Fontodi’s Vigna del Sorbo Riserva 2007

In my last postI wrote about Ornellaia and Sassicaia. But it was not any of those two giants that impressed me the most at that tasting last week. At least not when both price and quality are considered.

Instead it was another iconic and “modern” favorite among tuscanys top reds that caught my attention. Fontodi’s Chianti Classico Riserva Vigna del Sorbo. Fontodi was among the first to make a 100 percent sangiovese when most Chianti still were diluted with a percentage of white grapes and the wine law even forbid the production of a sangiovese varietal.

That wine, Flaccianello della Pieve, caused quite a stir back in the 80s and 90s and still is one of Tuscanys best. Fontodis other cru Vigna del Sorbo made as a blend of sangiovese and cabernet (the cabernet was grafted on existing canaiolo and trebbiano rootstocks in the 70s) is no less impressive. Made from 90 percent sangiovese and 10 percent cabernet. And the wine usually spends som 16 to 24 months in french oak barriques (50 percent new).

And the 2007 is awesome. Still a bit closed and young but it will evolve to something great. The color is dark red and dense. On the nose I find dark cherries, cocoa powder, herbs, oak, nuts and leather. On the palate it hits us with a medium bodied, very concentrated taste of dark cherries, oak, tobacco and herbs. I also find elements of leather and vanilla. The aftertaste is long with firm tannins. Cellar for 3-5 years! 4,5/5 points.

Clash of the Titans – Ornellaia vs Sassicaia

Earlier this year I was at a tasting that in theory pitted Ornellaia against Sassicaia. 😉 I had tasted Ornellaia 2007 a few months earlier and were contemplating Sassicaia 2007 in the glass before me (as well as Le Serre Nouve dell’Ornellia and Guidalberto). And even though the two cult wines cost about the same Orneallia felt far better than it’s neigbhour.

Now I’m back after another tasting that really had the two alongside each other. And once again Tenuta dell’Ornellaia outshines Tenuta San Guido not only by a small fraction – in fact I felt that even Ornellaias second wine (at less than half the price) was at par with or even better than Sassicaia. How could that be?

Sassicaia is by birthright the firstSuper Tuscan (you can hate it or love it – but for me the “name” or designation signifies an expermentation outside the old rigid DOC-rules that not just led to better wines but also started the Italian wine revolution). The whole thing of course grew out of proportion as american consumers wanted nothing but those superwines that Robert Parker and other influential wine writers gave raving (crazy?) reviews. It even went so far that producers had to de-classify their wine in order to be able to sell them.

But Sassicaia was first. It is a blend of mostly cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. The vineyards in Bolgheri were allegedly planted with cuttings from Château Lafite (but look at the commentary here below!). The first wine was produced in 1948 but the first commercial release came first 20 years later in 1968. Until then the wine was for private consumption. But soon after it’s public release it took some rather important wine critics by storm and more and more people started to realize how good the wines from the Tuscan coast (and in fact all over Tuscany) could be. Sassicaia set a new standard.

In 1971 Antinoris Tignanello followed with it’s blend of sangiovese and cabernet. Ornellaia, with vineyards just adjacent to Sassicaia, didn’t appear until 1985 (planted in 1981) but soon became an icon (as did it’s Merlot varietal Masseto).

But as times has went by it seems like Ornellaia has adapted itself well to the modern palate and still makes iconic wines. Yes the wines fall into the super-concentrated category but it doesn’t sacrifice elegance and balance for raw power. But what about Sassicaia? The wines are still elegant and really good – but are they great? They seem to lack the concentration of earlier vintages and in a blind tasting side by side with it’s neighbour it almost seems weak – like a third growth side by side with a premier cru.

After I now have had the opportunity to taste both the 2007 and 2008 vintages of both wines I have to say that Ornellaia today is by far the better wine. The wine has more fruit-concentration, more acids and tannins, more power but not in a “hit ya in the face kinda way” but with refinement and compelxity.

The same goes for both estates second wines Le Serre Nouve dell’Ornellaia and Guidalberto, both stunning wines but the former is much more concentrated and impressive. Why this is so I do not now – but here are my notes on the 2008 vintage!

