Brunello 2012s – A Taste from Mastrojanni

Mastrojanni and glassThis week we’re featuring our first (but not last!) 2012 Brunello: the 2012 Brunello from Mastrojanni, a relatively new winery that’s on a roll (this Brunello earned 94 points from the Wine Advocate).

Some are saying that the 2012 Brunellos are a cross between 2006 (but with less tannin) and 2008 (but with more body and fruit). Others offer even higher praise, comparing their 2012s to the monumental 2004s (if, perhaps, with a tad less concentration).

A bit of history about Mastrojanni:

From Brunello Tradition…
Mastrojanni vineyardMastrojanni is a gem of an estate for wine lovers, both because the quality is outstanding and because the market hasn’t fully caught on to just how fine the wines have become. The estate was created in 1975 when Gabriele Mastrojanni purchased the San Pio and Loreto estates in the southeastern portion of Montalcino’s Brunello zone.

Gravel rich clay soils over limestone bedrock and a climate moderated by nearby mount Amiata, an extinguished volcano, made this perfect Sangiovese Grosso country. But Mastrojanni also planted a little Cabernet Sauvignon in the San Pio vineyards to see what it could do.

In 1992, Andrea Machetti joined as Managing Director, a position he continues to hold today. Under Machetti’s guidance the Mastrojanni wines improved substantially and by the 2007 and 2008 vintages was recognized as a fast-improving estate in the “traditional” (i.e., limited new oak) style.

…To “Glorious”
Andrea Machetti of MastrojanniIn 2008, following the death of the founders’ son, Mastrojanni was purchased by Francesco and Riccardo Illy of Italy’s leading coffee company.

What they did next was simply brilliant: very little. They essentially asked Andrea Machetti what he needed to make better wine and then did that and little else. The vineyards needed little work – the sites were excellent, they had been planted to high-density from the beginning, and were coming into full maturity.

The winery, however, had lagged behind. So the Illy’s invested in better sorting tables – all grapes at Mastrojanni are sorted twice to ensure only the best fruit makes it into the fermenters – built a winery that allowed more gentle handling of the fruit and wine, and allowed Machetti to swap out some tired old barrels for newer, large, casks.

The style of the Brunello remained unchanged – a “traditional” approach that emphasizes Montalcino’s ripe fruit and power without obvious oaky notes or over extraction. And, they allowed Machetti to further improve the San Pio Cabernet blend, first made in 1997.

“On a Roll”
As Wine Advocate’s Monica Larner says, today “Mastrojanni is on a roll. This extraordinary estate has been enjoying the spotlight lately and very much deserves the attention. I’m adding my name to a long list of their fans.” Commenting on last year’s releases, she adds:

“Mastrojanni is an estate that is living a true moment of glory. The new winery has been up and running for a number of years, the best vineyard sites are in their prime production years and a slew of interesting additions (such as a charming on-site country hotel) are about to go online. The Illy family (of the famed coffee house) bought the property in 2008 and made a series of important investments. The cellars were completely renewed. Managing Director Andrea Machetti stayed on during the many years of transition and his role has been crucial to the continuity and the improvements made at Mastrojanni since the Illy ownership commenced.”

This stunning 94 point Brunello di Montalcino shows how Mastrojanni’s progress plus a truly outstanding vintage combine to create a simply stunning Brunello. Don’t miss it!

 

‘Barolo Girl’ is Born

Giulia Negri BarologirlGiulia Negri’s family have been growing Nebbiolo and making Barolo at their Serrandenari estate for about 150 years. Their La Morra vineyards are the highest up in all of Barolo, ranging from 380-500 meters in altitude. The cool climate and sandy La Morra soils give elegant, pure, wines here, and they’ve long been a favorite of Barolo fans who value sophistication and grace over pure power and weight.

Giulia grew up in the winery and vineyards and seemed destined to join Serrandenari herself. But, she as she watched many of her slightly older friends establish their own, small, projects, often working in tiny cellars or their own parents’ garages, she developed an itch to strike out on her own.

So, in here early 20s, and with her parents’ support, Giulia founded her own “Garage” winery. She set up shop in a modest shed with simple winemaking equipment. She knew she wanted to honor her family’s traditions, so she took charge of Nebbiolo vines growing on the lower portion of the Serrandenari estate and a small, east-facing sliver of the famous Brunate vineyard. And, to make her own mark, she planted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on sites too cool for Nebbiolo.

