Sunday, May 22, 2016

Overview of the soils of Sicily

I recently made a visit to the eastern portion of Sicily and will be writing a number of posts on the wineries visited. I will intersperse the discussion of the wineries with details of the physical environment within which they operate. I begin in this post with an overview of the soils of the broader Sicily, drawing heavily on the scholarship of Nesto MW and di Savino (The World of Sicilian Wine).

According to Christopher Bargman (Geology and wine in South Africa, Geoscientist 15(4), April 2005), soil is the major influence on the growth of the vine plant as it provides: (i) a supply of water; (ii) anchorage in the ground; and (iii) a source of nutrition.  According to, " soil is more than just dirt."  It is, instead, "... a complex system of decomposed rocks that have been enriched over time by decomposed organic matter."  Nesto MW and di Savino see soil as being "composed of varying proportions of parent rock eroded in place; material transported by gravity, wind, water, or glacial activity; and organic material deposited in place or similarly transported." The classic soil profile is shown below.


According to Nesto and di Savino, Sicily is 15% flat, 60% hilly, and 25 percent mountainous, a situation precipitated by the slow contraction of the vast ocean lying between the land masses of Africa and Eurasia. This contraction, especially over the past 50 years, has pushed up the cretaceous limestone seabed -- formed by a mixture of mud, skeletons, and shells of marine organisms deposited over eons -- to form the mountains and hills that we see today. The below figure summarizes the distribution of parent rock and soils on the island while the table following details the characteristics of the differing soil types.

Soil Type
   Everywhere except northeast      corner and on some volcanic islands
  • Enhances water-holding capacity
  • Soils white or pastel and reflect light
  • Cooler than darker soils
  • Vines tend to produce wines that are paler, more aromatic, higher in acidity, lower in tannins
  • Suited to white wines
  • If leached from limestone, the iron oxide residue tints the soil red (terra rossa)
Offers soil few nutrients
  • Etna
  • Hyblaean Mountains
  • Aeolian Archipelago
  • Pantellaria
  • Soil particle size range from dust to rocks; sand predominates
  • Rock types include pumice, lapilli (smaller particles of black volcanic rock)
  • Tuff (hardened volcanic ash)
  • Rich in micronutrients
  • Usually very porous and allow easy exploitation by vine roots
  • Inhospitable to phylloxera 
  • Like clay soils, allow high degree of physiological development in grape skins
Poor in macronutrients nitrogen and phosphate

  • Relatively rare
  • Some shaly schists in Nebrodi
  • A complex mix of calc-shists and paragneiss (a harder foliated rock) in the Peloritani
  • Can store water between foliations for vine root access
  • Can quickly decompose into sand, clay, or silt

Derived from Nesto MW and di Savino

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A historical retrospective (1961 - 2011) of Vietti Barolo Rocche di Castiglione with Antonio Galloni and Luca Currado (Winemaker)

Antonio Galloni described his May 10, 2016 Vietti Barolo Rocche di Castiglione retrospective as a "once-in-a-lifetime vertical tasting ... going back to the inaugural 1961." All of the wines for the tasting (with the exception of the 1982 vintage) were acquired either from the Vietti cellars or the personal collection of the Currado family (The 1982 was secured from the the San Francisco restaurant Acquerello).

Used with permission. Courtesy of Vinous, LLC.

In his opening remarks, Antonio described this as a night of firsts. The attendees were drinking 2008 Pierre Péters Champagne at the reception and this wine remained unreleased at the time of the tasting. Antonio had brought it back from France in his suitcase in March. In addition, Luca Currado (Vietti winemaker), and his wife Elena Penna, were present, making their inaugural visit to one of these tastings. The 1961 Vietti Barolo was one of the foundations on which Barolo single-vineyard wines were built and the estate is honoring that event with a 50th-anniversary celebration, of which the Galloni retrospective was an integral part. The 1961 vintage was to be tasted tonight.

The wines were presented in five themed flights. This approach, according to Galloni, breaks up the palate and keeps everyone fresh. The wines had been opened at 4:30 on the day of the tasting and double-decanted. The younger wines were decanted first while wines from the 1980s were served out of decanters. The tasting was organized as shown in the table below.

Flight Nomenclature Inclusive Vintages
Reception 2008 Pierre Péters Brut Cuvée Spéciale Les Chétillons
To Start 1986, 1988, 1995, 2011
Years of Transition 1996, 1999, 2001
Modern Icons 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010
The Classics 1982, 1985, 1989, 1990
Back to the Beginning 1967, 1971

To Start
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 the 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 1988 exhibited dark fruit, earth, forest floor, and mushrooms on the nose. Short, sweet, and slightly porty on the palate. Brooding. Not as focused as the 1986. Antonio said that when this wine was introduced it did not attract a lot of commercial attention. The press was in love with the 1985 but old timers like the 1988. Luca indicated that this was his first harvest experience as winemaker with his father.

