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Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Veneto-Italy:Valpolicella, Ripasso, Amarone.

The Veneto Region.
THE VENETO region together with Fruili-Venezia Guilia and Trentino-Alto Adige regions form that famous district in the Northeastern part of Italy, known as the Tre Venezie - the Three Venices.

It is estimated that these three regions produce about 15% of all wines produced in Italy, on top of which this amount account for an estimated 30% of all DOC category wines from this country.

The Tre Venezie district is renowned for several popular wines that are produced here from several indegenious grape varieties by various long established winemakers, who adher to long established precise and decisive traditions that are unique to these regions. Most of these wines are named after the location, town, city or village in which they are produced such as Soave, Valpolicella and Bardolino. A stylish Prosecco - Sparkling Wine, as well as other exclusive reds come from this area. For this feature, I am concentrating only on the Veneto, but I am looking forward to have the opportunity to sample and rate some wines from the other two regions in due course.

The Veneto is the western section of the Tre Venezie, near Lago di Garda on one side and the volcanic mountain range of Monte Lessini on the other. Various categories of traditional wines (Soave, Valpolicella and Bardolino - which are all available as low-quality, as well as superlative high-quality wines), are produced here, and major efforts and progress have been achieved in the last years to eradicate the notion that this region can only produce light, cheap, quaffing wines such as were produced during the 1960's and 1970's for the United States and British markets. These countries at that time were lucrative markets for cheap Italian wines. The introduction of the DOC and DOCG rules in 1966, better viticultural and oenology techniques as well as competition from emerging, new wine producing countries, instigated the leading winemakers in these regions to produce various world-class wines that can only be produced successfully here.

The major city of the Veneto is VERONA, which is referred to as Italy's Wine Capital and in which the country's largest wine fair VinItaly is held every year. The dates for next year have already been set for the 25th to the 28th of March, 2012. The 2011 exhibition in April saw 156,000 visitors attending.

Three Veneto Classics.
The Veneto's most important wines are: Amarone, Valpolicella and Ripasso di Valpolicella for the red wines, and Soave and Prosecco for the white wines. Other wines worthy of note produced here are: Bardolino and Recioto della Valpolicella (sweet) for the red wines; Bianco di Custoza, the ubiquitous Pinot Grigio, as well as Recioto di Soave for the whites. Various Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay varietal wines are also produced, but these grape varieties are not indegenious to the region.

Our wine of choice for this feature is the Valpolicella and its derivatives, and after giving a brief outline of the various categories of this wine, reviews of a brand selection and ratings shall be given to illustrate the feature.

Corvina Veronese Cluster.
Today, six different and distinct styles of Valpolicella wines are produced. Valpolicella is a blended wine produced from at least 70% Corvina, with the remaining 30% being selected from the Rondinella, and Molinara grape varieties as well as the Negrara and Sangiovese varieties by some winemakers. The styles are:

