May 18, 2017

Vertical of the Month: Colonnara Cuprese 2011-1991

In my last blog post I discussed about my love of Verdicchio, that white variety which is capable of producing some of the most spectacular and long-lived white wines in Italy, yet having very little of the respect it deserves. That is why I'm going to extend that previous post a little, just to show a little bit more how long-lived a well-made Verdicchio really can be. To emphasize that point, I've chosen Cuprese Verdicchio by Colonnara to be the subject of this month's monthly vertical.

Co-operatives are often regarded as inferior wine producers compared to small wineries, but every now and then one can come across some really good co-ops that are about quality, not quantity. Marche's own Colonnara is one of such co-operatives – a producer known for interesting, high-quality wines that not only show the classic regional style, but can also age remarkably long in cellars.

Originally Colonnara was a small co-operative that was founded in 1959 by 19 small vinegrowers located in and around Cupramontana, a comune of some 5,000 people in Marche. The name Colonnara did not emerge until 1985 – before that the co-op was simply known as Cantina Sociale di Cupramontana, meaning "the co-operative of Cupramontana". In 1966 the co-op started producing bottled wines in addition to selling the wines in bulk, resulting in rapid growth and wider recognition. This co-op was also one of the key elements in the emergence of sparkling Verdicchio – the first sparkling Verdicchio by Colonnara was produced already back in 1970 and the first metodo classico Verdicchio in 1980. Currently Colonnara consists of more than 110 growers and with its 120 hectares of vineyards it is one biggest producers in the Castelli di Jesi wine region – if not the biggest – yet a winery considered to be among the very best of the region as well.

Colonnara Cuprese is probably the best-known wine by the co-op. The first vintage of Cuprese was made in 1985, the same year the co-op's new name "Colonnara" was introduced. The wine's name means "From Cupra", reflecting its identity perfectly.

These are my tasting notes on the Colonnara Cuprese wines I have tasted.

Colonnara Cuprese
DOC Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore
  • Colonnara
  • Country: Italy
  • Region: Marche, Castelli di Jesi
  • Grape(s): Verdicchio (100%)
Cuprese is the flagship white of the winery and its appellation DOC Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore means that the grapes are sourced only from the original heartland of the wine region (aka the classico part) and the grapes are of better quality and higher ripeness, resulting in higher-alcohol superiore wine.

The wine is made from the hand-picked, specially selected highest-quality grapes sourced from the Cupramontana area. The must acquired from these grapes is fermented and aged in steel tanks and the wine is bottled in the spring following the harvest. Normally the wine is released after some months after the bottling, but occasionally, in the best vintages, the bottled wines can be aged much longer before the release and labeled as "Riserva" wines to denote the superior quality of these wines.

***

Colonnara Cuprese 2011
  • Price: ~15,00€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on 20th of March, 2014

Moderately deep yellow-green color tending towards pale yellow.

The nose is slightly restrained, but very sophisticated and attractive despite its lack of overt intensity. The most noticeable aromas are of ripe citrus fruits and delicate spiciness, but even though the nose is quite fruit-forward and rather ripe, there is still a rather dry and savory air to its. Underneath, there are lighter nuances of almonds, mirabelle plums, red apples, lemon curd and even a touch of honey.

On the palate the wine feels rich and full-bodied with a hint of oiliness in the mouthfeel, yet with good, bright and balanced acidity. There are complex flavors of ripe red apple, apricot, some spiciness, a little floral complexity and hints of almonds and honey along with a light touch of fresh pear.

The finish is long, bright and tasty with refreshing flavors of ripe stone fruits, fresh yellow apple, some delicate almond notes and hints of citrus fruits. The aftertaste persists for quite a while, tending towards sweeter tropical notes and ending on a somewhat bitter and very slightly saline note.

Overall Cuprese performs obviously a notch or two above an average Verdicchio with good weight, balance and even some sense of concentration. It is thoroughly enjoyable this young, but it shows good potential to age further for at least five more years.

91/100
Summary: This is easily one of my favorite Verdicchios, being full of varietally typical characteristics, yet also being big enough to stand up to some cellaring. A really impressive effort for a co-operative white and at 15€ shows really good value.

***

Colonnara Cuprese Riserva 1997
  • Price: ~30,00€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on 12th of October, 2015

Surprisingly youthful, pale yellow color with faint green highlights.

The nose is ripe and juicy, yet quite subtle and restrained with nuanced aromas of dried stone fruits, some almonds and a little hay. With air, the nose starts to exhibit delicate mature aromas of slightly bready oxidation.

On the palate the wine is medium-bodied and lively with rather high acidity and bright minerality. There are flavors of fresh citrus fruits, wet stones, some mature nuttiness, light toasty hints of bread and a hint of tart Granny Smith apple.

The medium-long finish is really long and surprisingly youthful with bright fruit flavors and only very little more developed qualities. There are notes of ripe citrus fruits, ripe apples, some hay, a little mature nuttiness and a hint of dried peach in the aftertaste.

Overall Cuprese Riserva 1997 is surprisingly youthful and definitely not showing its 18 years of age much – although there is some of that developed nuttiness and hints of toasty bread, the fruit is remarkably bright and youthful.

92/100
Summary: When some producers say Verdicchio can be more age-worthy than Chardonnay, they really mean it. It is remarkable how very slowly these best Verdicchios can age, when at close to 20 years of age the wine seems somewhat mature, yet still going upwards. The cellaring potential here is enormous. Well worth the 30€ and more.

***

Colonnara Cuprese Riserva 1995
  • Price: ~35,00€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on 12th of October, 2015

Very developed, pale orange color.

Powerful, but obviously quite oxidative nose with noticeable nutty aromas with robust notes of syrup, roasted spices and toast crumbs.

The wine feels quite withered on the palate with only medium body and its high-ish acidity sticking out amidst aged notes of crushed nuts, wizened citrus fruits and roasted spices.

The finish is very oxidative with persistent flavors of toasted bread, nuts, some bruised apple and hints of smoke. However, the aftertaste is surprisingly fresh, thanks to the rather high acidity and a nice streak of bright minerality.

This wine was obviously past its prime.

FLAWED
Summary: It is hard to say whether this vintage couldn't handle 20 years of aging or whether the wine was cellared poorly or if the cork had failed. Whatever the case, this wine didn't falter my belief in the aging capabilities of Verdicchio – one bad bottle doesn't ruin the reputation of the whole bunch.

***

Colonnara Cuprese Riserva 1994
  • Price: ~40,00€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on 12th of October, 2015

Deep, luminous golden yellow color.

Very rich and unctuous nose with nuanced aromas of succulent yellow fruits, orchard blossoms, some wine gum candies and hints of developed characteristics of sweet peanut butter.

The wine feels rich, full-bodied and quite dry on the palate with moderately high acidity and much sense of concentration brought on by age. There are complex, layered flavors of peach, apricot, noticeable spiciness, some mature nuttiness, a hint of aged bready character and a touch of succulent honeydew melon.

The finish is really complex and feels even a bit younger than the midpalate with lively acidity, stony minerality, fresh citrus fruit notes and light herbal hints with underlying developed nuances of nuttiness and slightly oxidative spiciness.