The 1995 had the longest maceration of any wine they have ever produced. Herby nose initially. Young, with a slight balsamic note. Very young wine on the palate. Antonio remarked that it was almost grape juice.

The 2011 showed an elegant nose with blue fruit, dark fruit, and herbs. Licorice and youthful on the palate. Non-complex but pleasant. Luca likes this vintage. He likes  a wine with acidity and he finds that even though this wine is opulent, it has great acidity. He thinks it will be good in the long term.

Grilled Spanish Octopus with Chickpeas and

Years of Transition
The 1996 was the wine of this 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 1999 was restrained and elegant on the nose with hints of anise and licorice. Dried tamarind. Perfect balance. Great weight on the palate. Luca liked this wine a lot. It was a difficult wine to sell when he first delivered it to the market. He had been afraid that it would never mature but it started to open up three years or so ago.

The 2011 was the most opulent of the wines tasted to date. Dried fruits with a strong balsamic note. Young and fruity. Luca described it as monolithic while Antonio saw it as having a faster evolution than he had expected. According to Luca, the "most different" of the wines that we had tasted. If he had to do it over, he would harvest this wine earlier. It has more of a modern feel and does not have enough acidity. This wine can be drunk now.

Épaulettes: Rabbit & Reblochon Cheese Ravioli,
Black Truffle

Modern Icons
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.

Herbs, earth, and intense red fruit on the 2008 nose. Sweet red fruit on palate. Medium complexity. Antonio described this as the most surprising vintage. Continues to improve.

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.

Lotte Rôtie: Roasted Monkfish, Foie Gras
Stuffed Morels, Potato, Red Wine

The Classics
According to Luca, these wines were all made by his mom and dad. They inspired him when he was a kid but the family never had the wherewithal to keep stocks of these wines in the cellar.

The 1982 showed Granny's attic, balsamic, soy, and a little maderization. Dried fruit on the palate. Mineral finish. Luca's dad liked this vintage and it is also a favorite of his. If he encounters it on a wine list, he buys it.

The 1985 had an aromatic nose. Hints of pumpkin, truffle, and sweet, bountiful red fruit. Balanced on the palate with a slight portiness. Pleasure to drink. First climate change vintage in Barolo, according to Antonio. Luca has it at its peak.

Sweet red fruit and licorice on the nose of the 1989 and earth, red fruit, and silky tannins on the palate. Lengthy finish. Luca terms this a "super classic."

The 1990 showed balsamic notes, red fruits, dried rose petals, and curry on the nose. On the palate sweet, concentrated red fruit accompanying good acid levels and a distinct curry flavor. Long finish.

Selle d'Agneau Grillée: Grilled Colorado Lamb
Loin, Mushrooms, Spring Onion, Mint Lamb

Back to the Beginning
In this flight, some of the earliest Rocches. Beginning with the 1967 which showed dried herbs, portiness, and a stewed character. Not much on the body or finish. Appearance as of colored water.

The 1961 was salmon colored. Maderized with dried out lemon, bitter lemon, and orange rind. Good acid levels. Could be anything.

According to Luca, drinking these wines is like dancing with an old lady -- you have to be careful.

Selection de Fromages


This had been an amazing night. The depth and breadth of the wines on offer was truly amazing and to have Luca and Elena present for this event added a level of authenticity and local knowledge that took the tasting to another level.

The dishes that accompanied the courses were excellent and the choice of locale continued Antonio's thrust to show that these Italian wines can thrive in non-Italian-cuisine settings

As a part of the 50th Anniversary Celebrations, Vietti had had 200 memorabilia gift boxes made to mark the occasion. Each attendee at the event left with one of those boxes which the estate had had shipped in for the event.

One of the interesting points of note was the performance of the oldest Rocches versus the 1958 Bartolo Mascarello which we had tasted in London three weeks prior to the Vietti tasting. The Mascarello had been tasted out of magnum and I had described it as pungent with a razor-sharp nose and focus and drinking younger than expected. This wine was vibrant in comparison to the 1961 and 1967 Rocches which both were (relatively) lacking in color intensity and varietal integrity. While storage conditions may play a role in the differences, it should also be remembered that the Mascarello is blended while the Rocche is not.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Luca Currado's (Vietti Winemaker) perspective on Rocche di Castiglione

When the Galloni Vietti retrospective tasting (held at Vaucluse in New York City) was called to order, I found myself seated next to a gentleman with an Italian accent who seemed to know everyone present and was very comfortable in his skin. He had apparently spent the previous night in Washington DC and was relating his experience while running in that city on the following morning (the day of the tasting).