1. The basic Valpolicella, which is extremely light and mainly forgettable.
2. The Valpolicella Classico, which is a step above the basic version, but which is also a lightish, quaffing wine for everyday drinking with pizza and pasta. After fermentation in September, this wine is kept in stainless steel tanks until it is bottled in the spring for immediate release and consumption.
Classico Superiore -Exceptional.
3. The Valpolicella Classico Superiore. The "Superiore" title here, is not given in vain to the best produced versions of this wine. It is a much superior wine to 1 and 2 above, as it is produced from high quality grapes, chosen from low yield vineyards; after fermentaion and the maceration process the wine is matured and aged on oak barrles for 12 months as well as more bottle aging prior to release. This results in a more structured wine that can prove to be sensational and fascinating in the hands of a top class Vigneron and Oenologist.
4. AMARONE. This is the top category of Valpolicella. Amarone means the bitter one, and is produced from the same grape blend as the Valpolicella. The difference between the production of Valpolicella and Amarone is crucial. Whereas the grapes for the Valpolicella are picked during the normal harvest in mid to late September each year, the selected grapes for the Amarone are left hanging on the vine until the mid-third of October, to achieve more ripeness and therefore more residual sugar before they are hand-picked. For Amarone, only the upper portion of each grape cluster is selected since it is here that the grapes are richest in sugar and extracts.
The selected grape bunches are then spread on mats and left in cool, drying lofts for three to five months, so that the grapes would shrivel and lose most of their water content, thus further concentrating the sugar nectar and flavours of each grape.
When the grapes are finally crushed and fermented,maceration and eventual malolactic fermentation completed, the resultant wine is lavish, full-bodied and containing well over 15% alcohol, even 16.5%in the better wines. Some of the best Amarone's are aged in new oak barrels and casks as well as in the bottle for about five years prior to release, thus finally releasing a wine that is powerful with Port like flavours, structure and complexity.
Amarone is the embodiment of the Valpolicella wine and the product that has elevated the Veneto to World-Class as a wine producing region.
5. Ripassa Valpolicella Superiore: This is the inbetween style of the best Valpolicella and Amarone.
This wine style is produced by selecting the best Valpolicella Classico wine in the best vintages, from the recent harvest of September/October. The wine is fermented and stored in oak or stainless steel tanks until February.
By this time the Amarone production processes- drying out of the grapes after harvest (approx. 4 months); crushing, pressing and fermentation would be completed.  The Amarone wine is then transferred to oak barrels and casks for maturing, leaving the pomace in the fermentation tanks.
The Valpolicella wine is then pumped in carefully onto the Amarone pomace in the fermentation tanks and left to re-ferment for at least two weeks. During this time the Valopicella wine picks up extra colour, tannin, flavour and structure and becomes ripasso.
6. Ricioto della Valpolicella. This is the sixth style and is the sweet and rich dessert wine that compliments the above styles at the end of a superb dinner. Fermentation is stopped before full completion so that some of the residual sugar in the grape is retained, so that the wine will acquire that distinct sweet taste which makes it such a luscious dessert wine.

For our wine reviews and ratings from this region, for this feature I picked three superb wines produced by Azienda Vinicola Zenato of San Benedetto di Lugana, Italy.

Zenato Valpolicella Classico Superiore
This is a sumptious red wine, which is superior by far to most Valpolicella wines that I have taste-tested before, and which took me by surprise during the first blind tasting as Valpolicella wine does not normally reach my expectations of a premium wine.
This VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO SUPERIORE from Zenato is not just different and vastly superior to the norm, but it is in a class of its own among Valpolicella's in this category. An excellent product which at the first blind tasting was compared to the best Vino Nobile de Montepulciano's and Chianti Riserva's, probably due to its Sangiovese content and richness of the Corvina Veronese.

This wine is produced from a blend of : 80% Corvina Veronese; 10% Rondinella; 10% Sangiovese, which grapes were cultivated and harvested from selected vineyards in the Classico area of the Sant Ambrogio comune hills. Harvest mid-third October by hand.

Vinification: After destemming, the grapes were crushed, followed by the traditional 6 to 7 days fermentation and macerartion on the skins, in temperature controlled conditions. The wine is then kept in stainless steel tanks until it is eventually pressed. After malolactic fermentation is completed, the wine is transferred for maturation in 33 and 55hl barrels for twelve months and eventual further bottle aging prior to release.

The wine is dark ruby verging on black, with full ripe fruit aromas, spice, liquorice and vanilla, with a distinct hint of violets on the nose. Rich flavours of mocha, cassis, dark chocolate and dried cherry and plums. The wine is creamy, full-bodied and dry with an excellent texture and complexity. It is well balanced with smooth tannins. Finish is long with an aftertaste of liquorice and ripe black fruit.

Alcohol content: 13.5%
Serving temperature: 17 - 18 deg.C.
Aging potential: 10 years.
Price range: Eur10
An excellent wine at a very good value for money.
Zenato Ripassa Classico Superiore.


