
98
96
1998(4)
216.00



93
93
93
1999(5)
216.00



94
94

2001(5)
244.00



96
93

2002(3)
168.00






2008(4)
249.00

96
96
96
96

2009(6)
249.00
96
96


95
93


JS = James Suckling () Categorization scheme employed by Solaia:
AG = Antonio Galloni (1) The Early Years
WE = Wine Enthusiast (2) The Early Classics
WA = Wine Advocate (3) The Challenging Vintages
WS = Wine Spectator (4) Underrated Vintages
ST = Stephen Tanzer (5) Milestones Part 1
                                                              (6) Milestones Part 2

*Wine-searcher.com

Data sources: Antinori.it, Vinopedia, Wine Spectator, Wine.com, Solaia.net

Steve described the pre-tasting period thusly: "We began with a 1966 Moet & Chandon I've had in my cellar for twenty years. As with most really old Champagnes, the effervescence was gone, but great acidity made the wine quite an interesting old Chardonnay, with a caramel and fig finish... Keith's Jacques Selosse Initiale proved a great palate awakener after that, with a toasty nose, crisp fruit flavors and a lychee finish." These wines were ably accompanied by deviled eggs (with and without bacon toppings) and raw oysters.




I had organized the tasting into flights based on the decade of wine production, a different approach from Antonio Galloni who, in his retrospective, grouped the wines based on the Solaia classification scheme (see table above). His approach, in my humble opinion, misses the rhythm of the vintages and does not allow the taster to observe temporal effects on the wine. But, he is being paid to do this stuff; and I am not.

I called the group to order, made a few opening remarks, and then turned the floor over to Niccolo' to provide an overview of the winery and the wine. In a very precise and incisive overview, Niccolo' noted that the origin of this wine was based on a surfeit of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in 1978 and the solution was to bottle the juice; to the tune of 3600 bottles. Sangiovese was first added in 1982 to aid in balancing the Cabernet Sauvignon's sweetness, to add backbone, and to render the wine more Tuscan. He pointed out that in the first 10 to 15 years of production, they had no idea that this wine would grow to be the icon that it has become. But with that understanding, the Antinori vision has solidified around a wine of finesse, elegance, and longevity, leveraging the "fact" that, in Chianti, Cabernet Sauvignon "speaks with a Tuscan accent."


We rolled into the tasting at the conclusion of Niccolo's presentation. We tasted from the youngest to the oldest flight and, within flights, from the youngest to the oldest wine. In the first flight the 2009 was bright and fresh and balanced. It was drinking well now but also exhibited great aging potential. It had a minty chocolate sweetness and smooth tannins along with a silky, long finish. 2002 had been a challenging year for Solaia with rain resulting in a lack of ripeness for Sangiovese. The final blend was 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc. The words Annata Diversa appears on this label to signal that no Sangiovese is included in the blend. This wine showed green beans, tea, and peat bog on the nose, was unspectacular on the palate, and had a very short finish. The 2001 was, according to Niccolo', the wine in this flight that was most representative of what Solaia strives for. The wine had great structure and drier, more pungent tannins. According to Steve, it brought Rutherford dust to mind. This was most definitely the wine of the flight. In Solaia's classification, this wine is a Milestone wine.


In the 90s flight, the 1990, 1993, and 1998 were slightly pruney, disaggregated, and short of finish. The 1999 was "smooth" and "opulent" with a sawdust character. Niccolo' and I tagged the 1997 as a beautiful wine, endowed with refinement and elegance and with a drinking window that is still wide open. Steve characterized this wine as tannic and thin. The 1994 was slightly over-extracted but countered that with good acidity and vibrant tannins. Steve identified a roasted nose along with mint and vanilla. Mint and herbs on the nose of the 1991 (Steve) accompany good structure and structure. The group's favorite in this flight was the 1999.