During the course of his run, he came upon some barriers but could not be bothered with the diversions they dictated, so he clambered over them. Of course this brought every Secret Service Agent and every DC Police Officer to the scene to interdict this threat to the safety and security of the President of the United States. After some investigation they determined that he was just a headstrong Italian winemaker and sent him along on his way. And that was my introduction to Luca Currado, the acclaimed winemaker of the Vietti estate.

Luca and Elena Penna Currado at the Galloni

As stated previously, this tasting was especially important because the 1961 Vietti Barolo was one of the foundations on which Barolo single-vineyard wines were built. The Vietti estate is honoring that event with a 50th-anniversary celebration, of which the Galloni retrospective is an integral part.

Luca, in his opening comments, indicated that this was an emotional night for him. You see, they do not do this type of expansive tasting everyday, largely because they do not have the library stocks to support such tastings. When he was younger, the estate needed to sell all of the wine it could make because Barolo did not command the value that it does today. Luca said that he had been nervous before tasting the wines but now he was very happy. These wines, he said, are an honor to his father who always described Rocche as "his wine."

Luca described Rocche wine as being like a Swiss watch in that it is very difficult to put together. First, the vineyard is steep and very difficult to work; everything has to be done by hand.  Second, vinifying Rocche is a challenging exercise. They do extended submerged cap and the tannins always take a long time to come together and then ... pop. According to Luca, you have to wait longer for the Rocche tannins to resolve than for any of his other wines.

Castiglione Falletto is located between Serralunga d'Alba and La Morra and its Rocche di Castiglione MGA has elements of both of these bordering communes. According to Luca, Rocche wines have the silky tannins and elegance of La Morra and the complexity, depth and power of Serralunga d'Alba.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, May 16, 2016

Rocche di Castiglione: "One of the most prestigious crus in the Barolo DOCG"

Antonio Galloni has just capped a run of three mammoth Italian wine tastings (Soldera and Mascarello preceding) in three weeks with a truly epic retrospective of the Vietti Rocche di Castiglione dating back to the labels' inaugural vintage in 1961. This tasting was especially important because this wine, in this vintage, was one of the foundations on which Barolo single-vineyard wines were built and the Vietti estate viewed it as an integral part of its 50th anniversary celebration. So much so that Luca Currado, the winemaker, and his wife Elena Penna, were both present at the tasting.

I will be detailing the tasting but, first, some background on Rocche di Castiglione.

Up until the 1960s, the received wisdom in Barolo production was the blending of fruit from various vineyards in order to meld these individual characteristics into a multi-faceted, sum-of-the-parts wine. Following such a practice meant that someone(s) in the region understood the characteristics imparted to the wine by the various plots (And this point is borne out by Masnaghetti (Barolo MGA) who stipulates that "Everyone -- from the peasant cultivator to the largest houses and passing through such important figures as the grape brokers -- knew quite well which were the most renowned zones for the production of excellent Nebbiolo.").

It was not until 1961 that the Currados of Vietti and Beppe Cola of Prunotto made the decision to bottle unblended wines; wines that would showcase the character of the area within which the grapes were grown. Borrowing from the French terminology, a "cru" Barolo. In the Vietti case they chose to bottle a wine from the highly regarded Rocche di Castiglione cru while Beppe Cola drew on his Bussia cru.

These wines were well received in the marketplace. According to Galloni, "The success of the early single vineyard Barolos ... brought considerable attention to Piedmont. Single vineyard wines would soon dominate over blends as the world discovered the Langhe and its multiple shades of dimension."

Rocche di Castiglione, described by Masnaghetti as one of the most prestigious crus in all of the Barolo appellation, is located 88% in the Castiglione Falletto township and 12% in Monforte d'Alba. Its 14.36 ha (stated elsewhere in the book as 16.33 ha) has 52% devoted to vineyards (92% of vines in Castiglione Falletto and the remainder in Monforte d'Alba), and 95% of those vines growing Barolo-targeted Nebbiolo fruit. The remaining vines are targeted at Dolcetto (5%), Barbera (0.5%), and Langhe Rosso (0.5%).

Approximate location of Rocche di Castiglione cru indicated
by red arrow. Underlying map sourced from

Rocche di Castiglione is one of 170 MGAs in Barolo DOCG and one of 20 in the commune of Castiglione Falletto. An MGA (Menzioni Geografiche Aggiuntive) is a "more specific officially delimited area of production located within the Barolo DOCG appellation." The Rocche di Castiglione soil is pure white in color from the border with Monforte d'Alba up to the dividing line between the northwest neighboring MGAs of Villero and Mariondino. The remaining areas have a greater presence of marls. Altitude in the MGA ranges between 300 and 350 m and exposure is primarily southeast (some undulations in the hill leads to slight variations in exposure for affected areas).

