2014 Chianti Classico Riserva, Conti Torraiolo

Savvy marketing or a good end cap occasionally turns my head to a wine that wouldn’t normally make my dinner table. The 2014 Chianti Classico Riserva Conti Torraiolo is the latest example, an old world red from the Tuscan region. It was positioned to grab shoppers’ attention and that’s why I’m coming to you now to talk about this easy-drinking red.

Italy’s Chianti region includes multiple districts, including the Chianti Classico subregion, and its best wines come from hilly areas (colli or colline in Italian) where the terroir has a strong hand in shaping the wine. Further research shows that only the Chianti Classico carries its own DOCG distinction, owing to the high quality of wines produced in this region—which lies between Sienna and Florence. (With a sigh I think again of our postponed Italy trip and the opportunity to drive through all the winding hills from Florence out to this countryside…) The soils of Chianti Classico are galestro: a soft, clay-like soil that enables the wines produced here to have high acidity and noticeable tannic structure with a medium body.

Towns in the region include Greve, Radha, Gaiole, and Castellina, and top producers include Badia a Coltibuono, Brolio, Ruffino. That’s the company kept by this 2014 Chianti Classico Riserva from Conti Torraiolo, which we finished last evening.

2014 Chianti Classico Riserva, Conti Torraiolo, Chianti Classico DOCG, Italy.

I found the wine to be pleasantly fragrant, light cherry and leather, when poured in the glass. It’s 100% Sangiovese. The Torraiolo, however, was thin and underwhelming. I can appreciate that Chianti Classico can be a total powerhouse, but that’s not the case here. The 2014 Chianti Classico Riserva by Conti Torraiolo accompanied a mixed salad and (delicious!) crab cake dinner, and that meal called for (if you’re pro-red as is this taster) a lighter bottle that would play well with the tastes of the arugula and dill… the Torraiolo didn’t really do that.

It was okay, but only okay. The price should have offered a clue of this, but perhaps I was all caught up in Christmas shopping and missed the sign. Enjoyed this opportunity to taste and comment on a new wine, but this first experience with the 2014 Chianti Classico Riserva, Conti Torraiolo does not need a repeat. Happy holidays and thanks for reading!

2014 Count’s Selection Sangiovese, Buena Vista Winery

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I am thankful for many things this year (you know who you are) and Buena Vista wines are one of ’em. This bottle is from the vineyard’s first-ever vintage of Sangiovese and is a harbinger of promising horizons for Buena Vista. Founded in Sonoma in 1857, Buena Vista is California’s oldest premium winery (also my favorite) and this tempting red shows the winery not content to rest on its laurels but rather the winemaker’s ongoing commitment to excellence and experimentation.

screen-shot-2016-12-03-at-4-35-18-pmWe pulled the cork on a gorgeous November afternoon; with the sun shining brightly and temperatures in the high 60s, all of us gathered for dinner were relaxing outside instead of watching football on a day I often call “Dallas Thursday” to the ire of all non-Cowboys fans. Tailgating games were in full swing, and beverages flowing–including this Sangiovese. Only a few entries of Sangiovese (see the Puglia, Amantis, or Biltmore) exist on Notes, but they do seem to coincide with family and holiday gatherings so this bottle is coincidentally relevant to this trend.

Our host and hostess provided an AMAZING spread (thank you so much, Brandon and Jackie), one that was bountiful and full of delicious treats. There were two turkeys, a spiral-cut ham, all kinds of vegetables, stuffing, cranberries, mac-n-cheese, rolls, and yes, 15 pounds of potatoes, too. So that’s the backdrop against which this 2014 Sangiovese made its (brief!) appearance.

The wine is really good, and it held up well on an occasion that calls for indulgences of all kinds. It’s got red berry scents too it, mixed with earthy spices. The 2014 Count’s Selection Sangiovese isn’t quite as tannic or peppery as, say, a Syrah or a Buena Vista Charbono, but it has a nice red/black fruit taste that is plenty inviting. It’s a nice, full finish like a Cab but a little less tannic. Since I had car tripping pending for the end of the day, I had to be restrained in my ‘tasting’ of the Sangiovese but would have gladly pushed for more if not a driver on this holiday.screen-shot-2016-12-03-at-4-32-58-pm

Here’s how the Buena Vista people describe the wine: “Our inaugural vintage of Sangiovese opens with complex aromas of Bing cherry, rose petals, and a touch of leather. Tempting flavors of cherries and orange marmalade, with a touch of anise, caress the palate.