This vintage of Cuprese is easily one of the most impressive Verdicchios I've had, if not the best – Riserva Vigna delle Oche by San Lorenzo might be the only one that could challenge this wine.

96/100
Summary: Not only has this wine survived more than 20 years in a cellar, but it is quite likely to survive a handful of years more – although probably without much further development. It has reached its plateau of maturity, exhibiting some very impressive Burgundian characteristics and incredible depth, showcasing how the best Verdicchios can be some of the most impressive white wines in the world.

***

Colonnara Cuprese Riserva 1991
  • Price: ~60,00€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on 12th of October, 2015

Luminous, but surprisingly youthful pale lemon yellow color.

The nose feels rather subdued and restrained with subtle yet somewhat concentrated aromas of white flowers, yellow stone fruits, white peach, some honey and beeswax, a little stony minerality and a slightest hint of petrol tones, reminiscent of aged Riesling.

The wine is remarkably fresh, lively and youthful on the palate with medium body and high, almost bracing acidity. There are complex, somewhat concentrated and slightly mature flavors of juicy, ripe citrus fruits, green apples, some grapefruit and even a little pithy bitterness with hints of almonds and a touch of beeswax.

The finish is really crisp, bright and quite long with remarkably youthful flavors of citrus fruits, green apples, some mature spicy notes and a hint of almonds and light oxidative nuttiness.

It's hard to believe this is a white wine at 24 years of age – it drinks more like a wine no more than 10 years old! Apparently the best Verdicchios age at a glacial pace.

94/100
Summary: Although in its current condition this wine is not as impressive and complex as Cuprese Riserva 1994, it still shows potential to not only reach that level, but perhaps even surpass it! Although this wine is starting to show some signs of age, it feels it is still going uphill and its plateau of maturity is at least a decade away. If you happen to have a bottle of this with perfect cellar provenance, you definitely have no hurry whatsoever opening it!

Cuprese Riservas 1997-1991
***

Every so often you hear Verdicchio producers and Italian wine professionals say how aged Verdicchio can acquire very Burgundian characteristics as it ages – even when aged only in stainless steel – and how the best Verdicchios can be as ageworthy as the best Chardonnays and even more so. I don't blame you if you think that these statements are nothing more than marketing talk – I did, myself, too. However, once you have tasted wonderfully rich, nutty and complex Verdicchio with more than 20 years of age, and still very much alive, you start to think that maybe there is something to those Burgundian talks. And when you get to taste a wine that is over a quarter of century old, yet drinks like a youngster, you can't but agree that yes, Verdicchios can be pretty damn long-lived wines in good vintages.

I hope that by showcasing these remarkable wines I've managed to make you take Verdicchio wines more seriously than before. Although there are millions of liters of simple, mediocre Verdicchio produced every day, the best ones can easily be not only some of the greatest white wines of Italy, but also some of the most remarkable and impressive white wines in the whole world. So next time when you're browsing for white wines to fill your cellar with, remember to keep also Verdicchios in mind!

April 29, 2017

Verdicchio

Verdicchio is a white grape that is grown pretty much throughout the Italy, although the variety is found most often across the eastern coast of Italy, close to the Adriatic Sea. The variety has found its spiritual home in Marche, a small region on the eastern coast of Italy where Matelica and Castelli di Jesi – two of the most celebrated Verdicchio wine regions – are located. Out of these two, Castelli di Jesi is the bigger one and better known, capable of producing impressive wines in larger quantities, whereas the hillier Matelica is much smaller, resulting in equally smaller production, but also thought to be capable of producing wines of even more finesse and higher quality.

In addition to Marche, Verdicchio is grown to some extent in Umbria (the region between Marche and Tuscany) and Lazio (the region south from Tuscany, where Rome is located). Furthermore, at some point ampelographers realized that Trebbiano di Lugana (aka. Trebbiano di Soave aka. Trebbiano Valtenesi aka. Turbiana) isn't a Veronese high-quality clone of the normally rather neutral Trebbiano, but instead a variety that is genetically identical to Verdicchio. Apparently Verdicchio actually originated around the Garda lake and at some point during the 15th century winegrowers migrated south from Veneto to cultivate vines in Marche, bringing Verdicchio cuttings along with them. Currently there are over 5,300 ha (over 13,000 acres) of Verdicchio grown in Italy, of which 1,800 ha (4,450 acres) in and around Veneto.

The grapes from Veneto produce wines that are slightly different from those produced in Marche, yet with that unmistakably weighty yet refreshing character of Verdicchio. In Marche varietal Verdicchio wines are the norm, whereas in Veneto the variety is normally encountered as a varietal wine mainly in the Lugana wine region; in Soave the variety is used as an accessory grape to bring in more structure, body and perfume to the more neutral Garganega variety – although the Suavia winery produces a wonderful 100% Trebbiano di Soave called Massifitti in Soave Classico.

Although Verdicchio is not a variety that well-known and hasn't garnered much attention, it is still one of the most highly regarded Italian white varieties amongst critics and those who have at least some knowledge of Italian white wines. This is because not only are these wines delicious with their often lemony acidity and intriguing flavors suggestive of almonds and even bitter spices, but the best ones can be really impressive, serious and even capable of aging for decades.

Here is a selection of different Verdicchio wines that I have tasted through these years:

***

Belisario Verdicchio di Matelica Riserva Cambrugiano 2008
DOCG Verdicchio di Matelica Riserva
  • Belisario
  • Country: Italy
  • Region: Marche, Matelica
  • Grape(s): Verdicchio (100%)
  • Price: 15,00€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 29th of December, 2012



With 300 ha (750 acres) of vineyards, Belisario is the biggest Verdicchio producer in Matelica. Cambrugiano, in turn, is the world's first Riserva-quality Verdicchio, produced since 1988. The grapes are sourced from vineyards located at the altitude of 400 meters and only the best grapes are selected. The wine is aged for 12 months in stainless steel (80%) and in 225-liter oak barriques (20%) and another 12 months in bottles.

Deep yellow color with pale green highlights, slightly oily appearance.

The wine has an elegant, balanced and quite expressive nose with aromas of honeydew melon, pear, some yellow damson, a little almond, a hint of hay and a touch of herbal notes.

It is dry, moderately full-bodied and broad on the palate with slightly oily mouthfeel counterpointed by bright, racy acidity. There are complex flavors of dried herbs, acid-driven citrus fruits, some floral nuances, a little yellow damson and a hint of almonds with a vague undertone of vanilla.

Finally the wine finishes with a ripe, fruity and medium-long finish with harmonious flavors of exotic spices, yellow stone fruits, some minerality and a hint of almond-driven nuttiness.

In a sense this is not a "big, voluptuous and impressive" Riserva white, but instead a balanced and well-made Verdicchio, where the difference between Riserva and "normale" is evident in the addition of depth, complexity and elegance, not in bigger concentration, more ripe fruit or heavier oak influence.

91/100
Summary: Cambrugiano is a very stylish and sophisticated Verdicchio di Matelica, thoroughly enjoyable on its own, but also a lovely and versatile food wine. Definitely one of the better Verdicchios in the market and shows obvious aging potential for at least 5 years more. Tremendous value at 15€.

