Sangiovese from Montecucco – A wine to savor, share, enjoy!

Sassetti Petimali estate

As I sat sipping the 2015 Sassetti Montecucco with patriarch Livio Sassetti at his famed Petimali Brunello estate back in May, I knew how much you’d love this supple Sangiovese this summer. Just like Washington, DC, today, it was a hot, slightly muggy day that made the prospect of tasting even great Brunello (and Livio’s 2013 Brunello is great indeed – as you’ll see this fall!) a bit daunting.

Before the first Montalcino wine, though, the Montecucco La Querciolina sloshed into our glasses – and, suddenly, the whole group was revived. Aromas of dark strawberry, cherry, violets, leather and cinnamon spice wafted from each glass. And those captivating scents turned into brilliantly fresh and refreshing flavors on the palate. The wine was at once juicy-fresh and deeply flavored, and the fine, silky tannins pushed the finish to fantastic length.

Being lunchtime in Italy, everyone immediately reached out and started gobbling still more of antipasti in front of us. (A mixed blessing, as we thought we were having a light lunch and weren’t aware that a glorious rice dish and Tuscan T-Bone steak were still to come!). No professional spitting here – this was a wine to be savored, shared, enjoyed.

sassetti montecucco bottle and glass summerAnd “savor, share, enjoy” is what Livio Sassetti’s son, Lorenzo, intends his Montecucco to be all about. Lorenzo is principal winemaker at the family’s famed Pertimali Brunello estate (although Livio remains very much involved!) where he makes some of Montalcino’s most exciting, classically-styled Sangiovese Grosso. But he and Livio purchased land in nearby Montecucco in 1999 to make a wine that was all about this fast emerging region’s unique character – and unique style of Sangiovese.

The Sassetti winemaking family is famous, with deep roots in Montalcino as co-founders of the Consorzio del Brunello di Montalcino, and one of the early producers of Brunello. Montecucco – a region that’s fun to say if still a bit obscure –  sits just west of Montalcino in a region.  The vines here are the same as in Montalcino, the large-berried clone known as Sangiovese Grosso. But in Montecucco, there’s more clay and mineral content in the soil than in Montalcino (courtesy of the nearby extinct volcano Monte Amiata). The minerality and larger day/night temperature swings bring out Sangiovese’s bright cherry fruit and floral notes while allowing tannins to ripen to silky smoothness.

Lorenzo gives this just six months in large Slavonian oak casks and then a bit of bottle age before release. Which locks in the super juicy, fresh fruit and allows the fresh violet, savory leather, and cinnamon spice notes to shine through.

With a light chill now, Sassetti Montecucco La Querciolina 2015 delivers a gloriously refreshing jolt of fresh cherry and cranberry juice fruit that will refresh and revive you on a warm summer’s day. By this winter, it will have taken on weight and power (without losing the smooth finish) and be ready for steaks and stews. At these special savings prices, you’ll want to stock up on enough to enjoy all year long.

Come by Friday and Saturday, July 14 and 15,  and taste for yourself. Then pick up some antipasti on the way home and get ready for a festive feast.

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Rioja Modern and Traditional

Juan escudero VinsacroJuan Escudero began making Rioja wine in a small cave carved out of a hillside in 1852, well before the French invasion. The family continued winemaking and growing through the years, with Juan’s grandson, Benito, moving into Cava production in the 1950s. His children returned to Rioja and under the leadership of Bordeaux-trained brother Amador founded Bodegas Vinsacro around the turn of this century.

They planted about 30 acres of vines in Rioja Baja in 1996, but the key to the success of this very modern winery was a small, very old, and very, very, old-fashioned vineyard owned by the family for 120 years. It’s called Cuesta la Reina and it was planted around 1945 (70 years ago) on the stony southern slope of Mount Yerga between 450 and 800 meters elevation.

An Old-Fashioned Vineyard
Vinsacro harvestAs was customary at the time, the vineyard was planted by taking cuttings of another old vineyard and grafting the canes onto new rootstocks – a process called massal selection. And, as was customary in Rioja for centuries before the current modern revolution, that old vineyard was planted to a mixture of vine types including Garnacha (perhaps half the vineyard) plus Tempranillo, Graciano, Monastrell and Bobal.

