Category Archives: Power Punch

Exploring the Wines of Montefalco

Pettino – Our Umbrian Village

Italy has always been a bit of a mystery to me.  When I first started studying for my WSET programs it was a toss up between Italy and Germany as to which was the most confusing.  Now, after years of study I understand that I will NEVER, in my LIFE, know everything there is to know about Italian wines.  I have contented myself, however, with exploring a region here and there when I get the chance.  One such chance has presented itself in the last month and I hope to make the most of it.  Montefalco is a small mountain village in the province of Perugia in Umbria almost exactly half way down the boot,  in the middle of the peninsula.  It was originally settled by the Umbri, an ancient Italian tribe, which lived in the area from the 9th-4th centuries BC.  In March of this year, Montefalco was named Italy’s Best New Wine Region by Conde Nast Traveler Magazine.  It is only a short train ride from Rome making it an easy escape from the bustling city to the mountains.  The region, largely known for their fabulous truffles, olive groves, and amazing hill top vistas is now starting to break out from underneath the shadow of their Tuscan cousins.  Every spring around Easter the town holds a large festival called Settimana Enologica or “Wine Week” to bring tourists in to sample the local wines.   Until recently, the wines of this area have been not well known outside of Italy. However, the Consorzio Montefalco is working to change that and have graciously sent me two wines to taste and explore to get a sense of what this area and the Sagrantino grape are all about.

Colpetrone 2011 Montefalco Rosso DOC – Elegant and Floral

The first wine hails from one of the most important producers in the DOCG area.  Montefalco Rosso is usually a blend of Sangiovese and Sagrantino.  This wine is a beautiful blend of both plus a bit of Merlot coming from a vineyard planted in 1997 on limy soil with clay deposits.  A moderately deep ruby colored core followed by a lovely burst of plum and black cherry on the nose.  The wine had none of the “raspberry leaf” character I normally associate with wines from further north in the country but did have a distinctive earthy aroma reminiscent of crushed late fall leaves.  The intensity of the fruit suggests a lack of oak influence which was confirmed by the dossier that accompanied it.  With a moderate body, fresh acid, and structured but supple tannins that hit in the middle of the tongue, this wine is more weighty than a Pinot Noir but just as elegant.  It is strikingly similar in style to Chianti Classicos but with darker fruit and rounded edges.  While this wine can age a couple more years due to its textured tannins I highly recommend taking advantage of it’s fruitful youth!

Azienda Agraria Scacciadiavoli 2008 Montefalco Sagrantino – Power Punch

The second wine comes from the oldest winery of the Montefalco appellation, founded in 1884.  The name Scacciadiavoli, literally translates to “cast out the devils” apparently named for a 19th century exorcist who lived in the village.  The vineyard is 400 meters above sea level on a clay shale soil.  The wine itself is intense with a dense ruby core that is impossible to see through, living up to the expectation that Sagrantino is one of the most deeply colored grapes in the world.  The nose is quite concentrated with aromas of ripe black plum, graphite, and cedar.  The full body continues with the concentrated theme with intensely structured tannins, the description of which is hard to pin down.  It is similar to the texture of Nebbiolo but slightly smoother with the intensity and palate distribution of Cabernet Sauvignon.  The finish is long and the wine is crying out for food as most Italian reds do.  If the body were lighter the tannins would be harsh and out of balance however the richness in the core of this wine was deeply concentrated and left a seamless transition from beginning to end. My hat is off to the winemaker because I know it is quite challenging to balance tannins of that quantity! It is quite unlike anything I have ever tasted before.   This is a 2008, already over 6 years old and I am of the opinion I opened it too young!  This structure is built for aging quite in line with the other hallowed regions of this country.  If you are interested in this wine it seems the previous vintage is for sale at one of my favorite wine sourcing spots, K & L Wines in San Francisco.

These wines have distinctively different styles however both show that this region is focused on making serious wine that can stand on the international market.  The town itself looks charming and it’s views dramatic.  I only hope I get the chance to visit for myself soon!