I know my friends enjoyed it too and were asking about the bottle, so here it is guys and gals in case you’re looking to order for yourself. Glad to share the day and its celebrations with you all, and looking forward to the next occasion. Miss you all already!

2012 Vintner’s Collection Meritage, Sterling Vineyards; 2009 Amantis Montecucco Sangiovese

Christmas Day and plenty of great vino to be enjoyed. First on the docket? The 2012 Sterling Meritage, a big red from the Central Coast of California. Earlier this year I had my first Sterling, and both receive favorable marks for their depth and taste.

2012 Vintner's Collection Meritage, Sterling Vineyards, Central Coast

2012 Vintner’s Collection Meritage, Sterling Vineyards, Central Coast, California, USA.

This Meritage is your kitchen sink of reds–it packs in Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot, and you end up with several layers in tasting. Just check out the adjacent photo. You have the fruits (black cherry for sure), a hint of vanilla, and also some of the spice that I think comes through in the Verdot. This bottle we sampled, collectively, with hors d’oeuvres that included an amazing, thick pepperoni, olives, various crackers, and olive tapanade. Maybe some salted almonds too? Special thanks to my cousin and his bride, if you’re reading along, for this fun treat.

The main event of our dinner? A roast to die for. It had a fantastic bark to it (I know this isn’t a food blog but the beef was photo-worthy in and of itself) and the seasonings (salt, dill seed, coriander, garlic, etc.) were perfect. Yes, we had all the usual fixings with the entre, but the beef was cooked just right and carried a tremendous amount of flavor–upon request the butcher had removed the rib bones but then retied them to the meat so as to infuse them into the process. I may err in a detail or two here; again this is more about the wine but just wanted to share details on the accompanying food.

There was a hearty Bordeaux breathing in a decanter all evening, and we opened a 2009 Amantis Montecucco Sangiovese as well. This Italian red originates from the region between Montalcino and coast of Tuscany–one my reference says “succeeds at a hybrid of Brunell and Supertuscan that demonstrates a natural appropriation of the latter two regions’ superlative characters.” Some five-dollar words to say it’s a great, hearty wine with some depth to it.

2009 Amantis Montecucco Sangiovese, Italy.

2009 Amantis Montecucco Sangiovese, Italy.

I taste black cherry here too in the Sangiovese, and rich spices that went just great with the pepper-encrusted beef. Juicy, and delicious. This 2009 could have been tart and tannic, but it wasn’t. The wine was much softer than I’d pictured, and that’s a good thing. We had this first bottle of the 2009 Amantis Montecucco Sangiovese, and a second one immediately on its heels. A third bottle, had one been along for the festivities, would have followed as well.

I’m interested in sampling again on a day where my palate hasn’t been exposed too to Bordeaux or a California red just in case I’m mixing characteristics among the reds. A fun day, though, and one embellished by good wine.

2012 Biltmore Sangiovese

Halloween Night 2014, a night for ghouls, ghosts, and Night of the Living Dead–a classic for some but a first time for me. Just like the 2012 Biltmore Sangiovese opened for the occasion. We put some great candy outside for the trick-or-treaters (honor system and faith in humanity for our house) and fired up some homemade pizzas to go with this Sangiovese.

2012 Biltmore Sangiovese North Carolina USA

2012 Biltmore Sangiovese, North Carolina, USA.

Individual pies were the order of the day; one on wheat and one on white crust. The wheat was doctored up with a spicy pizza sauce, mushrooms, green olives with jalapeno pepper centers, pepperoni, red pepper flakes, and heaping piles of mozzarella cheese. Yes, I think wheat breads deaden the taste and thus compensated with a great mix of toppings–it turned out great and I buzzed right through this pie. The white crust I simply slathered with the sauce, pepperoni, and the same piles of shredded mozz; it was a delicious dish as well.

All that talk of pizza, you say, so what of the Sangiovese? I’ll classify this one as good but not great. I had actually cracked it last night to accompany a perfectly cooked NY Strip steak, and on both occasions the meal stands out more to me than the grapes. It was fruity, it had an easy finish, and it was rich in its appearance–but those are the key takeaways. I’m sorry I don’t have more to offer. This wine was a gift from family who’d visited the breathtaking Biltmore several weeks ago while I was away on business travel, and that’s more important to me than the taste or profile of the 2012. The gesture is what lasts here.

Maybe we’ll just have to have another go at this vino closer to Christmas when we revisit Asheville?

2011 Dogajolo Toscano, Carpineto

Time for celebrations tonight and marking the way is the 2011 Dogajolo Toscano Indicazione Geografica Tipica–a dry red table wine from Tuscany.  After weeks of American and French wines, we’ve hit Italians twice now in January.  This one was part of birthday celebrations and thus has extra special regards from us.

2011 Dogajolo Toscano, Carpineto, Tuscany, Italy.

2011 Dogajolo Toscano, Carpineto, Tuscany, Italy.

Truth be told, I had a first glass last evening (with pan-seared steaks and blue cheese salad) but tasting tonight–while we watched great YouTube video of the Kennedy Center honors for Led Zeppelin and then Paul McCartney–the Dogajolo showed its range.  My wife had selected the Dogajolo based on recognizing its label from some occasion years ago, and I see why this one stuck deep in the subconscious of her mind.  In part, its label reminds me of one of her favorite Christmas wrapping papers.  From the taste perspective, it’s deep red and fruity, it packs in some zest, and it’s real easy to drink.

A quick label recap: “The Dogajolo is made from 80% Sangiovese grapes blended with a dash of 20% Cabernet Sauvignon grown in dry farmed, hillside vineyards in central Tuscany.  Fruity and intense flavors, with hints of berries, coffee, vanilla, and spice, are matched with a supple tannin structure and a long finish.  This young ‘Super Tuscan’ wine shows at its best with full-flavored dishes such as roasts, grilled meats, cold cuts, and tomato-based Italian specialties such as pizza and pasta.

All those would be great and lord knows we tried several already…and are looking forward to others.  Suffice it to say, the Dogajolo acquitted itself well.

Podere Paganico Brunello di Montalcino 2005

I always say the best wine is consumed with friends, and that’s part what made this bottle so special–that plus the killer coffee-braised short ribs with ancho chile (thanks Jackie)!  This intense Italian red was a gift from friends and accompanied a great Saturday night meal and even better conversation.  We uncorked with hors d’oeuvres that included several types of hummus (one great option grown in nearly Asheville, NC), vegetable munchies, pretzel chips, and green olives stuffed with jalapeno–one of our favorites.  Kids and adults made quick work of all this fun…

Podere Paganico Brunello di Montalcino 2005, Tuscany, Italy.

Podere Paganico Brunello di Montalcino 2005, Tuscany, Italy.

…and then we were on to the main event.  The ribs were fantastic and we’ll all remember the funny story about what it took to get the right cut from the local butcher.  Sounds like a less frequent request that I bet the butcher told his family that night too.  All the extra care came through in the killer meal, though.   The Podere Paganico Brunello di Montalcino, a Sangiovese from Tuscany, was packed full of flavors both dominant and subtle.  Its plummy fruits combined effectively with the savory short ribs (which practically slid off the bone), and there was some spice at work here too.  A little longer on the finish than other recent reds we’ve sampled in recent weeks…fruity but not too berryish, if that makes sense?

In addition to the ribs and red, we also had heavenly mashed potatoes, so rich and creamy that they piled high–albeit briefly–on our plates alongside fresh green beans.  All this goodness ultimately gave way to another Pinot Noir (a delicious This is E11even from the Santa Maria Valley that is pictured herein but will have to wait another sampling for a write-up of its own) and chocolate brownies with vanilla ice cream.  Wish this was our “typical” Saturday night for so many reasons, but perhaps its rarity made it all the more enjoyable.  Certainly one for the memories–just like the vino.