Saturday, January 28, 2023

Recent Developments at To Kalon Vineyard (Oakville AVA, Napa)

I recently came across a Decanter article on To Kalon Vineyard attaining California Certified Organic Farmer (CCOF) certification and it prompted two observations on my part:
  1. I had not updated my To-Kalon writings to reflect recent developments  
  2. I had never presented a view of farming practices across the Crabbe-Stelling vineyard (illustrated below).

I address these shortcomings in this and a subsequent post, beginning herein with recent developments.

Legal Developments
In a late 2019 post titled To Kalon: Land or Brand, I wrote about the Vineyard House Winery suit to allow its use of the To Kalon name on its labels. At the time of that writing, the case was still pending.

One of Vineyard House Winery's claims was that To Kalon was a place name and, as such, not "trademarkable." Constellation, which had received the To Kalon (registered by Mondavi in 1988) and To Kalon Vineyard (registered by Mondavi in 1994) trademarks as part of the proceeds of the Robert Mondavi purchase, contested this claim vigorously.

A decision was handed down in January 2021. The judge ruled that Constellation could use the term To Kalon both as a brand and " a reference to all of their alluvial fields in Oakville." In addition, a permanent injunction was granted preventing non-Constellation use of To Kalon without the trademark holder's permission.

I sought input from Graeme Macdonald of Macdonald Vineyards as to whether this ruling had had any direct impact on Constellation's effort to have the newly named To Kalon Creek renamed Doak Creek instead. According to Graeme:
  • The Napa County Board of Supervisors reaffirmed their support for the To Kalon Creek name. 
  • The California Committee on Geographic Names deferred to their original decision in support of the To Kalon Creek name.
  • A local tribe was contesting Constellation's effort to use the name Doak on the basis of D.P. Doak having displaced them from their ancestral lands in the early 1900s.
Harvesting Synergies
In my post refuting the Tim Carl proposition of the Constellation Schrader acquisition being part of a master plan to commodify To Kalon, I had proposed a plan whereby Constellation could, instead, reap greater value by combining the Schrader infrastructure and the To Kalon Vineyard to provide new offerings. Constellation has deployed such a strategy.

As it relates to Schrader proper, Constellation has introduced two new wines under this eponymous label: Heritage Clone To Kalon Vineyard and Monastery Block To Kalon. The latter, first released with the 2017 vintage, is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 169 from the vineyard's Monastery Block. The former, initiated with the 2018 vintage, is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 39 from Block N2S of the vineyard.

Schrader has a second label called Double Diamond which it had placed on hiatus in 2016. This label was first introduced in 2001 as a Cabernet Sauvignon cuvée which drew its fruit from top Napa Valley sites. With access to To Kalon fruit, the label was brought out of cold storage with the 2018 vintage as an Oakville cuvée with the bulk of its fruit sourced from the home vineyard.

Further Leveraging the To Kalon Vineyard: To Kalon Vineyard Company
In May of 2019, Constellation Brands announced its Fine Wine Division's launch of To Kalon Vineyard Wine Company, a label helmed by Andy Erickson and using fruit sourced from the To Kalon Vineyard. The initial offering -- named Highest Beauty (100% Cabernet Sauvignon) -- utilized fruit from the vineyard's 2016 harvest.

Subsequently, To Kalon Vineyard Wine Company has introduced two additional wines: (i) H.W.C.  Cabernet Sauvignon (Initials of the To Kalon founder; 100% Cabernet Sauvignon Heritage Clone) and (ii) Eliza's Red Wine (Cabernet Sauvignon-Cabernet Franc blend named after Elizabeth Yount, the widow of the founder of Yountville). The 2019 edition of this wine was a blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon and 37% Cabernet Franc.