The wines in the 80s flight were corked (1985), tight (1987), and short of finish (1989). The 1982 stood head and shoulders above its flight partners. Coffee bean, mint, vanilla, and Georges de Latour on the nose and palate. Long, sweet finish. The wine of the flight and of the night.


At the conclusion of the tasting I solicited comments from the group on the event and the wine. Everyone was happy that they contributed to the exploration of this wine. Ron, based on what he experienced, will be buying this wine in the future. Steve was struck by the fact that the youngest wines were drinkable and the oldest showed no signs of age. He thought he detected some stylistic shifts along the way with the 2000s drinking better than their predecessors and the 1982 being right up his alley. Niccolo' concurred saying that he also found the wines more approachable after 2000.

I came into the tasting a Solaia fan with a number of vintages in my cellar. My go-to wines are the 2001 and 2004, largely due to their elegance and structure. I was slightly disappointed by the approachability of the 2008 and 2009 and hope that this is not a market-facing strategy which may have long-term, detrimental effects to the wine. I will continue buying this wine until my wife tells me to stop.

Post the tasting, our attention shifted to dinner and the wines brought for that purpose. The courses were as follows: ceviche; corn chowder; fish on a bed of savory corn; duck on a bed of risotto; and a wagyu beef with truffle oil and mashed potatoes. Selected wines that accompanied these dishes are displayed immediately below and the night's total haul follows.



Chef Kevin Fonzo, Tobias, Ron, author, and Niccolo'
All in all a wonderful evening. And I can get right back on the horse with that extra bottle of 2009 that I brought to the tasting in error.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Champagne and Cremant d'Alsace: Comparisons and Contrasts

Champagne is the undisputed king of sparkling wines in France (and the world) but it is not by any means "home alone." Sparkling wines of note are also made in Alsace, the Loire Valley, and Burgundy (Crémant d'Alsace, de Loire, de Bourgogne, and de Bordeaux) while less consequential sparklers are produced in Limoux, Bordeaux, Die, and Jura. In this post we will examine the Alsace sparkling wine in relation to Champagne.

It is most likely that the secondary fermentation process -- the hallmark of Champagne -- was invented by Christopher Merret (1614 - 1695), an English Scientist who is credited with being the first person to deliberately add sugar to wine in order to create bubbles. Champagne's road to AOC-dom is littered with legal pronouncements culminating in the 1927 law which was the basis for the French AOC system. Sparkling wine via the traditional method was being made in Alsace as early as the late 19th century but only gained AOC status on August 24th, 1976.

As shown in the map below, Champagne and Alsace are two of the most northerly wine regions in France (48.793 latitude versus 48.318). Alsace's climate is continental (hot summers, cold winters) with the Vosges acting as a barrier to the prevailing westerly winds as well as providing a rain shadow for the vineyards. Rainfall average in Alsace is 610 mm. Champagne has the lowest average temperature of any French wine-growing region and, consequently, grapes do not ripen adequately over the course of a growing season. The northernmost outposts of the region are about 290 kilometers from the English Channel and are subject to oceanic influences. These areas experience regular rainfall but very little variation in temperature from season to season. As the traveler journeys south, however, continental climatic influences come into play to include: winter and spring frosts; summer sunshine coupled with violent thunderstorms; cold, wet weather in June; and hailstorms. Mean rainfall in the region is 700 mm.



A total of 13 soil types have been identified in Alsace and the diversity of its wine and styles have generally been attributed to the complex composition of the soils. One or more varieties have traditionally been linked with each of the soil types. Some of the identified soil types are as follows:
  • marl-limestone
  • marl-limestone-sandstone
  • granite
  • clay-marl
  • schist
  • sandstone
  • colluvial-chalk
  • volcanic.  
The soil in Champagne is composed of massive chalk deposits interspersed with rocky outcroppings and covered with a thin layer of topsoil (mix of sand, marl, clay and lignite which requires constant renewal through fertilization). The chalk deposits in Champagne are finer-grained and more porous than other French limestone soils -- and have extremely high concentrations of the mineral marls Belemnite (younger and found higher up on the growing slopes) and Micraster (older and located on the valley floors) -- while the rocky outcroppings are 75% limestone plus chalk and marl. Chalk has excellent drainage as well as water-retention properties in that its micro-pores can absorb water during wet periods and slowly release it during drier periods. In addition chalk will also reflect sunlight and heat thus aiding in the ripening of the grapes. The chalk soil allows the vine roots to dig freely and deeply in search of water and nutrients and also retains a constant temperature year round.  One of the disadvantages of this alkaline lime-rich soil is that it prevents the uptake of minerals -- such as iron, copper, and magnesium -- which are needed for the prevention of chlorosis.

