A Woman of Wine

 

My journey of wine discovery has involved  many tastings. From massive producers to boutique variety to wine bars,  I have been graced to meet  many remarkable and generous people.  Sicilian winemaker Ciro Biondi gave us a tour and tasting with a heaping side of Italian history and the struggles between the north and south.

Morning Glory in Montepulciano

Irene Lesti of Montemercurio fed our love of Tuscan wine with stories of the valley, the people all, of course, over generous pours of their wines.  I’ve toured the spectacular Culmina vineyard in Oliver, BC with Don Triggs.  Thanks to Canadian wine collector Garrett Herman and crossed schedules with his close friends, we had the good fortune to be stand-ins at a  dinner with Marchese Piero Antinori, the head of one of the eldest winemaking families in Italy over a glass of Solaia.

My journey has been a very lucky one. I came to the conclusion that wine people love to share stories, a glass, a meal.  They all look at least 10 years younger.  They are the kind of people who despite the many challenges of the wine business, they are living their dream.

Cinzia Caporali was one of those people. We met her  at E Lucian Le Stelle, my favourite wine bar inside Locanda San Francesco – a stunning B & B in Montepulciano. The first time we shared a joke.  The second time, I brought 8 friends and we drank them out of Valdipiatta, her family’s wines.

Organizer Cinzia in Action

The third time she invited Steve and I to join a blind tasting of the new release of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano with a dozen winemakers. My dream come true. That night I heard one of my favourite lines that I have used many times since.  “You don’t make friends drinking milk.”

The Contenders

When friends Matt and Crystal  were going on a honeymoon, I contacted Cinzia to ask her to have a bottle of Valdipiatta waiting for them in their room along with a gift and a card. Cinzia made it an extra special vintage to mark their  very special day.

Steve’s First Glass
at E Lucevan Le Stelle

And when my husband Steve had a terrible accident, she sent her best wishes. When he had his first glass of wine in 19 months at her wine bar, she said she was honoured and would not let us pay.

Guilio Caporali Among His Vines

Cinzia also organized what was undoubtedly our best wine tasting experience at Tenuta Valdipiatta with Guilio, her father. He talked about his love of opera, his love of wine and how proud he was of his daughters.

Over these visits, I learned Cinzia  was a mechanical engineer, she had a great sense of humour and she certainly knew how to bring people together and make them feel welcome.

We talked about getting together in Rome. Steve and I thought how incredible  it would be to explore the city with her. 

Just two days ago I sent a tweet with a photo of Steve and I sharing our last bottle of Valdipiatta, very excited to see her again in three weeks when we will be in Montepulciano.  I received a letter today telling me that Cinzia passed away last month. I have no idea how old she was because  wine people always look so much younger.   All I know is she was far too young.

E Lucevan le Stelle means  the stars are shining brightly, a line from Tosca, one of Puccini’s most famous operas.  Indeed, Cinzia made the lives of all she met a little brighter. I count myself  so very lucky that she became part of mine,

Continue reading A Woman of Wine

Family Ties

IMG_0734The 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.images

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.

An Ocean of Delights
An Ocean of Delights
Bottle SASSICAIA 2007 (750ML)
Sassicaia 2007

 

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!

 

Sassicaia_Mario_Incisa_Rocchetta_Nicolo_136
Nicolo Incisa della Rocchetta & his groundbreaking father Mario Incisa della Rocchetta

“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.

Joseph Drouhin Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2012
Joseph Drouhin Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2012

 

“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.

 

Pablo Alvarez of Vega-Sicilia
Pablo Alvarez of Vega Sicilia
Miguel Torres
Miguel Torres

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Champagne Pol Roger Churchill 2002
Champagne Pol Roger Churchill 2002

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.

 

 

 

Vega-Sicilia Unico 2004
Vega-Sicilia Unico 2004
Mouton Rothschild 2005
Beaucastel 2005
Chateau Beaucastel Rouge 2005

 

SOLAIA_BASSA
Solaia 2007, Antinori

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Family and tradition, a perfect pairing.

 

 

The Ratings System

Top Scoring WinesThis week’s edition of Vintages is dedicated to 90+ wines. The ones that someone, who has made a living off wine, considered outstanding enough to grant the equivalent of an A.  Do you pay attention to wine ratings? Whether it is the nod of approval from  Wine Spectator, Natalie MacLean, or Jancis Robinson to name a few, the numbers certainly make a difference to  sales.

Then there is the influence of Uber-critic Robert Parker who started The Wine Advocate.  His seal of approval in the form of a 90+ rating,  can mean as much as $5 million dollars in additional world sales.

