I have sung the praises of the wines from Piedmont’s less trodden paths more than a few times in these pages, and here’s one more to add to the list: Canavese. Situated about thirty or so miles north of Piedmont’s largest city, Torino, this quite extensive appellation, as I allude to in the title of this post, gets its name from the extensive plantation of hemp (canapa in Italian) to which this sub-alpine territory is so well suited, and as this wine ably demonstrated, grape vines as well.

Canavese as a region is permitted to produce just about every kind of wine you can imagine with exception of sweet wines: still and sparkling whites from the local Erbaluce variety, single variety reds as well as blended reds and rose`wines both still and sparkling. This evening’s wine is a blended bottling which is made up of 80% Barbera, 15% Nebbiolo and 5% of the ultra-local Neretto di Bairo (which should not be confused with the several other  and completely unrelated “Neretto” grapes that populate other regions of Northern Italy), but Canavese reds, in addition to these three varieties, can also include Uva Rara, Bonarda Piemontese, and Freisa, alone or blended in any combination of these varieties with the one stipulation that at least one of the varieties in the mix must equal or exceed 60% of the total blend.

This wide range of vine varieties permissible in the Canavese D.O.C., which are allowed to be combined (or not) in such a promiscuous manner, directly demonstrates not only the richness of the grape types that populate this region’s vineyards, but also the peculiarity of, and faith in this area’s terroir which is a peculiar combination of granitic, glacially derived soil, high elevations, numerous lakes, cold, damp nights and warm, sunny days, drying east/west winds, and its situation in a sheltering “bowl” of hills that guards the area from the colder Alpine gales that push down from the north. All of these factors conspire to provide a unique territory that turns out some very fine wines (including the miniscule and prestigious Carema D.O.C.) not to mention some pretty sweet, smokin’ good “rope” too…

Because of Barbera’s down to earth character and its acidity, and Nebbiolo’s and Neretto di Bairo’s aromatic natures, this wine made a really fine companion to a eggplant-topped Margherita pizza (fresh, handmade mozzarella and fresh basil).

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Orsolani Canavese Rosso “Acini Sparsi” 2010

Just transparent, blackish/brown garnet color. Elegantly rustic nose of grilled plums, dried blueberries, black cherry, toasted walnuts, old leather, dark caramel, smoldering red flowers, chalk, sandalwood, and subtle barnyard notes. The palate is medium-full with a chewy texture, very dry, fine sandpaper tannins and a vivacious acidity that stalwartly frame notes of black currants, blood orange, toasted brown spices, black truffles, licorice, black pepper, and a hint of pickle juice. Long and strong blackberry finish. A lot of wine for the green. 

Posted by: tomciocco | April 15, 2014

MARZEMINO – GOOD ENOUGH FOR MOZART, GOOD ENOUGH FOR ME

Looking back over the hundreds of posts put up onto this space, I was shocked by the fact that I had never posted about a pretty important Northern Italian red grape variety that goes by the name of Marzemino, so here’s the first…As can be seen from the title of this post, the Marzemino variety has a close association with the truly great Austrian composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Legend has it that wines made from Marzemino were the preferred grape-based drink for this super genius and notorious bon vivant, so much so that the librettist for one of his greatest works, Don Giovanni, knew of the young genius’s love affair with this grape, and a s a consequece, wrote it into the opera in which Don Giovanni himself sings “Versare il vino, eccellente Marzemino” (“Pour the wine, excellent Marzemino”). High praise indeed.

The first written mention of this vivacious red variety appears in the account of a Papal dinner held in the earliest years of the 15th century in Friuli in Northern Italy. But despite this very early date of attestation, the latest genetic research has shown that Marzemino is actually the offspring of another even more ancient Northern Italian red vine, Teroldego, which as it turns out is not only the “father” of Marzemino but yet another Northeastern Italian staple variety, Lagrein (see Jancis Robinson’s exhaustive oenological reference, Wine Grapes).

All three of these varieties can be found thriving in vineyard patches scattered all over Lombardia, Veneto (tonight’s wine emanates from this region), Trentino, and Friuli, and it can be included in numerous blends as well in mono-varietal bottlings like this evening’s wine. And though “father and sons” all have their distinct personalities, the common family traits of deep color, wild berries flavors and aromas, and prominent acidity are easily notable in all three. And of the three, like its greatest admirer Mozart, Marzemino is the most youthful, ebullient, and saucy, and though it might not be the most elegant and sophisticated member of the family, it is the one that is most likely to elicit the most elated giggles if not as many full throated “bravos”. So if you’ve never witnessed a “performance” of Marzemino, this particular production is an excellent place to start.

I matched this particularly successful example of this exuberant grape with a fist course of bread rounds spread with a buttery paste of porcini mushrooms, onions, parsley, garlic and lemon juice and zest topped with a slice of hard-boiled egg, followed by sausage braised with red and green cabbage, red wine, tomato, onions, and sage.