Alsace vineyards extend across the Vosges foothills -- on east and southeast-facing slopes at elevations ranging between 200 and 400 meters -- and on the alluvial plain below. A total of 14,000 ha is devoted to grape growing of which 2800 is dedicated to grapes for the sparkling wine. Vines are trained Guyot simple or double and are planted at a minimum density of 4000 vines/ha. There are 32,900 hectares of vineyards in Champagne (3.4% of France's vineyard total) distributed across 319 communities (357 after the most recent revisions are adopted). The best Champagne vineyards are planted on slopes at elevations falling between 90 and 200 meters. Such locations situate the vineyard high enough to be clear of the frost and low enough to avoid extreme weather. The vineyards are predominantly located on south-, east-, and southeast-facing slopes which average 12% but can be as high as 60% in areas.

Cremant d'Alsace vineyards are to be found in the AOC Alsace designated areas. While Champagne grapes can be sourced from Premier and Grand Cru vineyards, that designation is not necessarily an indication of a vineyard's quality. Rather, the designation -- Échelle des crus (ladder of growths) -- is an index of price based on the quality of grapes from classified vineyards. Grapes from Deuxieme Cru vineyards can be assigned scores of between 80% and 89%, grapes from Premier Cru vineyards can be assigned scores between 90% and 99%, while Grand Cru grapes are assigned scores of 100%. As formulated, the score that a grape-lot is assigned within a specific season is an indication of the price that the Champagne House is willing to pay in relation to the pricing for Grand Cru grapes in the season.

Key characteristics of the two wines are summarized in the table below.

Characteristic
Cremant d’Alsace
Champagne
Growers
500
15,000
Pruning
Guyot: simple or double
Cordon de Royal
Taille Chablis
Guyot
Valle de Marne
Varieties
Pinot Blanc (structure, neutral varietal character)
Pinot Gris
Auxerrois (volume)
Pinot Noir (Rosé, fruit and structure)
Riesling (to increase   acidity)
Chardonnay
Pinot Noir (35%)
Chardonnay (25%)
Pinot Meunier (40%)
Production Zone
2800
32,900 ha
Ha/grower
5.6
2.2
Yield
12.8 tons/ha
13 -15 tons/ha


The method of production is essentially the same for both Cremant d'Alsace and Champagne. Grapes for both are hand-harvested and subjected to whole-bunch pressing. Cremant d'Alsace producers presses 100 liters of juice per 150 kilograms of grapes with the first 50 liters designated as cuvée, the next 47 liters as taille, and the last three liters consigned to brandy production. The cuvée pressing is generally used in prestige wines while the taille, which has more phenols and potassium (potassium increases the pH and buffers wine acidity), is used in secondary wines. Champagne producers press 0.956 liters from 150 kilograms of grape with 4/5ths of the total designated cuvée and the remainder taille.

Cremant d'Alsace grapes are harvested pre-maturity at 11% potential alcohol and then chaptalized such that post-fermentation they will approach 12.5% alcohol. At the conclusion the wines are registered and designated Vin destiné a l'elaboration de Crémant d'Alsace.