The estates producing Rocche di Castiglione wines are :
  • Brovia
  • Cà Barun
  • Fratelli Monchiero
  • Oddero
  • Roccheviberti
  • Giovanni Sordo
  • Terre del Barolo
  • Vietti

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Friday, May 13, 2016

Blind tasting at Cave Ox (Solicchiata, Castiglioni di Sicilia): My first wine event ever on the island

I was scheduled to visit the Rioja region in late April with a wine friend and decided to extend that trip to include the Galloni tastings in London when they were announced. As it got closer to the travel date I began thinking that I had been to Rioja before and, if I were to be in Europe, maybe I should visit someplace I had never been before. So I told my friend we would go to Mt. Etna instead.

I messaged Brandon Tokash (my new best friend whom I had met during the 4th Winelover Anniversary Celebration in Athens; and a resident of Mt. Etna) and told him that I and a few friends would be coming for the weekend in question. He said "you can't come to Mt Etna and not visit the broader Sicily." And recommended that I stay an additional two days to visit non-Etna Sicily. I agreed. I would come in two days before my crew and Brandon and I would do Sicily and then return to visit the Mt Etna wineries with them on the weekend.

Then Brandon said if you are going to be here earlier in the week, then you might as well come early enough to participate in Contrada dell'Etna -- an event showcasing all of the producers on Mt Etna -- on Monday of the week. Oh, and by the way, if you are going to Contrada dell'Etna, you might as well attend the blind tasting at Cave Ox on Sunday night. And that is how I came to be at Cave Ox on Sunday night participating in a blind tasting.

The tasting was comprised two flights -- one of five bottles, the other of seven -- and was led by Valeria Capriotti of Bevitorio Independanti and Gaetano Saccoccio of They had chosen to run the event as a blind tasting to dispense with the baggage that is attendant with the label being known to the taster. When the identity of the wine is unknown, the taster can focus on characteristics of the wine based on the nose and mouth rather than on the eyes.

Cave Ox is set off to the left within a walled enclosure. The empty space to the front is set up with outdoor seating and the area beyond that is a rustic, park-like setting which is itself peppered with small sitting areas. A number of folks were sitting and standing around talking in that forward sitting area as we walked in and Brandon proceeded to greet and talk with every one of them. It took us literally 30 minutes to work our way from the entrance of the property to the area where we would eventually be sitting. And Brandon shook every hand, hugged every chest, and kissed every baby in the room before we got there. This guy should be running for Mayor. Or something.

Brandon and Lidia at Cave Ox
The event was fully subscribed. There were three or four tables running parallel to each other in the main dining room and additional tables in the alcoves off the dining room. The tables were pretty narrow and the chairs were packed in pretty closely so you got an up close and personal view of how sardines feel when they are placed in a can.

I had had some apprehension as to how things would go down as the tasting was going to be conducted in Italian -- my knowledge of which is limited to the names of a few wine producers in Barolo and Montalcino -- and I did not want to be overly burdensome to Brandon by having him feel that he had to close-mark me to limit my discomfort. All my misgivings melted away, however, when I saw Gae. I recognized him from the streets of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. He was a hipster (based on his appearance); and those are my people. Everything was going to be ok.

Gaetano Saccoccio
The opening statement was made by Valerio. It was fairly lengthy, but it held the attention of the attendees.  Based on Brandon's commentary, he seemed to be drawing a contrast between between natural wines and non-natural or, as he termed it, a "bastardization of wine." After Valerio had completed his spiel, Gae stepped into the batter's box for his turn. We then got down to the business at hand.

Valeria Castrato during his opening remarks
The room was humming and buzzing with wait staff moving around pouring the wines , with the multitude of camera persons scurrying around taking candid shots, and the cacaphony of conversation of an anticipatory audience. The first wine was poured and a silence descended on the room as attendees brought their attention and focus to assessing the wine at hand. After the first few sniffs and slurps, the noise level began to rise as folks began describing their sensations and hazarding guesses as to what the wine was. The young man sitting directly across from me made an impassioned case for his choice. And it was eventually revealed that his choice -- a white from Campania; and way off the path that the other tasters were going down -- was the correct one.

This process, including dialog and commentary from the floor, was repeated for each wine in the first flight.

Cave Ox is particularly well known for its pizza and, after being served an attractive and tasty antipasti, we were treated to a succession of evermore enticing, straight-to-the-hip pizzas. And, constantly helpful as he was, Brandon informed me of the names and ingredients of each pizza and the attendees and their winery association (By the way, many of the attendees were winery owners, winemakers, or involved in wine in some way or the other).

At the completion of the first flight, the wines were revealed one at a time. Each reveal was followed by a fairly animated dialogue between the attendees and the floor. I am sure that it was all very informative.

First-Flight wines
The Full Monty (Used with permission of Bevitori Independenti)
My tasting notes
At the end of the day I did not know any of the wines in the lineup but the entire experience was eye-opening. There was a lot more interaction and engagement of the audience in this format than in a traditional non-blind, speaker-led tasting. And the format truly forced me to use my senses to ferret out the characteristics of the wine even though I had no benchmarks to compare them against.

