Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Great Italian Grapes: Nebbiolo

It’s time we learn about Nebbiolo, the most important red variety in Italy, even though it is not the most planted one, that honor belongs to another red grape: Sangiovese. 
Because we are dealing with the Old World, with a few exceptions (like in the case of Nebbiolo d’ Alba) you won’t see the name of this grape on the label, you will probably see the appellation. Besides this, Nebbiolo changes names quite often, it’s known as Spanna in DOCG Gattinara or as Chiavennasca in DOCG Valtellina Superiore.  But its two most known locations in the world are the very famous DOCGs: Barolo and Barbaresco, where some of the best expressions of Nebbiolo are produced.

Nebbiolo comes originally from the Piedmont region. Piedmont means foot of the mountains, and indeed the most important vineyards are all located at the foothills of two important chains, the Alps and the Apennines. Nebbiolo’s name comes from the word “nebbia” which means fog in Italian, referring to the fog that is common in the hills of Langhe, during the months of September and October. It’s this fog or nebbia that will help early budding but late ripening Nebbiolo to obtain perfect maturity.

Though Barolo and Barbaresco are only 10 miles apart, and therefore share similar climates and soils, there are some differences. Barbaresco is usually lighter, more elegant, less austere than Barolo and it can also be drunk sooner. Barolo usually needs aging to soften its strong tannins, at least a minimum of 10 years from vintage before the wine is drinkable. Nebbiolo requires dry weather conditions, it is perfectly suited for the continental climate of the Piedmont, characterized by hot summers and cold winters. The best soils for Nebbiolo are clay and limestone (like in Albanese) or sandy (like in Roero), in the Valtellina DOCG, soils are mostly schisty and granitic. Best locations to grow Nebbiolo will be usually facing SW and at altitudes between 150-300 m, go higher up and Nebbiolo will have issues to ripen.

Stylistically, Nebbiolo produces wines that are in the Powerbomb category, meaning a wine that is highly tannic with high acidity,  tons of fruit, with a full body and alcohol levels between 13 and 14,5%. Surprisingly Nebbiolo’s color is light for a red of its statue, showing pale garnet and brickish tones.But don’t let their color fool you! Nebbiolo has plenty of personality.

There are two different styles of Barolo: Traditional or ModernistTraditional Barolo will feature Nebbiolo macerations for a long time to extract color and tannins (about 30-50 days) and then agings for a long time in neutral Slovakian oak, yielding a very austere and tannic wine that requires long wine cellar aging. Modernist Barolo is produced differently, with shorter Nebbiolo macerations (7-10 days), and aging in new French barriques, this will yield a wine that is fruitier, softer and that requires less time to be drunk. There are also differences by location, Barolo as in Burgundy has many crus, these will be  the source of some of the most expensive/best wines. Yet in general, Barolos of  the town from Serralunga are the most tannic and austere, while Barolos from the town of La Morra tend to be more approachable (the other extreme), in between there are other towns that produce both styles. 
By law, Barolos are usually age for 3 years (18 months minimum in barrel), while riservas are aged for a minimum of 5 years. Barbarescos are aged for less time, 2 years with at least 9 months in barrel and Riservas 4 years.
Nebbiolo is usually not blended, both Barolo and Barbaresco must be 100% Nebbiolo wines, but in Gattinara and Ghemme a tiny amount of  Bonarda, Croatina or Vespolina grapes are allowed to the blend. 

Nebbiolo’s flavor profile will feature aromas of tar, roses, blackberry, black chocolate,  prunes, cherries, leather and dry spices. With ageing, Nebbiolo will show game, truffles and mushrooms notes.
Though Barolo and Barbaresco are the best known appellations, there are other Nebbiolos produced in appellations, such as: Gattinara, Nebbiolo D’Alba and Valtellina Superiore. All of these are still big red wines,yet  less tannic and sooner drinkable than Barolo and Barbaresco. These wines are usually cheaper since Barolo and Barbaresco usually will cost you at least $40 a bottle to start. 
Top Barolo wines can age for a very long time, at least for  20-30 + years. Barbarescos gets their peek sooner at 10-15 years. Lighter versions of Nebbiolo, such as Nebbiolo d’ Alba, Gattinara, Ghemme can be drunk earlier between 5-8 years from vintage. As with everything in life, patience is key here, so don’t open that bottle before its time!

