Thursday, 19 July 2012

The wines of Andrea Franchetti

Last Wednesday I was delighted to help host a dinner with Barbara Santilli who works with Andrea Franchetti on both of his estates - Tenuta di Trinoro in the south of Tuscany (Val d'Orcia) & Tenuta di Passopisciaro (Mount Etna, Sicily). The dinner was at 1 Lombard Street which I recommend, it is an old banking hall right in the middle of the City by Bank. The evening was created to showcase the two estates. It is a great pleasure to be able to show 7 different wines and 5 different vintages across the two estates. Those numbers correctly suggest that Andrea is not into simplicity in fact I would say that the term "maverick" is accurate here. I always feel a touch uncomfortable using a phrase like that has it is banded around willy-nilly these days but I hope some of the observations below show you why I feel it applies here.
So, on with the wines, the first pair of wines are both from the Sicilian estate and grown therefore on lava flows. Both are from a single variety, Chardonnay in the case of Guardiola and Nerello Mascalese (50-110yr old vines!) in the case of Passopisciario (Passo-pish-e-r-o):
Guardiola 2010, Tenuta di Passopisciaro, this is totally un-oaked and vibrant as a result, elements of stone fruit and grapefruit show through, the balance is excellent and whilst lovely now (as they would drink it in Sicily) it is even better in 9-18months. A wine of texture rather than wild flavours.
Passopisciaro 2007, Tenuta di Passopisciaro, I have loved this wine from the off and recommend it to people who love something different but classically proportioned, it is not a dark rich coloured wine (but then neither is Grenache, Nebbiolo or Pinot Noir) the fruit in the 2007 is very much red, it is a pretty but in no way superficial wine. Serve it cool is my top "tip". Both these wines were accompanied by a very good Smoked Haddock Risotto with soft Quail eggs and Mustard sauce.
Our next two wines formed what I called an "interim contrast course", two wines to taste - both 2009, two totally different varieties and estates:
Palazzi 2009, Tenuta di Trinoro, is a wine Andrea has only made in 1997, 1999 & 2009, he deemed it too easy to make and stopped for the 9 vintages in between (maverick you see?). It is from 100% Merlot in 2009, it is decadent expression of this variety with a high toned richness, whilst it will, and should ideally be, aged, it is in such balance that it is easily appreciated now. Only 200 cases were made. Interestingly the label features the front of Andrea's house, the back of the house is on the first wine - Tenuta di Trinoro.
Franchetti 2009, Tenuta di Passopisciaro by contrast is 80% Cesanese d'Affile & 20% Petit Verdot (other vintages have been the other way around) is it a denser wine with more power and more rich fruit but the fruit itself is more violets and black creamy fruit than the hedonistic Palazzi. I was intrigued by how different these were (they should be) so asked the assembled to vote which they would own if they could own just one bottle of either. Franchetti edged it 22/18!!
The next pairing saved with a delicious Fillet of Angus Beef with Onion and Mushroom crust, were
Le Cupole 2008, Tenuta di Trinoro, Cupole which means dome is the second selection of the estate. The 2008 is very balanced with a more savoury edge than I remember the extrovert 2007 having, best from now on it will age well but no real need in my opinion.
Tenuta di Trinoro 1998 magnum, Tenuta di Trinoro, the guest next to me rather wonderfully wrote "religious experience" on his notes. This was mighty fine, a wonderful balance again but in a developed way, this will age gracefully but for me is wonderfully now, amazing given how it was only the second wine from the estate. There is a decadence about Andrea's wines that show how he loves to pick late - typically October in Tuscany and November in Sicily. This wine bodes so well for all he has done since because it was just lovely. Interestingly Barbara noted that Andrea feels 2001 and 2009 are the very finest vintages he has made since he started in 1997.
We wrapped up proceedings by going back to Sicily. Andrea initially made the Passopisciario from all the Nerello that he had but he quickly realised that he had some exceptional sites and hence he now makes minute (and I mean minute) amount of wines from different Contradas (translates as Cru or site). Here we had Porcaria Contrada 2008, Tenuta di Passopisciaro with Welsh Rarebit. This wine, unsurprisingly, went down a storm. The quantities are so small that it must be a real fiddle to even make it, but as you may have gathered this doesn't tend to bother Andrea. The freshness of Nerello character does show but there is an underlying seriousness and savoury minerality that makes this wine a very high quality one. A half full bottle of this arrived back at the office the following morning and I had a glass a day until sunday when it was still singing along. Serious wine this...
And that was that, a cracking evening with insightful comments from Barbara and a lovely atmosphere.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

San Giusto a first taste

The line-up with Chianti-shire map in background. 
Possibly no region of Italy has a more mixed and murky reputation and wine quality level than Chianti. Lots of people had no incentive but to produce as much wine as possible for as little fuss as possible for so long. From 2000 it looks like things are seriously getting sorted out with new clones, defined communes, acceptable cepages etc. At work we (not me I just do some tasting!) have looked for good Chianti for a while and are about to start working with the above producer and I joined some colleagues for a first proper tasting on Wednesday. The estate is small and very quality focused, not to be fair that you'll ever find an estate that says "we're not that bothered about the quality as long as it is ok and nobody notices". So the three wines:

Chianti Classico 2010 - 95% Sangiovese & 5% Canaiolo
Properly Sangiovese, with a grainy grippy structure that is not massive but is present as it should be, good fruit that will come out more in time, red and black combined, a good wine that will be even better in 1-3 years, properly made but not over made. 17.