The next step in the process sets Champagne apart from other sparkling wines. In order to produce Champagne that aligns with the House style, the Chef de Cave has to memorize and blend wines from a broad array of crus from the current vintage plus wines from the reserve as necessary. There is no such blending in Cremant d'Alsace and the wine cannot be bottled before January 1 of the year following harvest. Cremants must spend at least 9 months on lees before disgorgement while NV Champagnes spend at least 15 months and vintage spend at least 36 months. While there is some oak aging in Champagne, there is no such practice in Alsace.

Cremant d'Alsace comes in four styles: Blanc de Blanc (from Pinot Blanc), Blanc Noir (white Cremant from Pinot Noir), Rosé (from Pinot Noir), and NV Cuvees (varietal blends). While there are sweetness designation on Champagne labels, there is no such officially sanctioned practice in Alsace.


Cremant d'Alsace volume has risen from 1 million bottles in 1979, to 2 million bottles in 1982 and 33 million bottles today. Most of the wine is consumed in France. Cremant d' Alsace is a distant second to Champagne which produced a total of 322 million bottles in 2011.  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.


A perusal of prices on wine-searcher showed a low price of $6 and and high of $15 for Cremant d'Alsace. The average price for a NV Champagne is in the $35 range while the top-end cuvées of many of the large Champagne Houses can run into the multiple-hundred-dollar range.

Revised 1/25/14 to add origins of both wines.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Alsace wine region

In order to provide context for an upcoming post on Cremant d'Alsace, I herein provide an overview of the Alsace wine region.

The Alsace wine growing region lies in the northwest corner of France, a long (185 km), thin (40 km) strip of land bordered to the east by the Rhine, to the west by the foothills of the Vosges Mountains, by Switzerland to the south, and Germany elsewhere. The region's climate is continental (hot summers, cold winters) with the Vosges acting as a barrier to the prevailing westerly winds as well as providing a rain shadow for the vineyards.

Alsace vineyards extend across the Vosges foothills -- on east and southeast-facing slopes at elevations ranging between 200 and 400 meters -- and on the alluvial plain below. A total of 14,000 ha is devoted to grape growing. Vines are trained Guyot simple or double and are planted at a minimum density of 4000 vines/ha.

Source: alsacewineroute.com

A total of 13 soil types have been identified in Alsace and the diversity of its wine and styles have generally been attributed to the complex composition of the soils. One or more varieties have traditionally been linked with each of the soil types. Some of the identified soil types are as follows:
  • marl-limestone
  • marl-limestone-sandstone
  • granite
  • clay-marl
  • schist
  • sandstone
  • colluvial-chalk
  • volcanic.  
There are 53 AOPs in Alsace. The figure and table below shows the distribution and characteristics of these AOPs.


All varieties allowed in broader Alsace AOC wines with the
exception of Savagnin Rosé

In addition to the AOC wines, Alsace producers also bring two late-harvested wines to the market: Vendanges Tardives and Sélection de Grains Nobles. Both are made from botrytis-infected grapes with the SGT concentration resulting in attainment of higher levels of sugar, fruit, and flavors.

Even though the Conseil Interprofessional des Vins d'Alsace (CIVA) characterizes the Alsce wine styles as below, there is a wider dissatisfaction with the type of wine that is being presented on the market today.

Wine Style
Varieties
Vivid and light
Sylvaner
Fresh and crisp (with different levels of richness)
Riesling
Pinot blanc
Muscat
Pinot Noir
Intensity and power (richer styles)
Pinot Gris
Géwurtztraminer
 Source: Thiery Fritsch, CIVA, TONG #13, Autumn 2012

According to Frédéric Blanck (Winemaker, Domaine Paul Blanck; in Tong #13:
Alsace wine these days are very unpredictable in style, and this has led to a great image problem: will the wine be dry, off-dry, semi-sweet, or sweet? One cannot tell when looking at the label. The result is that many people think of Alsace being a sweet wine or a wine at least influenced by residual sugar.
Pierre Trimbach of Domaine Trimbach (in the same publication) accused some estates of going too far, turning a dry and food friendly style into semi-sweet dessert wines. Blanck attributes the problem to very hot vintages -- beginning in 1997 and peaking in 2003 -- which made it very difficult to make dry wines with high acidity. The CIVA has proposed a scale which can be used by producers to identify the sweetness level of the wine in the bottle. Use of the system is voluntary and the winemaker decides the sweetness level which he/she awards to the domaine's wine.

