Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2019: Day 4

4 12 2019

By Raymond Lamontagne

After three days of alternative bottle shapes and even a can, Day 4 sees something more conventional lurking under the tissue paper. The previous Bricks calendars were true world tours that struck chords across the wine-making globe, hitting many of the classic regions and styles without disregarding lesser-known up-and-comers. Will I draw an Austrian wine this year? Of course I will, but not yet. If I do have a horse in the wine-making country race, one that I always return to no matter what, even if my favourite grape (Pinot Noir) is a bit player there at best, it is Italy. I am enamored by the diversity of grape varieties and terroirs, a patchwork quilt of regions and styles that often bleed influence into one another even as they remain distinctive and true to their own traditions. So in other words, today’s bottle suits me just fine.

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Last Advent season I took the opportunity to hike up the word count and write a bit of a love letter to Chianti Classico. I’m pleased to report that my feelings have changed little since then. I’m a sucker for temperamental grapes of the earth, with Sangiovese dutifully translating the nuances of soil and climate into its finished wines even as it stubbornly clings to a sour-cherry-meets-tea-leaf-and-damp-earth calling card. I remain fascinated by the history of the wine region itself, which has seemingly (and finally) found its footing in the world of fine wine after decades of bloated growth, political upheaval, and an unhelpful tenacity when it comes to clinging to tradition. There can come a time when one must change in the interest of making better wines, and today’s iconic producer, Isole e Olena, directly embodies Chianti’s many ups and downs.

The properties previously associated with Isole e Olena had a quality problem until the 1960s, when they were purchased by the Piedmontese family of current proprietor Paolo de Marchi. Given that Chianti period had a quality problem around this time, this should surprise no one. Paolo’s father in fact purchased two adjoining small estates, ‘Isole’ and ‘Olena’, and thus Isole e Olena was born. The headaches were many and the road to better wine was tortuous. Indeed, Paolo started running the property at 25 years of age, dutifully making a Sangiovese-based wine that included white grapes in the blend in a nod to tradition that the winemaking law then demanded, and one now almost universally and justifiably derided as detrimental to quality. Weary of this and not afraid to take a stand, in 1980 Paulo released Cepparello, a 100% Sangiovese wine that could not legally be labelled Chianti but that did go on to become one of the famous so-called “Super Tuscans”. Finally, Paulo took full advantage of key changes to the Chianti productions rules in the 1990s to banish the white grapes, wryly commenting that “it is much easier to make red wine out of red grapes”. Enter the bottle I now hold in my hand. Dubbed “Mr. Sangiovese” (which is a sweet handle), Paolo continues to pay close attention in both vineyard and wine cellar, carrying on the legacy of what has become one of the most prominent producers in the region, and one widely credited as key to the quality turnaround that saved Chianti from the doldrums of mediocre commodity.

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This estate’s vines cover a range of exposures but are largely planted on clay with a few contributions from limestone and volcanic rocks. “Mr. Sangiovese” moniker notwithstanding, here Paolo spiced up 82% Sangiovese with 15% classic blending partner Canaiolo and (fascinatingly) 3% Syrah, which Paolo himself reintroduced to Chianti Classico after a long absence in the hope that small amounts could contribute body and texture. As an interesting aside, in recent years he has decreased the percentage of Syrah used, which some argue can be rather coarse when grown in this region. All grapes were estate-grown, hand-harvested and fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks with approximately 15 days maceration, with pumping-over taking place twice a day during fermentation. Maturation occurs for one year in large oak casks. No small new barrels you say? Lovely. Sangiovese needs vanilla like Hollywood needs more sketchy reboots.

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Cork Rating: 3.5/10 (At least the producer is named, and the vintage.)

The 2015 Isole e Olena Chianti Classico presents a lovely middle path ruby hue that wafts up pleasing aromas of pie cherry, raspberry, sun-dried tomato and fresh salsa in approximately equal measure, with oregano, anise, menthol lozenge, dried cranberry, paprika and graphite lock lubricant, all wreathed in a perfumed floral corona of dried roses, lilacs, and carnations. There’s some brooding smoke but no overblown oaky fire to blot out the tangy nuances. I start doing a happy Sangiovese rock in my chair… Some blackberry bramble and Damson plum join the red fruits on the palate, along with a blood-like iron tang and singed orange peel. Everything is in its right place, the fresh acidity pooling over chalky tannins while the ripe fruits power forward. If this had an engine I’d certainly gun it a few times. Lithe and sinewy with bold fruit but no excess weight, thoughtfully constructed yet unmarred by crass commercialism. Classico indeed, with a modern twist.