Chianti Classico Riserva "Le Baroncole" 2009 - 97% Sangiovese & 3% Canaiolo
This Riserva was first made in 2000 although they made a Riserva as far back as 1975. This sees 18 months in barriques and requires a little more time in bottle from now. The barriques slightly dominate at the moment but this wine is in need of 24 months to mellow and from there more of the Sangiovese character will develop and show, the texture and amount of fruit is great, will be interesting to watch. 16.5-17.5.

Percarlo 2008 - 100% Sangiovese
Rich succulent and fully fruited, very impressive, this is at present a more international stye of wine. Everything is present and in balance, the 20 months in barrique shows but not excessively so, this could be a real gem in a little time. Making generalisations about Tuscany is almost impossible but I have been impressed by all things 2008. There seems a great balance between fruit and a serious savoury side. 18-18.5.

Looking forward to flogging and drinking these!!


On Thursday just gone my colleague Burdhound and I took Jemma who has worked with us without complaint for some time now but has finally had enough (not really she is going travelling), for lunch and yes of course it had to be Zucca. Starting with a glass of Franciacorta which I becoming a big fan of. We than had a red and a white, both proved worthy of comment:

Nova Domus 2009 Riserva, Terlano - This is an unusual blend of about 60% Pinot Bianco, 25% Chardonnay & 15% Sauvignon Blanc, it works though, enough freshness but also an ever so slightly off dry feel and a good weight, went really well with the normal assortment of starters...I am thinking Italy makes a far better range and quality of whites than I previously thought so give some a whirl and no list is better than Zucca's.

Then onto the main course, veal chop for me, probably had more that ten of these by now, quality is so consistently great! To drink? Barbaresco 1982, Roagna - This was seriously good and when you consider it is not from a Cru and from a good but not exceptional vintage even more so. Having said that about the vintage I have had several 1982 Baroli and Barbaresci  that have impressed with a great deal of elegance and fruit if not depth. This was in exactly that style, red fruit and a lovely backbone, gave way to a more savoury texture and saline quality, shows what this great estate can do!

Zind-Humbrecht 2010's with Olivier Humbrecht

The full tasting range

Last wednesday a colleague (Burdhound) and I were lucky enough to have Olivier Humbrecht come to the office to show us a wonderful selection of his 2010's. Now, we have no direct relationship here and therefore no biase so as ever the comments below are totally mine. Asked about the vintage as a whole Olivier had a few comments:
- It is a small crop.
- The acidity is the highest in 20 years.
- Relatively little noble rot and even that was only towards the very end.
- The wines are likely to be more for the connoisseur, they are potentially quite strict (my word).
- The wines will repay time more than ever and will be an aromatic vintage overall.
- The terroir of the sites is translated very well, this character dominates any "vintage" character.

So on with the tasting. We followed Olivier's selected groupings and tasted by variety and with each variety by residual sugar level. My scores are at the end of each note/comment. I am not really bothered by what the  sugar level is as it really doesn't necessarily translate to sweetness at all in my view but I thought it best to put  it in.

Heimborg - Pure with a smokey element. Only 4g of residual sugar, rich savoury texture a masculine Riesling from this steep south facing slope, a good start. 16-17
Clos Hauserer - A few more flowers here, white flowers at that, a slightly spritz, which is not a bad thing these are recently bottles, grapey green fruit, gooseberry? There is fresh, green apple acidity, impressive and focussed. 7g residual. 17-18
Clos Windsbuhl - Aromatic, more spice, almost white pepper, elegant style, highest acidity so far, 6g residual, a dry apple strudel element, intriguing. 16-17
Rangen de Thann - The most complete yet, most floral too, has a smokey element to counter the floral elements, this site was a bit warmer than most in 2010. You can almost taste the more volcanic soil. Will be fascinating to follow this wine. 8g residual. 17-18++
Brand Vielles Vignes - Granitic soil here. An oily yet clean style, lovely, appley, fresh but with weight, 29g residual but you wouldn't know it, deeply impressive. 18(+)
Brand Vendage Tardive Vieilles Vignes - Only 100 cases made. 65g residual. High acidity is very welcome here, opulent, lovely hit on the palate, a brilliant, if rare, combination of richness and minerality, wonderful stuff. 18(+)
The Rieslings
Pinot Gris
Clos Windsbuhl - Clean and fresh on the nose, stones, minerality, white fruit then peaches and apricots well balanced by a dash of spice on the palate, harmonious. 16g residual. 17(+)
Rangen de Thann - Here comes one of those notes people love or hate! Cheesecloth, smokey, a little "farty", old skool, savoury intensity, cold cheese, like the fridge door being opened when you've got Christmas in there, oily, wonderful. 46g residual. 18-19
Had an interesting chat with Olivier about what happens with Gewürztraminer when the wine ages. Olivier said that the flowery, aromatic side which is a reason to either love it or hate it in youth, subsides and the spice comes out more and more.
Hengst - Perfumed with a little spice, a bit OTT for me but good at what it is, pot-pourri and old ladies handbag, very little rot, lavender on the palate. 36g residual. 16-17
Rangen de Thann - More savoury and smokey than the Hengst, a lovely balance of savoury and fruited. Very long, weighty but very complete with it, is very much Gewürztraminer but not too much, impressive. 37g residual. 18-19
Clos Windsbuhl - A closed nose but nearer the Rangen in style than the Hengst, very well-knit but not overly showy, stays restrained but all seems to be in there. 62g residual. 17-18

