Thursday, July 5, 2018

Cecchi wines showcase heritage of Chianti with a fresh approach

"We believe in Sangiovese for Chianti Classico."  It was a declaration of commitment, passion, and heritage from fourth-generation Tuscan winery owner Andrea Cecchi.  The gregarious Italian was in New York City to commemorate his winery's 125th anniversary by showcasing current vintages of his Cecchi wines at a media dinner at Casa Nonna.

But first, there was the winery's very fine Vermentino from their La Mora line, from an estate in Maremma, a wine-making region on the rise in Italy.  This crisp, medium-bodied white with lemons and almonds on the palate had refreshing acidity that washed down our starter of cheese flatbread.   

And then, the range of Chianti was presented. We began with the 2015 Storia de Famiglia Chianti Classico.  All of the Chianti names remind us that "famiglia," i.e. family, is essential to Cecchi wine production.  Created from 95 percent Sangiovese and 5 percent Colorino, it is fermented in stainless steel instead of the traditional oak to retain freshness.  This wine had a black cherry nose, while on the palate there was mouth-filling dried cherries and baking spices lifted by fresh acidity. 

We then moved on to the 2014 Riserva di Famiglia Chianti Classico Riserva, comprised of 90 percent Sangiovese and 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon.  This was a bigger wine redolent of cherry and blackberry with a medium-long finish.  This wine struck a good balance between depth of flavor and freshness. 

And then there was the top offering, a 2015 Valore di Famiglia Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, which is brand new to the U.S. market.  This top level of Chianti must come from estate fruit.  The Cecchi Gran Selezione offered ripe black cherries on the nose, while the palate echoed juicy cherry flavors drizzled with balsamic vinegar.  The wine had a long finish and still offered the refreshing acidity of the other levels of Chianti from Cecchi.  I gave this vibrant pour four stars. 

Throughout the meal, Andrea discussed the trends that had shaped the Chianti region in the last few decades.  While some winery owners had gone in the direction of building their own brands in the Super Tuscan space (abandoning the great Sangiovese traditions along the way), he advocated investing in the region as a whole.  A member of the Consorzio Chianti Classico, Andrea said he wants to "reclaim the greatness of Sangiovese" in the Chianti area.  His range of wines, culminating in his Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, do just that. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Hess Family Wines Elevate, Innovate

The Hess Family Winery was established during the late 1970s when Swiss bottled-water entrepreneur Donald Hess visited Napa Valley in search of spring water -- but fell in love with wine instead. He changed his life focus, befriended Robert Mondavi, and was among the first Napa winery owners seeking to source grapes from Mount Veeder. Five generations later, Donald has retired but his family succeeds him in running the business.

Today, the family owns wineries in California and Argentina – with more west coast vineyard acquisition planned.  Donald has also been an avid art collector and his wineries in Napa, California and Salta, Argentina include his carefully curated collection.

Nicole Carter, Hess Family Wine Estates Director of Winemaking and Chief Marketing Officer was in New York City this week to show some of the wines from the Hess Collection series and talk about exciting news in the winery.  

She started by explaining that, by planning the winery’s succession while Donald is still alive, the family is well-situated for a successful transition.  She explained that now millennials are at the helm of a 40-year-old business, which provides interesting opportunities to connect with the wine drinkers of tomorrow.  Another big change is Nicole’s own recent promotion to Director of Winemaking, Nicole is leading the enterprise in the development of new luxury wines – in other words, they are not aiming to develop more of the under $20 offerings. So Nicole is looking to elevate the offerings of the winery.

And, speaking of elevation, in addition to vineyards on Mount Veeder, the Hess family has historically planted high (harkening to Donald’s Swiss background.)  Donald was determined to plant the highest vineyard in the world and today his 10,000 foot high vineyard in the Andes, named Altura Maxima, is in the Guinness Book of World Records.  

