Wednesday, July 31, 2013

S.C. Pannell Grenache

SC Pannell currently sits in the sweetspot of many wine reviewers. I tried the 2006 SC Pannell Grenache to find out for myself.

This wine is fresh, clean and quite elegant, but ultimately does not leave a lasting impression. It lacks structure and substance which the light tannins do not improve. Young vines, high yields or picked too early? I am not sure.

Score: 90/0

Monday, July 29, 2013

Barolo (2)

Today is spent in the village of Barolo, where I visit three cellar doors, very close to each other. The first is an appointment with the irrepressible Chiara Boschis, who took over the leader-less E. Pira e  Figli in 1990. She became the trailblazer for female winemakers in this traditional area of wine. She also adopted the modernist approach. The 2011 Barbera d'Alba is nothing out of the ordinary. The wine has some complexity, but not a great mouthfeel (90 points). But it is a different story with the Barolos. The 2009 Barolo Cannubi comes from Piedmont's most famous vineyard, shared between quite a few producers. The soil of this vineyard is quite sandy. The wine sees only 30% new oak, and is matured in mostly large barrels. As a result, not surprisingly, cherry flavours dominate. There are also violets and rose petals. The wine is creamy, with very fine and silky tannins.  This is a thoroughly modern wine, which can be drunk young, but will age very gracefully as well (96 points). The 2009 Barolo Via Nuova is a blended Barolo from Barolo, Monforte and Serralunga. This wine is darker than the Cannubi, still elegant and balanced, with good length (93 points). A new addition is the 2009 Barolo Mosconi. It is not easy to get access to more high quality vineyards and often takes a decade of building relationships and talking. This vineyard in Monforte is now shared with Domenico Clerico and Giovanni Rocca. The wine has quite straight forward plum flavours, there is espresso and meat as well.Firm tannins anchor the structure of this promising and approachable wine (95 points). Finally, I tasted the Barolo Cannubi from 2005. It was very similar to the 2009, even more elegant at 8 years, with a silky finish (96 points). Chiara Boschis is thoroughly engaging and a great talent for Barolo.

On to something totally different. The next winery is Bartolo Mascarello. Until his death in 2005, Bartolo Mascarello was a towering figure in Piedmontese winemaking. Since then, his daughter Maria Teresa has continued to make the wines in exactly the same style. The winery has access to the amazing vineyards of Cannubi, San Lorenzo, Rue and Rocche, but only makes one blended Barolo from these sites. Maceration is for more than 30 days. At first, I am tasting the 2010 Barbera d'Alba, which is a bit thin on the palate (88 points). The 2010 Freisa is an old, almost forgotten grape. I must say, it is an acquired taste. The wine has a slight fizz and is quite rustic (85 points). The 2010 Langhe Nebbiolo is more agreeable. The cherry flavours are fresh and lead to an acidic and dry finish (90 points). Then to the main game. The 2009 Barolo Mascarello has only medium weight, but it is a harmonious wine with soft tannins, which is the result of very long hang-time (92 points). In comparison, the 2008 Barolo shows much more intense fruit, with aromatic depth and a long dry finish (94 points). Bartolo used to draw his own labels. My favorite: No Barrique, No Berlusconi. What a hoot!

The third visit was to Guiseppe Rinaldi. This is another traditionalist.I tasted the 2009 and 2010 Barolos from barrel. His philosophy is peculiar. His two Barolos, the Brunate-Le Coste, and Cannubi-Ravera, are blended wines, mixing different soil types together. The 2010 Brunate-Le Coste is quite dark and a bit rough. This is a powerful wine (91 points). The 2010 Cannubi-Ravera shows also big fruit, but the mouthfeel is not great. The grapes don't seem to be totally ripe and the astringent tannins are a bit green (89 points). The 2009 version has quite big fruit as well, and is tannic, but a more forward drinking style than the Brunate (91 points). The 2009 Brunate-Le Coste is the pick of these four.It is quite floral, with strawberry flavours and good length, supported by firm tannins (94 points).

Overall, this was a most interesting day with very contrasting wine styles. The Chiara Boschis wines deliver great drinkability and elegance, without compromising longevity. The 2008 Mascarello showed how a profound Barolo is made, whereas the Rinaldi wines lacked some refinement, in my opinion.    

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Barolo (1)

On my second day of touring Piedmont, it was time to get to the Barolo area. Barolo can be quite confusing, initially, but at a basic level, the distinctions are as follows. There are modernists and traditionalists. I found this emphasized a little less this time, but in principal, traditionalists have long fermentation periods, 20 days plus, and they mature the Nebbiolo in large, mostly Slovenian casks. Modernists have short fermentation periods, 6 to 12 days, and mature the wine in French barriques. These latter wines are more easily approachable, whereas the tradionalist wines need many years to soften the tannins. The other distinction is soil. In the Northern part, in particular around La Morra, the soil is quite sandy, and the wines aromatic and perfumed as a result. In the Southern part, most pronounced in Serralunga, the soils are clay, and the wines bigger, darker, and more brooding.

