Sometimes, when the days are short and cold and summer is but a memory, I spend winter hours looking for wines that remind me of warmer times and sunnier climes.
I recently found two wines that took me back to a few days late last spring spent wandering the vineyards of the Veneto and Tuscany. Both wines are from Tommasi Family Estates, the 115-year old company now in its fourth generation of winemakers with its base in the heart of the Valpolicella Classico region of the Veneto.
Tommassi, named after founder Giacomo Tommasi, has vineyards in four regions: Veneto; Olto Pavese in Lombardy; Tuscany (Montalcino and Maremma); and Manduria, in Puglia. From each of these regions come wines as distinct and unique as the vineyards where they grow.
The event was a simple gathering of good friends for a holiday dinner and talk, a simple yet warm get-together so remindful of previous dinners spent at the homes of winemakers around the world, where formality drops away and the talk turns to the state of wine in general along with family, current politics and wherever the mood take us.
Tommasi Ripasso DOC Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2013 – As we all know, the story of Ripasso wines is intertwined with the story of Valpolicella and Amarone. Briefly, a Ripasso is made by refermenting Valpolicella on the skins left after Amarone is fermented. The result is a wine that’s darker and more intense in flavor than the original Valpolicella and goes well with winter-style comfort foods or even a grilled steak in the summer.
You could call a Ripasso a “baby Amarone” because the former uses the same grape varieties that go in Amarone (Corvina, Rondinella and, in this case, Corvinone) and you get some of the same aromas: dark cherries, dried cranberries, heather, and spice.
But it’s less-expensive, generally in the $20-25 range.
We had this wine with grilled chicken, fresh green salad and homemade bread. You would have thought it was July until the wind howled and snow blew past the windows.
Tommasi Poggio al Tufo Rompicollo Toscana IGT 2013 – We opened this wine for the cheese course and while there’s nothing overwhelming about the wine, it brought a smile to everyone’s face. Maybe that’s the key – it’s not overwhelming, it just goes well with food and good company.
Plus, it’s one of those rare finds that is affordable, very tasty and pairs well most lighter meats, pastas and cheeses. And, if you’re into this sort of thing, you can close your eyes, take a sip and imagine you’re in the Tommasi vineyard in the historic Etruscan area of sunny Maremma in southwestern Tuscany, midway between the Tyrhennian Sea and Rome.
The wine is a blend (60 percent Sangiovese, 40 percent Cabernet Sauvignon) from a sun-drenched vineyard on volcanic soil. The word “tufo” is Italian for the volcanic tuff found in the Maremma and a common building stone for Rome. The wine has bright flavors of dried Montmorency cherries, currants and hints of sage and white pepper. $12-$15.
Both wines are imported by Vintus Wines, Pleasantville, N.Y.
VinCo, the annual Colorado wine-industry tradeshow and conference sponsored by the Colorado Association for Viticulture and Enology (CAVE), kicks off Monday (Jan. 16) and of certain interest will be the discovery of Phylloxera in commercial vineyards in Colorado.
Phylloxera, as any good student of wine should know, is a microscopic aphid which, depending on the strain, feeds on the sap in grape vine leaves or roots. The aphid causes fungal infections as well as galls (see photo taken by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison) to grow around the feeding site, blocking the flow of nutrients to the rest of the vine and potentially killing the vine.
Certain varieties of grapes, particularly the much-preferred European (Vitis vinifera) grapes, are extremely susceptive to Phylloxera while some native American grapes, which developed alongside Phylloxera, are tolerant or resistant. In the 1850s Phylloxera inadvertently was transmitted via infected grape vines to Europe and by the late 1860s the louse was making havoc of the European vineyards, especially in France.
It’s estimated that nearly three-quarters or more of Europe’s vineyards were stung by Phylloxera. Not until European growers learned to graft European vines to aphid-resistant American rootstock did Europe’s wine industry recover.
Phylloxera has been seen in wild Colorado grapes for years but not until in 2015 was it found in a commercial vineyard on the Front Range and then last November on the Western Slope.
