Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Two Hours in Italy

There is something special about Italian wine. The way it is interwoven into the lifestyle of Italy’s countryside…and the way the lifestyle is woven into it makes it, to me, the most incredible wine experience that exists. When I go to a French tasting, I leave wanting to understand more about French wines. I feel the same about Spain. When I leave an Italian tasting I want to learn Italian. I want to jump on the nearest plane and get lost in the small towns of Tuscany or Piedmont, walking the streets and vineyards.

I had the privilege of eating lunch with Domenico Clerico this week at Mateo, a great Boulder restaurant. Mr. Clerico is getting on in years, has major health issues, and speaks no English. Telling stories through an interpreter, this incredibly respected winemaker came across as a humble farmer who loves what he does, and loves even more sharing his love for it. He seems genuinely amazed that the entire world is clamoring for his wines.

We started with his 2011 Dolcetto Visadi. It was spicy, fruity and all in all a perfect example of this varietal which is the everyday wine in the Piedmont. Next we tried his 2011 Capisme E. This is a stainless steel fermented Nebbiolo. Nebbiolo is Italy’s noble grape that spawns the great Barolos. This is a bright, fruit-forward version of this wonderful grape with vibrant red fruit flavors. Both of these wines went beautifully with cheese, cured meats, paté, and steamed mussels.

Next we tasted his 2010 Arte, a blend of Nebbiolo and Barbera, aged fifteen months in new oak. This is a tannic wine, with toast and vanilla and ample, complex fruit. It went well with the butternut squash risotto with chèvre, walnuts, and roasted mushrooms.

Finally came his two Barolos, the 2008 Pajana and 2008 Ciabot Mentin. These are sourced from opposite ends of the same vineyard, the famed Ginestra. The Pajana is from a south-facing area and is slightly more open and forward than the tightly wound Ciabot, from a south-southeast facing region of the hill. Both are massive wines and will age for many years and become even more magnificent. Although very young, they are brilliant even now, and matched beautifully with the wild boar ragu taglierini and braised beef short ribs with root vegetables.

Clerico’s wines are a luxury—each of his Barolos will set you back a hundred bucks, and the Capisme, $35.00. The Arte is about $45.00 and even the Dolcetto comes in at $24.00. But they are all worth every penny.

Treat yourself to a bottle and enjoy La Bella Vitta!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Grower Champagnes – A New Approach to “Bubbly”

As the holidays approach, sparkling wines come to mind, from inexpensive Proseccos from Italy and Cavas from Spain, to the myriad California and French bubbly to the most famous (and expensive) of all—Champagne (sparkling wine from the Champagne region of  France). Nothing seems to epitomize celebration like Champagne, and when most people consider buying it they look for the large houses such as Moet et Chandon or Veuve Cliquot. These producers source their grapes from all over the region and blend various lots from different areas and even different years to maintain a consistent flavor and style year after year.

There is, however, an interesting alternative—the grower champagnes. The  vineyards sourced by  this type of maker are clustered in a single village and sometimes even a single vineyard. The wines are crafted to reflect the terroir of the village, especially if it is a grand cru vineyard.

Grower Champagnes are usually released younger and often show a lower dosage (the process of adding sugar before final corking) and occasionally no dosage at all. Before shipping, most producers disgorge the deposits that collect in the bottles. The resulting space is filled with a shipping liquor and a tiny bit of pure cane sugar. The absence of dosage allows the intrinsic qualities of the wine, such as terroir and minerality, to show through.

The downside is these wines are more variable year to year compared to the large houses. But the wines are far more interesting and flavorful. Today there are 19,000 growers in Champagne and about 5000 are making their own wines as the popularity grows. To find out if a Champagne is a grower Champagne look for the initials RM (recoltant-manipulant) or ask your wine associate.

While the number of wines is staggering, here are few examples that you can’t go wrong with. Champagne Moutard  is one of my favorite Champagnes period. It is from a grand cuvee vineyard and is 100% Pinot Noir. The wine bursts with brioche, pear, and peach aromas and flavors with beautiful notes of honey, flowers and minerals. The price is about $43.00—not cheap, but on par with Veuve or Moet Chandon NVs, and far more interesting.

Champagne Aubrey is made from a majority of Pinot Meunier with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as part of the mix. All the fruit is from Grand Cru vineyards. Fresh apples leap from the glass to your nose, with hints of cocoa and toast. There are flavors of passion fruit, apricots and spices, even mango. This wine undergoes malolactic fermentation, giving it impressive body. A beautiful Champagne for $45.00.

Finally there is Jacques Copinet, a NV Champagne that  mimics an aged Vintage Champagne. The aroma is of buttered toast sprinkled with a bit of molasses. On the palate there is a wonderful balance of power, intense caramel breadiness, and wonderful elegance.  Worth the $50.00 you’ll have to spend.

When it’s time to celebrate, try one of these Champagnes and have a truly wonderful experience.