I am spending this day in the Northern part. First visit is to Elio Altare. He lead the revolution of the modernists in the 1980s and is today one of the superstars of the region. I tasted first the 2009 Larigi Langhe Barbera, which  was quite intense (strawberry fruit, oak and structure - 92 points) and the 2008 La Villa Langhe, a 60% Barbera, 40% Nebbiolo blend - elegant, 93 points. Then came the 2006 Barolo Regular. This is a typical Altare Barolo: quite aromatic and floral, not huge, elegant with dry tannins and a long finish (95 points). The 2005 Barolo Cerretta is not your typical Altare wine. It comes from Serralunga, from marna, clay and limestone soils, and it shows. This wine is quite masculine, with leather and meat overtones. The tannins are long and strong, but quite rounded. I found this to be an excellent wine (96 points). I also tasted the 2008 L'Insieme, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Barbera, Nebbiolo and others. This wine tastes of blackcurrant and is quite spicy, overall a more international flavour profile. It is fashioned for a charity project Altare supports together with a number of producers from the area (92 points). Overall, the wines were distinctive, very clean and polished and of outstanding quality.

The second winery was Vietti. You cannot really assign Vietti to a particular area. This family winery has expanded a lot and now claims to have access to 15 out of the 20 grand cru vineyards of Barolo. I had visited this winery previously, and based on that experience had high expectations. I left disappointed. The 2011 Barbera d'Asti Tre Vigne was quite masculine, acidic and rough (88 points). The 2010 Barbera d'Alba Scarrone was quite the opposite, female, floral and aromatic (90 points). The 2010 Nebbiolo Perbacco was equally floral, with a slightly flat mouthfeel and a dry finish (90 points). The first Barolo was the 2009 Barolo Castiglione. This is the blended Barolo, from five different vineyards across the region. It suffered similarly from a somewhat flat mouthfeel, although it was a bigger wine than the previous Nebbiolo. By comparison, this wine was not as elegant as Altare (91 points). The 2009 Barolo Lazzarito is the single vineyard wine from Serralunga. It is a big wine, as expected, with strong tannins and a dry finish (92 points). I left with the impression that the individual wines receive perhaps less care than in prior years and that the pressure of higher volume production without increases in staff showed.

The last winery of the day was Mauro Molino in La Morra. This winery is a quiet achiever. The brochures are less glossy, but the wines get better all the time. The 2012 Barbera d'Alba tastes of dark cherry, is fresh, round and easy drinking (90 points).The 2010 Barbera d'Alba Vigna Gattere, from 40 year old vines, is more concentrated, with noticeable oak, good length and silky tannins - a great Barbera (93 points). The 2009 Barolo classic, a blended wine with 70% La Morra and 30% Monforte fruit and matured in large French casks, is concentrated, yet elegant with good length (93 points). I then tasted the three single-vineyard Barolos, from different years. The 2009 Barolo Gallinotto, matured in 50% new and 50% old barriques, tastes of red cherry and spice. The tannins are soft and silky. This is a very attractive wine (94 points). The 2008 Barolo Vigna Gancia shows the aromatic flavours typical for La Morra. It has great length and a structure made to last (95 points). The 2006 Barolo Vigna Conca, perhaps the flagship wine, is grown in a lower part of the valley. As a result, the conditions are warmer, the wine is full bodied and concentrated. The tannins are dry, but surprisingly soft (94 points). I just felt it was just edged out by the Gancia on this occasion. I was very impressed with these wines. They also provide (relatively) good value for money.        


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Ruggabellus Archaeus

It would have been an option to review an icon wine to celebrate the 50,000 views milestone, but I decided to have a look into the future, or what many say is the future. Ruggabellus is viewed by many as the most exciting newer winery in Australia, and by some as the new face of the Barossa. It specializes in a number of different GSMs.

The 2012 Ruggabellus Archaeus is my first ever taste from this winery. This wine is a Shiraz dominated GSM. Its colour is dark purple. Blackberry flavours jump out of the glass. The fruit flavours are very intense on the palate, and this at a moderate 13.7% alcohol. This wine is different, alright. There are very strong briary flavours in this wine so that despite the strong fruit core, the wine is actually quite savoury in the end. This might be the Mataro at work. Sufficient acidity makes the wine quite balanced. This wine is very slick, yet quite profound at the same time, built on the famous Barossa Shiraz flavours. My only concern, the structure is a little compact, rather than linear.

The future of the Barossa? This takes it a bit far, but certainly a great and different addition. I highly recommend to everybody to try this wine.

Score: 94/++

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A question

In the next couple of days, this blog will receive its 50,000th page view. To mark the occasion, I would like to taste and review a special wine. Which wine would you like to see reviewed?

Pahlmeyer Red Wine

And this is of special interest to my US readers.

