Discovering Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

ListoesThe turning twisting roads of Montepulciano, Italy feel like home to me. It’s the same feeling when I ran through the doors after grade school, or came home for the weekend from University. It is a feeling that all is right with the world.

The difference is today this home is where the wine is.

This Italian hill town in southern Tuscany has charm in and out of the glass. The people are warm and welcoming. They give you a reason to come back.

twoglassesWhile my husband took a nap, I started my wine adventure at La Dolce Vita (where else?).

Like the tasting area at the SAQ and LCBO, they had a self-serve wine tasting contraption filled with regional choices. The owners give you a credit card and you start pouring.The wine of choice here is Vino Nobile di Montepulciano – a lighter version of its big brother, Brunello from neighbouring Montalcino.  It is rich, fruity and as with all wines, the quality is all over the map ranging in price from 3 euros a bottle to 50 or more depending on the vintage.

salcoI started with 2007 Salco from Salcheto a producer I visited the last time I came here. Then I went with their recommendations – a 2009 Felsina Chianti Riserva and a 2009 Caprili Brunello di Montalcino. I bought two of them to savour later.

 

HaikuThere are the curiosities – such as Haiku by Castello di Amo which comes complete with…a haiku of course.

“Hazy Moon

Becoming tipsy, I’ve turned the colour of grapes”

by Toshiiki Bojo

Any notion of wine snobbery goes out the window here. People live and breathe wine, they’re all very knowledgeable and they love to share.

the squareIn the main square, which doubled as Volterra for fans of the Twilight series, is a cavern run by the Consortium of Vino Nobile Producers. You can sample any of the regions current releases,  and get suggestions if you’re looking to visit a winery for a tasting.

 

soilDaina, a sommelier by trade,  explained the different soils in the region – in the south the soil has more minerals, the middle – clay and the northern area sandy soil giving each distinct flavours.  She talked about how hard it is to be objective when you know the producers and they all work SO hard. And  she remarked on the growing number of women at the helm of wineries big and small. All while taking me through a tasting of three wines of my choosing for only six euros.

My wine adventure has begun with the best kinds of lessons that come in a glass.

And this is only day one 🙂

Where will your wine adventure take you?

 

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!

Weekend Wine Picks that WOW

Rolf Binder Ma I? Have This Evening Shiraz/Mataro 2009 (Barossa Valley, Australia)

Have This Evening?
Have This Evening?

Great value alert: I love to start with a wine that tastes like it should cost much more. This Barossa Valley red is a blend of 80% Shiraz and 20% Mataro grapes. It is structured and elegant with blackberry and hints of dark chocolate. And I admit it, I am a sucker for an Australian wine with a lovely label and this one is a beaut.The Australians and Californians often have great labels and still manage to get the wine right. All too often the memorable label is a strong sign that the wine will be anything but.  And I must give honourable mention to Ontario’s Megalomaniac wines that produce award-winning labels and terrific wines. More on the art of the wine label next week.

Cecchi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2009 DOCG $19.95 LCBO, $18.80 SAQ

Value Vino
Value Vino

OK I was seduced by a wine I love at a price that seemed too good to be true. This is another great value wine. Strong cherry and tobacco notes, the wine is extra dry.  It could benefit from decanting. While this is not as smooth as some of  the wines of its Tuscan neighbours, you don’t often see Vino Nobile di Montepulciano at this price. 12.7% alcohol.

 

 

Quinta Da Lixa Pouco Comum Alvarinho 2011 $14.95

Fresh and Crisp White
Fresh and Crisp White

This white from Portugal’s Minho region is aromatic and crisp. Think citrus, think lime – a wine that is ripe with opportunity. It is fresh and balanced, but with substance. At $14.95 – if you haven’t ventured past Charodnnay and Pinot Grigio, give yourself a new grape to try. It comes from northern part of the country, a region best known for Vino Verde – refreshing whites with a green tinge.