The wines we tried at the recent tasting included current Napa offerings:

 Hess Collection Estate Grown Chardonnay 2016 – Nicole said she thinks a Napa Valley Chardonnay requires a certain texture and this wine eschews the all-stainless approach that some winemakers have to deliver a definitely Californian Chardonnay – but with restraint. Grown in a cool pocket of Napa near the bay, the wine had refreshing acidity and flavors of crisp apples with a hint of butter. Oak was present but not pervasive, and careful aging included putting only 19% of wine in new French oak.  $22

-       Hess Collection Lion Tamer, Red Blend 2015 – The labeling on this project is distinct, with the family crest symbol of the lion taking on a beautiful, Byzantine feel.  Inside the bottle is a surprising blend that includes 50% Malbec, 23% Zinfandel, and five other traditional Bordeaux blend grapes. The result is a big wine with a sweet cherry/blackberry fruit profile and a kick of black pepper.  Great with the ribeye we enjoyed at the Tuscany Steakhouse. $45

-       Hess Collection Napa Valley “Allomi” Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 – A single vineyard comprised of six different Cabernet clones growing in the hills of northeastern Napa. This rich Cab had a pretty nose of roses, cherries, and leather. On the palate there was black cherry, black currants and black pepper. The wine offered nice acidity and a long finish.

-       Hess Collection Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 – While many Napa Cabs need a good deal of aging for tannins to settle down, this wine isn’t one. In another innovative blending twist, Nicole explains, “Malbec tames tannin.” The addition of 18% Malbec brings a quality of lushness to the often angular Napa Cab structure.  This wine had a blackberry nose and intense blackberry flavors on the plate.  It was a round, somewhat plush red, rich and full, but without the harshness of a full-on young Cab. Highly recommend. $65

For consumers looking for moderately priced Napa wines at a luxury taste level, look no further than the Hess Collection.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Valentin Bianchi - Argentine wines with Italian pedigree

In the 20th century, Italian immigrants came to Argentina in search of a new life, including Valentin Bianchi, who founded a winery in San Raphael, Mendoza in 1928.  After a few short years, the winery's efforts were winning awards, including the nation's Maximum Quality Prize in 1934.  Today the Bianchi family continues to make wine in Mendoza using rootstock from their ancestral home of Italy, as well as California and France.

The wines of Bodega Valentin Bianchi were poured at a media dinner at the Chimichurri Grill in Manhattan and wowed the participants with their high quality, variety of styles and varieties, and winning quality/price ratio.   

The wines poured are as follows: 
- Bianchi Brut Sparkling - This inviting sparkling wine has fresh, toasty nose from 12 months lees aging.  It is produced in the traditional method with second fermentation in the bottle. A crisp wine to celebrate with for only $21.99. 

- Elsa Torrontes - Named for the grandmother of the current owners, this expressive wine is highly aromatic.  The lush tropical fruit on the nose is rewarded with pineapple and mango on the palate.  It was a vibrant wine honoring a woman who was the same.  This terrific distinctive Argentine wine offers great quality for the low price of $11.99. 

- Valentin Bianchi Malbec 2016 - Delicious, well-priced Malbec with plummy notes, plush mouthfeel, medium tannins and leather and tobacco. Dark chocolate and cherries, too - all for $15.99

- L10 Premium Malbec 2015 - Complex layers of chocolate, plums, dark cherries with firmer tannins and good length.  This project was produced to benefit world-renowned soccer player Leo Messi's charity benefiting disadvantaged children. $29.99

-  Famiglia Bianchi Nebbiolo Malbec 2014 - And here the old and new heritage of the winery are both present in a blend of Italian Nebbiolo and Argentine Malbec.  Sweet fruit core of strawberries with spicy cloves, backed up by good acid and nice length.  $19.99

- Particular Malbec 2014 - Bright red fruit on nose and palate, well integrated tannins, long length, super plush mouthfeel. Highly recommend. $30.99 

- Enzo Bianchi 2013 - Dark black and red fruit, huge length, nice pepper spice as well.  This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (70%), Mabec (20%), and Petit Verdot (7%).  Fantastic age-worthy wine. $54.99

In this tasting, participants enjoyed a range of flavors from this Neuvo Argentine restaurant - from oysters to empanadas to filet mignon.  We found the range of wines worked really well with all the bold flavors served.  Seek out the wines of Valentin Bianchi for well-priced wines of distinctive  character. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Attilio Ghisolfi working magic with seven hectares of prime Langhe

The wines of Attilio Ghisolfi were recently poured at a media dinner in New York City at Bobby Van’s Grill. The tasting covered a range of wines from the portfolio, and there’s something for everyone there.  The winery intentionally is creating some entry-point Barolo and Barbera, as well as high-end single vineyard offerings from prime Piedmont real estate.