***

Bucci Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore 2009
DOC Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore
  • Azienda Agricola Villa Bucci
  • Country: Italy
  • Region: Marche, Castelli di Jesi
  • Grape(s): Verdicchio (100%)
  • Price: 15,25€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 27th of October, 2012



The entry-level Verdicchio of the winery. Made from organically grown grapes sourced from different parcels, all vinified separately. The Classico in the name tells that these parcels are located in the classic heartland of the Castelli di Jesi wine region, whereas the Superiore refers to the higher-than-normal alcohol content, translating to grapes of more ripeness.

Lovely golden yellow color.

A bit reticent nose with typical Verdicchio aromas of ripe citrus fruits, some pineapple-driven yellow fruit, a little almondy nuttiness, a hint of elderflower and a touch of ripe yellow damson.

Although the wine is modestly medium-bodied on the palate, it is still surprisingly broad and intense with almost oily mouthfeel. There are powerful and quite spicy flavors of almonds, fennel, aromatic herbs, some tropical and yellow fruits like mirabelle plum, unripe tangerine and starfruit, and hints of cookie dough. Good structure with racy acidity.

Very dry and quite complex finish with intense herbal notes, almond-driven nuttiness, a little hay, hints of peachy yellow fruit and a touch of steely minerality.

Overall this is a balanced, but surprisingly intense and powerful Verdicchio with lots of youthful energy. Definitely a food wine, as the wine might be too overwhelming on its own; it also needs food hearty enough to withstand the structure and the intensity of the flavor.

91/100
Summary: Drinking nicely now, but will easily develop for several years in the cellar. Recommended and a wonderful purchase at 15,25€.

***

Colonnara Ubaldo Rosi Riserva Spumante Metodo Classico 2007
DOC Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Superiore Spumante Riserva
  • Colonnara
  • Country: Italy
  • Region: Marche, Castelli di Jesi
  • Grape(s): Verdicchio (100%)
  • Price: 19,00€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 30th of April, 2014



A méthode traditionelle sparkling wine made with Verdicchio grapes made by the local quality-oriented co-operative founded in 1959. Bottle-aged for a minimum 5 years before disgorging. Hand-riddling. This bottle was disgorged in 2013.

Luminous pale green color.

Aromas of ripe apple, honeydew melon, lemon curd, some aged honeyed nuttiness, hints of floral nuances and a touch of that Verdicchio spiciness. Also, with some air, an autolytic note of French bread emerges.

On the palate the wine is very dry and really fresh with very fine, creamy mousse and medium body. There are complex flavors of fresh apple, lemon peel, some almond notes, a hint of spiciness and a touch of bitterness. Good acidity that gives the wine structure and intensity.

The finish is long, mouth-cleansing and somewhat bitter with flavors of almonds, lemon-driven citrus fruits and an autolytic hint of yeasty leesiness.

Overall this is a really attractive, albeit a very youthful and primary Spumante Riserva – I assume this wine would develop really nicely over medium-to-long term in a cellar.

92/100
Summary: Really tremendous stuff and will pair really good with light, oily dishes. Despite the age, there is definitely no hurry opening this one. Great value at 19€ – sourced straight from the winery in Marche.

***

San Lorenzo Vigneto delle Oche Riserva 2004
DOCG Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Riserva
  • Fattoria San Lorenzo
  • Country: Italy
  • Region: Marche, Castelli di Jesi
  • Grape(s): Verdicchio (100%)
  • Price: ~23€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 12th of October, 2015



Fattoria San Lorenzo is regarded some of the best producers in the Jesi region, if not the best. Although coming from a family that has grown vines and made wine for generations, San Lorenzo is a relatively newcomer, having been founded only in 1995. They make three Verdicchio wines, all that have been named by the geese (le oche) that roam in the vineyards: the entry-level wine Le Oche, the mid-tier superiore wine Campo delle Oche and the single-vineyard riserva wine, Vigneto delle Oche. This Riserva is made from organically grown grapes and it is aged first for a whopping 2 years in concrete tanks and then a further 12 months in stainless steel before it is bottled unfiltered.

Deep, moderately developed honeyed yellow color.

After having been aged for more than 10 years, the wine's bouquet betrays the age with layered aromas of nutty complexity, matured toasty notes, honeyed roasted almonds, rich candy aromas of wine gums, some cantaloupe, a hint of smoky minerality and a touch of dried apricots.

On the palate the wine feels full-bodied, obviously quite developed and very textural, yet remarkably bright and structured due to its lively acidity. The flavors are dominated by mature nutty flavors, but there are also complex notes of wildhoney, stony minerality, nectarine and some spiciness. The mouthfeel is quite weighty, waxy and somewhat concentrated by the age.

The finish is incredibly powerful, complex and developed with mature, layered nuances of roasted exotic spices, developed nuttiness, some stony minerality, a little dried peach and a hint of honey. The acidity becomes even more pronounced towards the end of the aftertaste, making the wine end on a bright, lively and mouthwatering note.

This might just be the most impressive Verdicchio I've ever tasted, stylistically getting very close to an aged high-quality Burgundy white, yet still with unmistakably Italian flair. Stunning, really.

96/100
Summary: This wine is really a testament to how the best Verdicchios (riservas, usually) not only age really well, but actually require surprisingly much age just to show their potential. This wine also shows how oak aging isn't really necessary to make impressive, weighty and age-worthy whites. Young vintages of this wine can be found for as low as 15€, but with any luck one might be able to source these older vintages for approx 25€. At less than 25€ this wine shows simply ridiculous value.

***

Sartarelli Balciana 2009
DOC Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore
  • Sartarelli
  • Country: Italy
  • Region: Marche, Castelli di Jesi
  • Grape(s): Verdicchio (100%)
  • Price: ~30,00€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 12th of October, 2015



The flagship wine of the Sartarelli range, made from the grapes sourced from the highly esteemed vineyard located in Contrada Balciana. The grapes here ripen extremely slowly and the harvest can go on as late as mid-November in some years. In the coolest years the grapes can't reach optimum ripeness at all and the vintage is completely skipped. The wine sees only stainless steel and glass bottles during the aging, total annual production can reach approx. 15,000 bottles at the highest.

Moderately developed, pale golden yellow color.

Surprisingly dry and savory nose with some smoky aged character, revealing layered nuances of bruised cider apple, exotic spices, ripe stone fruits, some toasty matured notes and hints of aged nuttiness.

Despite the vintage 2009, which is generally regarded as pretty hot throughout Europe, the wine feels medium-to-moderately full-bodied on the palate with balanced, racy acidity that cuts nicely through the rich fruit. Overall the wine feels remarkably fresh and crisp with intense, but surprisingly little-developed flavors of citrus fruits, ripe red apple, cantaloupe, some spicy almondy character and sweeter hints of exotic fruits and apricots.

The wine finishes on a tightly-knit and structured, but more developed note with flavors of yellow stone fruits, some red apple, a little honeydew melon, a hint of exotic spices and a touch of roasted almonds.

For a Verdicchio at 6 years of age, Balciana 2009 feels remarkably young and fresh, apparently aging only at a glacial pace. A remarkable powerhouse for a Verdicchio.