Picture courtesy of MontefalcoMob.com

Harvest 2011 – Week 5 – Things REALLY get moving…

This week we’ve started seeing far more grapes than the previous week.  Our Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc were joined by our first Chardonnay of the season!  Fruit quality looks really nice and acids are still staying put thanks to the more moderate day time temperatures as well as the cool nights.  The Alexander Valley reds are showing signs of the same incredible color that 2010 brought us and we should start seeing Lodi Cabernet and Merlot being harvested over the next two weeks.  For Asti it seems after a crazy end to last week, Week 6 will come in like a lion and go out like a lamb as we enter the first slump of the season.  This will give us a chance to catch our breath and take stock of how things are going.  The weather for week 6, however is forecasted to be a good deal warmer than week 5 with several days topping out around 100 degrees!  Hopefully they won’t go much above that so we can avoid the September heat spike that we saw last year. 

 

I’m playing with the first Alexander Valley fruit from this season which is a Gewurztraminer from a vineyard in Geyserville which was harvested last Wednesday.  It’s packed with flavor and did retain some acid which is fantastic for the variety that is famous for losing acid like a woman loses last season’s out of style shoes.  I’ve set it up for a long, cool fermentation so the yeast can form the beautiful terpene compounds that make up the fruit and spice notes in the final wine.  I’m also playing with some Pinot Gris from Lodi with a couple of different yeast strains so that should be interesting to see how it goes.

 

As promised here is the red variety group from Week 4’s interesting varietal tasting!

 

Latitude 50 N Sekt Trocken Rose  Germany  $14.99

Light and Bubbly

With amazing aromas of strawberries and cotton candy this wine offered fantastic quality for the price.  A medium- dry style balanced with crisp acid and intense citrus flavors.  It’s a blend of Portugeser, Dornfelder, and Pinot Noir.  A perfect bubbly for everyday drinking at a great price, all of us decided to go in on a case!

 

Studert- Prum Wehlener Nonnenberg 2008 Dornfelder  Germany ~$25.00

Elegant and Floral

I have a soft spot for this variety because it’s one of the first reds I ever worked with in Pennsylvania, of all places.  However this also showed to be the hardest variety to find in the tasting. It’s known for intense aromas of Strawberries and cherries and this wine did not disappoint.  It was dry with moderate acid, medium alcohol and smooth tannins.  It’s worth the search as this was one of the best Dornfelders that I’ve ever had!

 

E. Pira Chiara Boschis Dolcetto d’Alba 2009 Italy    $19.99    

Elegant and Floral

This variety makes a light and easy to drink red which is perfect for lighter fare.  Moderate aromas of cherries, bramble fruits, red plum, and figs introduce the wine which has a dry palate with medium + acid and moderate alcohol.  The tannins are firm and structured but ripe.  This is a great food wine. 

Umathum 2008 Zweigelt Burgenland Austria    $16.99

Spicy and Smoky

This was a dark brooding wine with smoky gamey notes complemented by black cherry and plum.  The palate is dry with medium + acid, moderate alcohol and strong structured tannins.  Zweigelt may be a good alternative to Merlot or Syrah for those seeking something different.  This one was really nice.

 

Montebuena Rioja 2009   $9.99

Power Punch

Made with 100% Tempranillo this wine is true to form with aromas of cherries, raisins, lemon zest and vanilla.  The palate is dry with medium acid, moderately high alcohol, and strong, textured tannins.  Right now Spain is offering some great value for the money.  Anywhere else this would easily be an $18-20 quality wine.

 

Quinta das Maias Tinto 2004 Dao   $11.99

Power Punch

Another value to be had currently is dry reds made from Port varieties.  This wine is a blend of 60% Jaen, 25% Touriga Nacional, 10% Alfrocheiro and 5% Tinta Roriz.  The nose is intense with aromas of coconut, almonds, vanilla, and cherries.  American oak is clearly a favorite with this producer.  The palate is dry with moderate acid, medium + alcohol, and a full body filled with flavors of cherries, dried dates and raisins.

The Best Bang for Your Buck!!!: Finding Value in Wine

One of the questions I was asked to answer a short time ago is how does one tell which wine brands offer the best values for my money?  This is a particularly challenging question because the answer often is “it depends”.  The perception of value highly depends on the end consumer…of course this means you!  You, the consumer, give the wine a value, whether you realize it or not, depending on how it makes you feel when you enjoy it (or don’t enjoy it), when you talk about it with your friends, or how it makes you feel to purchase it. 

Take Burgundy for example.  This is a fantastic region of France making some really wonderful Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  In an effort to really get to know the Crus (areas and well known vineyards of the region) some friends of mine from the WSET Diploma and I got together and pooled our resources to do a major tasting.  We ended up buying around $800 worth of wine equaling 12 bottles which we tasted blind to get our own thoughts down on paper before the big reveal of what they each were and how much they each cost. One of these bottles was $230 by itself.  I don’t remember what producer or where at this point (but it’s in my notes so I could look it up if someone is interested) but I remember being astounded by the price as I compared it to similar quality wines that I had tasted from other regions.  I couldn’t help but feel a bit cheated.  The wine was not bad in its own right, in fact I had estimated it to be around the $80 however when the real price was revealed I felt that it was significantly overvalued when some of the less expensive options offered equivalent quality for far less.  The point is not which producer made this wine or where it came from but how it made me feel as the person who had spent good money to purchase it.

That’s the problem with purely stating which brands offer the best “value” for the money.  It all depends on your definition of value.  Some people value the producer.  Others value the price they paid for the wine.  Even more value the experience of drinking the wine with friends or family at a memorable moment in their lives.  I’ve heard numerous stories of people who are out with friends and they order wine.  The atmosphere is fun, the conversation, invigorating, and someone suggests that this wine may just be the best they’ve had in a long time.  Everyone agrees and some note the variety, producer, and vintage.  These folks even go so far as to seek it out again to recreate the experience they had trying it the first time only to be disappointed that it didn’t seem as good.  This happens often and it is as much about who you’re enjoying the wine with, and where as it is about the quality of the wine itself. 

Price paid is another major factor in the perceived value of the wine.  Say you buy a wine from the grocery store.  You paid $25.  It’s a special occasion and you wanted something nice so you decide to splurge on a “Luxury” wine.  You get it home, prepare dinner, open the wine with absolute enthusiasm and take a taste.  Somehow the wine doesn’t live up to what you thought you’d get for $25 and you’re disappointed.  Now what if you had bought the same quality wine for $15 but you think it was as good as any $20 bottle you’ve had.  Now you’re excited with your purchase and think you’ve gotten a deal.  The quality didn’t change, just the price, but your entire experience just shifted from one of disappointment to one of complete satisfaction.  That satisfied feeling is, for all intents and purposes, why you wanted to know the answer to the question “Which wines offer the best value for the money” in the first place.  

Now that being said it should be clear that I want you to determine for yourself what you value most in a wine.  This will come from boundless and unbridled experimentation with different regions, price points, styles, and varieties.  In a way, it is the reason I design my tasting notes around wine’s personalities which makes it easier to explore new things if you understand that it will be similar to something you already know you like.  However I will give you a few suggestions to start your search off in the right direction…

For sparkling wines Champagne has been the king however there are brands of bubbly from the new and old worlds that are really doing great things.  New Zealand’s Cloudy Bay makes a fantastic sparkling wine that rivals the quality of vintage Champagne for a fraction of the price.  I highly recommend it if you like Light and Bubbly. 

 

For dry white wines, there are few regions in the world that compare with the quality of Burgundian Chardonnay however if you want a really nice Chardonnay from Burgundy look to the north in Chablis (Stone and Chalk).  For some reason this little area of the world isn’t in as high demand as their neighbors to the south and for me this is a great opportunity.  The good ones are expensive still by everyday drinking standards but you can get a really nice Grand Cru Chablis for around $35 as opposed to the dollars you’d spend for a similar quality white Burgundy.  It’s also a refreshingly light style that is generally unoaked which will age quite well if you want to cellar it for a bit.

For dry red wines it’s hard not to look directly at Argentina for the best values.  Their ideal climate and inexpensive labor costs are a recipe for great wines at even better values.  As people discover this, the wine imports from Argentina in to the US have risen dramatically over the past 5 years but they are still offering good quality overall.  Not all of it is stellar but it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re going to get a better wine than what you paid for.  Predominant reds are Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon (Power Punches).  Another little known value from Argentina on the white side is Torrontes (Zesty and Fruity).  If you like Muscato or Gewurztraminers then you’ll probably like Torrontes as it’s an extremely aromatic and floral variety.

Now go forth!  Try new things.  It’s ok to be disappointed once in a while because the benefits of learning what you value in a wine far outweigh the short term sighs of finding out you’ve bought a wine you don’t value.  A great way to start is by finding local wine shops that offer tastings of their wares.  That way you can “test drive” the wine before you buy and everyone goes home happy.  Remember, only you can decide how to get the best bang for your buck with wine!