89+ points





Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 6

6 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Expectations met can be a wonderful thing. Chianti is one of the world’s truly great wine styles, so such a bottle basically HAS to appear in a calendar like this, no? We had a good showing last year, and I rarely feel disappointed when confronted with vibrant red fruit and pungent savoury herbs coupled with some degree of tannic power. The best of these wines walk a tightrope between force and elegance, erring on the side of varietal fruit character and earth as opposed to sporting a pancake makeup overdose of oak. I prefer those primal Chiantis that speak directly of their native land, even if they are a tad gnarly, like old elementals draped in garrigue and clods of mud. Those that skew more towards the diktats of flying winemakers and a ceaseless push for more concentration rapidly lose my interest. Bigger ain’t always better, particularly with this delicate, rather temperamental grape. This is not a moral pronouncement or a rigidly clasped axiom. You know, it’s just like, my opinion, man. Nature is not perfect… nor is good wine. When everything tastes the same, we lose our ability to be wowed, however hedonistic the benchmark may be.

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Chianti Classico was officially delimited in 1716, although what is now one sub-region among eight initially WAS Chianti, full stop. As the wine became an international star, demand soared and grape-growing expanded into nearby towns and countryside to meet said demand. The moniker “Classico” was eventually added to wines made within the original Chianti area, with the sub-region established as its own DOCG in 1984. This came about largely because producers in Chianti Classico felt that their wines were more historical, distinctive, and ultimately superior to those produced in surrounding areas, perhaps a classic(o) case of “we were here first”. It turns out that the self-styled old guard might have a point, as the DOCG does enjoy more strict rules of production, including longer minimum age requirements compared to the Chianti DOCG (alas, home to many subpar vineyards) and a minimal Sangiovese composition of 80% with no white grapes in the blend. My mind knows that there are other interesting terroirs across the sub-regions, but my heart guides me toward a more conservative approach such that I usually look for the tell-tale black rooster when browsing the Italian section.

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Villa Cafaggio is technically situated in the hamlet of Greve, typically known for full bodied renditions of Sangiovese with concentrated fruit flavours. However, the broader region of Greve itself includes Panzano, a separate village with its own distinctive and long-standing history of wine-making. Yes, even the sub-regions here have sub-regions. I try not to let my head explode. A consortium of Panzano winegrowers are in fact lobbying to have the region separate from Greve entirely. This push has met with no official success to date, yet that has not stopped these intrepid folk, the  Unione Viticoltori Panzano (UVP), from going ahead and forming the first consolidated district for organic wine production in Italy, in which 90 per cent of its vineyards are organically farmed. The government won’t listen? That’s hardly new. We shall simply do our own thing regardless. Some of this sounds strangely familiar. Villa Cafaggio is a proud member of the UVP. Interestingly enough not all Panzano producers are, and defining specific geographical boundaries in a fashion that makes wine-growing sense remains a going concern across the greater Chianti region. Suffice to say, Panzano has staked a claim to its own historical and modern identities. Villa Cafaggio seeks to deliver savoury, perfumed wines that capture this culture. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Modern Italian Traditionalists

11 10 2017

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

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Reunited with Italy.

I don’t know why, but before yesterday I hadn’t had a bottle of Italian wine for a long, long time.  I’m not a hater or a New World purist; I have a bunch of Italy in my cellar and rank certain Italian bottles and regions among my favourites in the world.  I’ve just been through a phase where nothing has drawn me to that corner of my wine racks in a number of months…there has always been something more enticing to my senses that has kept the country in the press box.  Well, no more:  in order to restore equilibrium to my wine world and reacquaint myself with one of the two traditional cornerstone nations of viniculture, I cracked a pair of Italian bottles last night and reminded myself of why Italy is viewed so loftily by grape lovers everywhere.

On the surface, the two bottles seemed to have very little in common:  one was playful pink bubbles, while the other was a legacy Chianti crafted to centuries-old founder’s standards.  But both in their own way were asserting their place in the often-calcified lore of Italian wine history.  The pink bubbles hailed from the province of Treviso in northeastern Italy, just north of Venice, the world home of Prosecco; but it couldn’t be called Prosecco by virtue of its hue and its choice to forego the region’s Glera grape (which was previously also called “Prosecco” in an attempt to be as confusing as possible), which took the wine out of the threshold criteria of the Prosecco classification. Even though it was produced by a generations-old Prosecco house, it wasn’t Prosecco, and it was OK with that, ambling on its merry mission to bring joy to those who opened it.  The Chianti was a modern take on a wine made to the recipe of a 19th century legendary figure, the one who first set down what it legally meant for a wine to be a Chianti.  While the first bottle gleefully acknowledged its place on the parallel track from history, the second not only embraced its history but walked in its footsteps.  In their own way, I admire each for their paths taken. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2011 Barone Ricasoli Brolio Chianti Classico Riserva

30 09 2015

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

Modern Traditional Chianti.

Modern Traditional Chianti.

Barone Ricasoli holds itself out as the oldest winery in Italy.  Its history certainly marches in lockstep with that of its region, Chianti:  the winery’s eponymous founder was the man who first suggested the modern “recipe” for the standard Chianti blend — largely Sangiovese, blended with indigenous varieties Canaiolo, Trebbiano and Colorino — in a letter in 1872.  That mix has expanded and adapted since then, but Ricasoli has remained a constant in the area, producing Chianti at all price and quality points, from the entry level to the sublime.

