Wine Review: Officially Summer Trio

9 07 2018

By Peter Vetsch

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

IMG_8409Sometimes you have to force seasonal drinking posts, and other times the season and the drinks just fall right into your lap.  Stampede is here in Calgary, the thermometer has just recently clocked over 30C, and we’re well-ensconced into July, which turns my sample pile ponderings to thoughts of whatever I can chill for refreshment most effectively.  After landing on an ideal trio of bottles that achieved that lofty goal, I noticed something odd that bound them together:  they have all at one time or another previously graced the pages of Pop & Pour.  Even though the blog is now 7½ years old and counting, that basically never happens.  Sometimes summer is just meant to be.  Game on.

2016 Ricasoli Albia Bianco Toscano (~$20)

I believe this is the second ever time that an identical bottle will get two separate reviews on PnP:  when Ray had the pleasure of meeting Tuscan winemaker Francesco Ricasoli at a tasting luncheon back in February, this 2016 Albia Bianco was the first bottle they cracked.  If you want a detailed backstory on Francesco, the Ricasoli estate and the family’s critical contributions to Chianti Classico as we now know it, click the link above for the whole enthralling narrative.  While I don’t have a five-course meal to pair with tonight’s wines, I do have both this Albia Bianco and its sibling the Albia Rose on the menu, both scions of Barone Ricasoli’s “fresh and fragrant” early-drinking Albia label.  Both come in gorgeous, hefty, gourd-like bottles that you first admire for making this $20 wine look like it costs double that amount, but then curse effusively once you realize the heavy-punted broad base is about a millimetre away from not fitting at all in any standard wine racking.  Suffice to say the labels suffered some mild to medium collateral damage as I reamed the bottles into place with every ounce of strength I had.

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Collateral damage.

The Albia Bianco is an intriguing and enticing blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Malvasia Bianca, the latter of which, while certainly the weirdest grape in the group, is the only one I commonly associate with Tuscany — up until about a decade ago, when a renewed focus on quality led to a full prohibition on the use of white grapes in Chianti Classico, Malvasia was one of the permitted varieties in this legendary red.  It was actually one of three grapes used in the very first ever Chianti “recipe” in the 1700s (a recipe concocted by Francesco Ricasoli’s ancestor whose name graces the family label).  While Malvasia Bianca will never again see the inside of a Chianti Classico bottle, it can still pinch hit in striking Tuscan creations like this one.  I don’t often quote from tech sheets, but the assertion that this white blend was “captivating and informal but by no means banal” was so odd and endearing that I was immediately drawn in.

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This blend is fermented in stainless steel at low temperatures to preserve fresh and fruity characteristics and sees a scant 3 further months in tank before bottling, presumably with the goal of maximizing that brisk freshness for your waiting tongues.  It is an exceedingly pale greenish-lemon colour but brings the aromatic pizzazz almost immediately thanks to a captivating (I see you, tech sheet) mix of icy, exotic and mineral notes, from banana leaf and honeydew to epsom salts and 7-UP to tiger balm and kiwi.  The Albia then clamps down hard and gets serious quickly on the palate, led by a piercingly tart jolt of lemon pith and grapefruit seed extract, the aromatic flesh of Chardonnay and Malvasia largely stripped away and succumbed to the Sauvignon Blanc motor.  The result is achingly fresh and laden with chalky substance and outrageous focused acidity, but it would have been fun to see this follow through a bit further on the playful nose and undo the top button.  I was promised tech sheet informality…

90- points

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(Noma)Cork Rating:  7.5/10 (“Rien Sans Peine” is such a baller slogan. Graphic effort in the Nomacorc is appreciated.  Stelvin Rating:  8/10 (The glass is actually slightly pink. Nice touch.)

