Tuesday, May 26, 2020

More Classic Italian Grapes: Barbera

Juicy Barbera originated in the Monferrato Hills, in central Piedmont. It yields a crisp, light to medium bodied wine with fresh fruit flavors and low tannins.
This grape is the second most important of the Piedmont (after Nebbiolo) usually competing with it for the best vineyard locations. Yet, Barbera is treasured in the Piedmont, for a) ripening two weeks earlier than Nebbiolo, and b) for yielding wines that can be sold earlier while Nebbiolo is aging/ maturing.

Barbera can be very vigorous, requiring pruning to keep yields low and therefore quality, it favors calcareous soils or clay loams. In the Piedmont, there are three well known styles: Barbera d’ Asti, Barbera d’ Alba and Barbera del MonferratoBarbera d’ Alba is complex and elegant, featuring floral (violets) and velvety textures.  Barbera d’ Asti is rich, intense and more masculine. Barbera del Monferrato (the smaller area of all) is also powerful and at times a bit rustic. Better yet are the wines from DOCG Nizza, formerly a subzone in Asti, it has its own appellation since 2014. These are superb wines made from 100% Barbera.

As it happens with Nebbiolo, there are producers that tend to make rounder/ bigger styles by allowing Barbera to hang some extra time in the vineyards and by aging in small oak barriques that will give the wines a lot of spiciness. While others prefer to make the everyday Barbera that is drunk all over Italy, lighter in style, featuring juicy acidity. Because of its high acidity, Barbera is a great match for foods, including pizza, veal and pasta, and will do well in warm climates too. Some successful plantings can be found in Argentina, California and Australia.

Drink Barbera within 8 years from its vintage. Though some samples can age for longer, most will lose its vibrancy after this time. Barbera’s typical flavor profile features tart cherry, blackberry, strawberry, plum licorice, dried herbs and black pepper.

Recommended Producers: 
G.B Burlotto, Michele Chiarlo, Conterno, Vietti, Rinaldi, Scavino, Mascarello, Massolino, Marziano Abbona, Ca'Viola, Cordero di Montezemolo, Marchesi di Barolo, etc.

Wines I tasted lately that I liked:
Ca' Viola Barbera D' Alba Brichet 2017, $18
Cordero Di Montezemolo Barbera D' Alba 2018,$25
Massolino Barbera D' Alba 2018,$27
Vietti Barbera D' Asti La Crena 2017,$40

Ciao! Silvina

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#barbera #italiangrapes #italianwines #thougthsoflawina #WineWednesday

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

HopWine: A Different Kind of Virtual Wine Tasting

At the time of this post, it has been two months and some change from the beginning of  the Covid 19 quarantine, and one thing I truly miss of the many things Covid 19 stole from me, is attending wine tastings! 

Before I start talking about my visit to HopWine, let me first acknowledge that I will always be eternally grateful to all importers, wineries and PR agencies (you know who you are) that have provided wines for me to review so far… Thank so much you for your support, I truly appreciate it.

But, attending tastings in person, it’s probably one of my favorite things in this life… since it provides a unique opportunity to taste wine from a specific region or country, and best of all, to meet with producers and to be able to ask them questions about the wines they serve… It is the perfect world/experience for a wine nerd like me. But, because of Covid 19, I had to miss a few, including a tasting of Wines of Canada, Loire Valley, and this year's Guia Penin tasting (Spanish Wines) now postponed until who knows when...

But then, I received an invite to attend HopWine, not knowing what this was about, I decided to give it a try. I imagined that it was going to be some kind of a virtual Vinexpo of sorts, with several wineries participating, many of them looking for importers/ representatives.  
And of course, I thought that like any other virtual wine tasting, it will include information about wines, videos, pictures, but this one, to my surprise, includes something else... HopWine prepared small boxes of wines (with a pour for attendees to taste). See picture of what you may get below.

Will this be a solution and replacement for wine tastings during Covid 19? 

Lately, I must confess I have been to many wine presentations in Instagram and Zoom and of course everything is very informative and engaging and it’s nice to see at least on video, some of these beautiful vineyards… but we are always missing the best part of any wine tasting, which is the sampling of wines. 