94/100
Summary: You can really taste the concentration, power and potential here and, as this vintage testifies, there is no point opening a wine this impressive yet. Most likely the wine will start to exhibit more mature character only after 10 or so years and hits its stride really at 15–20 years of age, so there is no point opening these wines yet. Truly a remarkable example of what Verdicchio can produce in Marche.

***

Sartarelli Tralivio 2010
DOC Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore
  • Sartarelli
  • Country: Italy
  • Region: Marche, Castelli di Jesi
  • Grape(s): Verdicchio (100%)
  • Price: 13,00€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 12th of October, 2015



The mid-tier Verdicchio of Sartarelli, made solely from selected grapes of their oldest vineyards. Fermented and aged in stainless steel. Annual production approx. 90,000 bottles.

Somewhat developed peachy yellow color.

Quite rich and complex nose with aromas of ripe yellow stone fruits, yellow gummy bear candies, some developed waxy notes with fruit that is taking on a sweet marmalade edge, hints of almondy nuttiness and a touch of mature creamy / buttery character.

On the palate the wine feels moderately full-bodied and even a bit oily, yet also high in acidity giving the wine even somewhat crisp bite and good, robust structure. There are flavors of citrusy fruit, some exotic spice, modest stony minerality, a little developed honey character and light hints of crushed almonds. Overall the wine feels that is has concentrated a bit with the age, becoming somewhat weighty and rich, yet still carrying that lemony acidity typical of the variety.

The wine finishes with a long, rich and powerful aftertaste of ripe citrus fruits, sweet red apple, some stony minerality, a little exotic spice and hints of almond.

Overall this is a surprisingly serious, rich and structured Verdicchio that is already starting to show some signs of age with some sense of concentration and honeyed fruit, yet the wine is remarkably fresh and taut like a wine that was bottled only yesterday.

93/100
Summary: Very impressive effort that is at 5 years of age only suggesting of the potential the wine can show with age. Obviously a white meant for the long haul. No reason to open any time soon, even though the wine is drinking quite nicely already – it would be just waste of potential. Stunning value at only 13€.


***

Suavia Massifitti 2010
IGT Bianco Veronese
  • Suavia
  • Country: Italy
  • Region: Veneto, Soave Classico
  • Grape(s): Trebbiano di Soave (Verdicchio) (100%)
  • Price: 11,90€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 24th of April, 2014



Often people seem to think that Massifitti is a Soave Classico, but as it is a 100% Trebbiano di Soave aka. Turbiana aka. Verdicchio, it can't be labeled as such – instead this is an IGT Bianco Veronese. Its first vintage was 2008, so this is only the 3rd vintage of the wine ever made. Aged for 15 months sur lie in stainless steel with a part of wine undergoing MLF. After the tank aging the wine is lightly filtered and then bottled in these distinctive potato masher bottles in which the wine is aged for a further 15 months. Annual production is only 3000 bottles.

Luminous youthful green color.

Very expressive, rich and attractive nose with lots of ripe fruits such as sweet citrus fruits, honeydew melon, peach and apple purée along with pronounced notes of wet stone minerality, some understated spiciness and a touch of floral aromatics.

On the palate the wine is quite full-bodied and rich with moderate concentration, but almost bone-dry and very structured as well, thanks to its bracing, focused acidity and rough stony minerality that supports the weighty core of ripe apple, pronounced spiciness and pithy lemon notes. Great freshness with very modest alcohol (12,5%) – the wine feels surprisingly light for such a big wine.

The finish is full of apple and stony minerality, but with more focus on tart, green apple notes that turn towards quinine mineral bitterness towards the end.

Although not technically a Soave, this is hands down one of the most impressive wines produced in the Soave Classico region. Truly a showcase of the potential what Trebbiano di Soave can attain in right terroir with sensible winemaking.

95/100
Summary: Massifitti shows a tremendous combination of richness and focused freshness. This is most likely a wine that'll age nicely for years, but it is drinking so nicely right now that keeping bottles in a cellar and not touching them would be a chore! Ridiculously amazing value at only 11,90€.

***

Zenato Lugana Riserva Sergio Zenato 2008
DOC Lugana Riserva
  • Zenato
  • Country: Italy
  • Region: Lombardy / Veneto, Lugana
  • Grape(s): Trebbiano di Lugana (Verdicchio) (100%)
  • Price: 23,90€ / 0,75
  • Tasted on: 17th of October, 2011



The flagship white wine of Zenato, a famed producer located by the Garda lake. Made from the best Trebbiano di Lugana grapes sourced from the Lugana wine region, located at the border of Lombardy and Veneto at the southern shore of the lake Garda; the wine is fermented in 5,000-liter oak casks and 300-liter tonneaux (70%) and stainless steel (30%). Aged for 6 months in oak tonneaux and 12 months in bottles before release.

Deep golden yellow color.

Very open, floral and fruity nose with notes of honey, butterscotch and ripe tropical fruits – especially pear and overripe pineapple.

The taste is somewhat lighter and more restrained after the generous nose. On the palate the wine is round, supple and full-bodied, toasted and slightly spicy with some alcoholic heat. Oak is well integrated with brief notes of vanilla and butterscotch complementing the ripe apple notes of the mid-palate. Wine seems to lack acidity, resulting in very full body and sensation of sweetness with the ripe fruits, but also resulting in some lack of structure, energy and focus.

The wine finishes pretty short with notes of spicy oak and ripe tropical fruits.

Overall the wine is pleasant with an elegant taste and and complex aromatics, but it is also a bit heavy and unstructured – for example with its modest acidity, I don't know how well the wine can survive heavier dishes.

89/100
Summary: Though quite weighty and serious for a Lugana wine, the wine is somewhat lacking focus and brightness, feeling a bit too modern and overdone. To me, the wine is best served quite well chilled, paired with spicy Asian kitchen, or enjoyed on its own. I think it feels a tad too pricey at 23,90€.

April 19, 2017

Vertical of the Month: Pian del Ciampolo 2012–2002

Montevertine, located in Radda in Chianti, the heartland of the famed Chianti Classico region, is hailed as one of the greatest producers of classically styled Chianti Classico.

Or they would be, if they happened to produce any.

Let's start off with the mandatory introduction to the winery, so everyone knows what's the stuff we're talking about today. Montevertine started off as a hobby of Sergio Manetti, a steel product manufacturer. In 1967 he bought a dilapitated house in Chianti – that was to become the Montevertine winery – as his holiday house, restored it and planted two hectares (5 acres) of vines to the newly acquired lands, just to produce some wine for his family and friends. In 1971 Manetti produced his first vintage and after some encouraging feedback he also presented his wines in Vinitaly fair in Verona. The wines were so welcomed there that only after few years Manetti decided to leave his day job and concentrate fully on creating high quality wine in Montevertine, planting and acquiring new vineyards and installing winemaking facilities more appropriate for a real winery. Since the first vintage of 1971, Montevertine has produced wine in every single vintage – not counting the remarkably poor and rainy vintage 1984, when no Montevertine wines were produced from the estate's fruit.