 

 

 

The Splurge of the Week

Bold and Beautiful
Bold and Beautiful

Mollydooker The Boxer Shiraz 2010 (South Australia) $29.95

I love this wine. I love this winery’s philisophy and I would love to have its two founders, Sarah and Sparky Marquis ,over for  dinner. Mollydooker is Aussie slang  for left hander – because Sarah and Sparky  are both lefties.  Just last month, I wrote about Mollydooker’s Maitre D’. This week I was delighted to see a new and equally distinctive label on the shelf at Vintages.  The Boxer is a guaranteed crowd pleaser if you like full-bodied, fruity, rich, bold, delicious – and I could go on and on wine. While this style of fruity, highly alcoholized wine is not to everyone’s taste, it has a lot of fans. Sarah and Sparky’s story is as rich as its wines.  They went from the brink of bankruptcy to almost overnight success. Check out their fabulous web site. It is as creative as their labels. Their wines get rave reviews and they can’t produce enough of it.  It is a splurge, but I am sipping it as I write, and it is ripe with blackberries, blueberries, spice  and plenty of promise that keep delivering. Alcohol: (hold on to your hat) 16%

What attracts your eye to the bottle? The label, the grape, the region or the rating?

Italian Wines that WOW and other Weekend Wine Picks

Every two weeks, LCBO’s Vintages  delivers a flutter of joy to my inbox. If you are over 40, it’s the same kind of greedy excitement you felt when the Sears’ Christmas Wish Book came to the door. If you are under 40, it could be the Victoria’s Secret, Restoration Hardware or Canadian Tire catalogue that gives you the same kind of thrill. The Vintages online catalogue features the new releases and each edition spotlights one particular region. Last week, joy of joys – the feature: Tuscan Triumphs – featuring  many affordable wines and others that are wishlist worthy.

While I start to make my way through the new releases, a few of them made The Women of WIne’s weekend picks.

Teruzzi & Puthod Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2011 DOCG (Tuscany)

Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2011
Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2011

The Italian white is fresh and lively- think citrus and green apples – pale straw coloured and nicely aromatic with a creamy  texture. The Vernaccia di San Gimignano appellation was the first wine designated DOC – an Italian mark of quality. It was later upgraded to DOCG or quality guaranteed.  The Vernaccia grape is grown in the stunning area surrounding San Gimignano, the Tuscan town declared a UNESCO heritage site. If you have ever seen the movie Tea With Mussolini, starring a trio of British treasures: Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Joan Plowright, part of the film was shot there. Like this wine, the movie too, has a big finish. I won’t spoil it, but definitely worth watching with a glass of this wine in hand.

 Valiano Poggio Teo Chianti Classico 2008 DOCG (Tuscany) 

Valiano Poggio Teo Chianti Classico 2008
Valiano Poggio Teo Chianti Classico 2008

The scent of a good Chianti is one of life’s true pleasures. This deep ruby wine is full of plum, cherry preserves, spice and chocolate notes. Its tannins will make you pucker so decanting is a good idea. This is 100% Sangiovese and comes from Chianti Classico, an area within the gorgeous Chianti region. This wine also has the favourite WOW (women of wine) characteristic. It tastes a like it should cost more than it actually does.  13.5% alcohol. $18.95

 

 

 

Out of the New World WIne

Barista Pinotage WO 2011 (Western Cape, South Africa)

Barista Pinotage
Barista Pinotage

Pinotage is South Africa’s specialty. It is a cross between Cinsault and Pinot Noir and when it is good, it is very very good. The name is highly appropriate. Barista is like sipping from a strong cup of coffee with mocha flavours all wrapped up with red fruit and oak. I have not always been a big fan of Pinotage, but some of the latest releases have been terrific. And at $14.95, so is the price. 13.5% alcohol. Have it with a burger or even biscotti.

 

 

 

Deal of the Week

Vina Alicia Paso de Piedra Malbec 2008 (Mendoza, Argentina)

Vina Alicia Malbec 2008
Vina Alicia Malbec 2008

This is an exceptional value wine. Deep and delicious with black cherries and spice. It is 100% Malbec, the signature grape of Mendoza which produces 70% of the wines of Argentina. This wine is full-bodied and fruity. And if you need an official rating for proof, uber-critic Robert Parker gave it a 92 points. Not bad for $19.95. Buy one for yourself, one to hold and one to gift to someone you love.