As in 17th and 18th Century Bordeaux, this blend of grapes was less about achieving the perfect blend in the finished wine than about insurance: if growing conditions caused problems with one varietal, there was at least a chance that the others would ripen. When it was time to harvest, the whole vineyard was picked at once and the wine’s final blend was whatever happened to come off the vines. In fact, the traditional name for this style vineyard, “Vidau,” means “ready to pick.”

Modern Quality and Care
vinsacro-grapesAmador and his brothers cherished this old vineyard, but also began applying some modern farming ideas. First, they converted to completely organic farming to help the soil regain its health and keep the old vines thriving. Then, they began to pick each varietal separately as they ripened fully. Tempranillo gets picked first, usually in the first week of October. Then Garnacha comes in late October before Graciano in early November and then, last, Mazuelo and Bobal.

As if four separate harvests weren’t expensive enough, the grapes are sorted twice, once in the vineyard and then on a vibrating table in the winery before they go into the vats. After fermenting separately, each varietal ages for 12-14 months in 100% new French oak casks to both soften tannins and add a touch of spice without losing fruit or adding harsher American oak influence.

Finally, Amador creates the decidedly old-fashioned Rioja blend that will become Dioro. About 50% of the final wine is Tempranillo – compared to 80-100% at most “modernist” estates. About 20% is Garnacha (for hints of red raspberry) and 10% each Mazuelo and Graciano (for vivid acids and cherry fruit). Monastrell (earthy) and Bobal (licorice and plum) make up the rest of the blend. Only the very best barrels of wine from Cuesta la Reina go into Dioro, with the rest of the vineyard’s wine being blended into other bottlings.

vinsacro-riojaFrom organic farming to multiple harvest passes, double sorting, new French oak aging, and strict selection of only the best lots, this is an expensive way to make wine. Which is why Wine Advocate gave the 2015 such high praise (92 points) even at a curiously high reported $65 release price.

At the $24.99 regular price, Vinsacro Rioja Dioro 2015 is outstanding value in rich, ripe, powerful Rioja. At our $14.98 best price this week, it’s a better deal still. And when you take an extra $10 off just for signing up for our new website and ordering online? Well, that’s a superb stock-up opportunity on a classy, delicious, red you’ll enjoy for years.

What Makes Chateauneuf Chateauneuf?

Champauvin Vineyard

Champauvin, covered with the famous galet, sits across a three-meter-wide path from Cheateauneuf

As you may know, the name and fame of the Rhone Valley wine region called Chateauneuf du Pape dates from the 1300s when the Papacy temporarily moved from Rome to the French city of Avignon. The Popes built a summer palace north of Avignon on the crest of a big hill overlooking the Rhone Valley. Locals called it “the Pope’s New Castle” – Chateauneuf du Pape. As the Church spurred growth in the Rhone’s vineyards to meet its ceremonial and social needs, the name came to be applied to the better vineyards surrounding the hill.

Once the Pope returned to Rome, the name dropped out of use and the wines came to be known simply as “vin d’Avignon” until the Chateauneuf name was resurrected in the mid-1800s. The wines gradually gained respect within France until phylloxera wiped out the vineyards in the late 1800s.

In the early 20th Century, growers in the area realized that they couldn’t compete with the rapidly developing Languedoc-Roussillon region in the south for pure bulk wine production. Seeking to improve quality, in the early 1930s they banded together to resurrect the brand of Chateauneuf du Pape and establish rules for what wines could or could not use that label. Their approach ultimately became the basis for all France’s designated wine regions – the Appelation Controlee system. The rules specified maximum yields, minimum alcoholic strength (12.5%), and determined which grapes were of acceptable quality (a hard debate settled on a list of 13 varieties).

Mapmaking Gone Wrong
Cdp and Champauvins MapAnd they drew a map specifying which lands were allowable for Chateauneuf du Pape and which would be left out (and ultimately be labeled Cotes du Rhone).
To the south and west of the town of Chateauneuf, setting boundaries was easy. As the land sloped down towards the Rhone River, it eventually became too wet to support vineyards.

The eastern side was also easy, if not really based on vineyard character. The drafters simply followed the main road running from Avignon to Orange (now the A7 Autoroute) from the village of le Coulaire in the south and up to the end of the vineyards belonging to Chateau Beaucastel in the north. This sliced one of Beaucastel’s vineyards – called Coudoulet – in two, leaving half of the vineyard in and half out of Chateauneuf. Not entirely fair, but at least easy to explain.

What happened next is a bit of a mystery. The Jaume family farmed a collection of vineyards pretty much due west of Beaucastel and just under the Orange road. The vineyards have the same sub-soils and top-soils as Beaucastel, were covered by the rounded “galet” stones that are Chateauneuf’s hallmarks, and were planted to the same grapes. The logical thing to do would have been to simply continue to follow the road as it curved around to the west a little further and then allow the line to curve back down to the south to the river as the soils changed from red, iron rich gravel to more sand and limestone after the Jaume’s vineyards ended.

Instead, the drafters elected to abandon the Orange road just above Beaucastel and draw the boundary line down a narrow gravel path that ran right through the middle of the Jaume vineyards. The very fine vineyards planted in 1905 and still used for Grand Veneur Chateauneuf du Pape Les Origines plus another medium-sized vineyard became Chateauneuf. The 35 hectare Champauvins vineyard, identical in every way to the vineyards across the 10 foot wide path would be Cotes du Rhone.

Outstanding Wine the Best Revenge!
champauvin and galetIt’s hard to imagine how frustrated and upset the Jaume family must have been when they saw the new region’s map, and we know they protested and demanded explanations for years (but never got one). And, when you visit the Jaume’s at their modest winery just outside Chateauneuf, you get the sense that they still are not entirely over the injustice of making Champauvins somehow “less” than vineyards a few feet away.

Fortunately, under the leadership first of Alain Jaume and today of his sons, Sebastien and Christophe, the family’s Domaine Grand Veneur has decided that quality is its own revenge. They farm Champauvins like the Chateauneuf vines across the path, working mainly by hand (necessary with bush vines and gravel-covered soils) and using certified organic viticultural techniques. Yields are similar to their Chateauneuf vineyards, meaning the Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre grapes achieve fantastic ripeness without any excess of sugar or roasted, pruny flavors.

In the modern winery, the winemaking for Champauvins is “old school” all the way. Fermentations proceed slowly with gentle pump-overs to extract classic Rhone flavor and structure without adding any harsh tannins. Grenache (70% of the blend) ages in concrete tanks to help it retain color and fruit. Syrah and Mourvedre mellow in old oak casks, given them the tiny bit of air they need to round out without imparting any oak flavor.

The result is a wine chock-full of big, deep, aromas of kirsch, black cherry, crushed herb, wild lavender, black olive and dark chocolate flow from the glass. Those same notes flow across your palate in a rich, vibrant, wine that coats your mouth with flavor and leaves ripe, fine-grained, tannins lingering behind. If they wanted to, the Jaume family could give this the same heft and density that makes “true” Chateauneuf so cellar-worthy (if hard to enjoy young), but because it’s “only” Cotes du Rhone and cannot command Chateauneuf prices, they craft it to be open, supple, savory, and delicious right now.

 

Stunning Sancerre from Bernard Fleuriet

The international wine press is beginning to catch on to what’s happening at the Fleuriet estate. I guess it’s possible that there’s a better winegrower working in Sancerre today than Bernard Fleuriet. There certainly are bigger, better known, higher-production estates. But I can’t imagine that there’s anyone making more brilliant white and red Sancerre with this kind of intensity, depth and utterly captivating complexity. Whether you’re a diehard Sauvignon Blanc lover or adore the kind of powerfully pure Pinot Noir you normally only find in 1er Cru Burgundy sites, you really simply have to try these wines.


The Fleuriet brothers established their estate in 1991 and over the years have accumulated about 50 acres of vineyards in 35 different plots across Sancerre. Their sites capture all of Sancerre’s mineral diversity, with about 10% of the vines growing on silex (flint), 40% on white Kimmeridgian limestone marls, and the rest on soils covered in chalk pebbles (Caillottes).

Mineral Diversity, Prime Locations
What all the sites share is prime locations – all face south or southeast to receive the warm sunshine needed to fully ripen Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir in this northerly winegrowing region.

They work their vines as naturally as possible with minimal pesticides and no herbicides. Both for quality and reflecting the many steep slopes they farm, all Fleuriet grapes are harvested by hand and sorted to ensure only perfectly ripe, flavorful, grapes are used. And, from first pick to final bottling, Bernard Fleuriet takes extreme care to ensure the juice and wine are protected from oxygen beyond what they absorb from barrel and concrete tank.

Concrete … and Oak
For fermentation, Bernard generally prefers concrete to stainless steel, allowing very small amounts of oxygen in through the walls of the tank to accentuate texture and depth. Increasingly he is using egg-shaped fermenters which promote a constant, gentle, movement of the lees to add still more texture without having to open the tank for stirring.

And then there’s the oak. For the whites, as I said last year, I have never encountered a finer use of French oak barrel with Sauvignon Blanc (and, yes, I’ve tasted Didier Dagueneau’s much more expensive Pouilly Fumes). For the whites that see barrel, the oak is perfectly gauged to accentuate Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc’s inherent minerality and add fantastic depth and precision of texture without covering the ripe fruit in wood flavor. Seriously – it’s not possible to do a better job of matching wood to Sauvignon Blanc.

Revelatory Reds
The reds have been an equally impressive revelation. The “basic” La Magie des Cailloutes red is a more intense and ripe version of what you hope for in Sancerre rouge – a very Pinot Noir fruitiness with touches of earth and spice and a texture that invites enjoyment with everyday foods. The Sancerre Rouge Anthocyanes 2015 is something else entirely. Imagine Burgundy’s Jean Michel Guillon growing and making Pinot in Sancerre and you’ll be on the right track.

All of these wines are delicious today – as you’ll see when you come by Saturday, June 23,  from noon-4pm to taste them with importer Olivier Daubresse. All will get even better over the next few years. And all are terrific values at our mix/match prices.

As you’ll see when you look at the wine descriptions, reviewers are beginning to realize what’s going on here, and the wines are earning big scores as they are tasted by the critics. Before the rush is on, come, try, and secure some for yourself.

Aglianico – The Best Grilling Grape You Don’t Know (and a grilled ratatouille recipe)

AglianicoGrown in the steep hills of Italy’s Basilicata, inland from Naples, Aglianico is the best grape in the world that nobody knows (or, if you know it, don’t drink enough of). Wine writers try to get drinkers to pay attention to it by calling it “the Barolo of the South.” Because, like Piemonte’s Nebbiolo, it’s wonderfully aromatic, full of bracing acidity, laced with sharp, firm, tannins, and can live and gain complexity for decades.

But “Barolo” it ain’t. It’s much more fun than that, especially when grown on the old lava flows of the extinct volcano, Monte Vulture. For one thing, it’s darker, fleshier, and more powerful than Barolo, serving up fine concentration of black raspberry and blueberry fruit to Nebbiolo’s fine cherry and strawberry.

Mt VultureAnd it’s wilder than Barolo, with a direct, assertive, ready to party by the grill, boldness and layer upon layer of summer-friendly wild herb, black olive, violet and earth notes. And while Aglianico from more famous Taurasi needs years in bottle to be much fun, many Aglianico del Vulture (like this one!) are delicious and ready to rock out on the deck as soon as they arrive in the USA.

While this is fun to hang out with and drink, growing fine Aglianico is serious work – work no one has done better over the last 40+ years than d’Angelo. Lucio d’Angelo’s ancestors had grown Aglianico for centuries before he started his winery in 1971. And Lucio and his children, Rocco and Erminia, almost single-handedly created the DOCG and set the standards for what great Aglianico del Vulture is all about.

The hard work starts in the vineyards, where the Basilicata’s high altitudes and low latitudes mean days can be brutally hot and nights chilly to frigid. Aglianico can’t really be grown successfully under any other conditions because it buds very early – when frost is too likely in lower sites – and needs to hang for months and months to develop flavor and soften fierce tannins. By the time the d’Angelo family harvests their Aglianico in late-October/early November, essentially all of Italy’s Sangiovese, Nero d’Avola, Bordeaux varietals, and even Nebbiolo are already bubbling away in their fermenters.

Once the grapes are painstakingly picked by hand – as they must be on these mountain slopes – they are crushed and ferment warm and vigorously to extract color and flavor to match naturally high acids and tannins. Then comes the wait: 20 months in huge, old, oak casks to allow the tannins to soften and full, fleshy, flavors to emerge.

d'Angelo Aglianico del Vulture

And, when all that’s done…the wine still releases at just $25 vs the $50-$150 Barolo gets. Which makes this gloriously fruit-filled, complex, powerful red a steal all the time, but especially from $17.98 this week.

Come on by and try it – we’ll keep a bottle of d’Angelo Aglianico Del Vulture open to try this week through Friday’s free tasting. And if you want to taste Aglianico’s perfect match, check out my recipe for Grilled Ratatouille. We think you’ll enjoy them both!


Doug’s Grilled Ratatouille

Grilled RatatouilleSauternes and foie gras. Ribeye steak and Napa Cab. Meursault and lobster. Fine Bordeaux and roast lamb. Every wine has a perfect pairing, a match that elevates both the food and the wine. And for Aglianico, my perfect pairing is anything laced with salty/savory olives, roasted peppers, basil, and/or capers.

You and make that match happen with something as involved as a hearty southern Italian lamb stew or as simple as an antipasto platter of olives, peppers, cured meats and cheese. But with summer’s bounty starting to arrive at farmers’ markets all around town, my favorite pairing with southern Italy’s Aglianico is a riff on a classic from the South of France: Grilled Ratatouille.

This started off as a somewhat fussy recipe from Cooks Illustrated, but now it’s more of an approach than a recipe per se. Sometimes I have more eggplant, sometimes less. Sometimes I grill everything until it’s mushy, sometimes I leave things more crisp. And sometimes I leave it rich and dense and other times add a big jolt of lemon juice for freshness. It always seems to come out great, though, and as long as you make sure to have enough capers/olives and basil, I promise it will taste great with Aglianico!

Ingredients
Note: This makes about 6-8 servings as a side dish. I usually double it, but you can futz with the mix anyway you like and it will still come out great.

  • 1 red onion peeled and quartered, leaving enough stem to hold the quarters together
  • 2lb eggplant sliced about 1 inch thick
  • 1.5lb zucchini sliced in half or into thick planks (depending on how big your squash is!)
  • 2 bell peppers cored and quartered (yellow or red are fun)
  • 1lb tomatoes cut in half along the equator (more is good, too)
  • ¼ cup chopped basil (more is ok)
  • 1 tbsp chopped thyme
  • 1 tbsp capers or 2 tbl chopped black olives (or both – just watch the salt)
  • 3 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic grated or mashed into a paste
  • ¼ cup really good olive oil plus more for tossing/brushing
  • Salt & pepper
    Lemon juice

Directions

Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with a little oil and sprinkle with a little salt.

Put the other veggies in a large mixing bowl (in batches) and toss with oil to coat; lay out on baking sheets and salt lightly.

Get your grill hot; with charcoal, do a two-level fire; with gas, leave one row/side off

Get grill marks on the onion over direct heat and then move to other side of grill to cook until soft

Put the eggplant over the direct fire and grill, turning frequently, until they are softening (your choice of still a little toothsome or full on mushy)

Put the bell peppers, zucchini, and tomatoes (in batches) over the hot side of the grill, turning until both sides show grill marks; either continue turning over direct heat or move to other side until they are as soft as you want them.

When the veggies have cooled, rub the skins off the tomatoes and peppers (don’t worry if some stays on – no one will care).

Chop everything up to the size you like – I go pretty chunky, but it’s up to you – and put everything in a big bowl with the olives/capers, thyme and basil

Make a dressing of the sherry vinegar, ¼ cup olive oil and garlic (I use an immersion blender but you can go old school and whisk it together), and pour on the veggies and toss.

Taste and add more salt and pepper if you like and a squeeze of lemon juice if that’s your thing. Serve warm or room temperature with Aglianico!

Get to Know Walter Scott Willamette Pinot

walter-scott-ken-and-erica.pngA good friend and customer introduced us to Walter Scott wines last year, long before they became available on the East Coast. She proclaimed them her very favorite wines in the Willamette Valley – high praise from a discerning taster. That led us to see what others were saying.

Here’s what Wine Advocate said after tasting Walter Scott’s 2012 releases:

“When I am asked if there were any “great discoveries” in Oregon, I would mention “Walter Scott Wines” without hesitation. This is a small bijou operation run by Ken Pahlow and Erica Landon and their story is one of essentially risking everything to pursue their dream. If their wines are of this quality, then their sacrifices have been worthwhile.” Neal Martin, Wine Advocate, March 2015

Two years later, after visiting with Ken and Erica again and trying their 2014s, Martin was even more impressed:

“And bloody good they are as well. I just like how Ken and Erica roll – nothing fancy, no blockbuster or pretentiousness – just killer Pinot Noir with purity, intensity and personality…That leaves me to say if you have not tried these wines yet, do yourself a favor.” Neal Martin, Wine Advocate, June 2016

A Labor of Love
Walter Scott is a labor of love from the husband/wife team of Ken Pahlow and Erica Landon. Ken caught the Oregon wine bug in the early 1990s and soon began just showing up at Mark Vlossak’s St Innocent winery in the Eola Hills offering to do anything that needed doing. Eventually, in 1995, he wore Mark down and started helping out at harvest and in the winery on a regular basis, ultimately taking on sales responsibilities there too.

During his 14 years working at St. Innocent, Ken took a second job handling sales for a leading Oregon-based importer. In 2002, he first met Sommelier Erica Landon. Erica had started in the wine business in Portland and at a Mount Hood resort before becoming the sommelier and GM for the Ponzi family’s Dundee Bistro (that’s where Ken first met her in 2002). She went on to earn a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence at Ten 01 back in Portland (while beginning to date Ken in 2007) before becoming Wine Director for a Portland restaurant group and becoming a wine instructor for the trade.

Ken and Erica married and decided to give winemaking a try, emptying their retirement accounts to make 165 cases of wine in the great 2008 harvest. In 2009, Ken traded labor for enough space at Patricia Green Cellars to make 650 cases. In 2010, Ken took a new job heading up sales at Evening Land Vineyards in the Eola Hills that allowed him to make his next two vintages there.

Evening Land was a great place for Ken and Erica to take the next step. The Evening Land story is complex, but the key points are that an investor group acquired one of Oregon’s greatest vineyards, Seven Springs, in 2007 and brought in Burgundy’s Dominique Lafon to consult. Ken was able to soak up Lafon’s expertise and also get to know current owner/managers Rajat Parr and Sashi Moorman.

A Converted Cider House
In 2012, Ken and Erica signed up long-time fans Andy and Sue Steinman as partners and, with their help, leased and converted a cider house on the edge of Justice Vineyard in the Eola Hills. Then, in 2014, the biggest step yet – they welcomed a new partner (daughter Lucy) to the venture and left their day jobs to focus on Walter Scott full time.

As Neal Martin reported in The Wine Advocate, “their story is one of essentially risking everything to pursue their dream. If their wines are of this quality, then their sacrifices have been worthwhile.” With influences ranging from Mark Vlossak, Dominique Lafon, the Ponzi family, Sashi Moorman and more, it’s hardly surprising that their Walter Scott wines are good. It’s the way they’re good that’s so delightful.

First, there’s a strong focus on great vineyards here, mainly in the southerly Willamette Valley appellation of the Eola Amity Hills and including one of America’s greatest Pinot Noir sites, Seven Springs. Their vineyards are all dry-farmed and feature predominantly marine sedimentary soils. This kind of dirt brings out the minerality and elegance of Pinot Noir paired with ripe cherry/raspberry/strawberry fruit – what I’d argue is the essence of great Oregon Pinot Noir.

Ken and Erica work with their farming partners to ensure that yields are appropriate to the vintage – lower in cool harvests like 2010 and 2011, higher as needed in warmer years like 2014 and 2015 – and that the fruit is allowed to ripen slowly, without excess sugar and with vibrant acids.

A Great 2016
And in a more “classic” and balanced year like 2016? Once again, Ken and Erica’s wines are fully ripe and bursting with fresh (not cooked or dried) fruit flavors, deliver vibrant acids, and went into bottle at remarkably moderate alcohols ranging from 12.5 to 13.9% (vs 14% and higher at many fine estates).

If minerality, freshness and precision are themes that cut across all of the Walter Scott wines, those attributes are always presented in terms of each vineyard’s unique character. Freedom Hill is dark, smoky and powerful. And Seven Springs is at once velvety and weightless, generous and full of tension.

The 2016 Walter Scott releases have yet to be presented to the critics. If big scores matter to you, then buy these now and then brag how you scored some of the top wines of a great vintage while you still could. Because in 2016, I think most critics will echo Neal Martin’s summation of Walter Scott’s 2012s:

“Here were wines with great precision and poise, wines that embraced the opulence of the 2012 vintage but hammered any excesses down with a prudent approach in the winery. The modest acidification ensured that these wines feel natural and refined, the kind of wines that I would take home to drink following a hard day’s tasting. With two partners coming on board, and presumably steadying what can be a financially precarious venture when starting out, things look bright for Walter Scott Wines. Pick up the phone and try them yourself.”

Chianti Tradition and Modern Innovation at Il Molino di Grace

Il Molino di GraceIl Molino di Grace’s 2015 Chianti Classico is just about the perfect marriage of Chianti tradition and modern innovation, much like the estate itself.

I visited the estate just a few weeks ago. Located right outside the village of Panzano, these vineyards in the heart of Chianti have given wine for more than 350 years. The name of the estate, “Il Molino,” gives tribute to the 19th Century windmill that remains perched on a hill (you can see the windmill in the background in this photograph).

The “modern” comes from Frank Grace and his family who purchased the site and began planting/replanting the vineyards in 1996. Grace was initially attracted to the site as a vacation home and place to indulge his passion for modern sculpture (there’s some amazing art dotted around the estate). Wine was not on the agenda – until son Tim and good friend Gerhard Hirmer pointed out that the vineyards were in one of Chianti’s great sites and that it was a shame to continue selling them to inferior winemakers.

For Frank, it was in for a penny, in for a pound. So he invested in building a modern, squeaky clean winery and hired one of the world’s foremost Sangiovese gurus, Franco Bernabei, to guide the operation. Vineyards were planted/replanted to modern trellising, yields lowered, and farming converted to organic status (with certification achieved in 2014). Bernabei’s winemaking style is simple – cool fermentations to retain fruit, gentle extraction to avoid harsh tannins, and skillful use of large Slavonian oak casks to smooth the wine without covering it in wood flavors.

In the truly outstanding 2015 Tuscan growing season, this blend of modernity and tradition brought forth a simply lovely Chianti Classico, one with enough fruit and silkiness that anyone can enjoy it but enough classic Chianti cured tobacco, leather and earth that it couldn’t possibly be from anywhere else.

We had a nice run with Il Molino di Grace Chiantis a few years ago before availability and pricing got spotty. Now our good friend John Grimsley of Le Storie Wines has partnered with the Grace family to bring Il Molino di Grace back to the market – and partnered with us to get it to you at very special prices.