Organic Certification
According to the previously referenced Decanter article, Constellation has been hard at work over the past three years readying the Tokalon Vineyard for organic certification. Constellation currently manages 497 acres of the combined historic To Kalon Vineyard plus the non-Opus portion of the Stelling Extension and of this, a total of 331 acres have attained organic certification. Younger vines and buffer blocks remain uncertified at this time. The first vintage of organic fruit will come with the 2023 harvest.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Lebanese Wine: Renaissance Interruptus

My most recent post covered the role of the Phoenicians in the spread of wine across the Mediterranean. As was the case for Iranian wine, production in the Levant contracted with the introduction of Islam to the region, with wine permitted only for use by Christians in the course of their religious pursuits.

The "modern" phase of the Lebanese wine industry began in 1857 with French Jesuit monks who settled in the Bekaa Valley in the mid-19th century. This group was gifted a 25-acre plot of land in the Bekaa and chose to employ it in grape-growing. Thus was born Chateau Ksara, an enterprise still in existence today. 

The early wines were made for personal consumption with the monks moving from raisin-based wines to wines made from grapes grown on Cinsault, Carignan, and Grenache vines imported from Algeria, at that time the biggest wine hub outside of France.

At the end of the First World War, the Ottoman Empire was dismantled and Lebanon was placed under a French Protectorate. This brought in a large number of French soldiers and Administrators and drove up the demand for wine. Chateau Ksara switched from wines for personal use to a commercial enterprise in order to meet this demand.

In the early 1970s the Vatican issued a papal edict requiring that the Catholic Church sell any and all commercial concerns. This forced the Jesuits to sell Chateau Ksara to a Lebanese investment group in 1973.

At the beginning of the Lebanese Civil War (1975 -90) a total of six commercial wineries were operational within the country. At the end of the war, Chateaus Kefraya, Ksara, Musar, and Nakad and Domaine des Tourelles, plus six new producers, dusted off the sands of war and turned their full attention to the resurrection of the Lebanese wine industry. By the mid-1990s, the number of wineries had grown to 14 and to 60 by 2018. The country was conducive to grape growing, with a dry, sunny climate and protection of the vines afforded by the peaks of the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon Mountains.
The characteristics of the Lebanese grape-growing environment are shown in the chart below.

Chateau Musar: One of The North Stars of Lebanese Wine
One of most enduring stories of Lebanese wine has been the efforts of Chateau Musar's Serge Hochar to produce wine during the course of the Civil War. I had the honor and priviledge of tasting the estate's wines with him prior to his untimely death. The below observations are from notes taken at the tasting.

Chateau Musar's vineyards are located in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley with red and white wine grapes grown in distinctly separate environments. The red wine grapes -- Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault, and Carignan -- are planted in the southern portion of the Bekaa Valley on soils that are gravel over limestone. These old vines yield between 30 and 35 hl/ha. The white varieties are the indigenous Obaideh and Merwah which are planted in high-altitude (1500 m ) vineyards. Grape growing is organic and, at harvest, the berries are hand-picked by Bedouin tribespeople and trucked over the mountain to the winery which is 2.5 hours removed.

Grapes for the red wines are fermented by varietal in cement vats and then racked into French oak barriques after 6 months (In the tasting, Serge indicated that he had tried stainless steel fermentation but that it had "destroyed" the wines. He uses stainless steel for some of the younger-generation wines but exclusively uses concrete for the Hochar and Musar wines.). The barrique wines are blended after 12 months of initial residence and then returned to the barriques for an additional 12 months. The mature wine is then bottled unfiltered and aged for 3 - 4 years before being released to the market.

The white wines are fermented in French oak for 6 - 9 months before blending and bottling and are then stored in the Musar cellars for an additional 6 years prior to market release.

Serge and the Author

Renaissance Interruptus
By 2020, this Lebanese winemaking renaissance had been brought to heel by:
  • A popular revolution
  • A financial crisis -- loss of 95% of the value of the Lebanese pound
  • The impact of the coronavirus
  • A massive explosion in the Beirut port which killed in excess of 200 people, wounded over 6000 people, and dealt a massive blow to the port infrastructure and adjacent business/residential districts
  • Rising poverty
  • A fuel and electricity crisis.
These conditions served to cause a contraction in both the local (30 - 35% decline 2020 over 2019) and export (30% decline) wine markets. Wine imports have decreased by 65%. Wine producers are hit especially hard by these conditions because they need hard currency to import equipment, sulfur, yeast, bottles, corks, and labels.