Parker of the Wine Advocate  bases his ratings on a   100-point scale graded like this:

  • 96-100 being extraordinary
  • 90-95 considered outstanding
  • 80-89 very good to above average
  • 70-79 average

And really, if you rate below 70 – you aren’t flaunting it. Many others followed Parker’s lead, including Wine Spectator and Canadian Natalie MacLean.  British wine writer Jancis Robinson opted for  a 20-point scale because she believes it is more precise..

Ratings MatterThe debate over whether ratings actually matter will never end. It’s been called pretentious manipulation aimed at getting people to pay more for wine.  But there is no question that they  have an influence.

With that much at stake, many wineries go to great lengths to get a good rating. The Parkerization of wine refers to wineries that tailor their techniques to Parker’s preferred style of wine. Then there are the legendary stories (or gross exaggerations – one involving two Chateau owners who allegedly (that’s my news lingo for unsubstantiated claims) offered up their daughters  in exchange for a better review. The best story involves the manager of a French winery who was so incensed with the less than glowing review, he invited Parker back to re-test the wine.  When Parker arrived he was attacked by the manager’s dog. Bleeding, Parker asked for a bandage.The manager handed over a copy of the newsletter featuring the bad review..

90 Rating under $20
90 Rating under $20

I have taken a few wine courses, which have only confirmed to me how much I do NOT know, and while I am starting to recognize a few favourite producers, and a few favourite regions, I admit, the ratings do make a difference to me when it is a wine I have not tried before. Though I am not so precious as to refuse a wine under 90 points.As I mentioned, there are some great affordable wines that score in the 80’s.

The ideal way to choose your wine is to try before you buy. The tasting rooms in some LCBOs and SAQs are the perfect places to do that. Samples cost anywhere between 50 cents – $2.00  – the only problem – there aren’t nearly enough tasting rooms.

The Salcheto Vineyard
The Salcheto Vineyard

They are much more common in  Italy.  Even better,  the tastings there  are often free. You can also go into a wine bar (like the most spectacular wine bar  in Montepulciano, Tuscany –  E Lucevan le Stella,  which means the stars were shining brightly) and often taste before you buy a bottle.  That’s why you never see a sticker crowing about an award, or a label on the shelf that boasts  the number of stars or ratings in Italy, unless it caters to tourists, of course.

Antinori Superstar
Antinori Superstar

Piero Antinori, the patriarch of a family that has been producing wines for 27 generations, said picking a good wine is a badge of honour for an Italian. They would never drink a wine strictly based on a rating. So I asked Lucia, the young woman who took us on a tour of Tenuta Valdipiatta how she picks her wines. Word of mouth, a friend’s recommendation, but most important, try before you buy. How civilized.

rockawayIt’s another of the many reasons to visit Niagara-On-The-Lake. While VQA wines may not always be my first stop at the LCBO, every single time I have visited the wineries, I have come home with a special find which has sent me out to find it again.   And I have often been pleasantly surprised by the sample – usually very affordable, offered in many LCBO’s and SAQ’s on a Friday evening or Saturday afternoon.

The tasting principle works at Costco and it sure works in Italy. Is it good business? How often do you seen people leaving empty handed?.

Still, I am not at all embarrassed that I do pay attention to the ratings. It’s not the only way I  make my picks – you would be losing out on so many opportunities if you only bought based on  ratings. It is no guarantee of greatness, perhaps more of an indication of quality or simply an idea that plants the perception of greatness on your taste buds. Maybe one day I won’t feel the need to pay attention to the ratings at all. But for now, a little advice and a little knowledge does go  a long way.

Salute!

A Night of Antinori Stars

The World of Antinori
The World of Antinori

There are family businesses and then there is Antinori.

This Italian family has been making wine for more than 600 years or 26 generations. Their centuries of success  has everything to do with innovation and quality, creating new traditions and blending them  with the old.  The current head of this dynamic dynasty  is Marchese Piero Antinori. Not only has he expanded the Antinori business far beyond Italy’s borders, he has played a key role in putting Italian wines on the map.

One of the greatest nights of my life, excluding my wedding day and birth of my two daughters of course, (my husband gets a little touchy about that), was the night my husband and I had dinner at Antinori’s Tignanello estate in Chianti with the Marchese himself, thanks to Toronto wine collector Garrett Herman. Antinori talked about the importance of tradition in any family business. His admiration  for his three daughters who are continuing the family tradition  was obvious. He talked about bringing his 18-year old grandson to visit Antinori’s Califonia vineyards, grooming the next generation. The lively discussion was even better than the Solaia 2007 served with the meal, and that’s saying a lot because the wine was absolutely amazing. 

antica on ice
Superstars on Ice

Among the gifts the family has brought to the world: Super Tuscans Tignanello, Solaia, Guado al Tasso, Vintages Classics like Badia a Passignano, Marchesi Antinori, Peppoli, along with wines from Lombardy, Puglia, California, Washington and Chile’s Maipo Valley. The list goes on.