I was also very impressed with the dialogue towards the end of the tasting. Given that the audience was comprised of the leading wine makers and chefs in the region, a major philosophical debate broke out at the end. I could not understand the words but I got the emotion and the deep-seated convictions. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Soldera Brunello di Montalcino through the Ages (1981 - 2006): A tasting with Antonio Galloni

Neither of the Galloni back-to-back tastings of Italian wines (Mascarello and Soldera) held in London late last month was held at an Italian restaurant. And this was by design. According to Antonio, he wanted to show that these wines could compete with their peers in the finest restaurants in the world and provide quality accompaniment to the fare served therein.

The Soldera tasting was held at maze, the Gordon Ramsey restaurant resident at the Marriott Grovesnor Square in London's Mayfair district. The restaurant features Asian-influenced French cuisine. There were fewer attendees at this tasting than at the Mascarello tasting, allowing us all to be accommodated at the single large table that ran almost the entire length of the private room wherein the event was being held.

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.

Inclusive Vintages
The Early Years
1981, 1982, 1987, 1988
Sleeper Vintages
2000 Riserva, 2003 Riserva, 2005 Riserva
The Mid-1990s
1993 Riserva, 1994 Riserva, 19995 Riserva, 1996 Riserva
Reference Points
1997 Riserva, 1999 Riserva, 2001 Riserva, 2004 Riserva
The Icons
1993 (Magnum), 1983 Riserva (Magnum), 1990 Riserva, 2006 Riserva

The Early Years
With the first Soldera wine being produced in 1975, the formative vintages are curated in this flight. The 1981 Soldera had a balsamic character, ripe fruit, leather, cigar, baked fruit compote, spices, dried herbs, and coriander on the nose. Bright red fruit on the palate along with orange peel. Full round mouthfeel. Citrus character becomes more apparent as wine evolves in the glass. The 1982 Soldera showed granny's attic, mushroom, forest floor, leather, and a slight portiness. Balsamic character on the palate along with red cherries, dried herbs, and bright acidity. A long sour finish. The 1987 Soldera was riddled with VA. Roughness and phenolics on the nose. Other characteristics masked by the VA. The 1988 Soldera had red berry, dried rose petals, coffee, and chocolate notes. Savory. Even distribution on the palate with dried herbs and a savoriness. Rustic but balanced. Long, sour finish.

The dish served with these wines was a Cumbrian Beef Tataki with Smoked Ponzu. This was an excellent dish.

Amuse Bouche

Cumbrian Beef Tataki

Sleeper Vintages
The 2000 Riserva had a rich nose which took a while to assert itself. Balsamic notes along with spice, dried herbs, and red fruit. Balanced on the palate with an elegant fruit/spice finish. Plum, dried herbs, and savoriness on the nose for the 2003 Riserva. On the palate ripe cherry, plum, licorice, and spice. The 2005 Riserva showed dark fruit, spice, and a hint of nail polish. Bark and intense dark fruit accompany a slight medicinal quality. Long, spicy finish.

The dish accompanying this flight was a Roast Turbot with Orzo, Mussels, and Saffron Sauce. This dish was smooth and elegant with a hint of curry. I was not sure that it paired well with the wines on offer.

The Mid-1990s
The 1993 had a balsamic note along with earth and a slight portiness. Core of bright, fresh red fruit which explodes on the palate. Silky tannins. Balanced with a drying sour finish. The 1994 Soldera had a lifted nose, rose petals, tar, black cherries, and herbs. Richness on the palate. Spice. Beautiful, flowing finish. The 1995 Soldera had a nose reminiscent of a  Penfolds Grange with sweet baking spices, grated coconut, and a layered complexity. Hint of sweetness on palate. Balanced. Lengthy finish. The 1996 Riserva showed dark berries, earth, licorice, and rusty rose petals. Black cherry and chocolate on the palate. Hint of sweetness. Layered. A 1995 Instieti was slipped into the tasting mix at this point. Rich red fruit, herbs, phenolics, green bark, and a hint of rosemary on the nose. Savory. Excellent balance. Spicy finish.

The accompanying dish was a duck breast with Truffle, Endives, and Chanterelle Mushrooms. This was an absolutely phenomenal dish. It looked like a steak but tasted duck. Tender and juicy, allowing the utensils to interact with it like a knife with butter.

Reference Points
The 1997 Riserva had black cherries on the nose, rust, herb and spice. Bigger on the palate both in terms of fruit and acid. Tamarind. Leather. Balanced high. The 1999 was a more structured wine than the 1997. Tar and dark fruit. Spice. Brooding. Powerful. Ripe tannins. Lengthy anise finish. The 2001 Riserva had an intense spiciness. Unctuous with tar and anise. Bright acidity with tamarind notes on palate. Rustic. Balanced. Weighty on palate with a long, sour finish. The 2004 vintage was cooler, with a later harvest and long growing season. According to Antonio, the hallmark of the vintage is incredible aromatics. On the nose, dried rose petals, sour cherries, and an oily richness. Sour cherries carry through to a complex, layered palate-feel. Silky tannins. Balanced with a rustic finish.