Given the need for hard currency, as well as the limited local consumption, Lebanese winemakers will be forced to focus on the export market in order to survive. The prospects are better for establishments with name recognition in foreign markets as marketing funds are not readily available. 

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Ancient Wine: The Phoenicians and the spread of wine across the Mediterranean Basin

According to Yuval Noah Harari (Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind), the genus Homo evolved in Africa and spread to Eurasia 2 million years ago, resulting in the evolution of different Homo species. Homo sapiens evolved in East Africa approximately 200,000 years ago and lived there until a breakout into the broader world, commencing 70,000 years ago. The story of wine has a parallel trajectory., with its crucible being the Caucusus region during the Neolithic period and early touch points being "near-abroad" countries. These early-adopting countries were the cult-wine regions of the time and in this series I seek to describe wine making and wine drinking therein then and now. I have, to date, covered Armenia (wine history and winemaking) and Iran and continue herein with Lebanon.

Ancient Phoenicia
Current-day Lebanon was the Phoenicia of yore. Phoenician was an ancient Greek term used to describe the Iron Age, Semitic-speaking people who inhabited the central coast of the Levant (the region along the eastern Mediterranean which roughly corresponds to modern-day Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and certain adjacent areas).

But the Phoenicians were not limited to the Levant. Around 1100 BC the Phoenicians began founding colonies all across the Mediterranean and even on the Atlantic coasts of Europe and Africa. Carthage and Syracuse are two of the noteworthy names that have resonated down the corridors of history but these -- and most of the other colonies -- were lost to Rome during the course of the Punic Wars (264 - 146 BC).

The Phoenicians used their trade routes to spread wine and their alphabet across the Mediterranean.

Phoenicia and its trade routes

Wine in Ancient Phoenicia
Grape cultivation spread to Phoenicia around 3000 BC and wine became a valuable commodity for the inhabitants both as as a trade good and for local consumption in feasts and as a libation. As shown in the chart below, the wine was well-regarded and was referenced in many ancient sources.

Phoenician Winemaking
Winemaking in the Levant and across the Mediterranean, in the period between the 5th century BC and 1st century AD, utilized wine presses with the following characteristics:
  • A treading floor/basin where grapes were crushed by foot
  • A vat for the collection of the must 
  • A connecting channel between the "crush pad" and vat.
The crush pad was generally hewn out of rock or built with stone blocks.

A newly discovered wine press at the Tell el-Burak archaeological site has revealed a marked departure from this convention.

Tell el-Burak is a small Phoenician site located near the modern-day Lebanese city of Sidon. It was occupied between the 8th and 5th centuries BC. The wine press excavated from the site dates to the 7th century BC and is the earliest evidence of winemaking in ancient Phoenicia.

The press consisted of a large rectangular treading basin (4500 L) attached to a large vat. The structure was built with plaster made from a mixture of lime and recycled ceramics. This material rendered the press both easier to build and stronger than its contemporaries. The size of the vessel indicates industrial-scale wine production.

The chart immediately below captures the actual excavated material while the one following is an artist's conception of how the press would have appeared when operational.

Excavated Tell el-Burak Wine Press
(Source: Orsingher, et al., Phoenician
lime for Phoenician wine: Iron Age
 plaster from a wine press at Tell el-Burak,
Lebanon, Antiquity 377, 1224 - 1244)

Artist's conception of Tell el-Burak Wine Press
(Source: Orsingher, et al., Phoenician lime
for Phoenician wine: Iron Age plaster from
 a wine press at Tell el-Burak, Lebanon,
 Antiquity 377, 1224 - 1244)

In addition to the press, a large number of grape seeds were found at the site, confirming a large scale, industrial operation.