Le Serre Nouve dell’Ornellaia 2008 (around €43 in Sweden)
Dark blue-red colour. A bit closed on the nose but I find dark berries, oak, grass and herbs. Medium bodied concentrated taste of dark berries (black currant and black berries) and with elements of liquorice and oak. Good tannins and long finish. 4/5p

Guidalberto 2008 (around €33)
Dark red colour. Also a bit closed with hints of dark berries, farm yard and oak. Young medium bodied and a bit acidic on the palate with cherries, tobacco and oak. Feels young. 3,5/5p 

Ornellaia 2008 (around €107)
Dark blue-red “blackish” colour. On the nose quite developed with warm spicy notes and elements of dark berries, vanilla, toasted oak, cherry and fudge. Full bodied superconcentrated and supertannic taste with loads of dark berries, new oak, vanilla and spices. Long young and complex aftertaste. Incredible concentration. 4,5/5p

Sassicaia 2008 (around €102)
Dark bordeaux red colour. Quite elegant nose with dark berries (black currant) and hints of pencil shavings, farm yard, cedar and herbs. Medium bodied concentrated and a bit acidic/astringent taste of dark berries, cedar wood, herbs and tobacco. Good concentration and good length in the finish. 4/5p

Meet Thibaut Delmotte of Bodegas Colomé

On friday this week Thibaut Delmotte – young, charming and passionate winemaker of Bodegas Colomé – visited Helsingborg in Sweden. I was invited to taste the main wines from Colomés range and also had an opportunity to talk with him about his winemaking philosopies.

Although it is one of the oldest bodegas in Argentina (founded in 1831) – Bodegas Colomé’s fame is quite recent. In 2001 Donald Hess and The Hess Family Estate bought the old vineyards and started an extensive quality regime and began bottling the wines in it’s own name. Two years later Donald Hess planted his first new vineyards in Argentina.

Thibaut Delmotte came along in 2005 and it also marks the date/year for the first harvest from the new winery. Being from Burgundy he was first a bit confused by the strong, dark and tannic malbec wines from the Andes. But it didn’t take him long to tame and master the sometimes wild characteristics of malbec. Today his wines ranges from the early drinking and fruity Amalaya to the dark, dense, tannic and alcoholic Colomé Reserva.

And it didn’t take long for the wine media to take interest either. In 2006 and 2008 the Colomé Estate was among Wine Spectators top 100 wine-list. And after the taasting I can’t but agree. These are some of the best malbec wines I’ve tasted from Argentina.

They key to success lie partly in the very high altitudes of the vineyards in Salta in the far north of Argentina. Some as high as 3100 meters above the ocean (highest in the world?). Great daytime/nighttime (35°/15° C) differences in temperature gives the grapes great acidity, and the high UV-radiation gives lots of polyphenolic content.

Another key factor is old vineyards. Although the new plantings have been extensive since 2001 –  Colomé has some 4 hectars of very old malbec (90-150 years old) – and some very old Cabernet Sauvignon and Torrontes as well. Important not only for making concentrated wines but also for future plantings.

– It’s fantastic to have such a genetic heritage. We take cuttings from these pre-phylloxera vines when we plant new vinyards, says Thibaut Delmotte.

Malbec comprise the great majority of vines in the vineyards. But there is also Tannat, Syrah, Cabernet, Tempranillo and Petit Verdot. And some new plantings of Merlot and Pinot Noir.  And for white wines there is Torrontes, Sauvignon Blanc and some Chardonnay, Sémillon, Riesling  and Sauvignonasse. But not all varietys thrive equally well on these extreme altitudes.

– Malbec is really ideally suited for the altitude and dry climate. Our Tannat is very floral. The Syrah is very spicey and the Petit Verdot is very elegant.

But cabernet and tempranillo is a whole nother ball game. And at 2600 meters and above – Tannat also has a hard time to ripen fully.

– It’s impossible to get Cabernet and Tannat to ripen fully. Cabernet gets too much green and herbal aromas and green acidity. And Tempranillo gets loads of tannins but too low acicdity and fruit concentration. If we can’t get Tempranillo to work we will probably replace it with Malbec.