 

 

Many of the stars in the Antinori portfolio shone brightly under one roof at an LCBO event recently in Toronto. Some familiar, and some new discoveries.

A few of the  highlights:

Montenisa Brut DOCG Franciacorta, Italy

Fabulous Franciacorta
Fabulous Franciacorta

My Wines II teacher once told us if we ever saw a bottle of  Franciacorta (Italian sparkling wine) – buy it immediately because  Franciacorta  rarely makes its way to the LCBO. Franciacorta is a sparkler from  Lombardy in northern Italy. It has been called the catnip of wine lovers. Now that I have tried this Champagne-like sparkler, I think Italians are crazy to let it out of the country at all.  Antinori’s Montenisa  was fresh and light with apple, pear notes. It is $35.00 a bottle, but compares with Champagne at twice the price.

 

Haras de Pirque Hussonet Gran Reserva 2009, Maipo Valley, Chile

This was one of the best value finds of the evening. A partnership between the Antinori family and Edourdo Matte, an entrepreneur who wanted to blend his two passions, wine and thoroughbred horses. Haras de Pirque is the name of Chile’s oldest thoroughbred breeding stud.  The horseshoe-shaped winery and prize horse farm is built on the side of a hill and gets top marks from TripAdvisor (one more place to add to the bucket list)  and this wine got top marks from me for great value. At $16 a bottle, Tina and I ordered a case.

The Superstar of the Evening
The Superstar of the Evening

Pian delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino 2007, Tignanello IGT Toscana, Tuscany Italy , Antinori Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva 2007

We elbowed our way through the crowd around this table of Superstars. I learned you do NOT save the best for last at these events. The superstars go quickly. I also learned that cork dorks (and I use the term fondly) call the King of the Super Tuscans, Tignanello – TIG.  Long live this King. It did not let me down. It  was superb.  But the true star of this evening was, without question,  the Pian delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino… hands down. It was elegant, rich and refined with  cherry, tobacco and even a hint of chocolate. A toe-curling experience at $59.95. But compared with the Tignanello at $102.95 – almost a steal. The Badia a Passignano  was also good and is my version of a splurge at $44.95 – but tonight this Chianti Classic was clearly upstaged by her Brunello sibling.

 

A Tuscan Treasure
A Tuscan Treasure

La Braccesca Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2009 DOCG Tuscany,               La Braccesca Bramasole Syrah 2008 DOC Cortona, Tuscany 

I loved these wines and even bought a couple of bottles. These two Antinori estates are close to each other but very different. the web site refers to them as different souls. Each has a character worth savouring.  The Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is ripe, rich with a hint of vanilla, smooth and spicy and personally, I feel it is a bargain at $25.00 a bottle. La Braccesca Bramasole is also something very special. It is 100% Syrah coming from an area near Cortona that has become known for its international grapes.  You might recognize the name Bramasole from Frances Mayes bestseller “Under the Tuscan Sun”.  I first picked up a bottle in Montreal at the SAQ and it is delicious.  This vintage is big, bold and unforgettable even at $44.00. Wine Spectator gave it 92 points.

 

The Stars of Piedmont
The Stars of Piedmont

Prunotto Barbera D’Alba 2011, DOC, Piedmont, Italy,                                        Prunotto Mompertone,  Monferatto 2010 DOC, Piedmont, Italy,                      Prunotto Barolo 2009, DOCG, Piedmont, Italy,                                                    Prunotto Barbaresco 2009, DOCG Piedmont Italy

The final table that stirred the crowd, featured wines from  the Piedmont region just south of Torino. Truly one of the most beautiful areas in the country, it is what I would imagine Shangri-La would look like. And the wines are equally worthy of  attention.

The Prunotto Barolo as expected, was big rich and impressive. I am a sucker for a good Barbaresco  and this one was nothing short of great. Both were $42.00 and worth the splurge if you are looking for something special. On the more affordable side of the spectrum, I thought the Prunotto Mompertone was delicious and at $19.00 a bottle, I ordered a half dozen. The Prunotto Barbera D’Alba  was also good – fresh with bright acidity – also well priced at $21.00.