Wine as a Key Phoenician Trade Good
There are a number of references from ancient sources as to the importance of wine in the Phoenician trade arsenal:
  • Ezekiel's (Chapter 27) oracle against Tyre suggest the city's involvement (6th century BCE) in transporting and marketing wines produced in other parts of the Levant
  • Herodotus (Hist 3.6) claimed that Phoenician wine was imported twice a year into Egypt
  • Two shipwrecks (ca. 8th century BCE) discovered 30 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza are advanced as evidence of the scope of the Phoenician wine trade. These ships were laden with hundreds of carinated-shoulder amphorae (a distinctive Phoenician container) and organic residue from one amphora suggests that its contents were wine.
Carinated-Shoulder Amphora

Initially the Phoenicians tried to avoid spills during transport by covering the wine with a layer of oil but this proved unsatisfactory. They next tried a pinewood disk bedded into the necks of the amphorae with a clay and resin mixture. This resinous mix flavored the wine as it made contact during the course of the voyage and the Phoenicians -- as well as the Greeks -- thought that it also acted as a preservative. This was the precursor to Retsina.

Phoenician Influence in the spread of Wine beyond the Middle East
Domestication of the grapevine and production of wine was initiated in the Caucusus region during the Neolithic and spread to neighboring polities, reaching Phoenicia by 3000 BC. Phoenicia then became the key link in catapulting wine consumption and cultivation knowledge into the wider world:
  • It is believed that wine was first brought to Crete by Phoenician traders
  • Stassinus, author of the "Cyprus Epic Songs," stipulates that the cultivation of grape vines dates back to the early days of the Island's colonization by the Phoenicians in 3000 BC
  • The Romans learned to appreciate the consumption and production  of wine from the Phoenician/Punic and Greek peoples
  • The first vines in Sardinia were imported by the Phoenicians
  • Winemaking in Sardinia dates back to the time of the Phoenicians.
The Phoenicians, the progenitors of modern-day Lebanon, were clearly major players in the development and spread of wine in Mediterranean Basin and beyond.  What has become of that headstart in more modern times? I will explore that question in an upcoming post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Contextualizing the newly minted Chianti Classico sub-zones

There has been a lengthy ongoing discussion among invested parties as to the need for sub-zones within the Chianti Classico DOCG. In June 2021, a specific sub-zone proposal was presented to the members of the Chianti Classico Consorzio and was approved by an overwhelming majority. I provide some context in this post.

Chianti Classico DOCG
Production Zone
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 (

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 a 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 announced the introduction of a new tier of wine positioned above the Riserva. This new tier is 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. While some producers saw this as a positive step, potentially leading to single-vineyard offerings, others saw the possibility for creating greater confusion as the consumer wades through the thickets of Chianti, Chianti Classico, IGT, and the relevant tiers.

The Chianti Classico climate is continental, with long summers and cold winters. Various aspects of the climate are illustrated in the chart below.

Sources: Map -; information - Nesto and
di Savino, Chianti Classico

As shown on the chart, the combination of the Chianti and Pratomagno Mountains block morning sunlight from the region. In the southeast of the region, the upper Arno River valley opens up to the east and south, allowing in some morning sunlight.

According to Nesto and di Savino, climate change is forcing vineyards to migrate to higher elevations. Thirty years ago, according to the duo, vines planted above 350 m subjected their growers to ridicule; 350 m was considered prime real estate for Sangiovese. Today 500 m is desired. Alcohol levels are increasing such that in the warmer Chianti Classico areas, less sun is preferred, leading to a preference for north and northeast exposures in those zones.

As it relates to seasonal weather hazards, there is potential for bud damage from spring frosts and damaging summer hail resulting from warm humid winds rising from low to high elevations. 

Landscape and Soils
Coltorti, et al., provide insight into the population of rock types encountered in Siena Province (see chart directly below) while Bonini and Sani and Amato and Vallatto, respectively, provide soils distribution in Chianti Classico by percentage and by location.