From Barolo to Burgundy to Us. One of the most important trends in Barolo over the past 20 years is young winemakers exploring the world of wine beyond Piemonte – beyond Italy itself. And, having seen her friends do that, Giulia sought out experiences, expertise, and advice from the best non-Italian winemakers she could find. Searching for advice to make rich, powerful, but pure and site-specific Pinot Noir and how to meld this temperamental wine with wood, she called on one of the greatest Pinot Noir winemakers we know: Jean-Michel Guillon in Burgundy’s Gevrey Chambertin.

Jean-Michel was delighted to help this budding winemaker, and hosted Giulia at his Burgundy domaine for hours of tasting, talking, and training on Pinot Noir winemaking, especially on the selection of the best barrels that deliver all the benefits of fine French oak – softening, fixing color, adding complexity – without overwhelming fruit or sense of place. He was impressed by her talent and passion – and by the wines she brought along for him to taste. Recognizing the almost Burgundian style of her Barolo and learning of her very limited representation in the US, Jean-Michel introduced Giulia to his good friends and US importers, Jonas Gustafsson and Olivier Daubresse.

As Jonas and Olivier would be the first to say, the very last thing either was looking for was an Italian wine to add to their portfolios. Olivier specializes in French wines from the Rhone, Provence, and – especially, Burgundy. And Jonas is the master of rich, powerful, authentic wines from Spain and Portugal. Italy simply wasn’t in the cards.

But, after first tasted her wines and then meeting with Giulia, they simply could not resist bringing her beautiful wines to us here in the mid-Atlantic region. And, knowing our passion for fine Barolo, especially Barolo that tempers it’s power and depth with a sense of elegance and fine style, Jonas and Olivier were kind enough to bring Giulia’s wines to us.

Giula Negri the Future‘Barolo. The Future.’  I strongly encourage you to visit Giulia’s website to see pictures of her, the tiny winery, the beautiful Barolo scenery, and her dog (clearly important to Giulia, as he takes center stage on the wine label!). The wine is as charming and pretty and the pictures you’ll see there!

While Giulia is innovating with Piemonte Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (and we hope to have the chance to taste those sometime soon!), her Barolo is all about very precise and well-executed tradition. Her Nebbiolo is sustainably grown on legendary sites – the high-altitude La Mora vineyard of Serradenari and the famous Cru of Brunate. She and her team of 3 – only four people total at this project! – harvest the grapes at perfect ripeness and bring them cool to her tiny, garage-like cellar.

After careful destemming – a key part of making great Barolo! – the grapes are crushed and then allowed to ferment in large wood vats. The must spends a total of 45 days in vat, with the cap submerged for 30 days and allowed to float gently on top for an additional 15. The challenge in making Barolo is to get plenty of color and flavor complexity from Nebbiolo’s skins without extracting hard, bitter, tannins. The combination of gentle (if largely traditional) maceration and perfectly ripe grapes delivers perfect balance in Giulia’s wine.

After fermentation, the wine is aged for three years in equal parts 500 liter Tonneaux and 250 litter Barriques. Both are 100% French oak (and very high-end French oak at that!), but none of the barrels are new. The mixture of fairly small (for Barolo) casks and absence of new oak allows Giulia’s Barolo to retain color, soften, and gain wonderful complexity without overt wood aromas and flavors.

Like many of her friends’ wines, Giulia’s Barolo benefits from all that winemakers have learned about capturing all of Nebbiolo’s complex aromas, rich flavors, and deep power without the hard tannins that used to require 20 years to resolve. But, unlike most of the “garagiste” Barolo we’ve tried, the 2010 Barolo La Tartufaia avoids an overt sense of winemaking – no black-as-night color, no thickness to the texture, and no intense vanilla/chocolate flavors of wood.

As Giulia writes on the “Barolo Girl” portion of her website, “Now that the Barolo Boys have grown up, time may have come for us, the Barolo Girls.”

Rosso di Montalcino – More Than “Baby Brunello”

As Wine Advocate’s Monica Larner says, “Rosso di Montalcino is one of Italy’s most food-friendly wines (think pasta, grilled sausage and lasagna).” Like its big brother, Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso is made entirely from Sangiovese Grosso – the larger berried clone of Chianti’s Sangiovese that seems to thrive only on the rolling hills of Montalcino. But, unlike Brunello, Rosso di Montalcino is supposed to be … fun!

