Wine Review: $21 Old World Supremacy

11 07 2017

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

FullSizeRender-676This will be the last PnP post for a while – in a couple days I’ll be escaping the country on summer vacation and will not be thinking much at all about word counts or flavour descriptors while I’m gone.  Expect palm tree and sea turtle Instagram pictures and not much else until the end of the month.  I therefore felt compelled to send off July on the blog with a double-feature, a head-to-head review of two Old World value level wines with near-identical just-a-shade-over-$20 price tags and almost nothing else in common.  It’s Italy vs. France, a contest of different grapes, winemaking styles, vintages and approaches, with the main unifying links being longstanding traditional estates and a quest to over-deliver on quality for a supermarket price tag.  Enjoy the summer!

Wine #1:  2013 Sartori L’Appassione Rosso Delle Venezie

Most people have heard of Amarone, that powerhouse leathery, fruitcake-y, often boozy red emanating from northeast Italy that seems to be a special occasion selection for many and often carries a price tag to match.  It’s hard to find any bottle of Amarone for less than $40; the best bottles can easily clear $100.  It’s also hard to explain to someone who’s never had it exactly what Amarone is like, how the intentional shrivelling and dehydration of the grapes after harvest (until they are close to raisins due to the loss of internal water) results in blockbuster dense, savoury flavours and unleashes latent potency.  With many of the classic (and expensive) wine regions of the world, there are highly similar but less expensive understudies nearby who can give you a glimpse of the divine at a fraction of the cost:  Gigondas for Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Montsant for Priorat and the like.  There was nothing I knew of that scratched that introductory itch for Amarone.  Until now.


This bottle comes from the same general area in northeast Italy as Amarone, uses mostly the same grapes (Corvina, Corvinone – which was long thought to be, but is not, related to Corvina and thus shares a near-identical name – and Rondinella, with some Merlot and sometimes Cab thrown in for good measure) and is made via a similar dehydration process, but it doesn’t go quite as far with the shrivelling and water reduction and thus produces a kind of hybrid between Amarone-style and standard-style red wine.  Oh, and it costs a few cents over $20 a bottle, and the current release is the 2013.  The grapes for the wine are harvested in the fall and then placed in small boxes and left in humidity-controlled storage to partly dehydrate until November, at which point the half-raisined grapes are crushed and fermented, then aged for 8 months in stainless steel and another 24 in large neutral Slavonian oak barrels before being bottled.  Despite the concentration of grape sugars resulting from the water evaporation, this is still only 13% abv (whereas Amarone tends to be 15-16%); consider this an ease-in tutorial before your senses get bombarded by the full-fledged result of this winemaking style.


Cork Ratings:  5.5/10 & 3.5/10 (Meh squared.  At least the Sartori has a logo.)

The pre-release age on the wine and the grape-drying process explains the wine’s dainty medium garnet colour, still amazingly translucent despite the grapes all shedding their water weight and deepening their flavours.  Amarone-lite aromas of molasses, dried roses, stewed figs and prunes and caramel corn are slashed with hints of sour cherry and all-spice but are mostly reflective of the chosen trade-off of freshness for density.  The half-and-half nature of this wine is much more keenly felt on the palate, which is surprisingly welterweight and not overly hefty (a very un-Amarone trait), with brighter and livelier primary red fruit layered with tomato, fallen leaves, animal notes (leather, funk, sweat) and an acidic tanginess, similar to goat cheese, which starts out jumpy and erratic but settles down with time and air.

I love the concept of this wine, loved the look in the glass, loved the Old-World-to-the-core nose, but found the flavours a touch tweaky at first, like a powerful singer just slightly out of tune, before mellowing out and falling back in line.  I can definitively say you won’t find a better Amarone primer in the $20 range.

86+ points


Not-purple, meet purple.

Wine #2:  2015 Jaboulet Biographie Cotes-du-Rhone

And in this corner, a new wine from a historic traditional producer from France’s Northern Rhone about which it is nearly impossible to get detailed information (not helped by the fact that Jaboulet’s English website is decidedly non-functional right now).  What I can tell you, which comes mostly from a product page that I had to stumble through IN GERMAN:  it’s 55% Grenache, 35% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre.  More importantly, despite being an entry-level Cotes-du-Rhone (meaning that it can come from grapes sourced across the Rhone Valley), it’s 100% organic, which is reflective of the Jaboulet winery’s new owners’ commitment to sustainability.  The legendary estate was purchased a decade ago by the Frey family, who has poured resources into its improvement, starting in the vineyards.  All of Jaboulet’s vineyard sources were certified as organic as of 2016, and they are now starting to be fully converted to biodynamics, with the goal of removing any chemical or other external barriers between the soil and the resulting wine.


It was pretty obvious pretty quickly that we were dealing with an entirely different beast of a wine than Jaboulet’s Venetian counterpart above.  There was no raisining or freshness trade-off here, although there was similar raw voltage of expression.  The colour difference between the Biographie and the L’Appassione was borderline hilarious:  while also a not-fully-opaque translucent hue, this wine is about as purple as you can possibly get, a testament to both its youth and the glass-staining visual power of Syrah.

Fruit just explodes off of every aroma molecule emitted by this wine, part dark and part light, blackberry and blueberry made buoyant by raspberry and cherry, all fresh and alive and pure, enrobed ever so delicately by smoke and anise.  Fuller and lusher than the dusty and layered near-Amarone, this is brambly and bouncy and excitable on the taste buds, a no-brainer pizza or burger wine with just enough shiny structure to put polished walls of tannin* around the exuberance of fruit.  Spicy notes start to blossom the longer you hold the Biographie on your tongue, sage and lavender and rosemary, holding the wine together admirably through the finish.  The bottle disappears much more quickly than you seem to notice…chill for a bit and then watch it go.

88 points

* If you’re curious, thanks to that German info site, I can now advise that “tannins” in German are GERBSTOFFEN (which can only be spoken as if written in all-caps).




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