Recommended Nebbiolo Producers: note that some producers make both  Barolo and Barbaresco, so I added the brands in both groups.

Barolo: Coterno (Giacomo and Aldo), Bruno Giacosa, Ceretto, Gaja, Vietti, Rinaldi, Pio Cesare, Marziano Abbona, Vajra, Damilano, Renato Ratti, Ca’ Viola. 
Barbaresco: Produttori de Barbaresco, Cortese, Nada Fiorenzo,Marco & Vittorio Adriano, Gaja,Ceretto, Castello di Neive,Prunotto, Bruno Giacosa, Cascina Luisin, Pelissero, Sottimano, Fontanafredda.

Wines I have tasted lately that I recommend you to try. (I had the pleasure of attending several Italian events this year so I divided the wines in two groups (value Nebbiolo) and (expensive but so worthwhile Nebbiolo).

Value Nebbiolos: includes Valtellina Superiore and Nebbiolo d’ Alba
Nino Negri Quadrio 2016, $20
Nino Negri Inferno 2017, $29
Voerzio Martini Ciabot della Luna Langhe Nebbiolo 2017, $29
Marziano Abbona Bricco Barone 2017, $25

Expensive Nebbiolos: includes Barolo and Barbaresco
Renato Ratti Barolo Marcenasco 2015,$55
Pio Cesare Barolo 2015, $85
Marziano Abbona Barolo Terlo Ravera 2015, $55
Damilano Barolo Cannubi 2015, $72
Vietti Barolo Riserva Villero 2012, $433
Gaja Barolo Sperss 2015, $283
Gaja Barbaresco 2016, $250
Cortese Barbaresco Rabaja Riserva 2011, $93


Cheers! Silvina

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#thoughtsoflawina #nebbiolo #WineWednesday

Thank you to all the importers and wineries that provided samples for me to taste.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Ciao Amanti del Vino! Let's learn about the grapes of Italy

Once again a mini class that I will try to make as fun as possible. We have already studied the grapes and wines from France and now is the turn to do the same with Italy!
Let me start by saying that after Spain, Italy has more vineyards planted that any other country in the world, indeed the whole country is a vineyard. Italians are well known for their love for wines and foods and have also been blessed with many good conditions for vine growing. Most of the best vineyards are at the foot of the mountains (Apennines or Dolomites) plus is also influenced by the sea on both sides, it has more than 1,000 native varieties, hopefully there’s no need for you to learn them all! But I will help you identify the styles of some of the most famous Italian wines. 
You should also know, that though there are very expensive wines in Italy,  there’s also plenty of value. Italian wines are classified like in France. On the top for quality we find the DOC and DOCG appellations (Denominazione di Origine Controllata and Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), these guarantee quality and origin. Then we have IGT, Indicazione Geografica Tipica (which I see as a DOC and DOCG soon to be) and lastly the Vino da Tavola, which are  the simplest wines of them all.
When buying Italian wines, always aim for DOC or DOCG. Of course there are exceptions like the “Super Tuscans”, these were sold as Vino da Tavola but very fancy VT. The reason was the winemakers decided to use grapes not allowed in the appellations, when this happened, the law was so super tough that they couldn’t sell the wine as DOC or DOCG. Luckily, the law changed and some appellations were allowed to use or include international varieties in their blend (these are usually mostly French: i.e. Cabernet Sauvignon).
Below you will find the most important appellations and grape varieties in Italy, I included a column on the right to indicate the style of wine, so you have more and less and idea what you are getting when you buy these.
Notice, that in some cases the grapes are listed on the label, for example Barbera d’ Alba or Dolcetto d’ Alba (both Barbera and Dolcetto are the grapes) and Alba is the appellation. 

AppellationGrapesWine Style
BaroloNebbioloBig red with tannins
BarbarescoNebbioloBig red with tannins
Barbera D' Alba or D' AstiBarberaLight to medium red, high acidity, soft tannins
Dolcetto D' AlbaDolcettoLight to medium red, good acidity
GattinaraNebbioloBig Red with tannins
Brunello di MontalcinoSangiovese (known as Brunello)Medium to heavy red. Supple with good acidity. Biggest and best style of Sangiovese
ChiantiSangiovese and small percentages of French Varieties: Merlot, Cabernet SauvignonLight to Medium red. Everyday wines
Chianti ClassicoSangioveseMedium to Medium plus red, nice acidity
Super TuscanSangiovese and French varieties or sometimes, only French varietiesBig and powerful reds
AmaroneMolinara, Corvina, RondinellaBig Red
ValpolicellaMolinara, Corvina, RondinellaMedium Red
BardolinoMolinara, Corvina, RondinellaLight to Medium Red
PugliaNegroamaro, Primitivo (Zinfandel), Malvasia NeraMedium to Big Reds, with low acidity
Aglianico del VultureAglianicoBig Red with tannins
SiciliaNero D' Avola, french varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Nero, SyrahMedium to Big Reds. High alcohol.
SoaveGarganega, TrebbianoNeutral Light White
Friuli or Tre Venezia, CollioPinot Grigio, but also French Varieties, Pinot BiancoAromatic Light whites, with good acidity, best Pinot Grigios come from here.
AstiMuscat (Moscato)Sweet and off dry Sparkling
GaviCorteseDry Light White
ProseccoGleraDry Sparkling, great value
Vernaccia di San GeminianoVernacciaDry Light White

Hoping all our Italian friends have a speedy recovery soon! Silvina.

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#italianwines #italiangrapes #winewednesday #thoughtsoflawina. 


Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Favorite Grapes: Malbec

This April 17 we will celebrate Malbec World Day, so I said to myself, the time has come to teach about one of the grapes that grows in my country- Argentina-promising you my dear winos to dedicate a post in the future to the other half of the Argentinean duo: Torrontés. 

What is not to love about Malbec? It has all the elements to be a crowd’s pleaser since it produces full bodied reds with velvety tannins, luscious fruit and plenty of spice. To that we can add the fact that it also offers great value with good wines starting at $15 and up.

There are two defined styles of Malbec, the Argentinean type (New World) will have plenty of black fruit notes, low to medium acidity, soft tannins and high alcohol and the wines of Cahors (Old World) which are usually more tannic with lower alcohol, higher acidity and featuring more herbal notes. 

Originally Malbec, also known as Cot, is from Cahors in SW France, where it produces some of the darkest, purple colored reds. I think it is a tie between Malbec and Syrah regarding which one has the darkest color… which by the way will help you identify this variety very easily, when tasting blind. So deep and dark is its juice, Malbec was known as the “Black wine of Cahors”, and in the past they were used to beef up and improve wines from other appellations too. Outside from SW France, Malbec plays a mini role as one of the five grape varieties allowed in the Bordeaux blend but these days is replaced by beefer Merlot. 

Malbec thrives in warm weather and requires more heat than Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to ripen properly. It ripens at mid season and can suffer from frost and coulure. Argentinian Malbec is planted at some of the highest vineyards in the world, most of them are located at the foothills of the Andes, at heights between 2,800 to 5,000 feet. Altitude plays a very important role here to keep acidity levels in check. In Cahors, most vineyards are planted on gravel soils, the climate here is very much influenced by both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean seas but still with hot summers and rainy winters.

Because of its structure, Malbec best samples can age up to 20 years, inexpensive samples should be consumed within 5 years of their release, the rest can age up to 10 years. In Argentina most wines are 100% Malbec but there are also successful blends with Cabernet Sauvignon and Bonarda. In Cahors, by law 70 % of the blend must be made from Malbec, which is usually complemented with 30% of Tannat and Merlot.

Malbec’s aromatic profile will show aromas of blackberry, boysenberry, plums, black cherry, stewed black fruits, cocoa dust, licorice and spices. With oak aging, vanilla, milk chocolate and tobacco notes.

Recommended Producers:
Argentina: Catena, Norton, Trapiche, Terrazas de Los Andes, Altavista, Achaval Ferrer, Vina Cobos, Bodegas Salentein,Vina Dona Paula, Colome, Bodegas El Esteco, Clos de los 7, Cheval des Andes.
France, Cahors: Château du Cèdre, Clos Triguedina, Château de Haute-Serre, Château Lagrézette, Domaine du Theron.

These are some of the Malbecs I have tasted lately:

Septima Malbec 2017,Mendoza Argentina $12
Trapiche Broquel Malbec 2017,Mendoza Argentina $15

Domaine du Theron, Cahors  2014 $18
Alta Vista Terroir Selection Malbec 2017, Mendoza Argentina $30

A special thanks to Kobrand,Colangelo PR and HB Merchants for providing samples for me to taste.

Cheers! Silvina 

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#Malbec #Malbecday #thoughtsoflawina

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Vinification 101 Explained

It’s funny because for a while I refused to be on Instagram, until I realized that wineries put pictures and stories there and some of them were about the different steps in vinification. These were about people sorting grapes, crushing grapes, fermenting tanks full of foam... etc.. To see the whole process of how wine was made, really amused me! I wanted to see and learn more and I thought you might like to read about this too. How does it all happen? How do we go from grapes to wine? So, I will try to explain it, as simply as possible how white, rosé and red are made. 

Every producer will recognize that the first step to make great wine is to have great grapes. Indeed you can make horrible wine from good grapes but if the grapes are not at optimal ripeness, chances are, is going to be very difficult for you to make a good wine. I guess is true what they say “a great wine is born in the vineyard”. But let’s imagine that we do have great grapes. The first step, once these are brought to the winery, will be to sort them out, now with fine wine producers, Sorting (Triage in French) happens by hand, making sure any rotten or mildew affected grapes are put aside to avoid off aromas and flavors in the final product.
Sometimes, producers include some of the stems in the blend, they use these to add a bit more tannin to the recipe. If they decide not to do this, they will be discarded, then the second step will be Crushing and Pressing of the grapes, in the case of whites, the wine will be fermented without skins, to ferment just the free-run juice. In the case of reds, we need the skins, since they provide color and tannins to the wine, so the pressing will take place after fermentation and maceration. Crushing needs to be done very gently, so the pressure will be very soft and gradual. 

Keep in mind that to prevent fruit oxidation, much needed sulfur is added before crushing and pressing.

Before the magic of Fermentation begins, some winemakers adjust the must, for example if the must doesn’t have enough acidity, like it happens in warm climates, they will add acid. On the contrary if the wine doesn’t have enough sugar, then, they will chaptalize: meaning they will add beet sugar to the must so that the wines can reach a minimum of alcohol. Keep in mind that 17 grams of sugar are required to obtain 1% of alcohol.

In order for the yeasts (fungi) to start eating the sugar in the grapes, some warmth and oxygen exposure are needed, since these will allow them to multiply easily and do their job: turning the juice into wine! It is known that in cool climates, like in Burgundy, is necessary to heat up the cellars to kick start the fermentation.  

Yeasts can be wild, usually found on skin grapes or in the wineries, associated with human activities, on insects and winemaking material or Lab created (selected wine yeasts) used to optimize varietal character and to give winemakers more control over the fermentation than what they would normally have if the fermentation was spontaneous. Wild yeasts will start the fermentation right away but die when the must reaches about 4º alcohol, the fermentation then continues with Lab created yeasts, completing the cycle and usually dying naturally when the wine reaches 15º alcohol or after they eat all of the sugar, dying for lack of nutrients. Fermentation can be halted using different methods too, by chilling the wine, by filtering it to remove the yeasts, by adding alcohol/brandy like in port/sherry, since yeasts can’t survive in a high alcoholic habitat. 

In the case of reds, Fermentation happens with skins, heat will help extract color, macerations can last from 6 days or longer, but it is important that the juice is stirred, this could be done with rotary fermenters, or by pumping over with hoses that move the wine from the bottom of the vat to the top. Because of the C02, the skins create a crust on top of the liquid, which has to be broken and stirred, this is known in French as Pigeage, it’s necessary to break it to maximize extraction and get an even color in the wine. In the case of whites, no skins or stems will be present in the fermentation, sometimes and just to give more flavor to the wine, there will be a short cold maceration with skins (this is done most often in the New World), to impart flavor but no color. In the case of rosé, the maceration is very brief/shorter, sometimes for few hours and no longer than two days, will be enough to get their pinkish color. 

Now, Fermentation produces alcohol, heat and C02. Fermentation temperatures are controlled to make sure the final product has fruity aromas and flavors, this is possible thanks to the use of stainless steel vats with cooling coils. Rosé and whites are made at lower temperatures than reds: 15-20ºC/ 59-68ºF vs 20-35ºC 68-95ºF respectively. In Europe, both red and white fermentations happen at higher temperatures, sometimes this is done on purpose so that the wine has more mineral, earthy and herbal flavors. In the New World because the wines are usually fruitier, fermentations happen at lower temperatures. 

Once the primary fermentation is completed, then comes the Malolactic Fermentation (secondary fermentation) where malic acid is converted to softer lactic acid, that means for you a more soft and drinkable wine. It always happens for reds, but it is optional for whites, since sometimes the winemaker's intent here is to keep their refreshing acidity. Malolactic can happen in the vats or in oak. Though most fermentations happen in stainless steel, some choose to ferment in epoxy containers that don’t impart flavors, in old oak barrels or in new barrels, in that case the heat of the fermentation will leach the new oak flavor even more, seasoning the wine in a very special way.  

Now regarding Aging, a wine can be aged in oak, in stainless steel vats and in bottle. In the case of delicate grapes such as Pinot Noir, usually second or third year oak (used) will be used to impart a kiss of oak to the wine, but not so much that overpowers it. Grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Tannat, Nebbiolo, can tolerate new oak better, and actually will reach new heights with aging in new barrels. The barrels may be from Slavonia, France (Alliers or Limousin) or America. Each will impart a different flavor. 

French oak is probably used in the best of wines. Oak flavors will vary according to the toasting inside of the barrel, which could be light, medium or dark. 
Once the wine has aged (in Europe, the length is usually set by law). The wine is fined or filtered and then bottled for release.  Now, the difference between Fining and filtering is something that critics argue about, most prefer fining, since it removes less compounds from wine, fining is done by transferring wine from barrel to barrel (Racking) and by using bentonite, isinglass or egg whites, all elements that attract undesirable particles floating in wine, helping them to precipitate to the bottom of the barrel, also known as Clarification.  

Filtering is done by using machines that strip undesired particles, some of which have very fine membranes (similar to a fine colander). Critics say that filtering, though makes the wine more chemically stable, also strips it from delicious particles/ personality and consider wines that are not filtered a very good thing. You probably have seen it on labels before, when a producer puts “unfiltered” and wondered what it all meant. You usually will have to decant these wines, since unfiltered ones tend to have more sediments. The final step in vinification is the Bottling and Labeling and off to be sold and consumed, unless some aging in bottle is required by law (like in Rioja and Barolo for example). 
So there you have it!
Cheers! Silvina  
#Vinification101 #thoughtsoflawina #WineWednesday #Wine #Vinification.
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