Brunello is intended to be a “serious” wine. When Biondi Santi first labeled Sangiovese from Montalcino “Brunello” in 1888, it was for their best wine from a great vintage. And, so it continued for years, with Biondi Santi only releasing new Brunello in 1891, 1925 and 1945. As “Brunello” became an annual event and more producers joined the party, everyone agreed to keep things serious. Only the most ripe, powerful, and intense wines qualified or could withstand the mandatory four years of cellar time before release – especially before 1998 when the wine had to stay in cask for a full 42 months.

When the Rosso di Montalcino designation was created in 1984, the objective was to let new Brunello producers (they were multiplying furiously by then) generate a little cashflow by selling at least some Montalcino wine a year after harvest. The first Rossos were a mixture of wine from younger vines and casks that didn’t make the cut for the “big boy” Brunello.

But, over the years, the best Brunello producers have come to see Rosso as its own distinct style of wine. The best Rossos retain many of the flavors of Brunello – dark cherry, wood spice, leather, and violets – but in a more fresh, vivid, and approachable style. Eric Asimov captured the whole point of Rosso di Montalcino in the introduction to his 2011 Rosso tasting:

“Here sat the wine panel, having tasted 20 bottles of Rosso di Montalcino, reveling in the unmistakable earthy, dusty flavors of pure sangiovese. With their winsomely bitter, citrus-tinged cherry flavors, these wines were soulful and elemental, like good trattoria food. They wanted less talking and more drinking.”

What Will You Taste? I’ve been drinking wines made by Andrea Cortonesi for years, and one of the many things I appreciate by the man who is often called “a master of Montalcino” is how his Rosso does just what Rosso is supposed to do.

Certainly, you’ll find echoes of Cortonesi’s two Brunellos in this pair of 2013 Rossos. The Uccelliera – from heavy soils in Montalcino’s south – emphasizes breadth, power, muscular tannins, and dark, intense, fruit. In contrast, the Voliero – from sandier soils in the northern part of the zone – delivers more perfume, more elegance, and a lovely floral spice not often found in powerhouse Sangiovese.

But I love that neither wine is trying to be Brunello. They both have the right touch of wood to match their open, pure textures and a level of extraction and tannin that invite drinking young with delicious, fresh foods. You can enjoy either right now, although both will get better over the next few years (and Uccelliera benefits from a decant today). And both cost about half what you’d expect to pay for even an average Brunello.

A Look at the Ratings. One last note, this time about ratings. We’ve come to admire and respect the experience and critical faculty for Italian wines of both Antonio Galloni (formerly of Wine Advocate, now with his own Vinous publication) and Monica Larner (formerly of Wine Enthusiast, now Wine Advocate). And, to quote Galloni, both are most valuable when you look beyond their ratings:

“Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe in the value of ratings. In a perfect world, a score neatly summarizes everything that is contained within a review. But a number can never give you context, or tell you important things about a wine, how it was made, and, most importantly of all, if you will like it. I believe it is time for us – all of us – to start giving a little more importance to words. The keys to understanding these wines lie in the producer commentaries and tasting notes more than it does in the scores alone.” Antonio Galloni, Vinous, February 2015

In this case, we suggest you look beyond both the ratings and the words when evaluating Monica Larner’s review of Uccelliera Rosso 2013. I’ve tasted this wine – as you can on Friday and Saturday – and I can’t find the “brimstone and pencil shavings” notes she cites first or the “easy tannins” she finds at the end. What I taste and smell is a rich, ripe wine, with powerful tannins that really want a little time to mellow. Perhaps her sample bottle was shocked or off somehow? We’ll be interested in hearing your comments when you come by to try the wine this weekend!

Amarone – A Modern Classic

We recently ran across an Amarone (typically a wine we think of for winter foods) with a classical styling that means you can enjoy it with summer foods like grilled pork tenderloin or baby back ribs. It got us thinking about Amarone’s story …

The ancient Romans pioneered the art of intensifying their wines by drying the Amarone fruit.

The ancient Romans pioneered the art of intensifying their wines by drying the Amarone fruit.

Along with Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino, Amarone is often called one of Italy’s “Three Kings” – the greatest of the peninsula’s top red wines. But this Italian classic is actually a latecomer to the Italian wine scene – and may only exist due to a fortunate accident in the 1930s.