The Pahlmeyer Red is the flagship wine of this highly regarded Napa Valley winery. It is a Cabernet Sauvignon based Bordeaux blend. The 2007 Pahlmeyer Red achieved very high ratings on its release for its fruit intensity and elegance.

Alas, six years in only, and the fruit flavours have largely gone. What remains is a highly alcoholic wine, the blackberry fruit tastes burnt and dead. I do not find this a pleasant drink and had trouble finishing one glass. On the second day, the sharpness had gone somewhat, and the wine became more drinkable, but the sense of over-ripeness remained. I have seen the vineyard, which is immaculate. The problem is clearly with too much of an extended hang-time of the grapes and possibly too heavy handed winemaking. This wine tasted good to me on release, but it is one of many examples that Napa Valley Cabernets are not built to last.

Score: 83/---  

Monday, July 22, 2013

William Downie Pinot Noir

Just breaking the Italian reviews up a bit...

As the new William Downie Pinot Noirs have just been released, I thought it might be interesting to see how the wine matures in the bottle. I opened a 2008 William Downie Mornington Peninsula Pinot Noir, from the region which received the highest accolades for the 2012 releases.

The bouquet on opening the wine is very aromatic and fragrant. The fruit on the palate tastes of red cherry - not as big and as fruity as some Pinot Noirs from the Mornington Peninsula, and this is meant as a compliment. The wine is refined rather than intense, but it fills the mouth beautifully with its elegant and well balanced flavours. The tannins are soft and quite present leading to a long and satisfying finish.

My only concern is that as the wine opens up in the glass, at only five years of age, it becomes quite soft. I would have liked it to have a bit more bite, but this is a minor quibble about this very satisfying wine.

Score: 94/++

Saturday, July 20, 2013


I did not take any notes on this day, which I now regret, but I just wasn't quite ready for it. The wineries I visited in the Barbaresco area were Bruno Rocca, Punset, and Moccagatta.

As it turned out, the most impressive wines were from Bruno Rocca. Most wineries produce one Dolcetto, a couple of Barberas and then Nebbiolo wines. The Dolcetto is an early drinking variety, often regarded as a quaffer, but the quality improvements have been significant. I enjoyed most of them, and certainly the Bruno Rocca Dolcetto d'Alba. They represent extraordinary value for money at between 7 and 8 Euros per bottle ex winery. The Barberas are from the region d'Alba or further northeast, d'Asti. The d'Alba Barberas tend to be more elegant, the d'Asti wines more intense. The Rocca Barbera d'Alba is from Barbaresco, with complex blackberry, mulberry and cherry, as well as savoury flavours - an excellent expression of the grape variety. The Barbaresco I tried was the Bruno Rocca Coparossa Barbaresco. This wine was matured in barrique, 60% new wood. This is a full bodied wine with black cherry and tobacco flavours and an elegant finish.

Punset was a new winery to me. This co-operative focusses on organic and bio-dynamic principles. Organic farming is quite common in the region, but Punset is probably stricter about its principles than most. The wines, unfortunately, did not measure up. Both Barbera and Barbaresco had green and leafy flavours. I did not enjoy these wines, and I doubt that further cellaring would change this outcome.

Moccagatta is well known for its trio of Barbarescos, Basarin, Cole and Bric Balin. They are single vineyard wines, showing their different terroir. The Bric Balin was elegant with silky tannins, but did not rise to some of the best vintages.

The Barbaresco day was good, put paled in comparison with the Barolo tastings coming up. My preference for the 2008, 2009 and 2010 vintages is clearly Barolo.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Is Piedmont like Burgundy?

I am sorry for the long period of silence. It had nothing to do with dry July, but I was not able to taste wine for a few weeks. Then I toured Piedmont (or Piermont or pie monte if you like) for three days. It is a highly original wine growing area, focussed on the red grapes Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo.

Winemakers there like to compare themselves to Burgundy. This would be flattering, of course, given Burgundy prices and wine quality at times. But does it really make sense?

There are clearly some similarities. The map on the left shows the crus of Barolo. It is too detailed for you to read any specifics. The main point here is that vineyard blocks are very small, and so are the quantities of wine. There is also a lot of detail available on soils, and the focus on terroir and single vineyard wines is evident.

But there are also significant differences, quite relevant to the consumer. The Nebbiolo grape is not a Pinot Noir. Nebbiolo dominates the region, with its two main expressions of Barbaresco in the north east, and Barolo west and south. There are floral and aromatic expressions of Nebbiolo, but the structure is different from Pinot Noir, which in its great expression is elegant with an expanding finish. Nebbiolo has bigger weight and a strong tannic structure with a very dry finish in its youth. The Nebbiolo structure is closer to Cabernet Sauvignon, while the flavour can have similarities with Burgundy.

I have reviewed Barolo here from time to time, but the next three posts will cover the region in more details. I spent the first day in Barbaresco, the second in La Morra and the third in and around the village of Barolo.