Montevertine was originally a Chianti producer, but in 1981 the winery's top wine Le Pergole Torte, a 100% varietal Sangiovese, was denied rights for the Chianti Classico appellation, as the appellation laws back then (and until 1996) stipulated that the CC wines should be blends of white and red grapes instead of varietal wines, and thus the wine was deemed unsuitable for bottling. As a countermeasure, Manetti decided to bottle all his wines as basic table wine bottlings from that on, be they eligible for the appellation or not. Even though all of the winery's labels could now be eligible for DOCG Chianti Classico, Montevertine steadfastly still labels all of their wines under the lower-tier IGT Toscana appellation.

Montevertine's core range consists of only three wines: two top-tier reds and one entry-level red. The aforementioned Le Pergole Torte is not only a more modern take on the Tuscan reds (being a 100% Sangiovese from selected fruit that is aged for a years in large Slavonian oak casks and another year in small Allier oak barriques), but also the wine better known as the world's first single-vineyard Chianti Classico –albeit never having been labeled as such – from the original 2 ha vineyard planted by Manetti. The wine known only as Montevertine is the standard bearer of the winery, made from the classic Chianti grapes of Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino, and aged for 2 years in the traditional Slavonian oak casks. The entry-level wine Pian del Ciampolo is the little sibling of Montevertine, made from the Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino wines that were not used for the higher-quality Montevertine and aged for only 12 months in large Slavonian oak casks. Despite bearing the IGT Toscana appellation, both Montevertine and Pian del Ciampolo are through-and-through Chianti Classico wines at their heart.

In addition to these three wines, there are also a handful wines that are produced only in best vintages, otherwise sporadically or have just went out of production. These include the Vin Santo that goes by the name Ambradolce; the white wines Bianco di Montevertine and M; and the single-vineyard wines Il Sodaccio and Il Cannaio – of which the latter one is a special wine made for the three Michelin star-restaurant Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence.

As the wines have since 1981 boasted only Vino da Tavola and – from 1992 onwards – IGT Toscana in their labels, many people think that Montevertine is a Super-Tuscan producer. Yet nothing could be further from the truth: the winery has never planted anything but the local, traditional varieties in their vineyards and their winemaking reflects the traditions of the regions. Thus, the wines are not mouthfillingly voluptuous and powerful blockbusters as one might associate with the IGT Toscana wines, but instead very sophisticated, harmonious and classically styled Chianti Classico reds with much emphasis on the balance between the fruit and the structure.

Of the core range, Montevertine and Le Pergole Torte wines are usually considered to be good choices if one wants to have excellent, ageworthy Chianti wines in the cellar, whereas the Pian del Ciampolo wines are considered to be great alternatives if one is thinking of getting into the Montevertine style with more younger-drinking wines. Normally this entry-level wine is considered to be a nice, more pedestrian example of both Chianti Classico and Montevertine, suitable mainly for early consumption and less for cellaring. However, I recently attended a Montevertine tasting that aimed to show that even this least ambitious wine of the range is not just a simple, easy-drinking red meant for early consumption, but also a serious Chianti Classico on its own, capable of withstanding a decade of cellaring.

These are my tasting notes on the Pian del Ciampolo wines we tasted through that evening.

Montevertine Pian del Ciampolo
IGT Toscana
  • Montevertine
  • Country: Italy
  • Region: Toscana, Chianti Classico, Radda in Chianti
  • Grape(s): Sangiovese (90%), Canaiolo, Colorino





The entry-level red of Montevertine, made from a Sangiovese-driven blend of local red varietals. The wine is first fermented and macerated with the grape skins for 25 days in cement vats. The wine also goes through the malolactic fermentation in the cement vats before it is transferred to large Slavonian oak casks, in which the wine ages for a minimum of 12 months. After the wine is bottled, it is aged for a further 3 months in bottles before it is released to the market. Since 2009 the wines have been made from organically grown grapes.

Oh, and if you are wondering about the pronunciation, it is PYAn del CHUM-polo (ending with two short o's, not pow-low).

***

Pian del Ciampolo 2012
  • Size: 0,75
  • Tasted on 4th of January, 2016

A vintage evaluated as 3/5 by Montevertine. This year there was no real winter nor were there any spring rains. The summer was very warm to even hot, especially towards the July-August, halting the ripening process in many vines. However, the rains arrived in late August, resuming the growth and ripening in the vines.

Youthful, dark yet moderately translucent ruby red appearance.

Somewhat restrained but fragrant and surprisingly sweet nose with fruit-forward primary aromas of red cherry, rose petals, some boysenberry aromatics and a hint of raspberry marmalade.

On the palate the wine feels quite youthful and easygoing, albeit drier than what the nose suggests with juicy flavors of ripe cherry, dark-toned forest fruits and some sour cherry crunchiness. Overall the wine feels moderately acid-driven, bright and quite structured with medium-to-moderate tannins.

The wine finishes with flavors of sour cherry bitterness and sweeter flavors of ripe dark berries. The aftertaste is medium-long, juicy and quite straightforward with some tannic grip.

Overall this young vintage of Pian del Ciampolo seems rather simple and easygoing basic-level Chianti Classico with more emphasis in sweet but rather one-dimensional fruit than complexity.

87/100
Summary: Although the wine seems structured enough, I fail to see much aging potential here and most likely the wine is best for earlier consumption – although if this wine is representative of the house's young style, the older Pian del Ciampolo vintages have proven me quite wrong with this prediction.

***

Pian del Ciampolo 2011
  • Size: 0,75
  • Tasted on 4th of January, 2016

A vintage evaluated as 4/5 by Montevertine. Overall not considered a great vintage, starting with a warm spring, followed by extended spring rains well into the summer. The rains were followed by a record-breaking heat wave in August that not just ripened the grapes, but also shut down some vines and raisined some grapes in the vines. Due to the very irregular weather, careful selection of fruit yielded best results.

Quite translucent and luminous, but also pretty dark ruby red color.

Very dark-toned and somewhat earthy nose with aromas of juicy and quite sweet dark cherries, some plummy fruit, hints of dried prunes and an underlying nuance of leather.

Rich, supple and full-bodied on the palate with lots of ripe, well-delineated fruit on the fore: dark cherries, plummy dark fruit, some sour cherry bitterness and hints of peppery spice. The warm vintage is quite evident in the sweet edge of the fruit. The structure feels in balance with the fruit, the wine having moderate acidity and moderate, firm but not that grippy tannins.

The finish is long, juicy and quite opulent with somewhat less sweet and more savory flavors of peppery spice, dark cherries, some tart sour cherry character, a hint of earth and a little tannic astringency.

A classy and sophisticated Chianti Classico with more weight than in 2012 or 2010 and with much emphasis on the pure, slightly sweet and very ripe, dark-toned fruit. Although somewhat big and pretty ripe, the structure feels well-balanced with the rest of the wine.

88/100
Summary: This is an enjoyable and nice Chianti Classico from the sweeter and obviously more ripe end, drinking very nicely right now. Although the wine shows potential to short-to-medium-term cellaring, I wouldn't hold on to this vintage for too long.