“I’ve been concerned about it for quite some time,” said Bob Hammon, an extension agent with the Colorado State University Extension in Grand Junction. He said records of Phylloxera in Colorado go back at least a decade or more. “I figured it was going to catch up with us eventually.”
Because it was thought Colorado vineyards were Phylloxera free, grapevines here mostly are own-rooted, not grafted roots. The benefit is that should the vines freeze to the ground (which happened here in 2009, 2013 and 2014), the new growth will be true to the variety planted.
With a grafted root, if the upper part freezes, you don’t know what will sprout below the graft.
Grafting popular European grape varieties to American rootstock doesn’t get rid of the aphid but you get the grapes you want. Because Phylloxera is spread through the soil, one way to prevent spreading the aphid when importing vines is to hand-dip each vine in hot (125-degrees or so) water.
John Behr and Nancy Janes of Whitewater Hill Vineyards and Winery started hand-dipping several years ago when they began importing rootstock from Phylloxera areas in the eastern U.S.
“Back there, hand-dipping is an accepted practice,” Nancy Janes said. “When we’re getting grapes from known Phylloxera areas, we do it as standard practice.”
That includes parts of both California and Oregon, popular rootstock sources for Colorado’s grape growers.
Although other wine-producing areas have spent many years and even more dollars studying Phylloxera, research in using grafted rootstock is sparse in Colorado, said state viticulturist Horst Caspari.
“We haven’t had that necessity,” he said. “But the rest of the world uses grafted rootstock and we can build on that.”
Because Phylloxera kills slowly, Caspari said grape growers have time to adapt to new methods of vine management.
One current option calls for uprooting and burning infected vines and the field left fallow for a year before replanting grafted rootstock. But grapes need three years to produce a crop and that’s four years in all, “a long time to be without a paycheck,” noted Hammon.
Also, since Phylloxera can be spread on dirt-covered farm equipment, vehicles, and even vineyard clippings, management becomes more complex, said Hammon.
“We have to extra diligent about sanitation, paying attention to how you move equipment and people from field to field, it’s very challenging,” he said.
And wine-making already has its share of challenges, Nancy Janes noted.
“It’s absolutely heart-breaking knowing that it’s here,” she said.
The VinCo panel discussion on Phylloxera will be 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday at Two Rivers Convention Center. Information at the CAVE website.
With the New Year upon us and winter settling in, it’s nice to find some sunshine in a bottle. A brief flurry through some unopened boxes revealed these three bright notes for what may be a dreary political season.
2010 Arnaldo-Caprai Collepiano Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG – On those austere winter nights when temperatures plummet and the grill is working overtime providing steaks for a hungry post-ski holiday crowd, nothing says warmth like the full-bodied warmth of a Montefalco Sagrantino. The history of Sagrantino the grape goes back at least 400 history in the Montefalco region of Umbria and probably more, if some of the oldest texts are correct about vineyards existing in the area prior to 1100.
The Montefalco area was designated DOCG (denominazione di origine controllata e garantita) in 1992. The DOCG area includes the commune (municipality) of Montefalco along with parts of Bevagna, Guild Cattaneo, Castle Ritaldi and Giano dell’Umbria.
You don’t need to be a historian to enjoy this ruby-dark wine from Arnaldo-Caprai, with its velvety mouthfeel, smooth plum and blackberry notes with hints of spice (a seasonal mix of clove and nutmeg). It’s a wine made for red meat and hearty meals, with assertive, chewy tannins and even six years after release still capable of further aging. $54, sample.
2013 Kit’s Killer Cab – Think of Clif Bars and the image most people get is of the high-energy bars found in backpacks, briefcases and lunchboxes around the world.
Today, though, there’s a whole ‘nother Clif world, thanks to the efforts of Clif Bar founders Gary Erickson and his wife Kit Crawford, also happen to be the CEOs behind Clif Family Winery, the duo’s high-energy Napa Valley winery.
