Calgary Wine Life: Barone Ricasoli Luncheon @ Alloy Fine Dining

10 02 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ growing up. Amongst the many fond memories (including my grandmother’s never-ending tolerance of my boundless energy and predilection for getting into various forms of trouble), I can recall that there were always a few fiascos kicking around the house, those round-bottomed bottles covered with a close-fitting straw basket that shall be forever associated with one of the world’s great wines: Chianti. Although the wine contained in most of these vessels was far from remarkable, over time a serious quality revolution occurred, one that led to the creation of the Chianti Classico DOCG designation. This important development was associated with a renewed commitment to meticulous winemaking as well as the elimination of winemaking techniques that were eventually appreciated to hinder quality (e.g., blending white grapes into a must that was largely red). At the same time, there was a dedication to preserving a unique identity; Chianti was and is a Sangiovese-dominant blend, not a varietal wine (at least usually…it turns out that Chianti Classico can be 100% Sangiovese!). As a newly christened regular contributor to Pop & Pour, I could not have been more keen to draw this tasting assignment, hosted by none other than Francesco Ricasoli. You see, Francesco’s ancestor Bettino actually invented the style.

IMG_0808When Francesco, a professional photographer, finally entered the world of winemaking, Bettino Ricasoli’s beloved Castello di Brolio estate had spent some time being passed from one multinational to the next. Enter a “contractual loophole” that gave Francesco a chance to purchase his family’s legacy from Hardy’s, based in Australia. Although he was initially unsure about whether this was a good idea, some helpful advice and prodding from a friend at Castello di Fonterutoli sealed the deal. Alas, there was much work to do. Francesco wanted to restore his wines to glory. He commissioned a three-year study to clarify the agronomic potential of his property and conducted trial plantings of fifty different Sangiovese clones, eventually determining which would perform best in his vineyard soils. The latter are largely calcareous clay with additional stony components and occur at a wide range of altitudes. Francesco was careful to explain his philosophy of “precision viticulture”. Under this approach, every vineyard parcel is a distinct entity yielding a unique vinous product. Parcels are each farmed according to their individual characters. The wines are all vinified separately to preserve their distinct attributes and are then thoughtfully blended. It became clear that Francesco does not like leaving winemaking to chance. “Why make mistakes that can be avoided?”, he asked, in response to a question about whether he uses selected yeasts for fermentation. However, he is passionate about preserving grape character. This is a highly intelligent man who thinks deeply about his wines, one who has the utmost respect for nature’s raw materials but who is not shy about steering vinification exactly where he wants it to go, according to his vision. Read the rest of this entry »

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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: 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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