The accompanying dish served herein was Saddle of Herdwick Lamb with Spiced Aubergine and Raw Vegetables.

The Icons
The 1983 would have been made from the Instieti vineyard with the non-Riserva made in stainless steel and the Riserva in Oak. The 1983 and the 1983 Riserva both had prominent tamarind/sour cherry characteristics. The 1983 had dried herbs, earth, rose petals, dark fruit compote, spice, and a hint of phenolics on the nose. Clean palate. The first 1983 Riserva was corked and was replaced. Earth and forest floor, herbs, rose petals, and a rusticity. Rich. Intense. Lengthy finish. The 1990 Riserva exhibited tar, rose, anise, cedar, and spice on the nose. High-toned fruit. Sharp acidity. Beautiful on the palate with a long, elegant, toffee finish. This was the first year that Soldera made a Brunello from both his vineyards. The 2006 Riserva has a pungency on the nose with blue fruit, tree sap, and a hint of VA. Sour tamarind on palate. Lengthy, acidity-enabled finish.

This flight was paired with a Selection of Cheeses.


At the beginning of the tasting, Antonio told us the story of how Soldera had first come to his attention. He had gone to a Burgundy tasting in San Francisco where the attendees had brought the best and brightest of that varietal. One Somm in attendance could not afford to participate at that level and had brought a Soldera instead. In Antonio's view, the Soldera blew away all of the top Burgundies that night prompting to him to investigate, and become an adherent, post the event.

And, 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.

The 2010 vintage -- which was widely acclaimed across Montalcino -- was not included in the tasting. And, according to Antonio, very few consumers will ever get a chance to taste Soldera's 2010 as the wine will only be bottled in 1.5L, 3L, and 5L packages and sold for charity.

A shout out to the Chef and his creations. The food sung.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Champagne, red and white Burgundies, and a Bordeaux

Those were the parameters established for the dinner at Norman's to celebrate Juan David Valencia's first day on the job as Assistant General Manager at that prestigious Orlando restaurant.

Juan is one of the bright young Somms on the Orlando wine scene and, until a few weeks back, had been the Somm at Luma on Park, a Winter Park culinary stalwart. He recently passed the Court of Master Sommeliers Certified Sommelier exam and, in his message so informing me, also indicated that he was moving over to Norman's as AGM. 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. At our lunch last Wednesday, Ron suggested that we bring along the wines mentioned in the title of this post as dinner accompaniments. Done.

Ron and Bev arrived at the restaurant before we did and had been seated at a table with a lovely view of the beautifully manicured grounds outside. Juan was at the table speaking to them and I was proud to see him in his grey suit, blue shirt, and tie, a sartorial splendor that could not be practiced at his place of former employment. After welcomes and congratulations, we settled in for what would prove to be a fun night.

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 Champagnes were accompanied by Wianno Oysters and Hackleback Caviar.

White Burgundies
We quickly realized that we had both brought the same bottle, a 2007 Remoissenet Le Montrachet. There is a background story here that is worth a tell. I first met Ron six years ago at a Pierre-Antoine Rovani tasting held at The Wine Barn here in Orlando. Rovani had just been appointed President of Remoissenet, after its purchase by THEM, LLC., and was barnstorming the the US carrying the message of the "new" Remoissenet while trying to sell some of the stock in its cellars.

Ron and I got to talking at the event after it became clear that we would be the only ones buying the Le Montrachet that night. We bought three bottles each and was now each down to our last, the ones we had brought this evening (We had drunk all of the other bottles at joint dinners in the past but had never before brought our bottles to the same event.). We decided that we would only drink one of the bottles that night. Ron suggested that we flip a coin and the "loser's" bottle would be drunk that night and the "winner's" the next time we met. Juan produced a coin, flipped it, I called, and we drunk Ron's wine.

This wine 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.

I paired this wine with a Brazilian Styled Creamy Cracked Conch Chowder which was rounded out with Saffron, Orange, Star Anise, and a Coconut Cloud.

Red Burgundies
The red Burgundy flight consisted of two DRCs: a 1988 Echezeaux (Ron) and a 1994 La Tache (me). We started with the La Tache and the aromatics were welcoming. A red fruit slurry on the nose along with nutmeg and smoke. Not very expressive on the palate initially, an issue we attributed to the vintage (1994 had been a difficult year for Burgundy). With time, faded red fruit, tamarind, and blackpepper with a dilute finish. The wine became a little more robust in the glass with the passage of time.