This particular bottle is from the sub-zone of Chianti Classico, the traditional Chianti heartland at the centre of the region encompassing the original lands upon which that name was bestowed.  Chianti has now expanded significantly beyond that area, some might say for largely economic reasons and to the detriment of its reputation, as the lands surrounding Classico often do not quite live up to its hallmarks of quality.  The symbol of Chianti Classico, emblazoned proudly on this bottle in multiple places, is the black rooster, the gallo nero.  Why?  Legend has it that, back when the provinces of Florence (in the north) and Siena (in the south) were fighting over the territory of Chianti (right in the middle), they settled on a contest to determine their mutual border:  they would each pick their best knight, who would ride from his city towards his opponent as fast as his horse could take him once the rooster crowed, and wherever they met would mark the new edge of each province’s lands.  The Florentines had a black rooster, and before the date of the contest they kept it locked up in a box with no food, so that when it was finally released on the day of the race, it crowed much, much earlier than dawn, giving Florence’s knight a massive head start.  The Florentine met the Sienese knight just outside of Siena’s walls and thus scooped all of Chianti for Florence, giving the black rooster mythical status in the process.  This is the best part about wine:  everything has a story.  You just have to find it. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: Taste With Piero Lanza of Poggerino

17 02 2013

[Cross-posted at www.calgaryisawesome.com]

There’s nothing quite like listening to winemakers talk about their own wines.  You can learn a lot about a wine by reading labels, going to websites, talking to shopkeepers and (of course) reading blogs and online reviews, but nothing gets you inside the soul of a wine faster than hearing the person who created it talk about what led up to its birth.  On Valentine’s Day, a few of us were treated to this rarefied experience at Vine Arts on 1st Street and 13th Avenue SW, where Wine Boy Imports presented an interactive tasting with Piero Lanza, co-owner and winemaker at Fattoria Poggerino in Tuscany, Italy.  Lanza led us through his entire lineup of classically inspired wines and made most of us mentally pencil in a trip to central Italy at some point in the future.

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Poggerino is first and foremost a family venture:  it was purchased by Piero’s grandfather in 1940, and he and his sister are the third generation of Lanzas to work on the property.  The estate is comprised of 43 hectares of land, although only 12 hectares are planted to vines (11 to Sangiovese, 1 to Merlot), with the rest largely covered in forest.  Lanza described the relatively narrow spread of the vineyards as “human-sized”, stating that he preferred to keep the operation on a scale that allowed him to personally work on all the crops and “speak to my vines”.  His passion for maintaining, preserving and expressing the essence of the land is powerfully sincere and has led Poggerino to be both organic and biodynamic in its vineyard practices.  “This land is mine on a piece of paper, but it’s really for everybody”, Lanza explains; many of his decisions with respect to the handling of his crops paint him as a steward for future generations.  He is focused on ensuring that the soils where his vines grow are constantly teeming with life and that the grapes themselves are merely one part of a thriving ecosystem instead of a single disruptive force that creates imbalance with its surroundings.  Given Lanza’s dedication to the land, it is not surprising that his winemaking style is devoted to reflecting the unique footprint of the soil through its grapes.  He keeps any intervention in the cellar to a minimum and aims to produce wines of elegance and intensity without excess concentration, keeping them fresh and food-friendly.  In his words, “I work hard to produce simple wines.”  We were lucky enough to try 5 of them, each somewhat different from the others, but all reflecting a common origin. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2008 Rocca Delle Macie Confini Chianti DOCG

20 06 2011

Before I get into tonight’s wine, if you read my review of the 2007 Amavi Cellars Syrah from Friday, you’ll know that I was musing about why the 2005 Amavi Syrah tasted so different from the 2007 when so many of the variables going into it were the same, and I vowed to take to Twitter to get some answers right from the source.  Lo and behold, the Information Age is a wonderful place to be, and the good people at Amavi have posted a tremendous and thorough response to my Syrah-related queries in the comments section of the review.  So to recap, I had a bottle of wine in Calgary and then posted a blog article and a Twitter question, and then someone in Washington State who I’ve never met went and personally asked the head winemaker at Amavi Cellars what the difference was between his 2005 and 2007 Syrahs!!  There is very little cooler than that.  Thanks Amavi!

Warning: drink with food or face the consequences.

I wish I could say that tonight’s bottle has spawned Amavi levels of inquisitiveness and interest, but not quite.  I’ll get to that in a moment.  Chianti is a well-known wine region located in Tuscany, in west-central Italy, that has seen its share of ups and downs in recent decades.  Once regarded as one of the cream of the crop of Italian vinicultural areas, it then became the victim of shoddy production and overplanting and lost its reputation for quality, which it is only now starting to regain.  The problem with Chianti is that a lot of it is still pretty bland, although some of the higher-end renditions from the Chianti Classico region (the historic heartland of Chianti, which forms a smaller sub-zone within the larger area of Chianti) definitely can make you stop and take notice.  The main thing you need to know about wines labelled as Chianti is that they will be predominantly made using the Sangiovese grape, a varietal that shows best in Tuscany and isn’t usually seen that much elsewhere (though it WAS in the 2009 Abbot’s Table from Washington State, if you’ll recall…I doubt you’ll recall). Read the rest of this entry »








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