A dinner party surrounded by friends, old and new, is a cause for celebration. It’s an excuse to share some wine (ok – lots of wine) with lively conversation, and since everyone brings a bottle (or two) it is the chance to try some wines you never tried before.
Here are a few suggestions for your weekend of wine.
San Leonino Governo All’Uso 2013 A Medium-bodied wine that is easy to drink and at the right price. Itt packs a punch at 14.5% alcohol. Spaghetti and meatballs or veal parmigiana would be a good match for this wine. $19.95
Il Molino di Grace Chianti Classico 2011 From the heart of the Chianti region, this is is a classic Chianti that showcases the Sangiovese grape, the star of any Tuscan vineyard. This offering from Il Molino di Grace or Thw Windmills of Grace is earthy and delicious grabbing 90 points from Wine Spectator for good reason.$18.95
Convento San Francisco 2005 One of the signs Bacchus, the God of Wine is looking out for you is when you come across a solitary bottle in the Vintages section. It’s no guarantee, but it often means word got out and this is a wine to try? And that’s exactly the case, This full-bodied wine from Ribera del Duero is 90% Tempranillo grape and 10 % Merlot. The result, rich, smooth with elegance. Loved it! $24.95
The Splurge of the Week:
Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace 2012
This cool climate Chardonnay was the hit of the evening. Full-bodied wiith honey, citrus and green apple notes. Le Clos Jordanne Clayton Terrace 2012 is a stunning wine that made me want to hide it from the quaffing guests (I didn’t – but, I admit, I THOUGHT about it). I didn’t just LOVE it, it made me want to visit the winery. Such amazing and award-winning wines produced right in our backyard!
The wine was perfect, the champagne superb. This gathering was as much about family as it was about the wine. It had all the hallmarks of a big family event bursting at the seams. The extended table was set for members who have come from all over Europe for this little get together, the inside jokes, the teasing, the nudging, the respect for elders. And some of the best wines in the world. This is what wine dreams are made of.
The event – a luncheon with the PFV, Primum Familae Vini – the first families of wine of Europe.
These names represent the treasures tucked away in the finest wine collections: Antinori, Perrin, Torres, Mouton Rothschild, Drouhin. They are also accessible to all wine drinkers.
The PFV was established in 1992. Its 11 members share a commitment to excellence. Each member is a family-run operations. The legendary Robert Mondavi was the 12th, until he sold to the Constellation group. Membership is by invitation only. Together they share the passion and the challenges, and when they get together, it feels like you have been invited to Sunday dinner.
I had the pleasure of sitting beside Priscilla Incisa della Rocchetta,. Her family produces Sassicaia, the queen of the Super Tuscans. She talked about the birth of the brand. Her grandfather Mario, a lover of Bordeaux wines, in the 40s defied tradition and experimented by planting Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in Tuscany’s Bolgheri region.
Those of you who have tried wines from Bolgheri DOC will know that you can rarely go wrong with anything from that region. If you haven’t, buy a bottle tonight!
“People thought my grandfather was mad,” said Priscilla. But the quality of the wine, which came as no surprise to her grandfather, led her father to believe there was an opportunity here.
With the help of his cousin, Piero Antinori – of the Italian wine dynasty, Nicolo Incisa della Rocchetta began to sell his wine commercially. Sadly, her grandfather died in 1983 before knowing the extent of the success of Sassicaia. Tenuta San Guido also produces Guidalberto ($52.95) and Le Difese ($31.95) – wines typically available at the LCBO.
Priscilla said without her grandfather’s vision, Sassicaia would not be the grand wine it is today. “It is a great legacy” she told the small group gathered to hear the stories of the great families of wine, and even better to taste their finest offerings. At Christmas, they send each other one bottle of their finest.
The group spend three days together once a year. Asked how long does it take to recover, Thomas Perrin of Famille Perrin laughed. Another inside joke.
Each time they meet, they debate inviting one more member. But getting 11 strong personalities to agree takes time. “It must be the right fit with the entire group,” said Priscilla.
“The walls and the wines have stories to tell,” said Laurent Drouhin, whose family founded the winery in 1890. He chose a to showcase a crisp and delicious Chablis – the afternoon just kept getting better.
And behind each story – a wine dynasty – like Vega Sicilia that began selling wine to the Spain’s royal family in 1876 or Miguel Torres – whose family winery was established in 1870 . I have been drinking (and recommending) his wines for years. Torres paid tribute to the group. “We are all of us a real family,” he said between signing autographs.
But the purpose of the PFV is more than public relations. At their annual meeting, which rotates among members – they share best practices, help each other develop new markets, create new memories. and then there’s the wine.
I started off with a glass (or two) of Pol Roger Champagne – I would have happily sipped this all day. But then I would have missed my journey into Red Wine Heaven.
All the wines served were simply spectacular. My two personal favourites: Solaia and Sassicaia. And while guests sampled from of the finest wines of Europe, the event was really was the vines that bind.