My post on Cremant d'Alsace will be forthcoming.


©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Tom Stevenson's Selosse critiques within the context of the Galloni Doctrine

Antonio Galloni, founder of vinousmedia.com, and, prior to that, selected-regions' wine critic for Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, recently was interviewed by Liv-ex with the results published on the liv-ex blog in two parts. In responding to a question on the impact of wine critics on markets and growers, Galloni stated thusly (as it relates to the grower part of the question): "I firmly believe that it is not a critic's role to tell growers -- or even suggest by way of commentary/criticism -- how to make wine. Any sense of giving direction to growers is completely antithetical to my philosophy." I call this the "Galloni Doctrine."

Tom Stevenson, according to wine-pages.com, "is the world's most respected authority on Champagne and sparkling wine." Stevenson has authored The World Encyclopedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine, the Annual Champagne and Sparkling Wine Guide, and Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia, among others. Stevenson has been called "the champagne expert with the greatest depth of knowledge" (Simon Field MW -- champagne buyer of BBR -- as quoted in Patrick Schmitt, Points take on greater importance for Prestige Cuvées, The Drinks Business, 6/20/2012) and this depth has yielded in excess of 30 writing awards and numerous assignments with a number of hardcopy and online publications.

As I pointed out in my article on Jacques Selosse, Stevenson has been one of the most searing and persistent critics of Selosse's wines. According to Tom Hall, Stevenson omitted any mention of Selosse in the 1998 First Edition of Christie's World Encyclopedia of Sparkling Wines; and when he did mention it in the 2007 version, he described it as being too oaky. In his 2008 review of Selosse (The World of Fine Wine, Issue 21), Stevenson confirms the latter part of Hall's statement. He indicated that, in the 2007 edition of Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia, he had stated that the wines had too much oak for his liking and that he did not "appreciate the style but appreciated that others did." Up until this point, Stevenson is a little close to the line but his critique still keeps him in the Galloni critics circle -- in that he is not telling Selosse "how to make wine."

But then he blows through the boundaries. In that same 2008 Selosse review article, Stevenson says: "Although there is no doubt in my mind about Anselme's passion, or the potential of his terroir, or indeed the quality of the grapes he produces each year, the wines do not live up to either his abilities or his terroir. They are too oxidative, too aldehydic, and too oaky, lacking in freshness, finesse and vivacity ..." In other words, buck up and make wines that live up to your ability and terroir. And you can do that by reducing the oxidative, aldehydic, and oaky nature of your wines. And in case the implication is missed, Stevenson states directly "I would love to see him make just one non-aldehydic cuvée." This Stevenson critique of Selosse's wines would, according to the Galloni Doctrine, constitute telling a grower how to make wine. And that is taboo in his book.

In a recent wine-searcher.com article on underrated and overrated Champagnes, Stevenson continued in the same vein. He began by identifying Bollinger as overrated and then tagged Selosse as "much worse than Bollinger and more expensive too." He wondered about Selosse using SO₂ at harvest rather than at the back-end, classing such an approach as "back to front." His suggestion was to use the SO₂ at the back end thus giving the yeasts the opportunity to suck up early stage oxygen during the first and second fermentations. This is very clearly winemaking advice and, as such, at odds with the Galloni Doctrine.

Now I am in no way implying that Galloni is in any way reacting to Stevenson's actions to date in either developing or discussing his "doctrine." It is most likely that his thoughts were developed within the context of his own values and experiences and is primarily a self-regulating vehicle. Nor am I saying that Galloni's "doctrine" is an approach that should be used as a framework or guiding principle for all wine critics. I juxtaposed his thoughts and Stevenson's actions as a way to generate some dialogue on the matter. My cautionary note is that the critic will never have the full array of information that the winemaker possesses when he/she puts a wine on the market. Maybe the critic should criticize what is rather than wish for what should be. I don't know. What do you think?