***

Pian del Ciampolo 2010
  • Size: 0,75
  • Tasted on 4th of January, 2016

A vintage evaluated as 5/5 by Montevertine and one that is also considered as one of the best (but also very difficult) in Tuscany in some while – especially so in Montalcino. The vintage started off pretty wet and remained rather cool until July, when the temperatures started to rise. The wet and cool start reduced yields and kept the ripening about 2 weeks behind the normal schedule. The grapes ripened very late, well into October, and many producers had to pick their grapes in may tiers in order not to harvest grapes that weren't ripe enough or not to let some go overripe. In many cases the resulting fruit quality was outstanding.

Quite translucent and luminous, but also pretty dark ruby red color.

The nose feels somewhat dark-toned and even a bit reticent with ripe red cherry fruit on the fore, supported by a blanket of earthy and dusty tones and hints of tart dark berries. However, there also lingers a slightly green undertone of bell pepper and celery behind the brighter fruit notes.

On the palate the wine feels a bit restrained as well, but with pure and bright flavors of plums, sour cherries, darker berries, some dusty earth notes and nice, subtle bitterness. The mouthfeel is full-bodied with moderate acidity and moderate, ever-so-slightly grippy tannins.

The medium-long finish follows the midpalate with slightly rough-edged flavors of roasted spices, brambly blackberries, ripe plums, some tannic grip and hints of sour cherry bitterness.

As I've had lots of tremendous Tuscan reds from 2010, I had high expectations for this wine. However, they were met only partially; the wine was pure and lovely with a bit more tightly-knit texture than in 2009 or 2011, but it fell a bit short on the depth and complexity department.

89/100
Summary: Overall this is a nice, bright and balanced Chianti Classico-style red with lovely purity of fruit and one that is obviously still on its way up, but most likely this is not going to be one of the great Pian del Ciampolos despite the great vintage.

***

Pian del Ciampolo 2009
  • Size: 0,75
  • Tasted on 4th of January, 2016

A vintage evaluated as 5/5 by Montevertine. The year began with a normal spring, followed first by an exceptionally hot May and then a month of more or less nonstop rain. After the rains, the summer was warm and got pretty hot towards the end of the summer – culminating in a heat wave that arrived during the time when the temperatures normally start to decline. The summer nights were somewhat cool, preserving some of the acidity, but most of this year's wines bear the mark of the hot vintage in their sweet, somewhat jammy or cooked fruit.

Quite translucent and luminous, but also pretty dark ruby red color.

For a 2009, the nose is quite sophisticated and nuanced, albeit very fruity and juicy. The aromas are quite dark-toned and brooding with obviously sweet edge, betraying succulent aromas of dark cherries, blackberries, even some strawberries – and a hint of alcohol.

On the palate this wine feels a bit richer, fruitier and more plump than the surrounding vintages with its full body and pure but somewhat rich and obviously very ripe flavors of dark forest berries, earthy spices, some red cherries and even a hint of syrup. However, there is a hint of bitterness and sour cherry tartness to offset the sweetest edge. Due to its modest acidity and suave, mellow tannins, the mouthfeel is noticeably silky, but lacking that certain Tuscan brightness.

The wine finishes with a spicy, dark-fruited medium-long aftertaste that shows a bit more bitterness and sour cherry character than the midpalate, yet remains rather sweet and soft.

This vintage feels excessively mellow and easy for a Pian del Ciampolo, as if the hot vintage just had polished away all the rough edges and personality from the wine.

87/100
Summary: This is an enjoyable Chianti Classico-style red, albeit one a bit too ripe and sweet for my taste. The wine is drinking really nicely now, but although the wine might keep for a handful of years in a cellar easily, I fail to see much potential for development here. Most likely a vintage for earlier enjoyment.

***

Pian del Ciampolo 2008
Size: 0,75
Tasted on 4th of January, 2016

A vintage evaluated as 4/5 by Montevertine. Overall a cooler vintage with high diurnal temperature variation, resulting in lighter, structured and more serious wines. In Chianti Classico the vintage was less successful than in other Tuscan regions, with only the very best vineyards producing fruit for the truly remarkable wines.

Remarkably dark, almost opaque black cherry color.

Somewhat restrained nose that shows that slightly darker-toned aroma profile of Montevertine, but lacking all that sweetness which was so evident in the vintages that followed. The nose is pure and fresh with aromas of red berries, sour cherries and crunchy – not that sweet – dark cherries with some earthy spice tones.

The wine is very dry, fresh and savory on the palate with moderately full body, balanced high acidity and rather pronounced, firm but not angular tannins. The fruit feels ripe, but intense instead of sweet, showing flavors of juicy dark berries, dark cherries, roasted Moroccan spices, some fresh red forest berries, a little smoke and a hint of aged, slightly raisined dark fruit.

The wine leaves a long, spicy and crunchy finish with some astringent, tannic grip and bright flavors of plummy dark fruit, tart cranberry, some Middle-Eastern spice and a hint of sour cherry.

This vintage shows exactly those characteristics I look for in a Chianti Classico: sour cherry, spice, intense structure of acidity and firm tannins, great finesse and no distracting sweetness.

91/100
Summary: This is a wine that still, at almost 8 years of age, shows good potential for further cellaring – yet also starting to drink very nicely as well. Seeing how this one feels much more serious, leaner and less sweet than the younger vintages, this is definitely a food wine. No hurry to open this one now, but if you do, let it breathe for a while. A terrific example how the best vintages of Pian del Ciampolo can be actually quite ageworthy and truly worth the buck.

***

Pian del Ciampolo 2006
Size: 0,75
Tasted on 4th of January, 2016

A vintage evaluated as 4/5 by Montevertine. Generally hailed as one of the greatest vintages of the the millennium along with the superb 2004, resulting in very serious wines. The weather conditions were very variable, ranging from the heat waves of June and July to the cooler days of Autumn, and from the hot Indian summer to the rains that closed the harvest.

The wine's appearance is translucent, yet moderately dark cherry red with a limpid, almost colorless rim.

The rich and nuanced nose is starting to show some hints of maturity in its dark-toned aromas of dark cherries, slightly tart plums, boysenberry marmalade, light earthiness and floral hints of aged Sangiovese. Overall the fragrant nose feels really beautiful and attractive.

The wine has full body and lovely, textural mouthfeel on the palate. There are somewhat developed, but remarkably intense and focused flavors of dark cherries, dried dark berries, some roasted exotic spices and umami hints of soy sauce and game. The flavors are juicy and succulent, but more dry and savory than ripe and sweet. The structure is remarkably good with moderately high acidity and ample, but ripe tannins that feel round yet still firm.

The wine finishes with a really long and slightly aged aftertaste of earthy spices, slightly wizened red cherries, some dark berries, a little sour cherry bitterness and a hint of rocky minerality.

Now this is the stuff, really! Judging by this bottle, 2006 is by far the best vintage of Pian del Ciampolo I've had. Not only it is a textbook example of a high-quality Chianti Classico, it is also an entry-level red that is capable to putting many flagship reds to shame!

95/100
Summary: This is really a remarkable example of the Montevertine style – even at 10 years of age, this wine feels like it was opened 10–15 years too early. Definitely a beautiful Chianti Classico that is all about aging potential. Just wow.