So, yes! I will give an applause to the creators of HopWine, for daring to try something new. 
The exposition has 151 producers from different countries including France, South Africa, Italy, Portugal, Israel and Spain. All of them are organized alphabetically, by country or appellation. After visiting, each winery’s page on the website, which acted as a booth, you are presented with the opportunity to add a mini box of wine samples to your cart that the winery wants to promote. In my case, I was allowed to add up to 30 boxes. I chose a fine selection of Alsace, Loire, Chablis, Rías Baixas, Chianti, Rhone and Burgundy samples. Of course, as you may imagine many of these wineries are not very well known and are trying to make a name for themselves in the industry, but I was pleasantly surprised to see at least 3 that I know quite well: Ferraton Père & Fils, Maison Bichot and Castello di Volpaia... If only they could send half bottles instead of the tiny ones? I suppose it didn't hurt to ask! 

A nice feature to see was that the booths could be filtered according to your industry, because I’m a wine blogger I was considered “Press” and wineries must have agreed earlier on to provide samples for people like me.  There were a couple of them, that unfortunately decided to opt out which denied me the opportunity to taste their samples. Maybe, this can change for the next edition? also, it will be nice at least for Americans, if you could also filter by grape variety? since it's easier for us this way.... did I just become the obnoxious American?

HopWine is currently open for Press and Trade from May 18 - 25, 2020. Those interested in attending should register here

I can’t wait to receive my boxes... let’s hope they arrive soon, I have been having problems with mail and other couriers… since nowadays all ordering happens online, even Amazon takes forever to deliver my orders. Let's hope this is not the case. Until next one! Cheers, Silvina. 

#thoughtsoflawina #virtualwinetasting #hopwine

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Basic Italian Grapes: Sangiovese

Today we continue exploring the most important grapes from Italy. And this one is one of my favorites: Sangiovese.

What to say about Sangiovese? All of us at one time or another have drank Chianti wines or other Tuscany wines, and of course have read about how quality improved considerably in Chianti in the last 30 years or so. Mostly, at the beginning and for many decades, Chianti was a simple wine, an uninteresting quaff served at Italian trattorias, usually enclosed in a straw flask. It was made from a blend of Sangiovese and other grapes that included Colorino, Canaiolo, Malvasia Nera (reds) and whites, such as Malvasia and or Trebbiano. This formula was invented by the Baron Ricasoli, who thought that adding a bit of white grapes will improve the blend, the rest of the other varieties were used either to add color or to soften the natural high acidity of Sangiovese. The truth is that blending didn’t help much, and eventually this affected the sales of this wine, which decreased. Thankfully around the 1970s, Chianti producers led by Piero Antinori, started to work very hard to improve the quality, not only by blending Sangiovese with French varieties (mostly Cabernet Sauvignon) and creating the Super Tuscans category, but also by adding less white grapes, and improving both vineyard and winery practices. 

Nowadays, there’s plenty of good quality Sangiovese to be found but I must warn you since we are in Europe/ Old World, it’s likely that instead of Sangiovese in the label, you will find the name of the region instead. In the case of this grape,  the most important Italian regions are: Chianti ClassicoBrunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Though Sangiovese is also used in  Basic Chianti and other Chianti subzones, Carmignano, Morellino di Scansano, Umbria, etc.

Originally from Italy, Sangiovese is the child of two italian varieties: Calabrese di Montenuovo and Ciliegiolo. There are several theories about its origins within Italy, some say that Sangiovese originated in the Southern part of the peninsula and from there it moved to Tuscany. Others claim Emilia Romagna to be its home. Like Pinot Noir, Sangiovese has mutated a lot, there are over 200 identified clones of this grape and it changed names according to the appellation: BrunelloMorellinoPrugnolo Gentile, all are Sangiovese clones. Like Pinot Noir, it can be quite temperamental, in the sense that it can’t grow anywhere, success depends very much on the clone used, the yields (that need to be kept low), the soils and microclimates (favoring warm weather for ripeness and cool nights to keep acidity in check).

Ampelographer Girolamo Molon divided the clones into two larger groups: Sangiovese Grosso (that includes BrunelloPrugnolo Gentile and Sangiovese di Lamole (Chianti) and Sangiovese Piccolo (clones of lesser quality). Sangiovese is by far, the most planted red grape variety in Italy and it does best in Tuscany, where 68 % of the land is conformed by hills and small mountains.  This area covers from Florence in the north to Siena in the Center and Montalcino in the south. Though, soils in Tuscany vary from sand, clay and limestone. “Galestro”soils, which is a crumbly stony marl,  give the best structured wines. Sangiovese is a late ripening variety and early budding and can be quite vigorous, high density planting has been used to mitigate this, but it also needs open canopies to mature properly, good vineyard expositions usually facing south and south west  and low yields to obtain the best results. 

The most available Sangiovese, come from the DOCG Chianti Classico appellation, which is considered the heart of the region. Even though is not a large area, it has many vineyards planted at altitudes that go from 800 to 2000 feet,  these differences in soils and altitudes will create a huge variety of wines. In 1984 Chianti Classico was upgraded to DOCG status, the highest in the Italian classification, the first thing they did was to remove the mandatory white grapes from the traditional recipe, nowadays, the blend could be 80 to 100% Sangiovese, and up to 20 % of Canaiolo, Cabernet and Merlot (two grapes that were not allowed originally by law).  Balancing Cabernet or Merlot with Sangiovese can be a challenge,  since these two tend to overwhelm and mask Sangiovese’s flavors. Even 5% of Cabernet can be enough to create a big wine, so here again much depends on the winemaker’s intent, some may choose to go this route, while others will prefer to make varietals and let Sangiovese shine by itself. By law only in Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, the wine must be 100% Sangiovese, the rest of the appellations allowed other grapes but in tiny percentages.

Stylistically, Sangiovese wines will be dry and will have medium to medium plus bodies, usually balanced alcohol levels that may go between 12-14%, high acidity and firm tannins. Sangiovese is very light in color, another similarity it shares with Pinot Noir and a give away when tasting this wine blind.
Young Sangiovese will taste of fresh cherry pie, plum, tomato leaf, oregano.  As it matures it will show other complex aromas and flavors of dried leaf, dried orange peel, tea, mocha, leather and minerals. 

Aging is quite important in Tuscany and it varies per appellation. By law, all Chianti Classico must be aged in oak, Riserva wines for 2 years in wood and 3 months in bottle (minimum). These days the favorite oak is French but also big Slovakian barrels and for the Gran Selezione (category created in 2014)  the wine must spend 30 months of aging, including 3 months minimum in bottle. Gran Selezione wines are made with a selection of the winery’s best grapes or from grapes from a single vineyard. Basic Chianti wines which is a larger appellation than Classico, are made from grapes outside the Classico area and  includes 6 different subzones: Colli Fiorentini, Chianti Rufina, Colli Aretini, Colli Senesi, Colli Pisane and Chianti Montalbano. The best wines come from Chianti Rufina.

Brunello di Montalcino is farther south that Chianti Classico, where it’s warmer, as you know, warm weather means more sun/ alcohol/bodies. So, Sangiovese here gets bigger and more concentrated. Personally I think the best Sangiovese come from this appellation. Producers say that their secret is a clone, actually 6 special clones that grow only in this area. It’s a small appellation with only 2100 HA of vineyards vs 15,400 HA in Chianti. The best vineyards are located at a high altitude of 1,800 feet looking south. There is more limestone in the soils here than in Chianti and of course Galestro (stony marl), schist and clay can also be found. Sangiovese is called here “Brunello”. It will yield a beefer wine that smells of black fruits, chocolate, violets, tar and spices. Brunello is by law, aged longer than any other Italian wines: 5 years for regular Brunello (2 of which will be in oak and 4 months minimum in bottle) and 6 for riservas (2 of which will be in oak and 6 months in bottle).
Rosso di Montalcino is Brunello’ younger brother, it is a fruitier wine that is made with grapes from non great vintages or from less than ideal vineyard locations. It is also aged less time than Brunellos only for 1 year. They are also cheaper than Brunellos and much lighter in style.

Like BrunelloVino Nobile di Montepulciano is also made from Sangiovese, here called “Prugnolo Gentile”,  Canaiolo, Malvasia and Trebbiano are also allowed in the blend (but only in tiny percentages). Most vineyards are planted at 600 feet from sea level,@ lower altitudes than BrunelloMontepulciano is located nearby Colli Senesi’s Chianti subzone. Soils here are mostly sandy clay.  By law, Vino Nobile must be aged for 2 years, and Riservas for 3 years, similar to Chianti Classico but less than Brunello.The flavor profile of Vino Nobile will be softer than Chianti Classico with cream, plum flavors and toasty oak notes.
They are usually much cheaper than Brunello and Chianti Classico, though there are some single vineyards that could be expensive.

Brunello di MontalcinoChianti Classico and the Sangiovese based Super Tuscans* are the best expressions of Sangiovese and have the most aging potential, with best samples being able to age for up to 25 years. Lighter versions like Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Rosso di Montalcino are made to be consumed young, within 5 or less years from vintage.
Trying to emulate the wines of Tuscany was not an easy task for New World producers, though we can find some good attempts in California,  Argentina and Australia. As expected New World versions will be fruitier and rounder, vs the herb, bitter cherry and savory tomato flavors typical of all Italian wines.

Recommended Producers:
Rosso and Brunello di Montalcino: Biondi Santi,Poggio Antico, Le Chiuse, Fattoria dei Barbi, Banfi, Castiglion del Bosco, Caparzo, Il Poggione.
Chianti Classico: Felsina, Fontodi, Castello Di Ama, Antinori, Avignonesi, Marchesi de Frescobaldi, Ruffino.

These are some wines I tasted lately that I truly liked:
Il Bastardo Rosso di Toscana 2018, $9.99
Fattoria Dei Barbi Rosso di Montalcino 2018,$30
Ruffino Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Riserva Ducale Oro 2015, $35
Fontodi Chianti Classico 2015 $40
Castiglion del Bosco Brunello di Montalcino 2015, $60
Marchesi di Frescobaldi Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Rialzi 2015, $63
Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino Vigna La Casa 2015, $69.99
Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino 2015, $85
Fontodi Chianti Classico Selezione Vigna del Sorbo 2015, $90

Ciao! Silvina

* Not all Super Tuscans are made of Sangiovese, some are 100% made of French varieties, so do ask your sales clerk at the wine store before buying.

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A special thank you to all the importers that provided samples for me to taste.
#sangiovese #chianti #brunello #italiangrapes #italianwines #thougthsoflawina #WineWednesday

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Music and Wine: a ritual @Chez La Wina

Let me start by saying that I put lots of time in the planning of my posts, I keep a calendar with themes and always try to write about things I like, and that the winos would like to learn/read about. Yet, once in a while I act on impulse, and step away from my calendar structure, to write about things that are happening now, like what I do during the COVID 19 pandemic quarantine. 
At the time I’m writing this post, it’s been 52 days since lock down...I suppose I should be thankful that I got to keep my day job. I’m so lucky to be able to work from home. But really, having to stay home everyday, can be a bit too much… there are days I just want to jump out of my window so bad…I guess I have zero patience as you may see/read. I suppose I will have to reincarnate 1,000 lives to learn to be patient... While on other days, I’m more connected to my soul and therefore more accepting of my fate/lessons to learn that can only make me stronger and accelerate the progress on my spiritual path....gosh….I sound like one of the many spiritual books I like to read...but really,... WHEN IS IT GOING TO END? So, this is me, sending a message to the universe, please give me back my life...before I go completely insane!!! Or in my case more loquita!

So, besides work, and checking on my family and friends, which include the winos too. I tried to make time for other things like, 1) Walk every morning to get some fresh air, and to burn the wine I drank yesterday night… Let’s be honest here, how many of you have gained weight during the pandemic? I’m no different from you, and must admit I had way too many chocolates, cookies, ice cream, wine, chips... I guess all of us are overcompensating a bit these days... 2) Watch governor Cuomo at noon, because for me, he is a modern day superman/hero of the pandemic and we definitely need more politicians like him in this world. Finally a politician with a heart, someone who knows when to be tough and when to show some vulnerability.... Men of the world: some of you can definitely learn from him! 3) Watch a webinar about wine, Karen McNeil,  WSET, Vinexpo New York, New Zealand Wine Growers, etc do this on Instagram and Zoom... keeping the wine nerd inside of me very, very happy. But, the event of the day 4) and the mood in my apartment/Chez La Wina, changes around 5 pm, when it is time to open a bottle of wine… because if life is hard these days, imagine how much harder it will be without wine! 

These days, I have a few choices to pick from my cellar, since I decided to start posting in my blog every week, it's like I’m on this marathon to taste all the samples that importers/ PR people and wineries have sent to me, to be able to include the brands I like in my posts. In the past, when I was posting every two weeks, I took my sweet time to do this, plus then, I was tasting with the winos (something I truly miss!, I especially miss the excitement in their faces when we tasted together) I guess Wednesdays and Fridays were very special then, since we all knew that when the clock reached 5 pm, it was time to open and taste a bottle of wine together. (Wine Zoom meetings are not the same!)
Last night I decided to try a sample of Fattoria di Basciano Chianti Rufina 2017, my post on Sangiovese is coming up next week, and this is the last bottle of Sangiovese before going live with the post.  Soon, I will switch to whites, with a lineup of Ruedas and Rías Baixas wines waiting for me (earlier on, I chose to do a post about the most important Spanish white grapes). Note to myself:request some Rieslings, Chenin Blancs and Sauvignon Blancs for my post on Cool climate whites). 
After Rueda and Rías Baixas, it will be time for Torrontés, and this is a message to all wine suppliers reading this post, I have not received many samples of this grape…So, if you sell some Torrontés, please send some my way. I want to see some love for my favorite white Argentinean grape!

So, I grab my wine and my small bag of chips, because La Wina doesn’t have dinner at night (I started doing this a while ago to avoid gaining weight) and off I go. By the way, any chips can do: cheetos, doritos, potato chips, freetos, etc…. I guess I should write a post about chips and wine food matching next….will the winos want to read about that?  But, don’t you dare, judge me!!! Chips are something I started eating during the pandemic, before that, dinner was just a glass of wine, while I caught up on all the gossip happening in Argentinean TV on youtube.

Nowadays, and because of Covid 19, I taste my wines while listening to music on Spotify. I guess because music has the power of making me happy, even on the worst of days.  So, this is what I listen to, sometimes, I start with some new songs from the Weeknd (Blinding Lights and In your Eyes), or Lady Gaga (Stupid Love), or Doja Cat (Say so), Regard (Ride it), Selena Gomez (Feel me)... Surprised? you didn’t think I was so cool to know the new hits on the radio these days? Hahaha, people, that is all I listen when I exercise: pop current hits. 
Other times, it's just Spanish Reggaeton (Rap), anything from J Balvin (Ritmo, Blanco, Amarillo), or Nicky Jam and Daddy Yankee (Muevelo), Tainy (Nada de Nada), Oriana Sabatini (Luna Llena), and Tini (Recuerdo, Sueltate el pelo, Ya no me llames mas), and anything by Maluma (I know I'm old enough to be his mother, but he is just too handsome and sexy!).
And then of course come the oldies... for a middle aged chick like me, that  means music anywhere from the 80's, and forward,  So, yes some nights are just Madonna's greatest hits (the classics: Material Girl, Into the Groove, La Isla Bonita, Express yourself, Angel, Dress you up, Music), Erasure 20 Pop hits! (Oh L'amour, Chains of Love , A little respect, Victim of Love), The Police and anything from Sting (English Man in NY, Message in a Bottle, Can't Stand Losing you, Roxanne, Dododo dadada, S.O.S), and then of course, the night needs to end by listening to The Doors because it was the music that was playing on the radio on the year I was born… (I’m vintage 1967), and because the movie “The Doors” was the first movie I saw when I moved to America in March of 1991, I liked it so much, I went and bought myself the soundtrack of the movie the next day. 

Going back to the Basciano Chianti Rufina 2017, this juicy red was made from 91% Sangiovese and 7 % Colorino fermented with skins for 20 days, followed by aging for 8 months in French oak. This spicy red is medium bodied with refreshing acidity, aromas of plum, blackberry, dried herbs (oregano and sage), featuring a solid structure and a round long finish. And at $14.99 a great value! I liked it so much, I’m going to keep on drinking this for the next two days or until I run out (whatever comes first). 
Now, where was I?, oh yes listening to Jim Morrison’s sexy voice singing: “You know that I will be untrue, you know that I will be a liar, if Am I to say to you, girl we couldn’t get much higher..come, baby light my fire…”♫♬♫♬
My advise to you is go grab a glass of wine, some olives, cheese or chips, put some music on and celebrate that you made it to another day! or as I like to say 1 day less of the many until we go back to normal. Cheers! Silvina.

#chianti #thoughtsoflawina #music #wineduringthepandemic

PS: A special thanks to Kristen from HB Merchants for donating this wine.

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