Founder Carlo Ghisolfi started out by buying a compact, nine acre property in 1895 where he began making wine.  Carlo's great grandson Gianmarco along with his father started producing wines under their own label in 1987.  Today, this family-owned winery is committed to farming organically, eschewing pesticides and chemical fertilizers in favor of organic soil enrichments.  The small winery itself is surrounded by vineyards that fall within “Bussia,” one of the best Barolo cru production areas.

The portfolio tasting included: 

Attilio Ghisolfi Barbara d'Alba Maggiore 2013 - A dark and lovely wine with firm tannins, juicy cherry, and nice acidity. Am a big fan of Barbara d'Alba as a moderately priced, high quality northern Italian red.  

Attilio Ghisolfi Langhe Nebbiolo 2015 - Fragrant nose of dried cherry and leather, with good acid and a long finish. A delicious entry point to the winery's Nebbiolo-based wines. 

Attilio Ghisolfi Barolo Bussia 2013 - Elegant wine with dried rose petals, cherries, good acid structure. Grapes are from vines grown in white tufa soil near Monforte d'Alba.

Attilio Ghisolfi Barolo Bricco Visette 2013- The 2013 shows good potential for development with ripe cherry flavors, firm tannins, and plenty of acid. The vines used in this wine range from 15 - 50 years old, and the maturation combines large and smaller French oak barriques.

Attilio Ghisolfi Barolo Bricco Visette 2011 - Seeing the development from this highly prized vineyard region, which is 300-350 meters high.  The 2011 is drinking great now - a rich wine with tart blackberries mingling with the cherries and firm tannins propped up by good acidity. Highly recommend.

Attilio Ghisolfi Barolo Bricco Visette 2010 - Nose offers hints of coffee, while palate is bright with lush ripe cherries as well as baking spices. Long finish. At eight years old, this Barolo from the Bussia area is drinking great now, highly recommend.

The wines of Attilio Ghisolfi are widely available in both New York and New Jersey.  Seek them out for elegant expressions of age-worthy Barolo and delicious Barbara and Nebbiolo.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Recent Bel Colle Barolos impress at NYC tasting

Piedmont’s Bel Colle winery was founded in the late 70’s and has grown to be recognized for producing award-winning wines.  The winery was purchased by Luca Bosio, from another Piedmont winemaking family, in  2015.  A trained winemaker, Luca was particularly excited to work with the rare native grape, Pelaverga, as well as the Barolo and Barbaresco vineyards. The wines of Bel Colle and Luca Bosio were poured at a recent media dinner at Sparks Steak House, where they were paired beautifully with the restaurant's signature prime sirloin steaks. 

Some of the highlights of the wines poured included:

Luca Bosio Langhe Arneis 2016 – A floral nose leads to rich flavors of peaches and lemons with great mouth feel. Arneis is a native white grape in the Piedmont region and a wonderful alternative white wine for only $19.99.

Bel Colle Verduno Pelaverga 2015 – This rare grape is only grown in Piedmont and is enjoyed there chilled as a light-bodied red with a peppery kick. ($29.99)

Bel Colle Barbaresco Roncaglie 2011 – Fairly light-bodied with fantastic acid/tannin/fruit balance. This wine showcases the Nebbiolo fruit with a long fermentation of 24-28 days. Roncaglie is a top Barbaresco area. ($54.99)

Bel Colle DOCG “Simposio” – We tasted through three vintages of this traditional Barolo.  2013, noted as a great vintage, was tight but showed its potential in a fragrant nose of leather, dried cherries and roses.  That fruit and spice continued on the palate. The 2012 was drinking well, with a pretty nose of dried roses and potpourri with cherries and a bit of sage. The 2011 was drinking beautifully, very lush midpalate with layered flavors of dusty flowers, cherries, raspberries and bit of tobacco. ($59.99)