This wine is blended from 80% Corvina Veronese; 10% Rondinella; and 10% Sangiovese, similar to the above Valpolicella Classico Superiore, with a second fermentation period on the pomace of the Amarone wine some 5 months after the first fermentation.

Vinification is the same as for the Valpolicella Classico Superiore. The second fermentation on the Amarone pomace, ten day further maceration at controlled temperatures of 25 - 30 deg. C, is then followed by an 18 month maturation period in Slavonian oak casks. After bottling the wine is further aged for 6 months prior to release.

This wine is dark, deep ruby red. Full-bodied with strong ripe black fruit aromas, with hints of violets, spice and vanilla from the oak casks. Rich flavours of dark chocolate, dried red cherry, black pepper, and ripe black fruit. Well balanced with smooth tannins,  elegant with a long finish.

Alcohol content: 14%
Serving Temperature: 17-18 Deg. C.
Aging potential: 15 years.
Price Range: Eur21
Zenato Amarone Classico.


Grape Varieties: 80% Corvina Veronese; 10% Rondinella; 5% Sangiovese; 5% Molinara. Harvested by hand from the Classico area of the Sant Ambrogio comune hills, in the mid-third of October.

After careful selection of the grapes the grape clusters are placed in shallow wood trays to dry out for about 5 months. The grapes are then crushed, pressed and fermented on the skins for a number of days under temperature controlled conditions. The fermented wine is then transferred into 300 litres, French Oak barrels and Slavonian casks for maturation which takes about 30 months. This is then followed by 12 months aging in the bottle prior to release.

This wine is a soft, opulent and exotic full-bodied wine. Dark ruby red in colour bordering on black, creamy and thick in the glass. Aromas of black liquorice and dark chocolate and black cherries. Bouquets of violets, vanilla and spice. Deep flavours of plum, pepper, nuts and ripe dark fruit and chocolate covered cherries. A refined and elegant, robust red wine with a fascinating balance and structure. Finish is long and lingering, accompanied by a vintage Port aftertaste.
It is recommended to open the wine and to decant it at least two hours before serving.

Alcohol Content: 16.5%
Serving temperature: 18 deg. C.
Aging potential: 20 years.
Price range: Eur40
Grilled Bistecca Fiorentina.

FOOD PAIRING: Strong wines require strong cuisine. These wines pair well with Roast red meats - lamb and beef; game - venison, boar; Grilled and barbecued prime steaks - bistecca alla Fiorentina,          Rib-eye; Kobe Wangyu beef; Roast prime-rib; Osso Buco;  roast turkey. Strong, aged Italian cheese - Gorgonzola, Grana Padano, Parmesan, Robiola. Black truffle.

Black Truffle
Parmigiano Regiano
BBQ Rib-eye.
Grilled whole beef fillet.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

UMBRIA - ITALY: Sagrantino di Montefalco.

Sagrantino grape cluster.
One thing that have always attracted me over the years to prefer Italian wine to most others, is the sheer diversity of the different grape varieties and consequently the unique wine varietals that are produced in this Old World wine country. Most of Italy's grape varieties are unique to this country's various wine producing regions and both the grapes and more so the wine are neither grown (in the case of the grapes), and/or produced (as in the case of the wine) anywhere else in the world. Or at least are not comparable with the indegenious varieties.

The international grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah/Shiraz, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, although originating from France, are now grown in every wine producing country of the New World, and several excellent and not so excellent wines have been unleashed on the consumer in the last three decades, with wines obtainable in these varieties in any scale of price.

Italy, remains the queen when it comes to some of the world's exotic wine such as the top of the range, premium Barolo and Barbaresco produced in Piedmont from the Nebbiolo grape variety, Brunello di Montalcino and the Chianti Classico Riservas produced in Tuscany from differnt clones of the Sangiovese grape variety, Taurasi Riserva of Campania and its Aglianico grape, Amarone of Verona from the Corvina, Rondinella and Molinari grape varieties,  and for the white wine the Gavi di Gavi produced from the Cortese grape variety. Of course there are many other varietals to numerous to name here.

