Calgary Wine Life: A Special Evening with Cinzia Merli of Le Macchiole @ Centini

15 03 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

It was while reading my very first book on wine, the 6th edition of Ed McCarthy and Mary Ewing-Mulligan’s “Wine for Dummies”, that I first encountered the term “Super Tuscan”.  I instantly became enamored with the concept.  Some Tuscan producers became wary of traditional wine-making laws that they perceived as stifling innovation. Part of the motivation here was that these producers wanted to experiment with “international varieties”, particularly those famous for yielding Bordeaux blends in France.  Such grapes could be grown.  The kicker was that wines made from them could initially be labelled only as “vino da tavola” (or table wine), as they clearly violated Italian DOC production guidelines which emphasized native varietals.  However, it became apparent that parts of Tuscany were in fact better suited to growing international varieties than native son Sangiovese.  It was absurd to equate quality wines from such areas with the multitude of serviceable but undistinguished table wines found across the country, and thus the marketing concept of the Super Tuscan was born – described on the Italian Wine Central website as “a maverick wine of great breeding but living outside the Establishment”.


Cinzia Merli does not resemble any stereotype of a maverick.  My initial impression was one of a quiet, conservative, perhaps strict woman, full of resolve and perhaps possessing a keen wit underneath her stolid outward presentation.  She first apologized for her English, which by my reckoning is quite good.  She then provided a fantastic overview of the Bolgheri region and her own wine estate, Le Macchiole, during which her passion and unrelenting dedication to her craft became apparent.  I was already in awe coming into this event:  these wines are legendary.  Cinzia’s presentation only served to stoke the flames.  This evening shall live on in my memory as one of the most fun tastings that I have ever experienced with total strangers (strangers no more!).  I should add that Centini provided exceptional dinner service and perfect ambience.  Read on for my takes on five burly reds (including two vintages of the iconic Paleo), plus a sprinkling of relevant history.

IMG_1110 Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2009 Il Palagio Casino delle Vie

14 11 2012

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

This is a pic of a real acrobat doing a real balance pose, albeit probably not on a bottle of wine.

Many celebrities have wine ventures.  For the most part, they are side hobbies at best and branding exercises at worst, usually making it hard to see what the famous name on the label has added to the wine inside.  Not so with Sting and the lineup of wines coming out of his old-made-new estate in Tuscany.  When he and his wife Trudie Styler first came across the historic Tuscan Il Palagio property in the late 1990s, it was dilapidated and poorly tended, in a vast state of disrepair.  After they purchased the estate and the 350 acres of land forming part of it, they spent an entire decade restoring the buildings and revitalizing the land, bringing on viticultural experts to convert the property to biodynamic growing methods (a pesticide- and herbicide-free holistic philosophy that focuses on ensuring the vine thrives in harmony with its surrounding environment and ties patterns of vine development to lunar phases, among other things) and giving vineyards that had been producing wine grapes since the 16th century a new lease on life.  Instead of rushing the fruits of the estate to market to capitalize on a well-known name and get cash flowing, Sting and Trudie waited until they and their team believed the land was sufficiently rehabilitated and the products of a high enough quality; 13 years after they first came across the property, they are releasing only their second vintage of wines.  In addition to a trio of vinous bottlings, Il Palagio is also the source of many other biodynamically-grown agricultural products, including fresh-made honey and cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil (I’ve been lucky enough to try the oil, and though I’m far from an EVOO expert, my layman’s opinion is that it was unbelievable).  The amount of time, effort and money that has gone into building Il Palagio back up is clear proof that this is a serious pursuit for Sting, one intended to create a lasting legacy.  I will refrain from making a “Message In A Bottle” joke here, but this is no mere vanity project. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2006 Brancaia Tre, XMas Edition

31 05 2012

I don’t even know what to say. Oh wait, yes I do.

Yes, I intentionally waited until it was completely seasonally inappropriate to open this bottle.  I bought it back in December (no surprise) mainly because I couldn’t believe someone had done this to a bottle of wine:  pull a back-vintage bottle from a producer’s library (or an importer’s warehouse), replace the original label with a horribly tacky dollar-store-worthy holiday one, and re-release it in time for the Christmas retail rush.  The most amazing thing is that this isn’t some hack wine:  Brancaia is a well-regarded Tuscan producer, and the 2007 vintage of Brancaia Tre (the year immediately after this bottle) was so acclaimed that it cracked the top 10 in Wine Spectator magazine’s Top 100 Wines of the Year.  Meanwhile, the 2006 was stripped of all its dignity, festooned with a cheesy red label and thrown into the hyper-commercialized Christmas arena alongside Justin Bieber’s holiday album and boxes of red and green M&Ms.  My reaction on first seeing this bottle on the shelves probably echoed that of many wine lovers:  “You’ve got to be f______ kidding me.” Read the rest of this entry »

Roving Wine Review(s): Saturday Night Tasting

8 05 2011

There was no PnP post last night, because instead of pounding something out on my keyboard for the blog, I was out doing “field research”.  It started at Brava Bistro on 17th Avenue (try the potato and honey flatbread!), ultimately ended up at a friend’s place downtown, and was the kind of research where no notes are taken, many glasses are emptied, and the recollection of wines past is not quite as sharp as expected the next day.  That said, we had enough interesting and incredible wines that I would be remiss not to pass along at least something about what we enjoyed.  The night’s wines were cracked in this order (Editor’s Note:  I am not counting the half bottle of Hello Kitty sparkling Italian rosé [don’t ask] that worked its way into the lineup at the end of the night and was, to put it kindly, an utter abomination): Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Review: 2003 Villa La Selva Selvamaggio IGT

19 04 2011

Is that old woman or couch on the label?

In order to show Italy that I wasn’t mad at it for my corked Dolcetto last night, I stuck with the red, white and green again tonight, though I moved south to Tuscany, in the centre-west of the country (the upper shin of the boot).  The 2003 Selvamaggio, which I got from the good folks at Highlander Wine & Spirits (thanks Tim & Elliot!), is a Super Tuscan wine, a designation which I described in some detail in this post.   It is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, which is a non-Italian varietal and thus automatically disqualifies the wine from obtaining the highest official status in the region, though that is by no means an indictment on the Selvamaggio’s underlying quality.  Since the word “Selva” appears in both the producer’s name and the wine’s name, I feel compelled to tell you that “Selva” means “woods” in Italian and refers to the forest growing around the vineyard area.  Now you know.

I shouldn’t ignore the obvious:  this might be the ugliest wine label of all time.  It either looks like an old woman’s sun dress or part of somebody’s sofa (my wife called it “snowbird wine”); either way, some marketing lessons are urgently required in Tuscany. Read the rest of this entry »

Roving Wine Review: 2007 Gaja Promis @ Alloy

22 03 2011

If you haven't been to Alloy, go. Now.

I had an Important Business Dinner last night that took me to Alloy restaurant just off Macleod Trail on 42nd Ave. S.E…. my favourite restaurant in the city, and as it turns out, even better on somebody else’s tab.  There was remarkable food (I had a short rib appetizer with a roasted pepper and fenugreek chutney that should be illegal) and witty conversation, but most importantly, there was wine.  I was lazy and didn’t take contemporaneous notes, but this is the second time I’ve had the bottle we ordered, and it left enough of an impression that this review should still be fairly accurate.

The wine in question was the 2007 “Promis” from Gaja, made from grapes grown in the Ca’Marcanda vineyard in Tuscany.  Both the producer and the style of wine are rife with history. Read the rest of this entry »

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