Most Napa winemakers rated the 2013 vintage as “ideal” and this Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from the family’s Croquet and Cold Springs vineyards on Howell Mountain reflect those near-perfect growing conditions. Lush and smooth, with dark fruit balanced by even tannins and a bright future. Drink it now or hold it for a few years. $75, sample.
2015 Pessimist – This affordable red blend (Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Tannat, Grenache) is a second label from the much-respected Daou Vineyards of Paso Robles. The Daou team of winemakers makes this very much a first-tier wine, with dark berries, vanilla bean and black pepper notes tucked around smooth, seductive tannins. Your friends will guess you spent much more. $20, purchased.
If the recent political season wasn’t sufficient impetus to get you thinking about improving your drinking choices in the coming year, maybe a few New Year’s resolutions will do the job.
Even if you’re not someone prone to make resolutions, already knowing how stark end-of-the-year choices can seem when viewed with a few month’s distance, there are several painless things you can do to ease into what so far certainly promises to an interesting New Year.
Get to know your local wine industry – Yes, I know this sounds obvious if you live in the wine-country of the Grand Valley and North Fork Valley, but after several recent visits to local wineries (and a boatload of comments heard during the Colorado Mountain Winefest), I’ve noticed there are many people from both sides of the Continental Divide who admit to have never (never!) visited any of the wineries.
Yet many of these same people boasted about visiting Napa or Sonoma and paying (paying!) to taste whatever was pushed across the tasting room counter.
Pay-to-taste hasn’t yet taken over the Colorado wine industry. Most places gladly offer free samples although there are some wineries who charge for their premium or reserve wines. But they usually credit you if you actually buy a bottle or two.
Branch out – Meaning, know what you’re drinking. Instead of absently blurting, “I want a red wine,” ask for a Pinot Noir or a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Malbec or something else, red or white, but ask for it by name. You can even practice saying the name before entering the winery.
Most wineries you visit are pouring several different reds and whites, and engaging in a few minutes of conversation will not only improve your knowledge but your experience, as well.
Seek out cold-hardy varietals – Some growers will tell you the future of Colorado wines lies in cold-hardy varietals, at least until climate change reaches the point the Grand Valley consistently produces the traditional European varieties like Cab Sauv or Merlot.
Some growers already are vinifying cold-hardy varietals such as Marechal Foch, Cabernet Franc, Aromella, St. Vincent’s, the list goes on. Grape grower Kaibab Savage is growing nine cold-hardy varieties east of Palisade, trying to see what produces and what sells.
Join a wine club – I wouldn’t have said this a few years ago because (IMHO) choices were limited and the wines often over-priced and under-valued. Besides, how hard is it to drive 10 minutes to the local winery?
However, I’ve changed my mind. The number of clubs has increased, which may be an indication of their popularity. Chosen wisely, the right wine club offers convenience (home delivery on a regular basis), variety you might not try if left to yourself and, as I saw this past year, in most cases fair pricing. Not always the best, but fair, especially considering you’ll often get a higher level of wine than what’s expected.
There are many other possible suggestions but this will be enough to add a little viniferous sparkle to your New Year. Heaven knows, we may need it.
There are many other possible suggestions but this will be enough to add a little viniferous sparkle to your New Year. Heaven knows, we may need it.
VinCo Conference and Trade Show – Jan. 16-19. Register online. This four-day conference offers growers, winemakers and the public topical seminars on viticulture, enology, business and marketing. This year’s conference includes a half-day seminar on phylloxera, recently discovered in the Grand Valley and in Front Range vineyards. Held in conjunction with the Western Colorado Horticulture Society at Two Rivers Convention Center in Grand Junction.
The short-but-intense harvest season is about over in western Colorado and now every winemakers’ attention turns to the wineries. The 2016 Colorado wine-grape harvest is about “99.9-percent” finished, said state viticulturist Horst Caspari last week and growers are reporting another big crop.