Some background. Roman winemakers pioneered the art of creating darker, stronger, and – importantly to Roman wine lovers – sweeter wines by drying ripe grapes on straw mats before fermentation. The loss of moisture during four to six months of air-drying meant that the grapes had too much sugar to easily ferment into alcohol before winter chills brought fermentation to a stop. The wine made this way in the hills around Verona was called “Recioto” by the Romans.

A Lucky Accident
As time passed, winemakers in what is now called the Valpolicella region turned their attention to the light, dry wines based on the Corvina grape that the region is known for today. However, many wineries (and even more families) continued making Recioto for home consumption with sweets or after a meal. Although no one knows for certain, at some point around 1935, it appears that one of these small lots of sweet Recioto was forgotten over the winter. When the weather warmed again in spring, the fermentation re-started and ran along until the sugar was gone – leaving the winemaker with a big, bold, and unexpectedly dry wine surprise.

No one is sure who discovered this new style of wine, but multiple wineries began experimenting with it, making what came to be called Amarone. By the mid-1950s, commercial quantities were available from several sources and over the 1960s and 1970s, the wines became famous for their heft, power, and distinctive dried fruit aromas and flavors.

Accordini’s Amarone 
As the first Amarone experiments were underway in the 1930s, the Accordini family was already in their 110th year farming and making wine from what would become the Amarone cru of Le Bessole. As Valpolicella became more and more popular in the 1960s, the family replanted Le Bessole and added more land to their holdings. During the mid-1970s, they launched their commercial winery – featuring the Amarone from their home vineyard of Le Bessole.

The 2007 Amarone Le Bessole is a great example of pure, intense, and perfectly balanced Amarone made in a traditional style. It’s a blend of classic Amarone grapes – 70% Corvina, 20% Rondinella and 10% Rossignola. The ripe grapes are left to dry for about 3.5 months on racks in a temperature and humidity controlled room to gain plenty of concentration but avoid undesirable botrytis rot or volatile acidity bacteria. After a slow fermentation, the wine is aged in neutral wood and then in bottle until it’s ready to enjoy.

Come by Saturday, 12-4, (July 19, 2014) for a taste – or to talk about Italy’s three kings with importer Maurizio Farro.

Alto Adige, Biodyamics, and a Count!

What exactly does “biodynamic” mean? And where is Alto Adige, anyway? A class next Tuesday (May 13) – “The Brilliant Biodynamic Wines of Manincor” – takes on both topics.

This stunning underground winery opened in 2004. Since then, quality has soared at Manincor.

This stunning underground winery opened in 2004. Since then, quality has soared at Manincor.

If you haven’t heard of Manincor before now, it’s hardly surprising. The vineyard estate was founded in 1606 and has been in current owner Michael Count Goëss-Enzenberg’s family since 1662. But for virtually all of its 400+ year history, grapes from Manincor’s vineyards went to co-op wineries in nearby Kaltern and Terlan where they formed the backbone of both producers’ top wines.

The modern story of Manincor begins in 1991 when Count Michael took over from his uncle. He soon began what would be a 20-year journey of converting the entire property – orchards, woodlands, meadows and vineyards – first to certified organic farming and ultimately, to Demeter-certified biodynamic viticulture. As the conversion proceeded, Manincor began keeping more and more grapes for itself and bottling wine under its own label.

Then, in 2004, Manincor opened a stunning underground winery beneath a key vineyard, immediately adjacent to the historic Manincor manor house. The winery blends into the vineyard perfectly, uses geothermal heat pumps for heating and cooling, and allows wine to be moved mainly by gravity. Count Michael installed labor-intensive unlined concrete tanks for fermentation and aging (allowing more gentle air exchange than stainless steel) and even added a cooperage – Manincor harvests oak for some barrels in its own forests and dries the wood and builds barrels on the property!

Since the new winery, the quality of the wines here has soared. Over the past few vintages, Manincor has earned four Tre Bicchieri awards from Gambero Rosso (Italy’s most prestigious wine guide) as well as ten Due Bicchieri citations. And while none of the current releases have been reviewed yet, we’re certain all will be raking in the critical praise, too!

We’ve been hearing rumors about Manincor wines for the past few years, but they only recently arrived in our market. Local importer Maurizio Farro represents the estate now, and on Tuesday, he will be joined by winery representative Michael Jaeger to address all questions Alto Adige and Biodynamic. (Sorry, the Count wasn’t available …)