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.

This flight was paired with a Yuzu Mojo Roasted Breast of Organic Chicken accompanied by Pad Thai Rice Noodles, Snap Peas, and a Ginger Carrot Purée.

Ron brought a 1982 Pichon-Lalande and I a 1995 Latour. The Pichon 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. Drinks younger than its age. A producer and vintage that Ron does not mind trotting out because it always shows well.

The 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.

The flight was accompanied by a Dry-Aged, Bone-In, 22 Oz Ribeye Steak with Spanish Potato Torta, Thumbellina Roasted Carrots, and Malbec Essence.


All in all a wonderful evening: Juan saw friendly faces for the duration of his first night at work in his new restaurant (and drank some pretty good stuff to boot); Ron, Bev, Parlo, and I got to enjoy each others company in a great local setting; the food was of an extremely high quality; and the wines were exceptional. We all remarked as to the consistently high quality within and across the flights.

A very satisfying evening on all fronts.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Soldera Brunello di Montalcino through the Ages, 1981 - 2006 (with Antonio Galloni): Background

Gianfranco Soldera is notoriously curmudgeonly; does not brook fools gladly; does not make friends easily; prefers not to take visits from, or sell his wine to, people who do not share his philosophy as it relates to wines and winemaking; and makes one of the most coveted and treasured wines in the world. Known almost for much as the quality of his wines as for the case where a disgruntled former employee opened valves allowing six vintages of his maturing wines to flood the floors of his cellars, Soldera famously accused his fellow winemakers of seeking to perpetrate a fraud when they offered to provide him wines to mitigate his loss. He indicated that he would resign from the Consorzio in 2015 but the Consorzio was deeply miffed and voted to oust him immediately and then sued him for gross libel.

And it was his wines that we would be tasting at Antonio Galloni's Soldera: Brunello di Montalcino Through the Ages (1981 - 2006) event held at maze Restaurant in London, on April 27, 2016. But before relating the event, following is some background on the producer and his wines.

According to Galloni, Soldera had no winemaking pedigree. His family was from Treviso, an area not known for its stellar wines, but his father was a big collector and knew all of the major producers. Gianfranco had grown up tasting all the great wines.

Soldera had made his money elsewhere and decided to use his resources to buy a property to grow winegrapes. He looked first in Piemonte because he was enamored with the great producers and their wines. But his efforts there were unsuccessful so he turned to Montalcino where he was able to purchase some land in the southern portion of the region (The chart below shows the various sub-regions of Montalcino. Other noted producers located in the southern region include Biondi-Santi, Costanti, and Pian dell'Oreno.).

According to Italian Wine Merchants (IWM), Soldera planted two small plots -- Case Basse (2 ha) and Intistieti (4.5 ha) -- to Sangiovese between 1972 and 1973, Sangiovese being the only grape, he believed, "that possessed a genuine synergy with the land." IWM states that Soldera drew exclusively on the Intistieti vineyard for early wines because its poorer soils delivered wines with structure. Antonio believes that Intistieti is the better vineyard because it produces more powerful tannic wines while Case Basse produces more feminine wines with silky tannins.

The first wines yielded from the young vines in 1975 were produced as a Vino da Tavola Rosso, a precursor of today's Rosso di Montalcino.

Soldera wines are made in the most natural way possible. Galloni see his farming techniques as biodynamic but Soldera has not sought certification as such. He curtails vineyard yields by short pruning in the winter, green pruning in the summer, and grape and leaf thinning in the fall.
His wines are made in the same manner as a Monfortino: natural fermentation in Slavonian oak vats; long maceration on skins; and long aging. Fermentations are not temperature-controlled and cap management is via pumpovers.

A driving force for Soldera has always been wines that age well. The Soldera wine is aged up to 5 years in large Slavonian oak casks and is then held in bottle for several months for further maturation. The Riserva is aged for an additional year. In certain vintages he produces shorter-matured wines which are labeled either Intistieti or Pegasos.

Each of the large casks is bottled separately, a practice that Galloni is uncomfortable with because it will yield bottle variation (based on source cask). It also goes against the winemaking grain of post-maturation blending in order to provide consistency across bottles and the best overall representation of the estate's offering.

I will report on the tasting event in my next post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Bartolo Mascarello Retrospective (1958 - 2010) with Antonio Galloni: Tasting Notes

Bartolo Mascarello: A Historical Perspective, 1958 - 2010 was a tasting event organized by Antonio Galloni's Vinous and held at the 28º - 50º Maddox Street location in London on April 26, 2016. I have provided the background to the event in a prior post and will cover the tasting notes herein. The tasting covered five flights, four of which contained four wines and the last of which contained two wines. Each flight was accompanied by a creation of the 28º - 50º culinary team.

Flight 1: Ready to Drink
This flight included the vintages 2000, 2003, 2005, and 1995 and was paired with a Crab Tortellini (Miso Broth, Spring Onion, Toasted Garlic).