 

 

Splurge of the Week: A Few More Dollars But a Lot of Delicious

Poliziano Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2009
Poliziano Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano 2009

Poliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2009, (Tuscany)

Cherries and spice and everything nice – this is a superb example of this noble wine of Tuscany made by Poliziano, one of the region’s top producers. Some refer to Vino Nobile di Montepulciano as a baby Brunello at a more affordable price.  I am a big fan and not just because Montipulciano is one of my favourite places on the planet. Sure, like any type of wine,  some are better than others, but when a Vino Nobile is well-produced – like this one, it is elegant, giving, well-structured  and keeps you wanting more.  It is 85% Prugnolo Gentile (a Sangiovese clone) and 15% blend of Canaiolo, Merlot and Colorino grapes. Pick up a bottle, they are going fast – or even better – get yourself to Montipulciano – it will taste even better. I promise.  14.5% alcohol. $25.96

Have a great weekend. Let us know if you try out one of the picks or if you have another to suggest.

 

Discovering Gaja

Piedmonte’s Langhe Region

Discovering Gaja

Just when you thought all roads to Italy’s greatest wines end in Tuscany, welcome to Piedmonte’s  Langhe region.  This is home to two of the country’s greatest wines and some of its  greatest producers. Where the B’s that get  straight A’s are Barolo and Barbaresco.  My initiation to the Shangri-La of wine was no less breath-taking than the family vineyard responsible for putting two of Italy’s Super B’s on the map.

The history of Gaja is wrapped around the history of wine in this region.  Its ancestral tree belongs on a vine. Above all,  Gaja is about family.
Five generations of Gajas  have  produced wine here, each improving, innovating, and invigorating the vines, the grapes, the techniques.  They were equally committed to improving  the lives of families living in the region, giving them a trade, pride and most  important, a way to support their own families.
The valley, 40 minutes outside Torino,   looks like a postcard for  Lost Horizon, the novel by James Hilton published in 1933.  The lush green valley was once the pathway of pilgrims and warriors. Legendary military general Hannibal led his war elephants and  troops 40,000 strong from Barcelona down this valley to Rome in 218 B.C.
Today the only conquering that happens in this valley is in the field, nurturing  only the best quality grapes to create wines   celebrated around the world.
Gaja shares more than the Alps with  its French neighbors.   Patriarch Angelo Gaja’s grandmother Clotilde Rey brought style and a business acumen that helped secure the future of the winery.  Clotilde pushed her son  Giovanni to savour the tradition and focus on quality. She encouraged her son to  use the skills and techniques honed over generations to make only the best wines. Like a good Italian son, Giovanni listened to his mother and never looked back. But  it was really Giovanni’s son Angelo who took his grandmother’s principles and changed the industry.
Today the Nebbiolo grape (named from Nebbia or fog which descends on the valley) is one of a select few known for producing unforgettable wines.
My discovery of Gaja came accidentally. At a random wine-tasting, I sampled Ca’Marcanda – a wine produced in Tuscany’s Bolgheri region and sold at the LCBO. I felt like my taste buds had come home. I actually dreamed of this wine. It was when  I looked it up and learned about the legend that is Angelo Gaja and his influence on two of my favourite wines.  Since I would be in Northern Italy  visiting family in the next month, why not ?

Sonia Franco, personal assistant to Angelo Gaja

We could not have been made to feel more  welcome by our most gracious guide Sonia Franco, personal assistant to the man himself.  We  toured. We tasted. We bonded over the history of the region, the story of a family and wines that I will never forget.  Wines named after Angelo’s daughter Gaia and grandmother Clotilde Rey – the best of the past and the best of the future. A white wine so full-bodied it felt like a red. Or a Barolo  named Sperss, after the Piedmonte word for nostalgia, another coincidence since I had just left family members who I had not seen in a decade.

Angelo’s house overlooking the vineyard

Or my favourite “Darmagi” – the expression meaning “What a Pity” which apparently exactly is what Angelo’s father said when he found  out his son had replaced a field of beloved Nebbiolo grapes with, how dare you,  Cabernet Sauvignon vines.
I came away with one more thimble full of wine knowledge.  And I learned that wine will always be a  journey of discovery and if you are lucky enough to stumble upon a place like Gaja and a guide like Sonia you understand it is full of people only too willing to share.