And so a seriously good tasting as over, I don't have much Alsace in my cellar but I will have to address that with a couple of these wines.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The only Englishman...

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be asked by a friend, Mr T,  who happens to be in the wine trade but also have a child at the school my wife is head of (bit convoluted I know) to a lunch he was throwing for his French Brotherhood. So it was me and eight french chaps. This was doubly good as they all love food and wine but also they spoke almost exclusively in French…something I need to improve and fast. We all met in rainy north London at 12.30 and first up was a tasting of 8 red Buzet and 2 white Buzet. The reason for this tasting was that Mr T had some samples of the wines to look at as a possible listing for him. We didn’t come to any massive conclusion, there were some nice wines without being really earthy or simply typically “Buzet” enough.
Prince d’Albret 2004 –Simple, rustic, soft (I did explain the the name was potentially problematic!!) - 13
Chateau de Bougigues 2010 – Darker and richer than some but a little simple - 14
Les Vigneronnes de Buzet 2009 – Structured and more “Buzet” in style, one of the better ones - 15
L’Excellence 2010 – Lush and fruited, nice but not Buzet, irritating name too - 14/15
Les Vigneronnes de Buzet Merlot / Cabernet 2009 – simple and not one of the better examples - 13/14
Domaine de Brazalem 2009 -  A little bit of make up in the form of oak but it had guts in a true Buzet fashion, good with food, the best, to my mind that is - 16
Chateau de Gueyze 2009 – Too worked and extracted, a shame as the fruit was decent - 13
Baron d’Ardeuil 2002 – The cork fell apart so this was decanted, the age had made it mature but less interesting at the same time, ok and a good glass- 15
L’Excellence Blanc 2011 – Really neutral which is neither a good nor bad thing, Semillon / Sauvignon Blanc blend – 13/14
Baron d’Ardeuil Blanc 2011 – Good fruit but too much oak which was a shame, the same blend as the above, 50% more expensive though due to the swanky bottle and more oak (a common error) - 13/14
Lunch followed at which we carried on tasting the wines above but also those below.
Psi 2009, Ribera de Duero, Peter Sisseck – Served at a tasting the night before so I took it along to show the guys, really lovely and open, getting better every month this wine.
Macon Verze 2009 – One bottle was open and half drunk from tasting the night before the other was opened fresh, both showed well. Lovely easy and delicately oaked chardonnay, reliable.
Chaueauneuf du Pape 2008, can’t remember the producer, sorry. This was a poor 2008. Ok the vintage is not great but some are charming and elegant this was disjointed and a little spirit. In it’s defence it had travelled from the Rhone the day before.
Clos Venturi 2010, Corsica – 100% Vermentino and very enjoyable, fresh, white fruit, like Lynchees without the sweetness. My first Corsican.
Nelson’s Estate Late Harvest Semillon 2010 – went really well with the Foie Gras, it is rich but retains acidity as a ready to go “sweet” this works well, no point keeping it further.
The food was excellent, as you would expect, lovely bread amazing rillet’s, Foie Gras to die for and then some of the best veal I have had in ages, cooked with a Morels sauce. The cheese was also superb, even the goat’s cheese and I don’t really “do” Goat. The chat was great; food, wine, rugby it was a very special afternoon and one I was delighted to be at. I even think my French improved a little.
Once I got home and caught up the emails it was time for a smoke under some shelter at the end of the garden. I wanted something quickish and not over powering. I guessed that a Punch Petit Corona would fit the bill, I had bought it in Barcelona. It was a delightful, soft, elegant, balanced, a “white wine” cigar that was just the job. I think I may pick up a box of these as nice balanced daytime smokes. If a total beginner to cigars asked me to recommend a marque I would be tempted to point them to Punch for the moment.