“In 17 years this is the first time we’ve had back-to-back good crops,” Caspari said. “It’s never happened before but this is what our crop should be year in and year out.”
The large 2015 harvest last year allowed many winemakers to fill tanks and build their inventories depleted by severe shortages in 2013 and 2014. Now, this year’s follow-up fruit-rich harvest finds some winemakers running out of space.
A couple of wineries have purchased new tanks and oak barrels seeking to expand their capacity but Caspari said there still are going to be grapes left hanging this year because there’s no market or space for them.
Why the bounty? Two consecutive mild winters, no bud-damaging late-spring frosts or early fall frosts that nip the mature fruit, and recent plantings finally are old enough to bear fruit.
Nancy Janes at Whitewater Hill Winery on 32 Road several years ago planted about an acre of St. Vincent, a cold-hardy variety, and this year the fourth-leaf vines produced more than 800 gallons of wine. She says the wine already is bright and fruit-forward and only will improve with a few months in oak barrels.
Among the social media sites I visit on a regular basis is a recent post from the much-respected wine writer Alfonso Cevola, who takes to task new-gen wine directors who Cevola accuses of ignoring “iconic and traditional” wines and “developing (a) blind spot for classic wines like Chianti Classico and Pauillac” in favor of building “labyrinthine” wine lists based on “edginess” and “coolness.”
“I want a wine list that doesn’t take so much effort to choose from, so that I can get on to the real reason for the evening. The getting together and the sharing of a meal,” writes Cevola on his blog, “On the Wine Trail in Italy.”
“It’s as if those wines, that have been venerated by generations of wine lovers and sommeliers, are being eradicated from the lexicon of wines once considered revered and, even more important, essential,” Cevola writes.
Among his fears is that by ignoring or dropping the classic Bordeaux, Tuscans and others, wine lists begin to look alike and, worse, customers aren’t exposed to those wines.
In response, Thomas Moësse, wine director at Houston’s Divino Italian restaurant, says, “If buyers are foregoing the classics on their lists, maybe it is because they are advocates for their guest first and foremost — both are being left behind by exponential pricing increases and the corresponding unattainability of those vins de garde.”
Gone, said Moësse, is the time when clients asked “what kind of Italian restaurant doesn’t have Tignanello?”
Today, somms and wine directors regularly field queries such as “what will go best with our food?” Moësse writes in a guest appearance on Jeremy Parzens blog, Do Bianchi. “Today’s consumer is not scanning a wine list for producers they recognize so much as they want some help with a discovery. Our job as wine service professionals is part curation and consultation.”
Which sounds as if Moësse is saying today’s younger wine drinkers aren’t tied to the “classic” and “traditional” way of selecting a wine. Lengthy wine lists put more importance on the individual roles of diner – knowing when to ask for help in finding a wine, as well as the role of the waiter/somm – being able to provide the right answer.
What’s your preference? Smaller lists with traditional producers or something offering “the bounty of wines” coming from around the world?
Lugana DOC is just south of Lake Garda, as you’ll soon learn, and one of Italy’s more-distinctive DOCs (and one I’ve written about previously, as well). Here, Charles Scicolone takes us on a quick but comprehensive Lugana DOC tasting trip thanks to Consorzio Tutela Lugana DOC. Please enjoy…
One of my favorite places to visit in Italy is Lake Garda. I like sitting outside in a restaurant along the lake, eating the lake fish and drinking the local wine, in most cases Lugana DOC. While it wasn’t quite the same as Lake Garda, a dinner at La Pizza Fresca in NYC hosted by the Consorizo Tutela Lugana DOC was a good opportunity to try the new vintages.
The Lugana denomination is on the border between the provinces of Brescia (Lombardy) and Verona (Veneto) to the south of Lake Garda. The soil is mostly white clay and limestone, which is difficult to work.
The temperate breezes from Lake Garda influence the microclimate positively; it is mild and fairly constant with little difference between day and nighttime temperatures.
The Turbiana grape, aka Trebbiano di Lugana…
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