Wine Reviews: Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-25-2015

If you’re looking for delicious, age-worthy Tuscan reds, but don’t want to spend a lot of money, you should really check out the wines of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Perhaps overshadowed by the big boys of Brunello di Montalicino, which garner more critical acclaim and come with correspondingly higher price points, there are lots of exciting wines hailing from Montepulciano. Here, Prugnolo Gentile, the local clone of Sangiovese, is the staple. But winemakers are allowed to blend in up to 30 percent of some indigenous grapes like Canaiolo and Mammolo, as well as international red grapes and even some white grapes, (although few producers use the entire pallet allowed by the appellation laws).

I recently tasted through some Vino Nobile wines at Bourbon Steak in Washington, DC, and was impressed by the across-the-board quality. At the tasting, arranged by a trade group called the Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, I was joined by a group of Vino Nobile winemakers and the mayor of Montepulciano, Andrea Rossi.

Several of the producers were quite young, and the discussion turned to the differences between the Montepulciano of old and the more recent released. They explained how a new generation of young winemakers is stepping up to the task, willing to put in the time, effort and money to make the best wines possible from their sites and to promote them to a wider audience.

The youngest producer, Marco Anselmi, took over his family estate when his grandfather died in 2006. The 2007 Vino Nobile was Mario’s first vintage as winemaker. He named the wine “Damo” in honor of his grandfather, but he readily admits his grandfather came from a different time and place — and he made very different wine.

While Marco is rooted in the rich tradition of his hometown wine, he talks about changes: lowering yields in the vineyard, rethinking vine density and clonal selection, using sustainable farming and winemaking practices. I’m sure Damo’s wines were interesting (and I’d love to taste them next to Marco’s), but it’s inspiring to hear a young winemaker speak so passionately about raising the caliber of his hometown wines.

My notes on the wines (which were tasted sighted) are below the fold. While these wines are not easy to find in the States, poring through Wine-Searcher yields price points in the $20-$30 range. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: A Trio of South African White Wines

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-18-2015

While exploring the Cape winelands last year, I tasted many a fine Bordeaux and Rhone blend from Stellenbosch, and some delicious Pinot Noir from the Southern Cape. But the biggest wine-related revelation from my trip was the high quality and value of South African white wines.

I tasted a lot of exciting Chenin Blancs, Sauvignon Blancs and Chardonnays, but one of my favorite white wines of the trip was a Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Clairette blend that floored me with its freshness and sea-salty elegance.

You have to look around a bit to find some of the really good South African white wines here in the States, but they’re out there. I for one would like to see more and more of them.

I recently tasted through three South African white wines that were delicious and full of value. These were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Bubbles and Port

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-11-2015

American bubbles, Champagne, Port, and a Sherry thrown in for good measure. Some samples are distinct in style and sporadic enough that they don’t fit into a designated category. Although, one could argue a common thread among these bottles is that they all scream: Invite people over and open me!

All of these wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: California Cabernet

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 04-04-2015

This batch of California Cabernet represents an interesting cross-section of regions, styles of vintages.

Running the gamut from candied, drink-me-now (or not at all) bottles, to sexy, cellar-worthy wines, diversity in Cali Cabs always intrigues me. Some of the wines I liked best were among the more expensive, but I was impressed with the high quality of several bottles in the $20-$40 range. And for about $50, I don’t know of a better Napa Cab than the 2011 Smith-Madrone.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single blind.

Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: California Chardonnay

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-28-2015

We get a lot of California Chardonnay samples, but I never tire of tasting them. The diversity of regional nuances and winemaking styles is striking and exciting. I’m convinced there really is a Cali Chard out there for any palate.

These Chardonnays were received as trade samples and tasted single-blind.

Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Greece

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-21-2015

Okay, I don’t have a ton of experience tasting Greek wine. There are a couple reasons for this: I haven’t visited the country; the labels are confusing and plastered with words I can’t pronounce; and I don’t come across many Greek bottles here in the States.

But I’ve been missing out.

I recently tasted through six Greek wines and found lots to like. I’m especially intrigued by the unique flavor profiles and food-friendly approach of wines made from the indigenous red grape, Agiorgitiko. For my palate, the wines from Claudia Papayianni stole the show, especially the Viognier-Assyrtiko blend, which would be killer with all sorts of seafood.

These Greek selections come from Stellar Imports, and they were received as trade samples and tasted sighted. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Bila-Haut

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 03-15-2015

The Roussillon region of France is full of value. Refreshing rosés, bright whites, saucy reds and rich sweet wines (vins doux naturels), the adventurous consumer has a lot of options.

Some of the most widely available bottles come from a Michel Chapoutier project named Bila-Haut. When I first caught the wine bug in the early-2000s, I remember being attracted to these wines based on their interesting labels and low price points. And the juice was good, too.

I recently tasted through a bunch of new Bila-Haut releases and was impressed with their across-the-board quality and value. At $27, the high-end cuvee, Occultum Lapidem, is really worth seeking out for the cellar.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.  Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: California Sauvignon Blanc

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 02-21-2015

It’s the dead of winter here in the mid-Atlantic and crisp white wines might not be the first choice when you’re thinking of cracking open a bottle. But if you’re in the mood for seafood and salads, or you’re lucky enough to find yourself on a warm, sunny deck somewhere closer to the equator, California Sauvignon Blanc is a good call.

These Cali Sauv Blancs comprise a diverse crew, showcasing different regional nuances and winemaking signatures, and many of them are available for reasonable prices.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted single-blind. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: California Reds

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 02-14-2015

One of the greatest things about exploring California wines is the diversity. We taste a lot of California classics, Cabernets, Pinot Noirs and Rhone reds, and most of the California red wine samples we receive fall into these tried and true categories. But there’s so much else worth checking out.

After my initial fascination with Petite Sirah wore off, I have experienced something of a regained appreciation for the grape. And some Central Coast producers are doing interesting things with Malbec. There’s some Tempranillo, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Barbera thrown in for good measure. A small drop in the bucket, of course, but I enjoyed exploring these wines, which were received as trade samples and tasted single blind. Read the rest of this entry »

Wine Reviews: Washington State

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 01-31-2015

When it comes to pure deliciousness and joy in a wine-drinking experience, Washington State wines almost always deliver for me. Every time I think I have a grasp of the wines and their producers, I discover a new winemaker that wows me and keeps me wanting to learn more.

There are also plenty of value-driven bottles available, although some of these, like bulk regional blends from anywhere, can lack excitement. Still, dollar for dollar, the quality of Washington State continues to impress.

This batch was received as trade samples and tasted single-blind. Read the rest of this entry »