“It’s all about the family” said Allegra Antinori.
A weekend when the weather was spectacular and the wine even better.
Here are a few suggestions if you are looking for some great new additions.
Topping the list:
CASTANO SOLANERA VINAS VIEJAS 2012 – This suggestion came from wine writer Eric Schneider who has made some great recommendations to date. Sadly, they often are gone by the time I get to the LCBO so this time I took no chances. I headed directly to the store after work on Friday only to find out the mass release was only coming on Saturday. So I was at my local LCBO when it opened at 9:30 and picked up a case. This better be good, I thought. And it was. The Spanish blend is 70% Monastrell, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Garnacha. It’s a big wine, perfect for a barbecue. According to Eric, is it best between 2015 and 2018 – but it will never last that long in our house. I am actually regretting not getting a few extra at $16.95. Don’t wait.
WIRRA WIRRA CHURCH BLOCK CABERNET/MERLOT/SHIRAZ 2012 – Also in the big bold section of the wine rack. I saddled up to the tasting bar at the LCBO after I couldn’t get my hands on the above-mentioned Solanera and tested a few. This one was terrific. It comes from McLaren Vale – which is one of my favourite sources for Australian Wines. Lots of dark fruit, a touch of vanilla, and spicy finish. My OTC – official tasting companion’s love for wines with “an attack down the middle” would be pleased. $19.95
SPLUGE-WORTHY: STRATUS CABERNET FRANC 2010
I must admit Cabernet Franc is not a go to wine for me. Most often, I find it best in a blend, but on it’s own a little rough around the edges. This wine is worthy of a solo. It brings out the best of the varietal. It will not disappoint. $38.20
A perfect way to spend last weekend, and wishing you some wine adventures coming up. Let me know if you come across a gem.
This last, quite spontaneous trip to Rome came with a mission.
I wanted to find the best wine bar in the city.
I did my research, perusing the listicles (that’s a list masquerading as an article) and took plenty of notes. Some I loved. Some will never see me again. And some I found all by myself.
Il Goccetto: Day one fresh off the plane – couldn’t waste any time to begin my search. It was complicated by the fact that almost every Roman establishment has recognized that adding the words “Wine Bar” to outdoor advertising is a big draw.
Not too far from Piazza Navona – in an area peppered with antique shops and historic apartment buildings, Il Goccetto looks fairly innocuous from the outside. It doesn’t even have a real sign.
It’s more of a marker for people who know what they are looking for.
Once inside, you know exactly what they are looking for….a wine lover’s paradise. Shelf after shelf is stacked with interesting wines. There is a cornucopia of wines by the glass to try, mostly Italian. We started with a Bolgheri 2012 Argentiera. And note the price, 4 Euros (about $5.30 CDN) for a Nero D’Avola to 12 Euros (about $18 CDN) for a generous glass of top notch Barolo. Sigh. When was the last time you got a great glass of wine for $5? We met other wine store owners from Rome, wine lovers from Paris and the best part, locals who gradually made their way in with kids, or without – for a glass of wine and conversation. Five stars.Il Goccetto, Via del Banchi Vecchi 14, Rome
Mimi e Coco – the names are the equivalent of Laurel and Hardy in Italy.
This is either your favourite place to end the night – or your musical nightmare. Along with a fun selection of wine, helpful and most upbeat servers Renata and Lorenzo during the day and Sommelier Serafino at night, there is a steady stream of 80’s hits mixed with the odd Italian pop song.
Serafino even sang along to Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You”. Along with a great voice, he made some terrific recommendations, including a red from Lazio, a region typically known for whites.
We LOVED the suggestion and the service and would absolutely return for some vintage Barry Manilow along with my wine.
Mimi e Coco, Via del Governo Vecchio 72, Rome
Cul-De-Sac – Down the street from Mimi e Coco is one serious wine bar. All the big names are here, along with some tasty unknowns. 1400 wines, 30 by the glass. I found this place last year and it was as great as I remember it. Situated in a Piazza, you can watch the world go by as government workers and tourists stroll the street.
We tried a Ziggurat Montefalco Riserva 2010 from Umbria and a Aldiano Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva from Cantina Tollo – both full-bodied – excellent recommendations. Since we had reached our quota of wines to bring home, we bought two glasses.
Piazza Pasquino 73, Rome (near Piazza Navona)
Cantina Ripagrande – This was a great find this trip. Located far from the crowds in a less-travelled part of the Trastevere district, it is a real haunt for locals who come in with or without Vespas. What it lacked in varieties by the glass, it made up in atmosphere. A church dominates the square and across the street, a coffee shop where the proprietor drops by to get himself a drink before heading back for work.
Via San Francesco a Ripa 73, Rome (Trastevere)
This is the world of La Dolce Vita, not Fellini’s masterpiece, but the embracing of life, friends, conversation and of course, vino. I certainly have much more research to do before producing the definitive guide. I am already making a list for the next visit.