***

Pian del Ciampolo 2002
Size: 0,75
Tasted on 4th of January, 2016

A vintage evaluated as 3/5 by Montevertine, which is surprisingly high considering how horrible this vintage was on average: it was cool and wet, resulting mainly in grapes that were either unripe or rotten – or both. Definitely not a vintage that made keepers.

Somewhat translucent and somewhat hazy cherry red appearance with a matured maroon hue.

The obviously developed nose is really complex and attractive with fascinating aromas of dried cherries, dark forest fruits, some leather, a little mushroomy earthiness and hints of smoke.

On the palate the wine feels medium-bodied and moderately high in acidity with very mellow and fully resolved tannins. The fruit seems to have dried out a little, resulting in a quite developed, but rather unassuming taste with flavors of wizened red cherry, some raisiny dark fruit, a little syrupy, a hint of figs and a touch of dried dates. The wine's structure is in balance with the fruit, so it hasn't become yet overtly austere nor has it fallen apart yet either.

The finish is rich, albeit somewhat unfocused and lacking cohesion. There are pretty light yet still rather sweet flavors of dried dark fruits, wizened red cherries, some caramel and a hint of dried dates with some sensation of soft, powdery tannins gripping the gums very lightly.

Unsurprisingly, as a wine from a vintage universally recognized as poor, this was on a decline already. The wine was still quite alive and thoroughly enjoyable, but obviously it had never been a remarkable wine and its peak years were already in the past.

83/100
Summary: Perhaps the wine would have had a few points more, if enjoyed some years ago. Now most of its charm was reduced to only a shadow of its former self and those syrupy-raisiny notes of old wine had started to take over. It's high time to drink up these.

The wines of our tasting, pt. 1
The wines of our tasting, pt. 2

Although only an entry-level wine, this vertical successfully challenged the widely regarded view that Pian del Ciampolo is a wine for early consumption. Of course not all of the vintages are meant for the long haul, and quite certainly even the better ones won't outlive any good Montevertine or Le Pergole Torte, but it's quite plain to see that even the less impressive vintages are not just early drinkers, but also capable of benefiting from cellar age, whereas the best vintages can easily develop for decades.

Above all, this vertical really showcased the lovely, sophisticated style of the Montevertine winery that obviously emphasizes clarity and purity over power and concentration. You don't need to spend bucketfuls of bucks in order to get stunning, classically styled Tuscan reds – all you have to do, is study which vintages were really good in Chianti Classico and look for Pian del Ciampolos from those years!

March 31, 2017

Ruchè

Italy is an inexhaustible horn of plenty for wine geeks looking for obscure grape varieties: some say there are over one thousand different grape varieties in Italy alone – which might be a little bit of an exaggeration, seeing how there are many varieties that are actually just one single variety with numerous synonyms. But even if we group up all the different synonyms under their respective varieties, we still end up with hundreds and hundreds of different varieties, red pink and white. Of course this means that a handful of varieties (like Sangiovese or Trebbiano) account for a great majority of plantings whereas more than 9 out of 10 of the varieties found in Italy are so obscure they aren't produced anywhere else but within their native home region – and even then usually totaling for less than 10 hectares (25 acres).

Ruchè (pronounced ru-KEH; also written as Ruché, with an acute accent, or Rouchet) is one such variety. It is a unique red grape variety indigenous to Piedmont, Northern Italy, and to my best knowledge not encountered anywhere else. Even within Piedmont the variety is very rare, grown mainly around the comune of Castagnole Monferrato and, to a lesser extent, in the neighboring province of Alessandria (where it is known as Moscatellina or Romitagi). The variety became into limelight for the first time in 1987, when Castagnole Monferrato, the region where most of the Italy's some 40 hectares (100 acres) of Ruchè are cultivated, acquired the variety-specific DOC appellation. The variety got further recognition in 2010, when the appellation was promoted to DOCG Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato.

What makes Ruchè so unique is its aroma and flavor profile. I often see it compared to Nebbiolo due to its aromatic, floral character, but in my opinion this comparison does no justice whatsoever to the variety; Nebbiolo might be somewhat aromatic and have faint characteristic aromas of roses, but this is to no extent what one can experience with Ruchè! What I would compare Ruchè to would be the other local aromatic red variety, Brachetto, or maybe Muscat Rouge, or then just the heady Gewürztraminer – only with red color. The aroma of a Ruchè wine can be very close to the explosively floral aroma of Gewürztraminers, which is a whole different ballpark from that of Nebbiolo.

How Ruchè wines differ from these aforementioned varieties is that normally these aromatic red varieties are usually vinified into sweet and (especially Brachetto) often lightly to moderately sparkling wines, whereas Ruchè is normally vinified into more serious and completely dry red wines, with the tannins and all. The variety is normally quite tannic and moderate in acidity, so producers often want to pick the variety early enough to retain as much acidity as possible (especially in warmer vintages), yet late enough for the variety to develop its unique, aromatic profile. Another difficulty is to avoid too much extraction, because otherwise the wines can end up forbiddingly tannic.

The resulting wines are often very Nebbiolo-like in appearance with their clear and luminous, pale red color and they often smell like rosewater and raspberries with subtle grapey hints. Some wines can be light and refreshing with high acidity, whereas some can be softer and more mellow; some can be very easy on the tannins, whereas others can have surprisingly much tannic grip and bitter astringency, something not unlike Nebbiolo or Freisa, another Piedmontese variety. These wines often finish on a slightly bitter note, something similar to many dry Muscats and Gewürztraminers. Traditionally these wines have been paired with cold cuts and other local dishes in their origin of Asti province, with very little consumption outside its area of cultivation. However, in the past decade or so, the variety has gained wider recognition and is slowly making its way to other parts of Piedmont and the rest of Italy and even an occasional bottle making its way out of Italy altogether.

Here is a small selection of some Ruchè wines I have sampled.

Enrico Morando Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato 2013
DOCG Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato
  • Vigneti e Cantine Enrico Morando
  • Country: Italy
  • Region: Piedmont, Asti, Castagnole Monferrato
  • Grape(s): Ruchè (100%)
  • Price: 7,69€ / 0,75 l
  • Tasted on: April 26th, 2015



At 130 hectares (320 acres), Enrico Morando is not only one of the biggest producers in the Monferrato region, but also one of the most prominent producers of Ruchè.

The wine has a translucent, thin raspberry color with a faint purple hue.

The wine shows heady, floral and really aromatic bouquet with rich aromas of Brachetto / Gewürztraminer rose and rosewater, ripe raspberry sweetness, some strawberry jam and hints of grapey notes, even a bit of raisin.

Though velvety smooth in the mouth, the wine is surprisingly high in acidity with good, peppery spiciness. The wine has medium-sized body, yet it feels almost mouthfilling with its rich flavors of intense spiciness, sweet raspberry notes, ripe strawberry fruit and nuances of rosewater. Very soft and mellow tannins that are barely noticeable.

The wine ends with a juicy, powerful finish with pronounced black pepper spice, some bitter herbs, sweet raspberry notes and hints of strawberry juice.

It might be hard to take a wine this rich and aromatic seriously, yet I must admit that this wine is surprisingly serious and balanced with remarkable poise.

87/100
Summary: Very interesting and complex a red wine that is really fun to drink. Not the most remarkable Ruché, but at only 7,69€ this wine gives good bang for the buck.

***

Produttori di Portacomaro Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato 2014
DOCG Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato
  • Produttori di Govone
  • Country: Italy
  • Region: Piedmont, Asti, Portacomaro
  • Grape(s): Ruchè (100%)
  • Price: ~10€ / 0,75 l
  • Tasted on: September 9th, 2015



This wine is produced by Produttori di Portacomaro, a sub-division of a bigger co-op, Produttori di Govone – a producer known for making simple but reliable, well-made traditionalist wines true to the Piedmontese style. Portacomaro is a small village of some 2000 people in the province of Asti, neighboring Castagnole Monferrato and included in the local appellation of Ruchè.

Deep, translucent cherry red.

Very expressive, rich and perfumed nose with intense aromas of roses and rosewater, some cherry and hints of lingonberry.

Rich and juicy on the palate with light body – yet the wine doesn't feel so light, due to the rich and juicy character of the fruit. There are bright, expressive and characterful flavors of red cherry, rosewater, some raspberry jam and hints of sour cherry bitterness. The tannins are pretty light and mellow.

The wine finishes on a dry yet curiously sweet note that encapsulates the varietal characteristics perfectly. There are intense notes of perfumed rosewater, sweet raspberry, cocktail cherry, some sour cherry bitterness and a hint of tannic grip in the aftertaste.

This is really a textbook Ruchè that is dry, yet fools one into thinking that this wine is sweeter than it actually is due to its rich, aromatic flavors of roses and raspberries.

88/100
Summary: Not a big and impressive wine by any standards, but definitely one that is easily remembered due to its almost Gewürztraminer-like aromas and flavors of roses and rosewater. Well-balanced stuff that is really interesting to sip just on its own, but also easy to pair with many lighter dishes, be they vegetarian, white meat or red meat.

***

Giuseppe Rinaldi Rosae 2014
Vino Rosso
  • Giuseppe Rinaldi
  • Country: Italy
  • Region: Piedmont, Langhe
  • Grape(s): Ruchè (100%)
  • Price: ~15€ / 0,75 l
  • Tasted on: August 11th, 2016



A wine by the traditionalist Barolo producer, Giuseppe Rinaldi, spearheaded by the grandson of the winery's founder Giuseppe Rinaldi, also named Giuseppe Rinaldi – better known as 'Beppe' in order to avoid confusion. As Ruchè (or Rouchet, as it is known there) is not an allowed variety in the Barolo region, this wine doesn't bear any designation of appellation, but is simply 'Vino Rosso'.

Luminous, translucent ruby color with faint purple highlights and colorless rim.

Really exuberant and even somewhat funky nose with pronounced aromas of sweet dark berries, plums, roses, leather, bretty manure notes, some earthy tones and hints of cranberry. Pretty rustic and atypically complex nose that isn't just about the varietally typical rose aromas.

Very light and remarkably acid-driven – even crisp on the palate with fresh and really juicy, albeit surprisingly concentrated flavors of lingonberries, cranberries and crowberries with some floral complexity and hints of dirty brett. The wine feels very structured with its high acidity and moderate, slightly grippy tannins.

The finish is really long and very complex with lively and slightly funky flavors of tart lingonberries, sour cherry bitterness, juicy raspberries, some bretty manure notes and light hints of sous bois along with gentle tug of tannins.

This wine is just perfect for my taste. I can imagine not many people will be seduced with a wine that is light, bracingly acidic and quite noticeably bretty, but I'm sold. This is just perfect stuff.

95/100
Summary: I'm not sure if the wine (or this vintage) is actually supposed to be bretty or if this is an off bottle, but I don't mind one bit. This is like good, funky, old-school Burgundy Pinot with a unique, floral character of Ruchè. Higher in acidity and more tannic than an average example of the variety. Probably the best example of Ruchè there is.

***

Scarpa Rouchet Briccorosa 2008
DOC Monferrato Rosso
  • Antica Casa Vinicola Scarpa
  • Country: Italy
  • Region: Piedmont, Monferrato
  • Grape(s): Ruchè (100%)
  • Price: 23,50€ / 0,75 l
  • Tasted on: August 11th, 2016



Scarpa is a winery located in Nizza Monferrato, well-known for their back vintages; since the 1950's the winery has always held on to their best vintages and stashed them away in the cellar. And this is not just Nebbiolo wines, but wines from other Piedmontese varieties as well. Furthermore, the winery is known to age even their entry-level wines much longer than other wineries of their region. This single-vineyard Ruchè (labeled as Rouchet) is fermented and aged completely in stainless steel in order to preserve the varietal characteristics best.

Luminous and obviously more deeper dark cherry red than what is usual for Ruchè; only a little translucent.

Quite sweet and very complex nose with rather dark-toned and slightly developed aromas of dark cherry, chokeberry, some perfumed rose notes, a little licorice, minty herbal notes, a hint of ink and a touch of something slightly green.

True to the variety, the wine feels even somewhat sweet on the palate, despite being technically bone-dry, yet also very light and racy due to the lively acidity. There are ripe flavors of dark forest berries, juicy dark fruits, tart cranberries, some licorice, a little dark cherry, autumnal leafy hints of sous-bois and a touch of salinity. The age has made the mouthfeel very smooth and velvety and the tannins are quite mellow and easy.

The juicy finish is remarkably long with bright acidity, tart cranberry flavors, ripe and almost sweet dark berries and dark cherries, some rough, robust spiciness and hints of floral complexity. The unusually high alcohol (14,5%) shows a little and the tannins give the finish slight grip.

This slightly aged Ruchè is a stunning experience and easily one of the most impressive examples of the variety I've ever tasted.

94/100
Summary: Unusually ripe, rich and concentrated, with age having faded away the more expressive primary characteristics and replaced them with more tertiary notes, Scarpa's Briccorosa 2008 might be an atypical Ruchè, yet also it is a testament to the variety's aging capabilities. Although Ruchè seems like a variety that'll drink only while still young, this wine shows that it can obviously withstand some age when made into this bigger, more serious style.

***

As these wines I have described here show, Ruchè is truly a fascinating and versatile grape variety that often feels like it is a blend of Gewürztraminer and a light-bodied yet also quite structured red wine. Only the aforementioned varieties Brachetto and Muscat Rouge are the only red varieties I can think of that show this kind of explosive aromas of roses, yet even these varieties are set apart from Ruchè seeing how the don't have the tannins Ruchè does nor do they reach such high levels of acidity. In a nutshell, this is truly a characterful variety, that not only drinks nicely when young, but is also capable of developing nicely in the cellar – although perhaps the best way to get into Ruchè is to enjoy one that is still very young and full of that unique, floral character.

Of course such perfumed wines might be an acquired taste and pairing such aromatic wines with food might first be difficult, but perhaps one shouldn't overthink the unique character of Ruchè when planning on pairing it with food; most likely the best way to approach this strange bird is the way people in and around Castagnole Monferrato do – by thinking of it as nothing special, but instead just a regular red wine.