Bel Colle Barolo Monvigliero 2011 – A showstopper single vineyard wine from one of the best vineyards in Verduno (200-300 feet above sea level).  With average vine age of 50 years old, this one showed sweet cherry fruit, spice, and very long finish. ($74.99)

Bel Colle Barolo Monvigliero 2009 – The same wine with more development. The dense cherry fruit had softened a bit and now tertiary aromas and flavors of mushroom, smoke, spice were coming forth.  The acid was still present and the tannins still firm – a great-drinking Barolo nearly ten years old now.  ($74.99)

The wines of Bel Colle are made with thoughtful aging in a mix of new and old French barriques as well as large format Slovenian casks.  Each vineyard and vintage is treated differently to bring out the best in the harvest.  While all the wines were delicious, I recommend purchasing the 2011 Barolo for immediate consumption and putting the 2013 away.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Toasting 2018 Oscar Nominations with Piper Heidsieck

The luxurious iPic Fulton Street was abuzz this morning with wine media, all enjoying a decadent Champagne breakfast and waiting for the announcement of the 2018 Oscar nominees.  After gathering plates of caviar-topped eggs Benedict and flutes of Piper Heidsieck Champagne, we ensconced ourselves in the plushest of movie theaters for a live-streaming of the results. 

I was happy to see some of my faves from this year - including Lady Bird, The Big Sick, and Disaster Artist - all got nods from the Academy.  And myself and other attendees made notes on nominated films that we wanted to see before the 90th Oscars in March. 

After the excitement of the announcements, we enjoyed more Piper Heisieck from magnums with gorgeous art deco designs that commemorate the 90th Oscars. I found this Champagne to be balanced, crisp, and elegant, and it paired beautifully with the rich Hollandaise sauce as well as with decadent donuts from Under West Donuts. 

Piper-Heidsieck is the official Champagne of the Oscars, so when you watch on March 4 - this is what they'll be celebrating or drowning their disappointment with.  With Champagne this delicious in one's glass, even not being nominated would be a lot more acceptable I imagine. 

The best idea for those of us without tickets to the Oscars? Tune in with plenty of Piper Heidsieck on hand and enjoy a touch of Oscar glamour at home. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Turkish delights - Wines of Vinkara

The wines of Turkey are unknown to most Americans, so I eagerly jumped at the opportunity to try them at a recent media dinner in New York City.  There I had the pleasure of meeting Ardic Gursel.  Ardic is the founder of Vinkara Winery, which is located an hour outside of the country's capital of Ankara on property owned by her family.   

Ardic is committed to promoting the indigenous grapes of Anatolia, which is the historic name for the country we call Turkey today.  One of the exciting aspects of her family's efforts is that this land is believed to believed to be the birthplace of wine, and it certainly is one of the world's oldest wine-producing regions.

On this evening of taste discovery we got to know these beautiful Turkish wines: 

Yasasin - Kalecik Karasi red grapes fermented as a white sparkling wine. Loved this aperitif wine, the first and only in Turkey produced in the methode Champenoise. Yasasin is a Turkish toast meaning "Long life!" 

Narince - Made from grapes of the same name, this white wine showed ripe peach nose, creamy palate, and a dry finish with slight almond notes.  The unoaked version of this wine showed particularly well as a fresh medium-bodied white wine of character. 

Kalecik Karasi - The Pinot Noir of indigenous Turkish grapes. The wine was translucent with elegant cherry notes.  We also had the Reserve version, aged 14 months in French oak, which was richer,  more velvety and boasted riper cherries and a bit of chocolate. 

Bogazkere - A full-bodied red wine that offered both black and red fruit and notes of spice with firm tannins.  Excellent with full-flavored meat dishes.  

Okuzgozu - A wine known as "Bulls Eye," this was a big bold red wine with stewed red fruits and baking spices and a touch of smokiness.  

This line-up of indigenous Turkish wines was eye-opening in that they were all high quality. In addition, they were pleasing to American palates, yet all unique in their flavor and aroma profiles.  To have a taste of Vinkara wines, pay a visit to East Pole in New York City, where some of these special pours are on the list.