As shown in the preceding charts, 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" (

Calls for Chianti Classico Sub-Zones
Over the years a number of proponents have advanced arguments for dividing the broader Chianti Classico into sub-zones as a means of better defining the region’s wines. A subset of those voices — and their arguments — are presented in the following.

Walter Speller (Chianti Classico -- a call for subzoning,, 2/8/14) called for the Chianti Classico officials to take a cue from Côtes-du-Rhone Villages and divide Chianti Classico into sub-zones based on the main villages and allow producers to print the names of the villages on the labels. According to Walter, "this would provide the perfect structure to make the necessary, complex terroir research manageable" as it would be cut down into logical portions. This approach has historically been treated with disdain because, the argument goes:
  • Soil compositions are too complex and diverse
  • The hills offer too many expositions and altitudes to really corral them in such a simplistic system.
Roberto Stucchi (The Evolution of Chianti Classico,, 2/28/14) predicted zonation as a natural evolution. According to Roberto, the zone was "too large and diverse to be locked in the current DOCG regulations which make no distinction between the extremely diverse expressions of Sangiovese in its original territory. The evolution that he saw was first a commune-level zonation which would eventually be superseded by a village-level facility.

Michael Schmeizer (The map has arrived, now where do we go?, 10/15/14) spoke positively about a commune-level zonation allowing the region to sidestep the ever-present Chianti vs Chianti Classico conversation but was adamantly against restricting it by category (Gran Selezione, for example) "as this sends the signal to the market that a Chianti Classico normale cannot be special or unique, and robs the smaller producers of their advantage."

Unità Geografiche Agguniative (UGA): The Chianti Classico Sub-Zoning Solution
UGA, translated as Additional Geographic Units, has been regulated by wine laws since 2013 and defines a place of origin within a DOC/G which can be added to the name of the wine. A UGA can be an entire administrative area (a commune), a part of an administrative area, or a smaller locality within the commune (Frazione). Soave DOCG has 33 UGAs and, rather than a quality classification, each highlights the wines available therein.

Chianti Classico declined to pursue UGAs based on soils and topography because of the geologic complexity of the area. Instead, they opted to embrace the traditional areas of production with a strong terroir connection and sense of identity. Eleven areas were specified with eight going into effect immediately and three slated to be implemented in three years. The initial specification would only include the Gran Selezione category but is expected to be expanded in the future to include Riserva and Annata wines as well as additional sub-zones. The initial Chianti Classico UGA schema is illustrated graphically in the chart below.

Some points of note:
  • Four of the proposed UGAs are village level (and three of those village-level UGAs are in Greve in Chianti)
  • As part of this process, the Consorzio has already been able to describe the types of wine that are characteristic of each area
  • The initial implementation ignored calls to not restrict the zones to a specific category (it currently only covers Gran Selezione) but this is considered a temporary state of affairs.
  • This approach incorporates Robert Stucchi's evolutionary model (commune then village) into a hybrid model (mix of commune and village).
I personally look forward to gaining a deeper understanding of Chianti Classico wines by drinking within and across these new zones. I also look forward to the promised expansion to additional zones and wine categories.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Il Guercio and Uno from the Tenuta di Carleone estate (Radda in Chianti, Chianti Classico, Tuscany)

Tenuta Carleone di Castiglione, located in Chianti Classico's Radda in Chianti, is the fruit of the vision of an Austrian entrepreneur - Karl Egger -- and the winemaking skills and regional knowledge of an English expat -- Sean O' Callaghan.

Egger and his family were regular visitors to Chianti and eventually decided to start a winery. Towards that end he bought a 100-ha property comprised of wooded hills, small rivers, and fertile plains. For the winemaking effort he was put in touch with Sean O'Callaghan, who was, at the time, working with another producer in the area. The winery was launched in 2012.

The focus is Sangiovese and 7 ha of the estate has been set aside for growth of the variety. The vineyards sit on a mix of limestone, sandstone, and compacted shale soils. 

Sean's farming philosophy revolves around organic and biodynamic principles with most of the property organic; or in the process of being so. As regards winemaking, he is non-interventionist, opts for long macerations, and eschews fining and filtration.