©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Champagne Jacques Selosse: Terroir expression or market misdirection?

In an article titled Alternative Champagne 2 (The World of Fine Wine, Issue 35, 2012), Walters describes "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  characterizes the methods of these "Superior Grower Producers" and that characterization is captured graphically below.


One of the leading lights in the production of this style of champagne is Domaine Jacques Selosse which, according to Walters, is ... "one of the most revered producers in Champagne." Walters sees the "grower revolution" beginning with Anselme Selosse and his philosophy that "... authentic wines were wines of terroir and that the only way to make wines rich in terroir was to encourage a living soil and balanced yields and to use winemaking techniques that allowed the terroir to speak as clearly as possible." Selosse's practices vis a vis Walters' methods for producing Champagnes de Terroir are illustrated below.


In interview after interview, Selosse stresses the importance of terroir to the quality of his wines. Much is made of the fact that he studied his craft in Burgundy (rather than in Champagne), first at Lycée Viticole de Beaune and then working at Burgundy properties such as Coche, Lafon and Leflaive. It is this experience, it is said, which informs his practices. Tomas's wine blog (Jacquesson versus Selosse -- a duel in vineyard champagnes, winetomas.wordpress.com, 9/16/2012) captures this succinctly: "It is quite obvious that the new generation of small producers in Champagne look to some extent at Burgundy rather than large Champagne houses for inspiration" in that they are focused on the wine rather than the bubbles. Selosse's focus on terroir is illustrated in the number of lieux-dits offerings -- six of which were recently launched - that are included in his portfolio.




The harshest and most persistent Selosse critic has been Tom Stevenson, identified by Simon Field MW -- champagne buyer of BBR -- as the champagne expert with the greatest depth of knowledge (Patrick Schmitt, Points take on greater importance for Prestige Cuvées, The Drinks Business, 6/20/2012). Writing in The World of Fine Wine (Champagne Selosse: The House that Jacques Built, Issue 21, 2008), Stevenson said that Selosse's wines "do not live up to Anselme's abilities or his terroir." He found the wines to be "too oxidative," "too aldehydic," and "too oaky." The oxidative character was caused, he said, by long barrel aging and a low-sulfur regime. Writing on winesearcher.com (Champagne's Overachievers & Underperformers, 12/19/2013), Stevenson identified Selosse as one of the 5 most overrated Champagne Producers." He implies that Selosse tasted blind is returned as faulty wine and characterizes Selosse's adding of SO₂ at harvest as being done at the wrong end of the winemaking process.

Tom Hall (Champagne Jacques Selosse -- A Profile, scalawine.com, 7/18/2012), thinks that Stevenson is much too harsh on the Selosse wines. He does find them oaky but also finds them to be "outstanding for their arresting tang and vinosity combined with what I can only call a gorgeous finesse of mousse ..." The wood regime masks the wines with "a spice and burnished character that is unique in Champagne." The concentrated nature of the wine allows it to stand up to the wood which is, nonetheless, obvious. According to Hall, "Given the rhetoric of this estate is devoted to the naked revelation of 'terroir,' ... what the wines reveal most in taste, is the winemaking and barrel regime."

Tomas's wine blog echoed similar sentiments after a comparative tasting of Jacquesson and Selosse single-vineyard champagnes. "Through the entire tasting, what was most obvious was the enormous stylistic difference between the Jacquesson and Selosse wines." This stylistic difference was stronger than village, varietal, or vintage-character differences. His conclusion was that the wines reflected what you would expect when a good producer makes wines with grapes from a good vineyard -- "really good wine that is marked by the producer's style in addition to the grape varieties and their origins."