That was my night with the Antinori stars – some that are regulars at LCBO Vintages or SAQ, Others are available through consignment.   It’s pretty hard to go wrong with a family that’s been making  wine for more than 600 years.

Chinchin!

Italians Wines for Every Reason

 

 

1grandi marchiIt was a night to shine your bobbles, sharpen your pencils, and shake off your cares of the day. Some sexy Italians of all grapes and sizes came to town  leaving  tastebuds tantalized and palates pleasured.

 The event is called the Grandi Marchi and it brings together some of Italy’s greatest wine producers  representing some of the best known and lesser known regions in the country. 

 

 

2wine on iceThe evening, put together by the LCBO’s Vintages, is a chance to sample fantastic wines that might be out of your regular price range, and an opportunity to try different varieties that you can afford, but know nothing about.

I have been to a few of these events. They are not cheap. Typically tickets go for anywhere from $60-$125, but when you think of what you would spend on a great dinner, and the wines you get to taste, I have never left an evening disappointed.  There is no obligation or pressure to buy. Tina and I did buy once because they have some great finds that are not available at the LCBO, but be warned, don’t plan on serving your purchases at next month’s dinner party…our order came in 6 months later.

 You can tell the pros from the newbies, like me. The vets are systematic. They visit the tables in order, jot down their tasting notes and move to the next one.

Orneto pio cesare I make a beeline to the favourites that I do know, the Antinori wines, the Pio Cesares – the ones I  know, in advance,  that  they alone will make the evening worthwhile, and do they ever.

Pio Cesare’s Ornato Barolo 2008 DOCG, Piedmont shone like a diamond. Rich, elegant, powerful – I am talking Barolo royalty. The family has been producing top quality wines in the northern Piemonte region (home to Barolo and Barbaresco) for five generations. This is a single vineyard variety coming from grapes in the Serralunga d’Alba area, which is top tier terroir in the Barolo region. You will often recognize Pio Cesare as the label with all the gold award stamps on the front. I have tasted lower end and higher end wines from this producer and they have yet to disappoint. At $95 a bottle, a case is not in my future considering it is roughly the cost of airfare to Italy. 

 Affortable Finds:

While  Ornato was amazing, there were also some terrific wines that did not come anywhere near triple-digit price points.

 rovereto-gavi-di-gavi-docg-michele-chiarlo-6-bottle-caseMichele Chiarlo Rovereto Gavi Di Gavi 2011, DOCG, Piedmonte  Also from northwestern Italy, this white from the Cortese grape is fresh and  balanced with notes of grapefruit and At $17.95, This is an excellent choice if you are going to experiment with a GavI. The Rovereto is also available online at the SAQ for $20.40.

 

 

 

Lungarotti Rubesco Rosso Di Torgiano 2009 DOC,  Umbria   This is a wine that would cheerfully  make my Friday night take-home list. The blend is 70% Sangiovese and 30% Canaiolo, both grapes favoured by Umbria’s Tuscan neighbours. It is the most popular wine made by Lungarotti, a family business  run by Chiara  Lungarotti and her sister Teresa Severini.  Nicely priced at $20.00.

Masi Brolo Campofiorin Oro Appaxximento 2008 IGT, Veneto:

Heading north to the Veneto region, home to Amarone, this wine is a  Rosso del Veronese, made with  the same basic method used to create the gorgeous and most glorious Amarone. The technique is called appassimento and involves drying the grapes  on straw mats to concentrate the sugar and flavours. It  produced rich, full-bodied wines and often pricier wines. This is no exception but at a wallet-friendlier price. $24.95

nero di troiaRivera Violante Nero Di Troia 2009, DOC Puglia   Italy has thousands of grape varieties, and most of us recognize only the superstars like  Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Pinot Grigio.  But  there are so many others that you could devote years to learning and tasting. The Nero di Troia is an ancient grape that legend has it was brought to the Puglia region by the Greek hero Diomedes – who fought in the Trojan War. Today it is used in single variety wines like this one, or blends. The result is a full bodied wine that is fruit forward with a heady aroma of violets. Available online at the SAQ for $17.95

 

 The Grandi Marchi, was a Grande Success for this visitor. I would definitely go again, maybe this time I won’t race to the favourite tables for a chance to taste the holy grail of wines, getting flushed as a teenager waiting for a Bieber sighting.  Then there will be no morning after regret when I review my notes and realized the gems I missed. Some of these wines are available at the LCBO, some by consignment, your local LCBO can help you.

If you are looking for  a list of upcoming events, you can check out Events at Vintages.com or sign up for their online catalogue

Salute!