The estate produces three 100% Sangiovese wines (Uno, Il Guercio, and Chianti Classico); one Sangiovese dominant wine (Due; 95% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot); a Cabernet Franc and Merlot blend (Il Randagio); a 100% Alicante Bouschet (Tinto); and a Sangiovese Rosato.

I recently tasted the 2020 Il Guercio as well as the 2019 Uno. 

The Il Guercio is made from Sangiovese grapes sourced from the 700-m asl Mello vineyard in Gaiole in Chianti. Grapes are late-picked and fermented in steel and cement tanks with 20% whole bunches. The wine is macerated for 4 months and aged in steel and cement tanks for 12 months.

The wine had a complex nose with lifted aromatics. Beeswax, red and black pepper, green herbs, dark cherry, baking spices, and ginger. An altogether pleasing nose. Red cherries and a biting acidity courses down the spine of the palate to a spicy, persistent finish. Medium weight and whole-palate-engaging. Non-aggressive tannins. Youthful but not unpleasantly so. Boatloads of post-tannin promise.

The 2019 Uno showed very sweet red fruit, beeswax, lifted aromatics, forest floor, depth, vanilla, sawdust, fresh wood chips, red pepper, and a savoriness. Elegant. Acidity and red fruit on the palate. Broad. Persistent. Metallic, with green tannins. Long, woody finish.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, September 22, 2022

The story of wine in Iran

In his book exploring the origin of viniculture, Dr. Patrick E. McGovern pointed to a number of ancient wine origin stories and highlighted the Persian entrant. According to the tale, one King Jamshid, king of the world, was such a lover of grapes that he had them placed in a jar (to ensure a year-round supply) and had that jar labeled "poison."  One of the harem consorts had been suffering with a terrible headache and, to end the misery, drank the liquid that had pooled in the jar.  After a long, deep sleep, she awoke, miraculously cured of her condition.  She relayed the story to the king who recognized the medicinal benefit of the brew and ordered that it be made in greater quantities for broader consumption.

In truth, Neolithic inhabitants of the Caucasus region were the first humans to domesticate the wild grapevine and produce wine. 

The first wine was made in this region

From this origin point, the knowledge travelled along the two paths illustrated in the map caption below.

Diffusion of wine drinking from its origins in the
Caucasus: (i) Southwest to Syria, Lebanon,
Israel/Palestine, and then on to Egypt and
(ii) south into Mesopotamia and along the spine of the
Zagros Mountains into Shiraz in Persia (Iran)

Archaeological finds at two Iranian sites (the Neolithic Hajji Firuz Teppe and the Bronze Age Godin Tepe) attest to an early association of wine with Iran.

Red oval highlights archaeological sites where proof
 of winemaking in ancient Iran (Persia) was unearthed. 

Hajji Firuz Tepe, an ancient town located in the northern Zagros Mountains of Iran, was the subject of an archaeological excavation in 1968 at which five 2.5 gallon (9 liter) jars were found embedded in an earthen floor along a wall of a Neolithic mud brick building.  Two of these jars had a yellowish residue on the bottom which, after being subjected to infrared liquid chromatography and wet chemical analysis, proved to be a combination of calcium tartrate and terebinth tree resin.  Tartaric acid in the amounts found can only be associated with grapes and the amount of wine that would be housed in the five containers would be much more than required for a single family's use.  Clay stoppers that perfectly fit the openings at the top of the clay jars were found in close proximity to the jars and was assumed to have been used to prevent the contents from turning to vinegar.  These factors led the archaeologists to tag this site as a wine-production facility -- playfully called "Chateau" Hajji Firuz by Dr. McGovern. As wines in Greece even today are resinated, the assumption is that resin was added to Neolithic wines either as a preservative or for medicinal purposes.

Jar from Hajji Firuz Tepe

While the Hajji Firuz Tepe finds prove wine production in Persia in the Neolithic -- and pretty close to the dawn of winemaking -- another Persian site shows winemaking further south in the Zagros Mountains; and at a later date. Godin Tepe is a site located high up in Iran's Central Zagros Mountains. In its heyday it was located along a major ancient trade route that later became the famed Silk Road, the route that linked China to the Mediterranean.

The McGovern team subjected a reddish residue -- obtained from jars found at this site and dated to 3500 to 3000 BC -- to liquid chromatograph tandem mass spectroscopy testing and showed evidence of tartaric acid -- a fingerprint for grapes -- and tree resin, an antioxidant which is known to restrain wine aging.

Grape wine was a known and widespread product in the pre-Islamic Middle East where "the highly developed wine cultures in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Iran, and the Syrian-Palestinian region created a trade route network not only in the Middle East but westwards to Europe ... and eastwards to India" (Brinkman).

Pre-Islamic Mesopotamia was "the land of wine-soaked royal banquets, of alcohol-induced divination, and of prophecy inspired by intoxicating drinks" (Matthee). Zoroastrianism, one of the world's oldest religions, served as the state religion of ancient religious temples from 650 BC until the Muslims conquered the country in the mid-7th century. In Zoroastrianism, "wine symbolized liquid gold and the flowing fire of the liquid sun, and as such had a ritual function, being part of the libation ritual in which it is a substitute for blood."

The advent of Islam in 7th-century Iran formally made wine drinking illegal in the lands  but did little to interrupt its consumption in the newly conquered greater Iran (Mesopotamia, the Iranian plateau, the Caucasus, and Central Asia as far as the Oxus River). This "native" habit of wine/alcohol consumption was reinforced by an influx of Turkic Mongol peoples from Central Asia who, collectively, had a reputation for "dipsomania." According to Matthee, both the Seljuks and Mongols were notorious for their binge drinking and "subsequent dynasties continued the habit of elites indulging in alcoholic excesses in flagrant violation of Islamic law."

The Safavids took power in 1501 and ruled until the 18th century. In that period wine drinking was mostly tribal and "wedded to outdoor spaces." Grapes were locally cultivated and pressed by foot or a heavy press before fermentation in vats. The completed wine was stored either in small vessels or large basins.

Alcohol consumption in large quantities by the Shah and his entourage "continued to have a spiritual, even sacral dimension reminiscent of the ancient libation rite." The king was supposed to drink --- a sign of his stature as a big man and a way to "demonstrate his own autonomous moral space" beyond the strictures of Islam (Matthee).

Wines were not restricted to grapes for raw material. Rather, raisins, dates, and a variety of fruits were pressed into service as raw material and the juices of these material could all be mixed into the finished wine.

In Safavid Iran the person in charge of the wine cellar was called a wine steward. Implements used in the enjoyment of wine were kept in wine cellars and included cups, goblets, long-necked flasks, and musical instruments. For the wealthy, the cups and bowls were made of gold, silver, and glass while the commoners would utilize containers made of clay, wood, or copper. Wineskins were used for the transport of wine or outdoor consumption.

In 1979 Iran's new Islamic rulers banned alcohol consumption, shut down wineries, ripped up commercial vineyards and "consigned to history a culture stretching back thousands of years" (, 2/3/17).

Stephanie Brinkman, Wine in Hadith -- from Intoxication to Sobriety, in Bert G. Fragner, Ralph Kauz and Florian Schwarz (eds.), Wine Culture in Iran and Beyond, ORW, 2014.
Rudi Mathee, The Ambiguities of Alcohol in Iranian History, in Bert G. Fragner, Ralph Kauz and Florian Schwarz (eds.), Wine Culture in Iran and Beyond, ORW, 2014.
Dr. Patrick E. McGovern, Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origin of Viniculture, Princeton University Press, 2003.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Saturday, August 27, 2022

A tasting of selected Carpineto Tuscan wines

Kissimmee's Vintage Vino recently hosted a tasting of selected Carpineto wines and, while I was unable to attend in person, I bought the particular wines to taste at my leisure.

The Carpineto winery was founded in 1967 in Chianti Classico by Giovanni Carlo Sacchet and Antonio Carlo Zaccheo and has subsequently expanded to include holdings in other major Tuscan wine producing regions. The company "prides itself on its sustainable, carbon neutral farming techniques and ... aromatic, ageworthy, approachable ... wines."

Fruit for its wines are sourced from "500 ha of sustainably farmed land spread among 5 carbon neutral estates ..." The locations and characteristics of those estates are illustrated in the chart below.

The wines included in the tasting were as follows:
  • Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva 2016
  • Brunello di Montalcino 2016
  • Chianti Classico Riserva 2016
  • Chianti Classico Gran Selezione 2015
  • Farnito Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
  • Molin Vecchio IGT 2012.
The Brunello di Montalcino was vinified with frequent pump-overs during a 15-day maceration period. The wine was aged in Slavonian oak for 3 years and an additional 6 months in bottle. This wine is complex on the nose with notes of violets, berries, and black pepper. Balanced on the palate with tar, curry, spice, and mint flavors accompanied by a stony minerality. A long, sweet finish.

The Vino Nobile de Montepulciano Riserva is primarily Sangiovese along with Canaiolo and other authorized varietals. The skin and must was macerated for 10 - 15 days with frequent pump-overs. The majority of the wine was aged for 2 years in 5500 L Slavonian oak barrels with a small component aged in French oak barrels. The wine was further aged in bottle for 6 - 8 months prior to release on the market.

Tobacco on the nose along with dark fruits, baking spices, rust, and mint. Black fruits, black pepper, and a savoriness. Great acid levels.

The grapes for the Gran Selezione were sourced from a 2-ha plot on the Dudda estate. Grapes were hand-selected and then vinified by indigenous yeasts in small stainless steel tanks. The wine was aged in French oak for 18 months. Red fruit, baking spices, licorice, and baked almonds on the nose. Balanced red fruit on the palate.

The Chianti Classico Riserva is primarily Sangiovese with contributions from Canaiolo and other red varieties. The wine is vinified with medium-duration maceration and then aged in Slavonian and French oak barrels for 12+ months. The wine is transferred into stainless steel tanks prior to bottling. 

Rich and layered on the nose, with notes of raspberry, vanilla, ripe fruit, and currants. Soft, full, round mouthfeel. A creaminess accompanies bright acidity and chewy tannins. Flavors of cherry, raspberry, and coal. A long, slightly bitter finish. Bright future. One of my favorites of the wines in this group.

The Farnito is made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes sourced from the Gaville and Montepulciano estates. The grapes were fermented in stainless steel tanks with 10 - 15 days of maceration and periodic pump-overs. The wines experienced full malolactic fermentation  before aging for 12 months in used French and American oak barriques. The wine spends an additional 8 months in bottle before it is released on the market. 

Elegant on the nose with aromas of violets, dark fruits, baking spices, mint, and a creaminess. Broad-based on the palate with black fruit flavors and tar preceding a green, herby finish.

Unlike the other wines, the Molin Vecchio is IGT; but it does not allow that fact to get in its way. Grapes are sourced from a Montepulciano vineyard that was planted in 1995 at 4464 vines/ha. Planted varieties include Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Colorino, and Merlot, all on 420A rootstock.

The wine is a blend of 80% Sangiovese clone A548, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon clone CL15, and 10% Syrah clone 470. The grapes were subjected to small-lot fermentation using indigenous yeasts. The must was macerated for 15 days with frequent aeration, pump-overs, and punch-downs. After malolactic fermentation the wine was aged in new French and American oak barrels for 12 months. The wine was racked and bottled unfiltered and then aged for an additional 4-5 months.

Black fruit, smoke, bacon fat, nutmeg, vanilla, and currants on the nose. Nose transits to the palate. Great weight with silky tannins and a long, rich finish.

Overall, a good lineup. I was especially pleased with the Chianti Classico Riserva and the Molin Vecchio.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme