Thursday, April 24, 2008

Tedeschi's La Fabriseria: A Vertical

La Fabriseria is now Tedeschi's top Valpolicella Classico Superiore, made from Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella and Dindarone grapes that are allowed to dry for a time after harvesting in a shed in the vineyard, and then pressed, fermented, and aged in large wood.

In the past, however, it was an IGT because it also contained a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon -- 3% more recently, and 6% further back, and also went into small wood. This year at Vinitaly the family presented some of the earlier vintages, and it was a beautiful tasting. We began with the most recent, the 2006, and worked back:

La Fabriseria Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2006

Deep black almandine ruby with black reflections. The nose is rich, with jammy berry fruit supported by licorice root and some greenish accents with hints of almonds as well. Great depth, and rare harmony for a wine so young, and it will clearly climb with time. On the palate it's full, with rich languid red berry fruit laced with some plum sweetness supported by clean slightly greenish spicy tannins that have a core of velvet to them, and flow into a clean bright finish with tannic underpinning. It's quite elegant, but also very, very young, and though one could drink it with rich red meats now (a crown roast comes to mind), it will richly reward those with the patience to let it age for 3'5 years, and continue to grow for at least 10.

Rosso La Fabriseria IGT 2003
Deep almandine ruby with almandine rim. The bouquet is rich, with powerful red berry fruit laced with plums and supported by clean, rich greenish accents and sandalwood supported by spice and some hints of almonds with underlying animal tang that adds depth. On the palate it's full and rich, with powerful red berry fruit supported by clean sweet tannins that derive some of their character from the fact that the wane was made from whole bunches of grapes, and flow into a warm clean tannic finish. Quite nice, and though there is a certain warmth that's ascribable to the 2003 vintage, it displays great depth and control in a fairly young key. In other words, it's still a babe.

Rosso La Fabriseria IGT 2000
Deep black almandine ruby with black reflections and brownish rim. The bouquet is powerful, with clean animal accents, in particular polished leather, mingled with warmth and alcohol, spice (and jammy accents mingled with plum cherry fruit (a testament of the August heat) and slight wet horse that adds depth. A great lot going on. On the palate it's full and much softer than the 2003, with elegant cherry plum fruit supported by greenish sandalwood laced tannins that are very smooth, and rather languid, and flow into a very clean, rich, fairly sweet finish. A beautiful wine that has much to say.

With the older vintages, wood use changes from used barriques to new barriques, which surrender more to the wines

Rosso La Fabriseria IGT 1998
Deep black almandine with black reflections. The bouquet is clean and rich, with leaf tobacco and raw beef mingled with tar and well polished saddle leather, and some elegant spice supported by acidity and red berry fruit. The palate is full and rich, with powerful red berry fruit supported by bracing acidity and smooth sweet tannins (in part from wood) that flow into a clean sour finish with a beautiful underpinning of fruit. Great elegance, and impressive balance.

Rosso La Fabriseria IGT 1997
Deep, almost impenetrable almandine ruby with brownish rim. The bouquet is very rich, with powerful saddle leather laced with coffee and rich cherry plum fruit; rare harmony -- it's like listening to Mozart -- and though it's quick to write there's a lot going on. On the palate it's it's delightful, with rich full red berry fruit laced with some plum that gains direction from deft, delicate forest berry fruit acidity and is supported by ample tightly woven tannins that are very smooth and flow into a clean rich berry fruit finish. It all comes together, and the result is extraordinary.

Want to know more? Tedesci's Site

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Brunello, the Continuing Saga

The Picture is Murky.

At Vinitaly I met with Lars Leicht, Banfi's Director of PR, who told me that yes indeed, Banfi is under investigation for fraud with respect to the 2003 vintage of Brunello, which they have been told to declassify. But not for having used non-Sangiovese grapes to make Brunello. Rather, for overcropping (producing more grapes per hectare than the Disciplinare governing Brunello production allows -- 80 quintals, or 8 metric tonnes), and this is where things become surreal and (to me) disturbing.

Banfi makes the Brunello in question from several vineyards located around the castle, and Lars told me the total yield of all the vineyards in question was less than the legal limit of 80 quintals/hectare. However, it was uneven, with some producing slightly less, and one slightly above. And that's what created the problems; the Prosecutor in Siena looked at the vineyard-by-vineyard yields, and even though the yield for the total vineyard area was within the limits set by the Disciplinare declared the entire production illegal because one vineyard produced more.

From a very narrow legalistic standpoint the man is right; yields should be below 80 quintals per hectare.

However, as Lars points out, vineyards are not precise factory environments. Vines produce grapes, and if left to their own devices produce lots, so the winemaker aims for a given per-hectare yield through vineyard management, which includes green harvesting and whatnot. While it's true that if one stays well under the maximum yield, one has no problems, doing so also costs money -- less wine = less income -- so people try to get close, and if this means averaging production, I see nothing wrong with that, provided total production doesn't exceed what would be allowed for a single vineyard of that area.

You may wonder, don't the vineyards that produce more grapes produce less quality? The answer is not necessarily. What is important is the production per individual vine, and if a producer has some older vineyards planted to a density of 4000 vines per hectare, and newer ones with vines planted to 8000 vines per hectare, the 80 quintals from the newer vineyard will be much better than the 80 quintals from the older vineyard because the older vineyard's vines are producing twice as much. 81 quintals from the new vineyard will probably be better than 65 from the older, and this is why I think the prosecutor is showing an excess of zeal in ordering that Brunello made from a series of vineyards whose average yield is less than 80 quintals/hectare be declassified because one parcel goes over.

"In the future we'll just aim for a maximum of 75 quintals/hectare; the wine will be better and we'll charge more for it," said Lars, and this brings up a second very important point about this investigation. The names that have come out so far are almost all large, but we've heard rumors to the effect that another 20-80 producers are under investigation, as is the Consorzio itself.

If these as-of-yet-unnamed producers are under investigation for using non-Sangiovese grapes in their Brunello, they should be prosecuted, because they're doctoring Brunello to appeal to market tastes (they could just as well label their "appealing" wine Sant'Antimo DOC, Montalcino's catchall appellation, but that doesn't sell as well as Brunello or for as much, which brings greed into the picture as well). Ditto if they're overcropping by a significant margin. But if they're under investigation for what Banfi is, the punishment -- having cellars sealed and being forced to declassify a vintage -- seems totally out of proportion with respect to the crime.

Especially in the case of small wineries; someone Banfi's size will be hurt by a forced declassification, but makes lots of other wines that are unaffected and will weather the storm. Forced declassification and cellar closure could (probably will) be a death knell for many smaller wineries, and if wineries are facing this despite staying within the limits set by the Disciplinare something is very wrong. Especially since Lars tells me the Consorzio has always told people to figure their production over their total vineyard area, and adds that as a result of this policy the Consorzio is now also under investigation too.

Bottom line: There are two things happening at Montalcino. On the one hand, some people cheated and got caught. On the other, people followed established practices and are getting ground up by an extremely narrow reading of the rules. The former should be punished, but the latter? I think not.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Tasted at Vinitaly: Sobrero e Figli Barbera D'Alba Superiore 2004

Barbera is a bright wine with lively fruit and crisp acidity, but isn't particularly tannic nor structured. Or at least it wasn't until the late Giacomo Bologna, one of the pioneers of the Italian wine renaissance, decided to put his Barbera into small oak barrels. What emerged -- smooth, rich, with elegant tannins from the barrels and its aggressiveness considerably smoothed -- caused a tremendous sensation and soon everyone was oaking their Barbera. Even many people who use large wood for everything else.

Alas, oak is a tool, and it's up to the winemaker to decided how to use it; many are heavy handed, and what went into the wood as a bright zesty fruit driven wine emerges at a distinct plod, with the fruit smoothed over and softened considerably, and though there is more structure, there's precious little (if any) acidity to provide direction, and as a result these heavily oaked wines feel remarkably settled.

Mr. Sobrero's 2004 La Pichetera Barbera D'Alba Superiore is oaked, but has emerged very much alive: Deep cherry ruby with ruby rim. The bouquet is fairly rich, with a nice balance between red berry fruit and oak supported by deft raspberry acidity. On the palate it's ample and smooth, with fairly rich cherry fruit directed by lively cherry acidity that's more intense than I expected from the nose, and supported by smooth sweet tannins that flow into a clean tart finish. It will drink quite nicely with succulent roasts or stews, and is quite refreshing.
2 stars

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Tasted at Vintialy: A Frascati Superiore

Frascati is a white wine from the Alban hills, and people generally associate it with the pitchers Roman restaurants set out. In other words, something not long on complexity, but that goes down very well.

Easy to drink does not necessarily mean simple, however. For example:

Alma Vini Conte San Jacopo Frascati Superiore 2007
Pale brassy yellow with brassy reflections. Delicate bouquet with minerality mingled with some heather and clean bitter notes and some delicate floral accents that provide depth. On the palate it's full, with rich honey-laced very ripe apricot fruit that gives way to mineral warmth with a warm acidic burr that continues at length. Quite nice, and will work very well as an aperitif, or with a wide range of foods, from fish through quickly cooked meats, and also zesty pasta sauces. In other words, Roman dishes. Worth seeking out.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Tasted at Vinitaly: La Fabriseria Valpolicella Classico Superiore

Greetings From Vinitaly!The first winery I visited was Tedeschi, whose Amarone and Valpolicella I have always liked. This year they have reclassified their La Fabriseria as a Valpolicella Classico Superiore, in doing so taking a significant step back into tradition. To begin with, the name: La Fabriseria was the council of townspeople who worked with the parish priest on parish affairs, and Antonietta, one of the current younger generation, says the people on this council, including her great grandfather, were all winemakers, and would bring a bottle to each meeting, each trying to bring the best. So meetings of La Fabriseria became opportunities to discuss wines as well, and the Tedeschi family decided to apply the name to their top wines.

This said, until this vintage what is now called La Fabriseria Valpolicella Classico Superiore contained a small percentage of Cabernet, and was therefore an IGT. Now the Cabernet is gone, and they have also made the decision to ferment the old way, with whole bunches of grapes. In other words, after a brief period of drying, the bunches are looked over and those that are unblemished go into the fermentation tank, stems and all. There is some tannic extraction from the stems, but the tannins are not harsh, and greatly increase the longevity of the wine. After fermentation, large wood.

Enough talk:

Tedeschi La Fabriseria Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2006
Deep cherry ruby with hints of almandine in the rim. Rich bouquet with ripe berry fruit supported berry fruit jam mingled with warmth, some balsamic notes, underlying sweetness and licorice root; a fellow taster also find almonds. Pleasant in a young key. On the palate it's full, with rich wild berry fruit supported by clean slightly greenish spicy tannins that have a steely velvety core, and flow into a clean bright finish with tannic underpinning. It's quite elegant, but also very, very young, and though one could drink it with rich red meats now (a crown roast comes to mind), it will richly reward those with the patience to let it age for 3'5 years, and continue to grow for at least 10.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Brunello: Latest Updates, or the Saga Continues

I'm packing my bags to head up to Verona for Vinitaly, but wanted to say a couple of words about the storm gathering over Montalcino.

A few names have appeared in the Press, initially in an article Stefano Tesi wrote for Il Giornale, and more recently in a longer article written by Michele Bocci for La Repubblica (on March 28; I have it in PDF format but couldn't find it on their site).

Both say that the wineries currently under investigation are Argiano, Frescobaldi (Castelgiocondo) and Antinori (Pian delle Vigne), and I can add that one of these is the winery with the several-hectare non-Sangiovese "Brunello" vineyard I heard about.

La Repubblica goes further, saying that three more large wineries are under investigation -- people seem to be making admissions -- and that ultimately a third of the total Brunello production for 2003 may turn out to be fraudulent. And if it is fraudulent, what's more recent is at the very least under suspicion (as are some older wines).

It goes without saying that this is a tremendous blow to Brunello and Italian wines in general, but it also goes without saying that if the scandal is not brought to light it will simply fester in the shadows, poisoning the Appellation.

And we can't have that, because a good, honest Brunello made from Sangiovese with no additions is one of the finest wines I know of, and one that I will always be happy to drink.