The year had been a hot one with 40 days of temperatures over 40℃. It was thought that the wines would be jammy; but, according to Antonio, this was not the case for Mascarello.

This wine exhibited tar, roses, and red cherry on the nose. Ripe fruit on the palate along with tobacco and tar but a certain reticence on the mid-zone. Not as refreshing as some of the other wines in the flight. In my opinion some vintage effects shone through.

According to Antonio, this vintage was saved by technology. As harvest was approaching, radar showed a 7-day rain front in the offing. Many producers chose to pick early so the tannins on these wines can be aggressive.

Restrained tar and roses along with a cherry component. Not as knife-edged on the palate as I would have liked but balanced. And the fruit carries through to a robust finish.

According to Antonio, made in the older style.

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.

Antonio had asked that we taste this wine last in the flight, even though it was the first wine listed in the program. He indicated that, by this vintage, we had seen a dramatic transformation in the winery, a transformation that had been ongoing for 10 years. When this particular wine was first released, it was "barnyardy" and that barnyard character mutes the fruit.

Unfocused. Leather, smoke, and faded roses. Perfumed. Hint of sweetness and spice. Earthiness on the palate.

The bowl in which the Tortellini was presented was too deep and made it difficult to get to the contents. In addition, the broth was salty, a theme in all of the dishes. Nothing special here.

Flight 2: Great Vintages in Barolo

This flight included the vintages 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2001 and was paired with a Pea Risotto (Preserved Lemon, Marjoram, Parmesan Cracker). 

According to Antonio, great vintages in Barolo are considered cooler vintages because Nebbiolo likes the associated long growing seasons and fall diurnal variation. The great vintages experience gradual late ripening into October.

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 so far. Antonio had similar sentiments, remarking on the sensuality, roundness, and harmony of the wine. He thought it was the best wine of the flight.

High-toned rose and tar, dried prunes, phenolic note, dried herbs, cigar, cigar box, leather, and espresso. Unfocussed on palate. Antonio remarked that, while chronologically one year older than the 1997, it was tasting 5+ years older.

Black and red fruits, spice, earth, and leather. Young.  Antonio saw this wine as having a laser-like focus. It had been widely ignored for years. He thinks it is still not yet ready.

Porty with a phenolic note. Dried bark, dried herbs. Fruity on the palate but unfocused but palate delivers beyond the promise of the nose. Not many years ahead. Antonio saw this as having density and weight, spices, clove, and leather. He thought it was good but not great.

The Pea Risotto was very salty. It was light and airy and only a few salt grains away from being a truly phenomenal dish.

Flight 3: Classic Vintages
This flight included the vintages 1988, 1989, 1998, and 1996 and was paired with a Pan-Fried Cod (Broad Beans, Morels, Lemon Potato, Spring Onion Vinaigrette)

Leads with Grandmas closet followed closely by dried rose petals, tar, and spice. Brightness on palate. Tamarind, spice and light tannins. Antonio got orange peel, quince and spice and remarked on the silky tannins. Lengthy finish. Antonio said this vintage had been highly touted but they age unevenly and never truly developed into a refined wine.

This wine had the mustiness that is a fruit killer. Rose petals, tar, and spice. I did not find this wine appealing. Antonio was even less thrilled. He felt that this bottle was not as good as this wine can be.

Classic nose plus spice. Perfumed. Leather and tobacco. Sensation of sweetness on the palate. Excellent acid levels and long finish. The first of the climate change vintages, according to Antonio, and it was showing well.

Spice and rose petals. Undrinkable due to heavy sedimentation. No additional wine available to replace the junk in the glass. Antonio indicated that, in his view, this was one of the great vintages of the '90s and will be great for another 20 years. My loss.

The Pan-Fried Cod was salty.

Flight 4: Greatest Four Wines of Recent Vintages
This flight included the vintages 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2010 and was paired with an English Ribeye (28-Day Aged, Bearnaise Sauce)

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.

The Ribeye was the best dish plated that night. It was still slightly salty but the meat accommodated it better than any of the other previous dishes could.

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 tiis 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.

Used with permission of Vinous Media LLC

This was a great opportunity to taste with, and learn from, one of the notable Barolo experts of our time. And in this regard, the tasting was a success. Antonio's knowledge of the region, producers, and vintages were of inestimable value to the attendees as they worked their way through the wines.

The wines that are on my radar screen coming out of the tasting are 1995, 1996, 1997, and all of the wines in Flights 4 and 5. Of course, the 2010 will not be drinkable for quite a while.

The most disappointing facets of the evening for me was the food and not getting to taste the 1996. There was no standout dish and some of the dishes, in my view were seriously compromised by excessive salt. The glass of 1996 that was brought to my table should not have seen the light of day.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme