Friday, July 28, 2017

I don't get "The Commodification of To Kalon"

Tim Carl recently wrote a piece, called The Commodification of To Kalon, which painted a picture of Constellation Brands ("the third-largest wine and beer company in the United States with some 50 million cases of wine sold a year and first-quarter revenue at $1.9 billion ...") initiating a process to gain control of the Beckstoffer portion of the To Kalon vineyard by: (i) acquiring the brands that currently purchase Andy's grapes;  (ii) producing low quality wines from those grapes, and (iii) selling the wines at a low price. The case was not made.

This article caught my attention because I am invested in the To Kalon vineyard: I have written the second-best history of the vineyard; I have spent time with vineyard owners (MacDonald Family and Andy Beckstoffer); and one of the producers (Tor Kenward of Kenward Family Wines) is a good friend.

With Tor Kenward (center) 

Andy Beckstoffer taking us on a vineyard walk
In the article Tim pointed out that Schrader Vineyards had recently sold its business to Constellation Brands for a little less than $50 million dollars even though they owned no vineyard or winery. Schrader was, he said, a brand built on the marketing prowess of Schrader, the winemaking reputation and skills of Thomas Brown, and the quality of fruit and name recognition of the Beckstoffer Vineyard.

When I first heard that Constellation was buying Schrader, I wondered about it because, in my vineyard walk-through with Andy, he indicated that he was launching a multi-year replanting effort in the vineyard. An effort which would require that winemakers share their fruit with affected growers in a reciprocal fashion. This means that fruit-quantity levels would decline for multiple years for all of the producers.

This would seem the wrong time to launch a commodification effort (assuming that that is the intent of the purchase; an assumption that I have a problem with). With reduced grape quantities, the producers are probably looking to increase wine prices to maintain sales levels. Further, there are quite a few entities making To Kalon wine; it would cost a pretty penny to buy enough of them to make this work. And why would Constellation go to all this effort? Just for control?

Constellation had to have known about the upcoming fruit source disruption for Schrader, yet they still went ahead with the deal. This suggests a strategy other than commoditization. They bought a brand and I propose that they viewed the brand components as (i) Schrader and (ii) the vineyard. They have one of those components in spades (see the map below where Constellation owns all the green spaces) and they bought the other -- Schrader.

Map of the historic To-Kalon Vineyard and
 "Stelling Extension" (Drawn by Sarah MacDonald)
I propose that Constellation intends to leverage the the Schrader name into creating new branded products with fruit obtained from its own vineyards. Much as I had proposed in my discussion of the Vietti sale, Constellation could create a number of high-end vineyard designates from fruit that is "underutilized" today based on the prices that Beckstoffer To Kalon wines command.

In this model, Constellation would treat To Kalon as a cru with multiple owners (Much as is done in Burgundy and Barolo), each practicing its own discipline but leveraging the reputation of the vineyard into ever-increasing rewards from the marketplace. The current commercial owners of To Kalon land are Andy, the Macdonald Family, the Detert Family, Opus One, and Constellation.

If Constellation focused on delivering premium lines from the property it owns in the historic vineyard -- the two large plots on either side of the Beckstoffer et al block -- it could designate a number of sub-cru plots and label the products as Schrader Alpha To Kalon, Schrader Beta To Kalon, etc., and these would line up seamlessly with the naming convention established with the Schrader Beckstoffer To Kalon wine.

Tim must have had some inside info in order to write the "Commodification" article but I find it difficult to swallow. Especially in light of the contract terms that Andy has with his purchasers and his demonstrated willingness to use the courts to protect his interests (And he said as much in his comment on the article). If a buyer sought to lower the quality standards of the wine made from his grapes, he would probably consider that a breach of contract. And there are always winemakers seeking a spot in his vineyard.

By the way, I spoke to Tor and he has not yet received a call from Constellation.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Winery visit with Roberto Conterno of Giacomo Conterno

"The Barolos of Giacomo Conterno are among the most beautiful wines in the world: gorgeously pure and packed with flavors that feel almost three dimensional" -- Eric Asimov, New York Times.
"The estate is most renowned for the great Barolos Cascina Francia and Monfortino Reserve. The latter ... is regarded as one of the finest Barolos produced today and by many as the finest wine made from Nebbiolo in the world" -- Berry Bros & Rudd.

And this is but a sampling of the accolades that this estate continues to garner; accolades that are the result of implementation of a vision and a longstanding commitment to protecting and perfecting what has been attained.

Prior to World War I, Barolo was made to be drunk early and was sold in casks and demijohns. Giovanni Conterno purchased high-quality fruit from Serralunga d'Alba growers and made wine to be sold in his restaurant and to the general public. After son Giacomo returned from the war, he worked with his father to make an untraditional Barolo, one with significant aging potential. The formula that they hit upon -- extending the maceration time and aging in large wooden botti -- met early success and continues as the foundation of "the finest wine made from Nebbiolo in the world." The history of the estate from those early days on is captured in the chart below.


Bev, Ron, Parlo, and I visited with Roberto on the afternoon of May 17th of this year. After a morning visit with the high-energy Silvia of Elio Altare (report forthcoming), and a wonderful lunch at Ristorante L'Argaj in Castiglione Falletto, we were in great frames of mind for our visit with Roberto. After a short wait in immaculately appointed surroundings, Stephanie led us downstairs to meet Roberto. We had all met Roberto at La Festa del Barolo and expressed our pleasure at seeing him once again. And then we began to talk about the estate and his practices.

The fruit for the estate's flagship Monfortino is sourced from the 14-ha Serralunga d'Alba cru Francia; as is the case for the Barolo Francia (previously Cascina Francia). Five of the crus hectares are planted to Barbera with the remainder Nebbiolo. Both a Barolo (2 ha) and a Barbera (1 ha) are produced from Cerretta fruit. The recently purchased Arione vineyard (6 ha) has just been replanted with Nebbiolo. According to Roberto, all three crus have limestone soils and similar climates. The details of the fruit sources are shown below.


Monfortino is made from the best grapes in the greatest year and that search begins in the vineyard with selection and vinification of "proto-Monfortino" and Francia wines. The proto-Monfortino wines are subjected to higher fermentation temperatures and longer maceration time (4 to 5 weeks versus 3 to 4 weeks for the Francia) in search of greater structure (They are also aged for three additional years). A decision is made after tasting as to whether there will be a Monfortino that year. According to Roberto, "Francia you drink, Monfortino you chew." He tastes each wine 15 times a year and would have tasted the wines 40 to 50 times before making a decision. If the decision is made to not produce a Monfortino, the proto-Monfortino is plowed back into that year's Francia.


In terms of an overall winemaking process, everything is destemmed and the grapes vinified by plots. Fermentation is conducted in wooden conical oak vats (They had started out with wood, then switched to stainless steel. Twenty years ago they began using wood again.). He loves wood for fermentation because the thick staves keep the temperature well and, in his view, allows better polymerization.

I have seen many an article which mention that Conterno uses natural yeasts. So I asked him about that. Natural is not always positive, he said. He went on to assert that 95% of all yeasts in the vineyard are damaging to the wine. Today they work with selected yeasts from their vineyard, determined after a lengthy research process. They are currently using two strains for Nebbiolo and three for Barbera.

All wines are aged in botti: 55-year-old Slavonian oak or newer Austrian oak barrels from Franz Stockinger. The Barbera is aged for 2 years, the Barolo for 4 years, and the Monfortino for 7 years. The wines are racked three times in the first year, first to get rid of the gross lees prior to malolactic, and the second and third for clarity. Beyond that, racking is based on taste (combating reduction and tannin).

Steel tanks are used when racking the wines or bottling. In no case is the wine held for more than 1 day in steel tanks.

After the discussion, we turned to tasting some wines. We tasted 2015 Barbera and 2013 Barolo from Cerretta and Francia out of botti.




Roberto said that 2015 was a great vintage. It had been a warm summer and Barbera likes those conditions. Francia, he said, delivers minerality while Ceretta delivers fruit. The Barbera Cerretta showed a rich floral nose, sweet fruit, and beautiful acidity. Roberto sees that richness as emanating from the vineyard. The Barbera Francia showed a core of minerality surrounded by blue fruit. Great balance along with a cupric finish.

The year 2013 was a great vintage for Barolo. Normally Nebbiolo likes cooler temperatures. According to Roberto, 2015 had had a warm summer and, as a result, the Nebbiolo was more approachable. 2013, on the other hand, was cooler and produced a more structured wine. The Barolo Cerretta showed mint, herbs, and eucalyptus. Huge structure and lots of tannin. Excellent weight on the palate. Balanced. The Barolo Francia was perfumed, floral and restrained. Hay, sweet fruit, and spice. Silky, mature tannins resulting from, according to Roberto, being picked at ultimate ripeness. According to Roberto there will be no 2013 or 2014 Francia as those grapes will be used in Monfortino.

Roberto Conterno is a thoughtful and accomplished individual whose wisdom shines through even while his words are being translated. I was enthralled by his presentation at La Festa del Barolo and was no less so during this visit. We would like to thank him for taking the time to meet with us and to thank Stephanie Flou for her efforts in getting the trip arranged and then doing an excellent job of translation during the course of the visit.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Top-rated Barolo crus -- tranche #2: Rocche dell'Annunziata, Monprivato, Villero, Francia, and Vignarionda

Three of the foremost Barolo vineyard experts -- Renato Ratti, Alessandro Masnaghetti, and Antonio Galloni -- have each taken a shot at classifying the crus in the Barolo zone (I have shared the frameworks of the individual schemes in a prior post.). If we look at the highest levels of these schemes, both Ratti and Galloni have 10 crus assigned, but they only have agreement on five (Brunate, Cerequio, Rocche di Castiglione, Monprivato, and Rocche dell'Annunziata). Masnaghetti has rated his crus from one star (lowest) to five stars but he has further divided that top category in two (5 star and 5 star Superiore), with five crus in the former and four in the latter. This organization complicates the effort to balance the top-level crus across the three rating systems.

In my previous post on the top-level Barolo crus, I labeled the best crus as those which were consensus picks by the three experts with the Masnaghetti picks being 5-star Superiore.

The crus covered in this tranche are: Rocche dell'Annunziata and Monprivato (consensus picks, each awarded 5 stars by Masnaghetti); Francia and Vignariondo (selected by both Masnaghetti and Galloni); and Villero (selected by Ratti and Masnaghetti). The characteristics of these crus are presented below.


Consensus Picks
Rocche dell'Annunziata
One of the three La Morra crus included in the top-rated-Barolo-cru categorization (the other two are Brunate and Cerequio), Rocche dell'Annunziato was part of a larger territory (Marcenasco) managed by the Benedictine monks resident in the Abbey of San Martine. According to bbrblog.com, the vineyard appears to have grown in three distinct stages:
  • Stage 1 -- The original part of the vineyard (18.8 ha) covering the lower, south- and west-facing lands below the road to Torriglione.
  • Stage 2 -- Somewhere between 1988 and 1994, it grew to encompass the southwest-facing plots (Oberto, Mascarellos, Scavino, Accomasso) just above the aforementioned road.
  • Stage 3 -- A final push to the borgata ofoiolo (Rocche Costamagna, Erbaluna). 
The vineyard lies in a hollow between the hills of San Martini and Cerequio-Brunate and, as such, experiences the sun's rays from early morning until late in the afternoon.

The Tortonian-era soils are of a clayey-calcareous nature, chalky white on the higher slopes, and siltier lower down. According to bbrblog.com, the soil is between 40% and 50% silt, a characteristic it holds in common with the lower vineyard of Cannubi Boschis. The stones present in the soils aid in drainage.

Wine Characteristics
The wines from this MGA are noted for body (less noticeable than in the cases of Brunate and Cerequio), elegance (more concrete and less ethereal than is the case for Rocche di Castiglione), and complexity (Masnaghetti). Further, they are graceful and richly scented (Carlo Petrini, A Wine Atlas of the Langhe)

For Antonio Galloni, Rocche dell'Annunziata
... yields Barolos of finesse. Rocche dell'Annunziata is known for its striking, floral perfume (violets, roses), sweet spices, dark red fruit and silky tannins. These are gracious, feminine Barolos that tend to open up relatively early, but also age with grace. Rocche dell'Annunziata showcases the refined side of Barolo.
Monprivato
Monprivato is an "exceptionally fine vineyard on the long strip of hillside that descends from the village of Castglione Falletto to the houses of Garbelletto" (Petrini). It is "doubtlessly one of the most prestigious of the MGAs ..." (Masnaghetti).

Monprivato is an historic vineyard, as shown by land registry archives dating to 1666. It is primarily farmed by Giuseppe Mascarello e Figli, with a small portion held by Giovanni Sordo. The family bought its first plot in the MGA in 1904 and have since had some notable accomplishments:
  • Introduction of the Michét Nebbiolo clone by Maurizio in 1921
  • Substantial replanting of the vineyard to Michét in 1963
  • Fourth generation, in the person of Mauro, taking the reigns in 1967
  • Introduction of a Monprivato single vineyard in 1970
  • Purchase of small plots from neighbors between 1985 and 1990 to extend its holdings to the current dominant size
The crus southwest exposure, and lack of surrounding obstacles, ensures all-day access to the sun's rays.

According to mascarello1881.com, the soil is a "clayey-silty marl with good structure, a high content of active limestone, and a well-proportioned supply of micro-elements." This soil is similar to soils of the other great vineyards on the western side of Castiglione Falletto (Petrini).

Wine Characteristics
Monprivato wines are well-structured but also offer  "elegance and intense aromas" (Petrini). Masnaghetti notes that Monprivato wine are sometimes similar to the wines of Rocche and sometimes similar to the "balanced austerity" of Villero and have delivered a long series of frequently memorable vintages.

Monprivato1881.com:
The soil composition and vineyard's south-westerly exposure at midday provides the Barolo wine with excellent body, a subtle bouquet, delicate tar, a lingering aftertaste, an unmistakably clear elegance, and the ability to evolve in a very positive way over time.
A favored plot within the monopole was planted with the best clones of Michét and, in 1988, the estate began making a wine called Ca' d'Morrisio from this parcel. Both the Ca' d'Morrisio and the Monprivato cru are only made in the very best years.

Crus Selected by two of the three Experts
Villero
Even though Villero is only located "a few dozen meters" from the vineyards at Rocche di Castiglione, it has a very different soil type (oddero.it). Villero's
... soil is tough and more compact than the Rocche because it has a higher amount of clay with limestones. The presence of clay silicates helps it retain water ... Rocche is looser and poor in nutrients.
Both Masnaghetti and Petrini concur with this characterization. In addition, Masnaghetti sees the Villero soil as, at times, deeper and more fertile than the soils of Monprivato.

Villero is one of the "most divided up" of the Castiglione Falletto MGAs as well as being one of the most homogenous in terms of aspect (Masnaghetti). With the exception of the lowest and highest parts of the slope -- west-facing -- the vineyard has a southwest exposure. Masnaghetti identifies the upper middle parts of the slope as being most favorably positioned while the lower portions are best suited for non-Nebbiolo reds and white grapes.

Wine Characteristics
The wines from Villero grapes are a little less elegant, with more structure, alcohol, and tannins than wines from Rocche (Petrini). Masnaghetti also describes the wines in this comparative manner seeing it as having more structure and less finesse than the wines of Monprivato. Oddero finds the wines of Villero to be rounder and juicier, with warm tones and dark fruit notes" as compared to Rocche wines which are "longer, more vertical in structure, and have more marked minerality."

According to Selected Estates, "the presence of loam and brown clay in the soil makes Villero stand out as one of the most profound, dark-fruited crus of Barolo, with characteristic aromas of black plum, anise seeds, withered rose petals, and rhubarb."

Francia
Previously known as Cascina Francia, this cru was renamed Francia as part of the MGA naming process. This vineyard was purchased by the Conterno family in 1974.

The soil is a calcareous limestone and, combined with the southwest exposure of the vineyards, yields high-quality grapes (Petrini).

One of the southernmost of the Serralunga crus, it has relatively recently been planted to Nebbiolo. Previously it was dominated by Dolcetto, Freisa, and Barbera.

Wine Characteristics
The wines are rich in tannins and require 7 to 8 years in the cellar to reveal their true potential. According to Masnagheti, the cru yields wines that are "truly classic, rigorous but not hard, solid but not excessively concentrated." The wines have a high degree of salinity (enotecacorsi.it).

I visited with Roberto on the afternoon of May 17th of this year. As he related it, the fruit for the estate's flagship Monfortino and for the Barolo Francia (previously Cascina Francia) is sourced from this cru. Five of the 14 hectares are planted to Barbera with the remainder Nebbiolo.


Monfortino is made from the best grapes in the greatest year and that search begins in the vineyard with selection and vinification of "proto-Monfortino" and Francia wines.

Roberto said that 2015 was a great vintage. It had been a warm summer and Barbera likes those conditions. Francia, he said, delivers minerality while Ceretta delivers fruit. The 2015 Barbera Francia showed a core of minerality surrounded by blue fruit. Great balance along with a cupric finish.

The year 2013 was a great vintage for Barolo. The Barolo Francia was perfumed, floral and restrained. Hay, sweet fruit, and spice. Silky, mature tannins resulting from, according to Roberto, being picked at ultimate ripeness. According to Roberto there will be no 2013 or 2014 Francia as those grapes will be used in Monfortino.

Vignarionda
Vignarionda is a round-shaped (hence the name), gently sloping (300 to 350 m) vineyard located in the Serralunga d'Alba subzone.
If you ask a resident of Serralunga to name the town's three finest vineyards, one of the trio is sure to be Vigna Rionda. It is an historic vineyard. The quality of its grapes has been celebrated for hundreds of years and the greatest names in Langhe winemaking have for many years made special efforts to acquire grapes from Vigna Rionda (Petrini).
The vineyard's location ensures access to sunshine for most of the day while also using the Castelleto hills for protection from excessive winds.

According to oddero.it:
Like all soil in Serralunga, its origins date back to the Serravallian Age (sometimes called Helvetian), characterized by Lequio soil, or layers of grey marl alternating with sandstone, formed by siliceous sands that are more or less cemented between the marl layers, and calcium carbonate, iron carbonate, and inorganic residuals of vegetable and mineral organisms. Vignarionda's soil is rich in microelements like potassium, boron, manganese, and magnesium. Its active limestone content is quite high -- at 13.58%, it is the highest in the entire Barolo zone.
Wine Characteristics
The wines from the cru are "fairly tannic ... with outstanding structure and excellent aging potential" (Petrini). Masnaghetti sees the wines as "austere, severe, and sometimes unyielding, whether they be made from from the grapes of the historical nucleus ... or those grown in the western-facing sector."

*******************************************************************************************************
To date I have covered the top-rated crus so designated by at least two of the three experts. In future posts I will cover the top-rated crus classified as such by a single expert. The next post, then, will cover the Ratti top-level crus that have not been validated by either Masnaghetti or Galloni.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Vini Franchetti: The "pre-Socratic" Nerello Mascalese vintages on Mt Etna

In a personal communication post my visit to the Vini Franchetti Passopiciaro estate on the north face of Mt. Etna, Andrea Franchetti stated as follows: "I tried to make a Nerello that I liked right away, but wasn't able to until 2005 when I finally started getting it. Since then, our Nerello has been, I think, getting better because of new touches in the winemaking." In this post I will trace the early Franchetti Nerello Mascalese winemaking experiences and identify the changes which have led to the wines being among the leaders today.

Robert Camuto (Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey) provides telling insights into the Franchetti mindset and practices in those early years. In his visit to the Franchetti estate in the summer of 2009, he saw no Nerello Mascalese grapes planted there. In fact, "... Franchetti saw no need to plant local varieties when he could buy or lease Nerello from vineyards that were already established."

His perception of this early-times Franchetti is electric:
Most winemakers were coming to Etna to make their interpretations of Nerello, but Franchetti was here, it seemed, to interpret Franchetti. The others were like landscape painters who had come to paint the volcano; Franchetti was an abstractionist who had come to paint on the volcano. ... For other winemakers, Nerello Mascalese, with its delicate Pinot Noir color and structure, was part of the attraction. Franchetti, on the other hand, was here on Etna in spite of Etna.
Camuto reports that Franchetti told him, "I hated the stuff -- I thought it was coarse. I didn't want to use Nerello to make wine. I looked at it as an ingredient I had to use."

According to Camuto, the early Franchetti Nerello vintages "rolled out the Bordeaux new wave formulas that had worked so well for him at Tenuta di Trinoro" but the long maceration, and aging in barriques, produced a wine that was "as rude as it was rustic."

In an email communication with me, Andrea referred to the wines made before 2004 as the "pre-Socratic vintages."
In 2004, I tried to extract for a long period at low temperature before fermenting the berries; to no avail. I mixed some 2001 Trinoro Merlot in the 2002 Nerello Mascalese. I let the 2003 Nerello Mascalese start out with local wild yeast out of spite. No "philosophy" had been built.
Andrea recently sent me three vintages of this wine to try. They bear no resemblance to the Franchetti Nerello Mascalese wines of today.


The 2001 showed a much deeper color than one would expect from an aged Nerello Mascalese. Hint of Nerello on the nose, but indistinct. Mushroom and earthiness dominates. Concentrated and unfocused on the palate. Bitter on the palate with a very bitter aftertaste. Metallic. Unpleasant finish.

The 2002 showed balsamic, spice, dark fruits, and lacquer on the nose along with hints of tobacco and cedar. Fruitier than the 2001. High acid level. Lack of focus on the palate. Big, dark fruit. red pepper spice. Bitterness and acidity competing on the palate. Severe dryness on palate leading to a furry feel in the mouth.

The 2003 exhibited stewed fruit, spice, and rust. Sweet fruit on the palate. Bitterness, salinity and kerosene.

But Franchetti eventually came to the realization that the problem was with his winemaking technique, rather than with the cultivar and, in 2004, he changed his approach (Camuto):

  • He ceased macerating on the skin
  • He lowered the fermentation temperature
  • He moved from barrique to botti for aging

Franchetti, as cited by Camuto: "You see, I learned that the best part of the Nerello grape is not in the skins, like with the Bordeaux grapes. Its all in the juice."

In his communication with me, Andrea said that he gained his initial feel for Nerello in 2004 when the wine came in "nice and tannic." The first applied thinking happened the following year (lightness, clarity, fining with egg whites). "What Nerello wine should be, or is in the heavens, struck me from 2005 on: I first modified the cellar activities, then the harvesting decision; then my vineyard management practices."

And the rest, as they say, is history.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A visit to Cantina Giuseppe Rinaldi (Barolo, Piemonte)

After our morning session at Gaja, we stopped in for a quick lunch at La Ciau del Tornavento in Trieso before rushing back to Barolo to keep an appoinment with Carlotta Rinaldi of Giuseppe Rinaldi. I had sat at the same table with Carlotta at the La Festa del Barolo lunch and expressed an interest in visiting the estate. We ironed out the details of the visit shortly after the La Festa event.

Carlotta Rinaldi and author at La Festa del Barolo 2017.
Photo credits: Eric Guido
We pulled into the Rinaldi property from Strada Provinciale 163 and was immediately struck by the rather prominent structure dominating the landscape. This building is described in A Wine Atlas of the Langhe as the "lovely early twentieth century residence that now houses the Giuseppe Rinaldi cellar." Carlotto opened the cellar door in response to our knocks and welcomed us inside. She apologized for her attire, a result, she said, of a just-concluded trip to the vineyards.

According to Carlotta, the Rinaldi estate was founded by her great grandfather Giuseppe Rinaldi who had already been making wines with his brothers but broke away to form his own estate in 1916. The Rinaldi winemaking heritage actually stretches back to 1870 when her great great grandfather Giovan merged his inherited vineyard with that of his wife's to form the Barale-Rinaldi estate, the third largest in the region behind Borgogno and Marchesi di Barolo (Labor of Love).

The current estate proprietor, Giuseppe, is best known for his continued adherence to the traditional ways of producing Barolo wine: long maceration, indigenous yeasts, aging in botti, and blending from different terroirs. And the market has responded to, and rewarded the estate for, this diligence. Giuseppe has been joined in the estate by his two daughters Marta and Carlotta. In a family business, members contribute wherever their efforts are required; and the same is true in the Rinaldi case. But the sisters do have focus areas which are informed by their specific areas of study. Marta's area of focus is in the cellar while Carlotta spends a lot of her time in the vineyards.

Giuseppe Rinaldi sources fruit from four Barolo crus: Brunate, Le Coste, Cannubi San Lorenzo, and Ravera. The characteristics of those crus are shown in the figure below.



Brunate is considered one of the greatest Barolo crus and has been treated in greater detail here.

Cannubi San Lorenzo soil is loosely packed, dry, and infertile and is primarily comprised of sand and the "whitish silaceous marl known in the local dialect as tov." Pockets of dark, nutrient-rich clay are encountered from time to time. The wines, according to A Wine Atlas of the Langhe, drink well early but also respond well to being laid down. Carlotta observed that this cru gives the best results in rainy years and needs to be blended in order to attain its highest potential.

Ravera is the largest and most diverse of the Barolo zone MGAs as regards elevation and aspect (Masnaghetti). Its climate is affected by the Alps to the north and the Ligurian Sea to the south and this intersection results in morning fog and significant diurnal temperature variations. According to Kermit Lynch, the wines from this MGA "... have the distinction of combining the structural strength of neighboring Serralunga d'Alba with the concentration and richness of Bussia and other crus further north."

The Rinaldi vineyards are farmed organically. The fruit undergoes a month-long pre-fermentation maceration/fermentation/post-fermentation maceration or a month in tall, un-cooled, Slovenian oak vats. Indigenous yeasts are utilized in this effort. Cap management is via twice/day pump overs along with some manual punchdowns. Grape solids are sent to a basket press at the end of the maceration.

Carlotta explaining the winemaking process
at Rinaldi
The wines are aged in big botti for 3 to 5 years. They are racked once or twice per year during the first two years but are untouched in the third.




Giuseppe Rinaldi is a fierce adherent to blending Barolo wines from different sites, one of the major aspects of its traditionalist chops. They have been producing two blended Barolos (Brunate-LeCoste and Cannubi San Lorenzo-Ravera) from the four crus since 1963 but, as of 2010, it is no longer permitted to place two cru names on a Barolo bottle. In response to the new regulations, the estate is now producing a Barolo Brunate (includes 15% Le Coste fruit) and Barolo Tre Tine (50% Ravera, 30% Cannubi San Lorenzo, and 20% Le Coste).

We tasted three wines at the conclusion of Carlotta's discourse:
  • Langhe Nebbiolo 2015
  • Barolo 2013 Tre Tine
  • Barolo Brunate 2013 


The Langhe Nebbiolo was easy drinking, fruity, and approachable. According to Carlotta, this wine is sourced from a combination of older and younger vines from, the Ravera cru and was aged in botti for 1 to 5 months. A pleasant wine.

The Tre Tine was aged in botti for 3 years. Dark fruit, bitumen, and kerosene on the nose. tar on the palate along with dark fruits and a savoriness. Good acid levels. Structured yet approachable.

The Brunate showed tar, spice, and tobacco on the nose. Dark fruit, good acid levels, and great weight on the palate. Balanced. Excellent wine.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, July 16, 2017

K Restaurant: The end of the Kevin Fonzo era

I have known Kevin Fonzo since the late 1990s when I was first introduced to his restaurant on Smith Street and Princeton Avenue by a golf buddy. Since then, Kevin, and K Restaurant, have been important parts of our entertainment life. So it was with mixed feelings that I read the Scott Joseph article which disclosed the sale of K Restaurant: happiness for Kevin (in that I knew he wanted to do things which tied him less to a fixed place) but also saddened by the breaking of a chain with a lengthy pedigree. When I saw a Facebook post advertising a final Sunday dinner at K, I knew that we had to be there. We were scheduled to be in Jamaica that weekend but would return on Sunday and, if things worked seamlessly, would arrive at K at the beginning of the dinner or shortly thereafter. Things worked seamlessly.


When we arrived, everyone was already seated and the antipasti had just been placed on the table. The place was filled to the gills and the laughter and conversation indicated that wine was already flowing freely. We were sitting with the Magnos and I was pleasantly surprised to see that Rosario Spagnola (Terramia) and his family were also sitting with us. The second table in our section was occupied by the Brosé boys and my neighbors Fred and Laurie. This was going to be a fun night.

Rosario

Brosés

Fred and Laurie
Shortly after our arrival, Kevin went to the front of the restaurant and officially launched the proceedings. “Tonight is about family love and gratitude. K is still here. The staff is still here, and they are the heart and soul of the restaurant. The sous and pastry chefs had been doing the cooking anyway, given the amount of time I have been spending away from the restaurant recently. Let the dinner begin.”

Valery and Mark, two K regulars whom we had met on an Art in Voyage trip to Umbria, were also sitting at our table and I sought her perspective on the restaurant. She had been going to K since the beginning and remembered it having great burgers and music in the early days. “With K, you always knew that you could come at any time and get a great meal prepared and served by a caring staff.’
Mark and Valerie
Mussels were served as the appetizer and these were some of the largest ones I had ever seen. I ate one and was done for the night. At the conclusion of this course, Kevin spoke to us once again and relayed the circumstances of the sale. K had been a family restaurant in the true sense of the word and his parents wishes were that, upon their passing, the restaurant should be sold and the proceeds used to pay for the grandkids' education. He went on to tell us a story of being despondent in the week prior to the dinner when he had a mystical revelation which served to assure him that he was making the right decision and that everything was going to be ok.




As the night wore on, I continued to speak to staffers and customers to get their impressions of the Kevin era at K. I had one of those conversations with Michelle, the K pastry chef. I asked her when did she learn about the sale of the restaurant. Kevin sat them down and told them that he was going to be selling the restaurant, she said. She was in shock. The team had spoken to the new owner and he seems committed to maintaining things as they are. He does not want to fix what is not broken. He will probably elevate the wine list and do some cosmetic stuff. The staff, she said, has spoken together as a team and they are committed to the restaurant and their customers.
Michelle
After most of the attendees had left, a small group congregated in the bar and kept the lights burning and the wine flowing. At this time I had a lengthy conversation with the sous chef. He was going to miss Kevin, both as a mentor and a leader of the team. He was disappointed by a recent article on the pedigree of the new owner based on its potential for shaping perceptions as to the restaurant’s direction. Like Michelle, he was committed to the restaurant.
And then we dragged ourselves away from Kevin Fonzo’s K for the last time. Parlo and I were going home. Kevin and the surviving Brosés were heading to another late-night spot. Animals.
Kevin

I guess Brian will be missing Kevin

I guess not
Thank you Kevin. Thank you for creating an environment where members of the community could come as frequently, or infrequently, as they please and still feel the warmth and enjoy an ever-changing, masterful menu.
Thank you for building a community of customers who have gone from sharing meals at the restaurant – through Family Dinners and suchlike – to sharing travel experiences in some of the most beautiful locations in the world.
Thank you for your creativity as evidenced by the fare you placed in front of customers on a regular basis.
Thank you for your talent-spotting and team building which allowed you to attract and retain high-quality staff such that customers became invested in the “family” that was K Restaurant.
Fortunately for us, while this is the end of the Kevin era at K, it is not the end of the Kevin era. Continued good luck in your endeavors Kevin.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The top-rated Barolo crus: Brunate, Cerequio, and Rocche di Castiglione

Beginning with the work of Renato Ratti in the 1970s, and continuing through cartographer Alessandro Masnaghetti, and the more recent efforts of Antonio Galloni, there have been lauded efforts to classify and rank the vineyards of the Barolo region. The table below shows the classification schemas employed by the three mentioned gentlemen.

Class
Ratti
Masnaghetti
Galloni
1
Best sub-regions of high qualitative peculiarity
*****S
Exceptional
2
Sub-region with special characteristics
*****
Outstanding
3
Historic sub-regions of wine growing
****
Noteworthy
4
5
6
7

***
**
*
NC
Delimited


Alfonso Cevola, in a 2015 article, compared the highest levels of these three Barolo classification schemes in order to determine the degree of alignment at the top. The Cevola comparison was presented in tabular form. I present that data graphically below.


Beyond the analysis provided in the Cevola article, the data show that only four of the top-level crus are located on Tortonian soils with the remaining 12 sited on Helvetian soils.

One of the Cevola findings was the fact that there was unanimous agreement that three crus were among the very best in the region: Brunate, Cerequio, and Rocche di Castiglione. The characteristics of these crus are presented below.


Brunate
According to vinous.com, Brunate had been identified as producing "wines of special character" over 500 years ago. This 25-ha cru is an inter-commune vineyard with administrative responsibility shared between the towns of Barolo and La Morra. According to ceretto.com, the soil profiles and exposure on both sides of the communes dividing line are essentially the same but the altitudes differ, ranging from 230 m to 400 m. The soils feature marls of S. Agata fossils with good levels of sand, especially in the higher elevations.

Cantinadamilano.it reports that:
The lower sand levels in the soil result in aromas that are less intense but feature notes of fruit and spice such as clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg. As the wine matures, the fine structure of the terroir translates into hints of tobacco, rose and liquorice. And in great vintages, the nose has notes of truffle and tar. Alkalinity and elevated calcium levels give the final wine a touch of delicate elegance ... The Barolo of Brunate can be defined as a particularly balanced wine with an ample nose and an intense structure with good alcohol levels, as well as, generous tannins and body.
According to ceretto.com, "It is one of the most representative vineyards of the commune of La Morra and has always been considered one of the points of reference of the entire appellation." Vinous cites Manuel Marchetti of Marcarini who identified Brunate wines as "austere, yet ethereal, notes of spices, mint, licorice and balsamic are all very typical." Polaner Selections was pithy: "Brunate is one of the greatest vineyards in the Barolo region ... with wines that "... are prized for their depth, power and brilliant balance..."

Cerequio
Masnaghetti describes this MGA as extending over two virtually opposing slopes with the one facing Casa Nere being better exposed and yielding the better wines of the two.The micro-climate of the MGA is excellent, protected as it is from the cold northern winds by the La Morra hills. The loose soils, primarily silt and clay, "favors the production of structured, tannic wines that are more powerful than those from Brunate" (cantinadamilano.com).

Masnaghetti sees Cerequio as "An MGA of truly superior level, accordingly, which generally expresses a style characterized by structure and austerity but with an innate sense of power and proportion which gives this Barolo a warmer and more dynamic development on the palate compared to Brunate."

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. 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.

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%).

Winemonger.com describes the cru thusly:
Rocche di Castiglione is one of the smallest and most renowned vineyards of the entire Barolo area. Located at an altitude of 300-350 meters above sea level, this "Cru" consists of a number of small, steep vineyard properties, and forms a long narrow strip along the side of a very steep hill with an east-southeast exposition. The lower part of this long strip of earth, which is about 1.5 km long and 60-70 meters high, sits on a cliff (rocche) that in some places drops as much as 150 meters to the Perno river at the bottom. It is characterized by large, sharp limestone blocks mixed in with the marl soil typical of the eastern side of the Barolo appellation, known as "Helvetian soils" and producing the more structured, long aging and complex wines. 
These characteristics give the wines of Rocche unique, well-defined aromas of floral and mineral compounds, softer tannins than the rest of the Helvetian zone resulting in excellent balance, and a distinctive elegance. An 'iron fist in a velvet glove."
Luca Currado, in his comments at the Galloni Rocche di Castiglione Retrospective, 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.

Luca and Elena Penna Currado at the Galloni
tasting

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.

*******************************************************************************************************
I will be covering the remaining MGAs mentioned in the three rating schemas in future posts on this blog.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Monday, July 3, 2017

Tenuta di Trinoro (Val d'Orcia, Tuscany): The vineyards and the wines

With lunch behind us, we made our way back down the hill from Andrea's home to the winery/vineyard zone. Carlo was ready to lead me on a vineyard and winery tour; I needed a post-lunch nap.

Given its location, Tenuta di Trinoro gets sufficient sunlight to bring its grapes to maturity during the course of a growing season. But there are other climate issues that are sources of concern. Up until 2004, the area experienced Mediterranean growing seasons (mild, wet winters and warm, dry summers) but the growing seasons are now more tropical; that is, more rain and cooler summers. Carlo sees these changes as resulting from climate change. The grapes, he said, produce less concentrated wines in years of above-average rainfall (In a post-publication comment, Andrea said that these new seasonal effects allow them to make better wines than they could with the scorching Augusts of the past. The prior August heat left the vines paralyzed which lengthened the ripening process and brought up the sugar. These are much better years, he says, with 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2016 all great vintages. He also pointed out that the concentration is better under these new growing conditions.).

There are a total of 22 ha of the estate devoted to vineyards, distributed between 36 separate vineyard plots. As shown on the map below, the vineyard is planted solely with Bordeaux cultivars to include 17 Cabernet Franc and 13 Merlot plots. There are three cru vineyards which lend their names to 100% Cab Franc wines made with the grapes sourced therefrom.

Source: vinifranchetti.com
There is a 200-meter difference in elevation between the lowest and highest points in the vineyard with the lower portion being alluvial while the higher portions are clay mixed with limestone and quartz fragments that have split from the underlying bedrock.

The vineyards are planted at 10,000 vines/ha and are a mix of double Guyot and double Guyot Poussard. The initial plantings were double Guyot but these are being transitioned to Poussard which promotes maintaining the same sap route from year to year and keeping pruning wounds to the top of the cordon. Carlo mentioned that Esca is a problem at Tenuta di Trinoro; a 2002 study by Geoffrion and Renaudin found the Poussard system to be less conducive to Esca infection than other modern training systems.





Plants are kept low -- Bonsai vineyard concept -- with each allocated 1 sq meter of canopy. Sheep manure is the only type of fertilization used on the property and spray material consists of copper and sulfur. A mix of clay, propolis, and grapefruit seed extract is sprayed in the pre-harvest period to ward off botrytis and other molds that may occur on the grapes as they approach full ripeness. There is no irrigation except for newly planted vines.

Vini Franchetti characterizes its vineyard work at Tenuta di Trinoro as follows:
We generally every year go into the vineyard and treat every vine 20 to 25 times during the growing season: to thin, hold up, cut away, spray glues or powders, hoe and dig, top and pick. We then do innumerable pickings for two months at harvest. In the winter four more long visits are spent on each vine to prune, tie, and to mend the poles and wires,
As he does at Passopisciaro, Andrea walks the vineyards at Trinoro incessantly. He makes the decision to pick based on taste. Each plot is harvested, vinified, and aged separately according to the process shown in the chart below.





Concrete tank
At the end of tours of the vineyards and cellar, we crossed over to another building to taste some wines. Now, Carlo and a few of the other employees were traveling to Vinitaly on the following day and there was a bit of a mixup with the wines that Carlo wanted me to taste. After a while he stepped back over to the cellar to get the right wines. The wines we tasted, then, were a little bit cooler than Carlo would have liked plus they were "Coravinned" into the glasses. Not a lot of oxygen exposure.

The Le Cupole is the estate's second label. The 2015 edition is a blend of 58% Cabernet Franc, 32% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 4% Petit Verdot. The yield was 50 hl/ha. We tasted a cement vat sample. Concentrated with soft tannins.

The 2014 Magnacosta is a 100% Cabernet Franc which, like the other crus, had been aged in new oak for 8 moths and then transferred to cement vats for an additional 11 months of aging. The year had been cool, according to Carlo but the grapes were ripe and showed as sweet and concentrated in the wine. Herbal and peppery with well-integrated tannins.

The 2014 Tenaglia showed black and blue fruits, licorice, and tae. Fruit carries through to the palate. A little more power than was the case for the Magnacosta. Salinity. Lengthy finish.

The 2014 Carmagi was not giving on the nose. Blue fruit, duskiness, and salinity on the palate.

The fruit was so good in 2009 that Andrea resurrected the Palazzi as a wine in that vintage. We tasted both the 2009 Palazzi (100% Merlot) and the 2009 Tenuta di Trinoro (42% Cabernet Franc, 42% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 4% Petit Verdot) but both were too cold to reveal themselves fully. The Palazzi showed mushrooms, a savoriness, and a hint of green. Mineral finish. The Tenuta di Trinoro did not reveal much on the nose and opened up just enough to give a hint of layered complexity.


We were all disappointed at the way the wines showed so Carlo gave me the Coravinned bottles of Palazzi and Tenuta di Trinoro to take with me and taste at a later date. I took them home and popped them today.


Both of these wines were significantly more appealing than when I tasted them initially. Today the Tenuta di Trinoro showed intense spice and dark fruits on the nose along with leather, cassis, and licorice. On the palate, dark fruit accompanying a rich, thick creaminess and beautifully integrated tannins. A long, rich, creamy finish. The Palazzi showed ripe dark fruit, licorice, spice and chocolate. Balanced. High note resulting of pleasing acid levels. A creamy finish.

******************************************************************************************************
This was a mammoth expenditure of time and effort on Carlo's part; especially given the fact that they were driving to Vinitaly the following day. I would like to express my thanks to him and the organization for making this experience possible.


©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Palas Cerequio: A gem of a hotel in the La Morra (Piemonte, Italy) hills

We had had a wonderful couple of days in Milan and were now headed out to Piemonte: a return to favored stomping grounds for Parlo and me, a brand new adventure for Ron and Bev. We were staying at Palas Cerequio, the Michele Chiarlo resort in La Morra, as Il Boscareto, our first choice, was fully booked. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the locale and the degree of personal service provided at Palas Cerequio was unparalleled.

Upon arrival, while the spouses checked in, Ron and I repaired to the outside bar and ordered a bottle of Champagne. We were soon joined by the ladies.

Jayne getting us started off on the right foot
While we were drinking our bubbles, hotel staffers were unloading our luggage. I looked on with great sympathy as Ron and Bev normally travel with enough luggage to stay away from home for a year if need be.

The rooms in the establishment are all suites: on a single floor in the older section, and two-stories in the newer portion. My wife was a little skeptical of the two-level arrangement at first but quickly got used to it. I was especially enamored of the two-storey shower and an 18-foot stream of water.

The husband and wife -- Roberto and Jayne Stroppiana -- who manage the hotel are the dream team. Thoughtful, timely, willing, fountains of knowledge, crafters of the greatest breakfasts ever, tolerant of our late-night shenanigans; these guys are keepers.

Looking out at the surrounding vineyards from the hotel
On the Monday we visited Gaja and Rinaldi and then came back to the hotel for dinner which was accompanied by four bottles from the in-house cellar. The dining room has historically only served meal's to hotel guests but they have now opened it up to outsiders. The Chef's lunch and dinner creations are worthy of a trip.





After the first day we fell in love with Jayne's breakfasts. She made a uniquely fluffy fried egg and the bacon kept us coming back.

At breakfast Roberto or Jayne would try to understand what our plans were for the day and were always ready with meal suggestions grounded in the areas where we would be tasting. On many an occasion we would call from the road and tell them that we had decided to take them up on a suggestion and they would make a reservation while we were in transit.

There is not a lot of parking space at the front of the hotel so when I parked there, I left the keys at the front desk. One morning we came down at our normal time and Jayne smilingly mentioned that she had had to keep the kids home from school that day because our vehicle had blocked the car in. Further, it had been her day to take the neighbor's kids to school. I was mortified. Especially so in that I had left the key in the office to protect against such an eventuality. That information had not been transmitted to her by the office.

If you are looking to burn off calories from the day before, you have a choice of walking uphill from the hotel to La Morra (I found this rather taxing) or down through the vineyards to the town of Barolo below.

La Morra from the road leading down to the hotel
In addition to its intrinsic qualities, the hotel is strategically located in terms of access to the wineries and restaurants of the region. You will not regret a decision to stay here.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme