Category Archives: Spicy and Smoky

A Reserve Tasting and Answering the Old Sulfite Question…

These past few weeks seem like they are anything but calm.  They’ve been packed with pre-harvest meetings and get togethers with friends that I’m not likely to see until harvest is over.  One of the highlights was a tasting class I taught down at Cellar 360 in San Francisco.  We had a great turn out and tasted through some fantastic wines.

Cellar No. 8 Sonoma County Chardonnay (Black Label)

Buttery Beauty

See post here for tasting notes.

Souverain 1997 Stulmuller Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Elegant and Floral

Souverain 2006 Stulmuller Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Power Punch

Both of these wines were holding up very well.  The 05 was much more forward fresh fruit of raspberry and boysenberry while the ’97 as would be expected was more dried cherries and currants with silky soft tannins.

Souverain 2001 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Power Punch

Souverain 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Power Punch

These wines were both powerful with chalky ripe tannins and intense blackberry notes.  The 2001 showed a bit of dried sage on the nose while the 05 was almost all blackberries and spice.

Souverain 1997 Winemaker’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Spicy and Smokey

Souverain 2006 Winemaker’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Power Punch

The older vintage of this wine is so wonderful right now.  It has velvety soft tannins, spicy notes, and lush fruits with charming hints of chocolate and coffee.  The ’05 was much more intense with dark chocolate tannins, blue and black berries, fresh oregano, and baking spices.

It just goes to show what a little patience can do when aging a wine.

The discussions of the night ranged from how to tell how long a wine would age to the old stand-by “Why does wine give me headaches? Is it the sulfites?”

So…Why does wine give you headaches? Is it the sulfites???

First ask yourself do you generally get headaches more with red or white wines?

If you answered red then the answer to the sulfite question is No!  Sulfites are typically higher in white wines so if you answered whites you may have a low level sulfite reaction.  High level sulfite reactions are very similar to reactions to bee-stings with a wide range of unpleasant symptoms so you absolutely would know if this is the problem.  Only about .5% of the entire population actually has a sulfite reaction so this is unlikely to be the culprit.

So the question then becomes why do red wines give you headaches???  This is because of the Malo-lactic (ML) fermentation that most red wines and some whites (mainly Chardonnay) goes through to develop softer mouthfeel and the buttery character in Chardonnay that is so popular.  The bacteria that complete the fermentation give off biogenic amines, a type of histamine, which your body reacts to similar to hay fever or other allergies.  Most of the time, the results are mild and go away quite quickly.  If it becomes problematic but you still want to enjoy wines, seek out wines that have not gone through ML.  This would be most whites and early released red wines like Beaujolais Nouveau.

Quick Harvest Update…

Well it looks like grapes will begin arriving in about 2 weeks to Asti.  The cool weather has been very aggravating and has delayed the fruit quite a bit.  I’ve seen trees beginning their fall color change as well as geese beginning to flock for their annual migration, all signs of an early winter.  That is very bad.  The only saving grace we may have would come from an Indian summer.  Let’s hope it warms up soon.

My speed tour of Piedmonte

The day after Verona we headed west towards Piedmonte in search of another Italian tradition…Gelato!  This was something I was very excited about since I had always heard that Italians make Gelato very differently from ice cream as we know it.  We stopped at a little town that was recommended to have some of the best Gelato around and ate lunch.  It was everything that I had heard it would be.

After dining and enjoying Gelato we continued on towards Piedmonte, the home of Asti, Barolo, and Barbaresco.  Our first stop was a winery called Ceretto, the largest winery in the region.  Ceretto produces a large range of products but the largest seller is an Arneis based wine called Blange.  It is an easy drinking everyday style white.

Ceretto Blange Langhe 2009

Fresh and Grassy

Pale Lemon core with light CO2 apparent. Clean with medium intensity aromas of citrus, lemons, white flowers and chalk. Off-dry palate with medium acid, medium alcohol, low skin tannins and light body.  Medium + flavors of lemons, wet chalk, citrus, and white flowers with a medium finish.