2016 Ricasoli Albia Rose Toscano (~$20)

This particular bottling has never before seen the PnP light of day, but its preceding vintage (and preceding packaging, which I would say has been vastly improved by the current rendition, both in glass and label) were one of the featured contestants in the Pop & Pour Tournament of Pink, an all-rose bracket-style showdown that I hope to replicate in the near future.  There the 2015 Albia Rose had the misfortune of matching up in the first round with the ultimate runaway victor of the whole competition, which is when I first noticed how much context is king in the subtle light-handed world of quality rose.  That is a lesson that will again be emphasized tonight.  This rose was given the same cool stainless fermentation and accelerated maturation treatment as its brother above.  On all official sources, it is a “Sangiovese/Merlot” blend, but if the internet is to be believed (which it always should be, of course), there may be a twist to the story:  the Merlot may in fact be the dominant varietal, and the Sangiovese may in fact be white!  (Or, more accurately, the juice of the Sangiovese may be immediately pressed away from the skins to avoid any colour or flavour impartment.)

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That would explain a lot about this bottle.  I admit I’m a bit colour-judgy when it comes to roses, and slightly biased against the dirty-white ghostly pale renditions currently prevalent on the market.  This one comes close, with a pale orange, farmed salmon-like hue that doesn’t quite ever hit pink, which may be what you expect to see when one of the two red grapes in the blend is not actually allowed any red skin influence.  Thankfully the wine’s complexity doesn’t suffer from the same pallour:  spicy pepper and aniseed, musky florals, salted blood orange and grapefruit and an almost eerie echo of roasted earth rise from the glass and immediately invite further investigation.  There is somehow clear structure and defined tannin here in spite of the skin-optional status of the wine’s varietal components, bringing with it mouth-drying parchment, rock dust and sandpaper to interweave with the underripe strawberry (complete with leaves) and crabapple fruit.  This is far more severe and austere than the Albia Bianco, but it remains alert and alive and keeps capturing my attention with a scouring augering persistence of acid that refreshes almost in spite of its classical nature.  I’m still thinking about it now.  There is a ton to unpack for a tiny price tag; it’s like drinking a three-act play for $20.

89 points

2016 Gerard Bertrand Cotes des Roses Magnum (~$42)

Before we begin, just take a look at this beast — you could kill a wildebeest with it:

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This is easily the most badass, dangerous, future-murder-weapon bottle of rose I have ever seen, which may not have been exactly what the designers were going for, but which I feel they should embrace nonetheless.  It’s also just barely over $40 on the retail market, which, I mean, come on.  The proliferation of inexpensive magnums is by far the best wine trend of the past few years, and there is no second place.  Bring this to a dinner party, crush all other pretender host-gift wines beneath your godlike feet, and then defend the property from intruders once it’s all over.  The Gerard Bertrand Cotes des Roses is the top-selling French rose in Alberta and a potential cricket bat to boot.

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The 2015 version of the Cotes des Roses also found itself in the Tournament of Pink, making it all the way to the final before bowing out, and I was all over it then, so I was eager to reacquaint myself with the brand and check out the new(er) 2016.  As the label helpfully indicates, it is a classic blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah, with each varietal harvested separately, followed by a carefully temperature-controlled pressing of free-run juice only, a 15-30 day fermentation period and early bottling.  The ingenious bottle shape, whose bottom is a carefully crafted and expertly designed rose, combined with the elegant glass closure and the crushable liquid inside, has made this wine a massive global success:  400,000 cases of the most recent vintage were produced, a tenfold increase from 2015.

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Mildly similar, not-quite-pink colour…

The colour of the two featured roses tonight is downright identical.  It’s eerie.  But the similarities emphatically end there.  The Cotes des Roses shows a bit of spritz in the glass and offers up an immediate bloom of bright fruit flavour from the very first sniff:  strawberry marshmallow candy, fresh raspberry, grape Fruit-By-The-Foot, purple candy hearts, potpourri.  The overt confectionary thread linking the aromas is likely influenced by the austerity measures imposed by the pink wine that came before, and the candy parade eases back on the palate (which is mostly dry, though I would guess a whisper of residual sugar remains).  Redcurrant, pink lemonade, cranberry and white grape juice form an absolutely delectable combination that is meant to be happily downed in pleasant company.  The first two sips of this wine were an absolute relief after the Albia  and a rediscovery of pink wine’s sense of fun, but eventually I started to gravitate back to the prior rose and its salty inscrutable layers, craving a peek behind the curtain that the Cotes des Rose intentionally leaves wide open.  Context, man.

87+ points

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