In this feature I am going to review an oppulent, Italian wine varietal that is not so widely known outside its own region of UMBRIA, let alone tasted by wine afficionados around the world.

UMBRIA, and most notably the small hilltop city of MONTEFALCO, which is the symbolic and geogreaphical heart of the Umbrian Valley in Central Italy, is an amazing venue surrounded by twelfth century walls designed so that all roads lead to the beautiful Municipal Square. This city is blessed with an indegenious grape variety which was sacred in the Middle ages as a sacramental wine making grape, nearly totally forgotten in the twentieth century, and which only has been revived and re-cultivated in the late1970's. The growers even succeeding in classifying the few remaining vines that still flourished within the city walls and obtaining the DOCG classification in 1998. The grape variety is the SAGRANTINO, which produce a strong, austere and deeply fascinating wine of great structure and complexity.  The region's terroir of mostly clay, limestone and sand soil, the surrounding Apennine Mountains, and Montefalco's location within the basin or valley, the climatic conditions of hot summers, cold winters, cooling breezes provided by the mountains, and the long roots of the vines searching for moisture in the cool clay section of the soil, all play an important part in the unique cultivation of this grape variety which has lots of tannins but yet very sweet dark fruit. Harvesting is usually done in the third week of September.

The wines that I am reviewing in this feature are produced by ARNALDO-CAPRAI SOCIETA AGRICOLA S.R.L. of Montefalco. This company was established in 1971, and from the start introduced a combination of scientific research, new cultivation methods and progressive state of the art winery and wine making methods, as well as appointing top viticulturists and oenologists, resulting in the producion of a Sagrantino wine varietal of great grandeur- full-bodied, tannic, containing high alcohol from its residual sugar, dark, and robust, with great structure and complexity.

The three wines produced from this varietal, that have been taste-tested, analysed, reviewed and rated in this feature are the:

Sagrantino di Montefalco 25 ANNI.

This greatly structured wine is obtained from 100% Sagrantino grapes. Thanks to the wine's extraordinary richness in polyphenols and tannins this wine is very suitable for long aging. This vintage is still very much in its infancy and still requires years of aging in the bottle until it reaches its peak. The 25 ANNI title is derived from the fact that the first production of this icon wine was done in 1993 to commemorate the 25th anniversary from the founding of the company, thus this is the Silver Jubilee wine of this renowned winemaker.

After a gentle crushing and destemming process, the wine is pumped over constantly to extract all the substances contained in the skins. The must undergoes maceration for 30 days at temperatures of 30deg.C, after which the wine is pumped into French oak barriques and aged for 24 months. This is then followed by 8 months aging in the bottle prior to release.

This wine is deep, dark, ruby red in colour with aromas of wild cherries, plums and dark fruit. On the palate it is rich and volupious with hints of dark chocolate, dried figs and plum, blackcherries and rasberries. Very strong tannins due to its infancy dominate. Dry, full-bodied and full of intense fruit flavour. Complex and well structured with a long finish.

This wine must be further aged in the bottle, and if drunk now must be decanted some three hours before consuming. Due to its strong tannins and body the ideal aging period would be somewhere around 2014. This wine can also be aged for over 20 years.

Grape Variety: 100% Sagrantino - Classification: Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG.
Alcohol Content: 15%
Seving Temperature: 18Deg.C.
Price range: Eur68

Food Pairing: This wine must be drunk as an accompaniment to strong food. Roast red meats- beef and lamb and game. Grilled beef steaks- bistecca al Fiorentina, prime fillet, tenderloin, rib-eye,  Chateaubriand. Beef or lamb Osso Buco. Mature and strong cheese.

RATING: RS93. (I'm positive that if reviewed in two years time this wine will reach RS95).

Collepiano 2006.

Vinifcation process are nearly the same as for the 25 ANNI wine, but with a maceration time of some 26 to 28 days. This is followed by 22 months aging in French oak barriques and 6 months further aging in the bottle prior to release, in order to reach its full aromatic and organoleptic potential.

Very dark and intense ruby red bordering on black in colour. On the nose it comes out with aromas of  violets, ripe black fruit, liquorice and mint. In the mouth it is full-bodied with a good structure, complex even, and with tannins similar to a young Barolo or Barbaresco, strong and dominating. A taste of black chocolate, blackcherries and blackberries with an earthy sensation to the finish.

As per the 25 ANNI, this wine is still very youthful and require at least two more years aging in the bottle to mellow and reduce its austerity. The wine is very dry, austere, racy but nevertheless elegant, and if consumed now must be decanted to let it breath and air for at least two hours prior to drinking.

Food paring the same as for the previous brand.

Grape Variety: 100% Sagrantino. Classification: Sagrantino di Montefalco DOCG.
Alcohol content: 14.5%
Serving temperature: 18Deg. C
Price Range: Eur38


Passito 2006.

This is a beautifully balanced sweet, yet dry dessert wine, produced from 100% Sagrantino grapes, late harvested at the end of October, which after carefull selection the grapes are dried on straw mats for at least two months. The grapes are then pressed and the must is left to ferment in stainless steel tanks together with the skins for about 15 days with constant pumping over. Fermentation is then continued in oak barriques to obtain a very particular Passito wine, sweet yet dry and with a strong tannin content. The wine is further aged for 15 months in French oak barriques and for 8 months in the bottle prior to release.

Deep purple bordering on violet in colour, and having an intense aroma of very ripe forest fruits, blackberries and dried fruit. Sweet on the palate with strong hints of liquorice and dark chocolate. Sweet yet dry with strong tannins. Long finish.

This wine can be drunk now, but can mellow further to reach its peak, with aging potential of decades.

This dessert wine is the perfect accompaniment to Italian sweet desserts and tarts, creamy and hard cheese, after dinner espressos, and a good Havana cigar with a small bar of strong black chocolate.

Grape Variety: 100% Sagrantino.
Alcohol content: 15.5%
Serving temperature: 16/18 deg.C.
Price range: Eur40.

RATING: RS90 (Dessert wine).

Angus Beef Rib-Eye

Ham and Cheese stuffed beef parcels.

Prime Rib-eye.
Italian Cheese Selection
Gelled-fruit flan for the Passito.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Taste of Chile:Vina' Errazuriz- Aconcagua Valley.

Chile's wine regions.
Chile is one of the leading wine producing countries from the New World wine producers, which has, just like the other main players from the New World viz: Australia, California - USA; Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand, has seen a major emergence on the wine world scene since the historic Paris Tasting of 1976.
 Chile was producing wines from its major wine regions of: Atacama, Coquimbo, Aconcagua, Valle Central (Central Valley), and Southern Chile, for many years dating to the 16th century when the Spanish conquistadors took the Vitis vinifera vines with them from Europe when they colonolized the region. It is now the 5th, wine exporting country in world.

The ERRAZURIZ Estate was founded in 1870, when Don Maximiano Errazuriz planted his first vineyards at Pomguehue in the Aconcagua Valley. This valley is ideal for growing premium wine grapes due to its climatic conditions of cool, rainy winters, hot dry summers and moist Pacific breezes, that is described by many as being halfway between the climates of California and France. Don Maximiano had from the very start used the finest clones from France to start and develop the estate over a number of generations into what it is today, as a leading world class vineyard and wine producing company.

Vina' Errazuriz produce several fine wines under different category-specified brands such as:
a. The Icon collection which consist of the finest wines, produced only in the best vintage years and consist of the: Chadwick; Don Maximiano; La Cumbre, Kai and Senna.
b. The Specialties collection which consist of nine wines;
c.  The Max Reserva which consist of seven varietals;
d. The Estate collection which is the entry level range and which consist of ten wine varietals.

Tasting and review session.
On the 31st of May and the 1st of June, 2011, I had the opportunity to taste and review some of these wines, during two wine tasting events, organised by the importer in Malta as these wines have just started to be imported in this country. I am herewith highlighting some of the reviews made and the ratings that I have awarded:

Don Maximiano Founder's Reseve 2005
1. Don Maximiano 2005:

The 2005 Don Maximiano Founder's Reserve is composed of a blend of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Syrah. After fermentation, the wine is blended and is left to mature in new French Oak barriques for not less than 20 months.

Dark purple in colour, slightly opaque, with a nose of black fine chocolate, dark fruits - blackberries and blue berries and spices. In the  mouth this wine is full-bodied, elegant and full of fruit depicting a taste of toasted oak which gives it power and structure. Very well balanced with smooth tannins and pleasant acidity and finishing in a long enjoyable aftertaste of chocolate and blackberries in the mouth.
A very pleasant, premium wine, which compliments fine strong red meats, and mature cheese.
Ready to drink now, but could be aged for well over ten years in a good cellar.

Price range at enoteca or wine shop: EUR30.50
Alcohol content: 14.5% - Full-Bodied.
Serving temperature: 18 deg.C

Tasting samples.
2. KAI 2008:

This is another wine from Vina' Erazzuriz which comes under the Icon quality of this winemaker. It is another blended wine with a formulae of 86% Carmenere, 7% Petit Verdot and 6% Syrah,  aged for a specific number of months in French oak barriques until it is decided by the winemaker that it has reached its optimum maturity in the bottle prior to further aging in the bottle.

Very dark ruby in colour verging on purple, slightly hazey due to it being most probably unfiltered. On the nose this wine has a strong aroma that I could only describe as "Surf and Turf" when I first smelled it causing my olfactory senses to open up for more. A very distinct aroma of fresh sea air combined with earthy notes and flowers and a combination of ripe black fruit. On the palate the Carmenere content is strengthened by the Petit Verdot and the Syrah combination to give strong but pleasant tannins and power. Full-body full of power, structure and compelxity with a long pleasant  finish.
Ready to drink, but could also evolve further  for some 5 more years to reach its most elegant peak.
A wine that can be enjoyed with food or on its own.

FOOD PAIRING: Roast red meats, grilled prime beef steaks- T Bone, Fillet, Rib-Eye, tenderloin. Roast lamb; Lamb and beef Osso Buco; game; strong cheese.

Price range: Eur40.
Alcohol content: 14.5% - Full-Bodied.
Serving Temperature: 16 - 18 Deg. C.

Other wines that were tasted during this tasting were:

3. SENNA 1998

This particular vintage of this wine, which is composed of approximately 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Carmenere, 12% Merlot with the balanace composed of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, was tasted with the above wines on the 1st of June, 2011, and was considered to be bland and boring and could not be rated. When tasted in comparison with the Don Maximiano 2005 and the Kai 2008, the SENNA 1998 was rated well below both. In my opinion this 1998 vintage has either reached its peak some time ago and is now declining or otherwise we might have tasted a bad bottle which could have been affected by transportation from Chile to Malta. If  we're buying SENNA than I would advise purchasing more recent vintages. In fact I would welcome the opportunity to taste-test and analyse the 2006 and 2007 vintages.


Two entry level wines which were the Estate Sauvignon Blanc and the the Estate Merlot were tasted. These two latter wines are entry level quality, but are very good as easy drinking wines, and to pair with pizza, pasta, light, home dinners, fish and red meats. Price range Eur9 for a bottle.


Two wines worthy of note from the Max Reserva branded wines, which were made available during the tasting session on the 31st of May, 2011, were the Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 and the Merlot, both oak aged for a period of twelve months, obtaining an alcohol content of 14%, smooth tannins and very good balance. These wines have been rated at RS88 for the Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 and RS86 for the Merlot, both rated in our Very Good wines category. They also offer good value for money at Eur15 per