For Thibaut Delmotte working in winerys in Bordeaux really gave him a sense and understanding of blending different grapes.

– In Burgundy we just do one wine more or less. We do of course make the premier cru and the village wine – but that’s about it. Malbec really needs blending with other varieties to give it more complexity. And it does really give different wines in different terroirs.

The approach to winemaking and vineyard maintenance is minimal intervention. Already from the outset the farming methods were organic and in 2008 Colomé became the first certified biodynamic wine producer in Argentina.

But why bio-dynamism?

– Donald Hess always wanted a biodynamic vineyard and Colomé is perfect. It is a 39000 hectar farm with no neighbours which is very important – there is no risk of contamination. Second it is a very dry climate with only 120 mm rain a year and the cold nights are very good against diseases.

But he himself wasn’t a true believer from the beginning. But over the years he has been convinced. He says that that they get greater bio-diversity this way, a greater soil composition with more microorganisms. And he wouldn’t go back to conventional farming.

Pressed on the subject he admits that there probably aren’t any real quality differences between oraganic and biodynamic farming. It has more to do with personal preferences.

– It’s more of a thing for ourselves. We don’t even put it on the labels. It is more of a philosophy to follow the astrological calender. For me it is more complete. I understand better why and how I do things. Organic is fine but it is also more of a marketing argument.

So organics is a marketing strategy and biodynamism isn’t? But how does he feel about another recent trend in winemaking – that in making so called “natural wines” (non-interventionist wines with little or no addition of any chemical ingredients, sugar or acids)?

– I really feel that I am doing “natural” wines. We add nothing but oak and sulphur. I use natural yeast. We probably couldn’t live without sulphur dioxide because our ph-levels are ideal for bacterial development. So it would be very risky doing wine without SO2.

– When I started there were not many that fermented with natural yeast. But now that people have seen what we are doing more and more are returning to natural yeast. I find that I get a better fermentation with natural yeast.

And now what? What is the next challenge?

– For me it is improving what we have done so far and continue to experiment. I was only 25 when I became winemaker of Colomé. It was an incredible opportunity for me. It’s fantastic!

For more on Bodegas Colomé and the notes on the wines tasted – stay tuned to Ericsson Uncorked!

Provence Cabernet – Château Vignelaure 2006

Next week a small but quite interesteing bunch of wines are to be released here in Sweden. And among them a one from the estate that was the first to plant cabernet sauvignon in Provence – Château Vignelaure.

The original cuttings were taken from Château La Lagune in Bordeaux/Médoc by the former owner Georges Brunet in the 1960s. Today the estate covers around 60 hectars of vine (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Grenache) in AC Coteaux d’Aix en Provence and since 2007 it is owned by swedish/danish couple Bengt and Mette Sundström. The winemaker is Philippe Bru.

The Château Vignelaure 2006 is a blend of 70 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 25 percent Syrah and 5 percent Grenache. The wine has been aged in french (95 percent) and american (5 percent) oak for 14 months. And it is a beautiful combination of power and balance.

Dark blueish-red in colour. Young slightly closed and perfumed aromas of dark berries, farm yard and herbs on the nose. Medium bodied and concentrated taste of dark berries (black berries and black currants), garrigues, and spices. Still young with quite pronounced tannins and elements of black peppar and tobacco. Quite firm but long and balanced finish. Great now – but will be even better with some more bottle age!

Carmignano – the first supertuscan (Il Sasso 2004)

So you think that Tenuta San Guidos Sassicaia was the first supertuscan? Think again! The producers in Carmignano has been using french/international varietys (mainly cabernet sauvignon) for centuries. And the wines are awesome!

Carmignano might not be as well known as neighbouring Chianti or Brunello di Montalcino. But the district deserves a place in the limelight – and the wines can truly be called the first supertuscans!

Okay it was not until 1975 they got the go ahead to officially use cabernet in their DOC-wines! But the winegrowers had been blending sangiovese with cabernet since the 18th century. And the result was and is stunning wines that combine sangioveses perfumed cherry flavours with cabernets great tanninstructured dark berries.

In Sweden we seldom see bottles of Carmignano in our wine and spirits monopoly – Systembolaget. But Piaggias modern classic Il Sasso do pop up from time to time. It is a wine that usually get fantastic reviews in Gambero Rossos Italian Wines. And it is a blend of mostly sangiovese with cabernet sauvignon & cabernet franc, merlot and sometimes canaiolo. It gets 15 months on french oak and another six months in bottle prior release.

I bought a handful of 2004s a few years back and I have been sampling it occasionally. And this past weekend I opened another bottle. And it was fantastic.

Deep dark red in colour with an orange/brick-tinged rim. Big aromas on the nose with dark cherries, dark berries, chocolate, oak/vanilla and crème brûlée. The wine is still powerfull on the palate with a mediumbodied structure. The cabernet shines through with quite firm tannins and loads of dark berries (cherries, blackberries, blackcurrants). Hints of chocolate, crème brûlée, herbs and vanilla. Long focused finish with great tannins that are beginning to soften. Drink now or keep up to 10 years!

Australias liquid gold – the “stickies”

The “stickies” – the fortified black liqueur muscats and “ports” – has been called the Australias liquid gold. It’s where or by what it all started and even though the style is hopelessly unfashionable in a modern world ruled by table wines – it is probably one of the most egocentric and underrated wines in the world. And quite often a real bargain!

Personally I have always loved the liqueur muscats since I first tested a Morris Liqueur Muscat in the early 90’s. And I have hyped Seppeltsfield No 9 Muscat (strangely called so in Europe and called No 8 in Australia) in my swedish blog.

This last weekend I had a chance to retest Seppeltsfield No 9 against two other fortified icons: Yalumba Museum Reserve and Penfolds Grandfather. The scene was a Master Class on Australia with Justin Knock MW at Gustibus Wine And Spirit Academy in Malmo, Sweden.

These are my notes! For my notes in swedish – see Uppkorkat!

Seppeltsfield no 9 Muscat (Rutherglen/Victoria) 16,5%
Nice light orange/brown almost golden amber colour in the glass.
On the nose quite developed with muscovado sugar, raisins, dried fruits (apricots) and chocolate. A touch of orange, mint and dried herbs.
Full bodied almost oily concentrated taste with dried fruits (apricots again). muscovado sugar and raisins. Hints of chocolate, herbs and prunes. I just love it!

Comment: Almost ridiculously high levels of residual sugar – 326g/l. Made by late harvested raisined brown muscat grapes (a clone of mucat à petite grains). Fortified by grape spirit soon after the start of fermentation (at a level of 2-3% alcohol). Long ageing in large oak casks!

Yalumba Museum Reserve Muscat (Rutherglen/Victoria) 18%
Somewhat darker i colour – orange/amber.
Quite developed nose with burnt sugar, hazelnuts, muscovado sugar, raisins and other dried fruits. Just a whiff of citrus and leather.
Medium bodied, fresh and sweet taste with a burnt nutty tone. Lots of dried fruits – prunes, citrusmarmelade, apricots and raisins. Definitely more fruity in style. Not as sweet as Seppeltsfield and with a more delicate finish with just a hint of burnt sugar.

Comment: Made from red and pink muscat (à petite grains). This wine is also fortified early in the fermentationprocess.  243 g/l residual sugar and quite a low total acidity with 4,6 g/l. Museum has been aged for 7 years in large oak puncheons.

Penfolds Grandfather Tawny (South Eastern Australia) 19%
Brown orange amber in colour.
A lot of herbs on the nose with mint/spearmint and oxididative notes of hazelnuts and something vaguely chemical. A bit “funky”.
Mediumbodied, sweet and a bit funky taste of salmiak, liquorice, dried fruits, raisins and salt. Quite a lot of burnt sugar. Definitely more oxidized than the other two with a distinctive rancio-character. But he wine has a lovely freshness as well.

Comment: The wine is normally a blend of shiraz, mourvèdre and cabernet (but Penfolds use other grapes as well). It goes in to large oak puncheons för about 8 years before it is put into a solera system (called Grandfather). There it stays on average for 12 years which gives the wine an average age of 20 years.  About 15og/l i residual sugar and a total acidity of 8,2 g/l.