Tomas views some of the Selosse practices as working against the exposition of terroir. The solera style utilized by Selosse is better-suited to evening out vintage characteristics and increasing oxidative exposure; and oxidation is not the best vehicle for revealing the underlying character of the wine. His conclusion was that Selosse wines were "Selosse-specific" rather than "terroir-specific."

In postmodern winemaking (University of California Press, 2013), Clark Smith addresses one of the issues confronting the modern winemaker: "Tragically, today's consumer environment has become hostile to an honest discussion of production winemaking. Winemakers lie low while luddite paparazzi fire live ammo over their heads. Honesty is nowhere to be found and platitudes like 'we do the maximum' are standard fare." Hall and Tomas seem to be pinning the tail on the donkey. "Anselme Selosse talks endlessly about the mission to ensure the wines reflect their origins. But it is important to notice the very sophisticated oenology and technical operation in winemaking that is going on here too" (Hall). And Tomas: "But there is an issue here when the winemaking claims so much of our attention on tasting, but all the while we are told it's terroir."

Is Anselme Selosse misleading us when he talks about terroir while his wine is a monument to winemaking? If we are being misled, is it benign or cynical? Benign in the sense as described by Clark Smith, almost a defensive maneuver. Cynical where the market is being manipulated and told that the character of the wine is the result of terroir while it is, according to Tom Stevenson, the result of over-ripe grapes, too much wood, and too little SO₂. Champagne Selosse does not have a web site but Anselme's associated hotel business has a very sophisticated one. Is this a part of Anselme's schtick, presenting himself as a gentleman farmer on the wine side with no time to devote to such new-fangled inventions as the internet and social media? While implementing that technology effectively on the hotel side where communicating your product and its availability is key.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Friday, January 3, 2014

Solaia vertical tasting: The winery and the wine

"Of all the super-Tuscans, no wine today has higher prestige than Solaia, which was created ... by the ... powerful and visionary house of Antinori." So said David Rosengarten writing in the Huffington Post (6/21/13) on a NYC Solaia vertical tasting. While I do not agree with David on his placement of Solaia on the top of the prestige heap (I am pretty partial to Masseto), his point of the importance of Solaia in that space is well taken; and it is that regard that I am putting together a Solaia vertical tasting in Orlando on January 25th. I will be reporting on the results of that tasting on the blog but wanted to provide relevant background material ahead of time. Hence this post.

According to the company's website, the Antinori family has been associated with wine since at least 1835 when Giovanni de Piero Antinori became a memebr of the Florentine Winemakers Guild. The family's current Italian holdings include seven estates spread over Tuscany and Umbria, with four of the seven Tuscan properties falling within the Chainti Classico DOCG. One of these four estates is Tignanello, the joint home of Antinori's Tignanello and Solaia wines.

Tignanello is located 30 km (19 miles) south of Florence and its 319 ha (788 acres) supports 127 ha (320 acres) of vineyards of which 20 ha (50 acres) is dedicated to the production of Solaia ("the sunny one") fruit. The Solaia vineyard is planted on limestone and calcareous clay rock (albarese) at altitudes ranging between 348 and 400 m (1175 and 1325 feet) on southwest-facing slopes. The vineyards are planted with Cabernet Sauvignon (15 ha), Sangiovese (4 ha), and Cabernet Franc (1 ha) with an average vine age of 15 years. The vines are low spurred-cordon trained and are planted at between 5500 and 7200 vines/ha.

Solaia, an IGT-clasified wine, was first produced in 1978, a production run of 3600 bottles with a composition of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Cabernet Franc. The wine was not produced in 1980 or 1981 but, beginning with the 1982 vintage, the blend was shifted to 20% Sangiovese with the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc varied according to the requirements of the winemaker. In 2002, the wine was made of an all-Cabernet blend because the Sangiovese was deemed to be of insufficient quality. The standard blend in today's Solaia is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Sangiovese, and 5% Cabernet Franc.


The Solaia winemaking process is illustrated below.



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