Our guide at Ceretto was Ellen Whetten an American Ex-pat who has now made her home in Piedmonte.  The winery is family owned with 5 production sites of which this one is the largest.  1,000,000 bottles per year are produced most of which are Blange Arneis although Dolchetto, Barbaresco, and Barolo are also produced as well as some 250,000 bottles of Muscat.  Arneis experienced a rebirth in the 1980s and is now the region’s signature white grape.  The estate has 80 ha of Arneis which is typically vinified in Stainless steel tanks.  Usually 40% is cryomacerated at 6 degrees C for 12-16 hours on the skins to add texture.  3-4 kinds of different selected yeasts are used for Blange.  CO2 is usually added to boost acidity perception because Arneis tends to loose acidity quickly.  Finished at 5 g/L of sugar to balance the mouthfeel and make it more approachable.  Only one yeast is used for the reds although the cellar worker answering these questions did not know the name of the individual yeast strain used.

Ceretto Barbera d’Alba “Piana” 2008

Elegant and Floral

Medium – pink ruby core. Medium + aromas of cherries, strawberries, and wet stones. Dry palate with high acid, moderate alcohol, low to medium – tannins, with a light body. Moderately intense flavors of Bing cherries, strawberries and wet stones with a medium finish. Excellent with aged meats and fruit.

The high end wines of Ceretto are produced at their Bricco Rocche Winery including the Monsordo Cellar Blend made up of Syrah, Cabernet, Merlot, Nebbiolo, and Pinot Noir.  This blend is aged in both large and small French oak casks for 18 months.

Ceretto Barbaresco 2006 Bricco Asili Winery Bernardot

Spicy and Smoky

Medium – Garnet core. Medium + aromas of dried cherries, fresh figs, earth, and baking spices.  Dry palate with medium + acid, moderate alcohol, High tannins, and Medium + body. Moderately intense flavors of dried cherries, figs, earth, and cloves, with a long finish. Aged for 18 months in wood.

Ceretto Bricco Asili Barolo 2005 Brunate

Spicy and Smoky

Medium – Garnet core. Moderately intense aromas of Bing cherries, figs, chocolate, hazelnuts, spices and soil.  Dry palate, moderately high acid, medium + alcohol, high tannins, and moderately full body. Moderately intense flavors of cherries, chocolate, fresh figs, earth, stones, and spices, with a long finish.

The Barolo is aged for 2 years in a combination of large and small barriques.  The large barriques are resurfaced every 6-7 years.  After bottling the aging process continues for 9 months in bottle before release.  The combo of large and small barrels is a melding of traditional Barolo production with modern techniques to come to a happy medium between old age-worthy style and new more approachable wines.  Around 50% new is used every year with 5-6 different coopers all light to medium toast barrels.

Vignaioli di S. Stefano Muscato d’Asti 2009

Light and Bubbly

Pale lemon core with moderate CO2 level. Pronounced aromas of floral notes, peaches, nectarines, and apricots.  Sweet with moderately high acid, low alcohol, and Medium body.  Moderately intense flavors of apricots, white flowers, orange blossoms, and white peaches with a long finish.  Served with locally produced hazelnut nougat.

Our next stop was the Dante Rivetti Winery which in addition to having beautiful vineyards also made fantastic home aged salamis and was the home to 15 or so dogs that pretty much had the run of the place anywhere outside the actual production winery.  We had tasted some of the wines the day before at the show however we were able to see more of their operation which includes producing and holding Muscat juice for the regions most popular export, Martini and Rossi Asti Spumante. We were fortunate enough to meet the two generations of winemakers at this winery. A father and son team, neither one of whom spoke English so it was also an interesting challenge for our guides  to translate questions and answers back and forth.  We had dinner at a restaurant across the street that night and were treated to a wonderful 5 course meal and several wines including a 2001 Reserva.

Dante Rivetti Barbaresco Bricco Riserva 2001

Spicy and Smoky

Medium – Garnet core with Ruby tints. Moderately intense aromas of licorice, dried cherries, spices, and earth.  Dry palate, with moderately high (bordering on high) acid, moderately high alcohol, high tannins, and a moderately full body.  Moderately intense flavors of cherries, licorice, herbs, and wild asparagus (a newly acquired descriptor because of the wild asparagus risotto served a few courses before although I am more that willing to admit this may have been the power of suggestion at this point in the evening) with a long finish.