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Vignaioli Contra` Soarda Marzemino “Gaggion” Veneto I.G.T. 2010

Very deep crimson/purple color. Sassy but still well-bred nose of salted plums, mulberry, blood orange, wet stones, dark chocolate, licorice, cinnamon and purple flowers. In the mouth the wine shows a medium weight with a velvety texture, a moderate tannic structure and spunky acidity that envelops flavors of black currants, black cherry, black tea, juniper, walnut paste, and a slight earthiness. Long bitter/sweet black raspberry notes on the fairly complex finish.

Posted by: tomciocco | April 11, 2014

THE TROUBLE WITH TREBBIANO

Ah, the confusion that nomenclature can engender…Certain supposed families of grape varieties – like  Malvasia or Muscat or tonight’s subject Trebbiano – include numerous supposed siblings or cousins that are specified with a qualifying color or geographical designation that in the end turn out to have little to nothing in common with each other other than the name by which they are known.

In the case of Trebbiano, there is Trebbiano Toscano, Trebbiano Bianco, Trebbiano Verde, Trebbiano di Lugana, Trebbiano di Soave, Trebbiano di Romagna, Trebbiano Spoletino and this evening’s grape, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo and otthers as well. And as I allude to above, some of of these varieties are kin, and others are completely distinctive and unrelated to any of the others. Which ones are which is beyond the scope of this post, and likely your tolerance to read about it the explication as well, so I’ll stick to a brief discussion of Trebbiano d’Abruzzo.

For quite a while, the common wisdom held that Trebbiano d’Abruzzo was identical to, and more properly called by the name Bombino Bianco which is another white grape variety that is grown in numerous pockets across the regions of Puglia, Molise, Lazio and Abruzzo. Well, as it turns out, recent genetic testing has conclusively determined that Trebbiano d’Abruzzo is absolutely NOT Bombino Bianco, and not only is it not even remotely related to Bombino, it also doesn’t seem to be related to any other grape vine that bears the “Trebbiano” moniker. “What’s in a name” indeed. And to this I would add the Italian sentence Viva la ricerca genetica.

Like most if not all of the “Trebbianos”, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo produces a light and crisp white wine, but unlike some that bear the name, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo is rife with character, a character that I’d describe as zippy, mildly aromatic, with certain sort of complex austerity, and this example is no exception. Most of the Trebbianos are typically found as a constituent part of blend, but conversely, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo is almost always bottled unalloyed which is a clear testament to the divergence of this Trebbiano from the others, as well as the confidence that growers in the Abruzzo region have in one of the very few white grape vines that are endemic to this ruggedly mountainous region in central Italy.

I matched this saucy little white with a first course of fettuccine all’abruzzese (with pancetta, onion, olive oil, broth, pecorino cheese, parsley, basil, and lots of freshly ground black pepper) followed by slices of monkfish braised in a orange, white wine, mint, garlic and saffron cream sauce with a side of baby artichokes and peas.

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Cantina Colle Moro Trebbiano d’Abruzzo “Friso” 2012

Medium “white gold” color. Quite pungent nose of pear, lemon, powdered ginger, brook water, grilled corn and dried yellow flowers. In the mouth the wine shows a medium light body that is round and smooth but fresh, spunky edge that spring flavors of Golden Delicious apple, quince, lime, hay, and cocoa butter. Notes of kumquat and lychee on the long bitter/tart finish.

Posted by: tomciocco | April 9, 2014

FREISA TO NEBBIOLO: “I AM YOUR FATHER”

The advent of the latest, ultra-detailed forms of DNA testing have, in the world of wine, yielded some very surprising family relationships. One of the more famous and almost shocking findings is that the ubiquitous and prestigious Cabernet Sauvignon vine is the direct progeny of Cabernet Franc and the white (!) grape vine Sauvignon Blanc; two vine varieties, one a relatively lighter red, and the other a pale, greenish-skinned grape, that when crossed begat a deep, dark and profound grape that is dare I say radically different from its parents. There are many such stories to recount in the oenological world, and this evening’s is one that is at least as surprising as the Cabernet Franc/Sauvignon Blanc/Cabernet Sauvignon story.

Like Cabernet Sauvignon, Piemont’s Nebbiolo is always set upon a pedestal as one of the “noblest”, most complex, and long-lived red wines to be found anywhere in the world. And very similar to Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo has also been found to be born from decidedly humble and equally astonishing origins.

Tonight’s wine/grape hails from The Langhe region in Piedmont, which not surprisingly is the same overarching region that contains the most serious and celebrated Nebbiolo-exclusive appellations, namely Barolo and Barbaresco. So when DNA analysis recently revealed that the regal Nebbiolo was the immediate child of the fairly rare, “local”, and typically rustic Freisa variety, and that the unctuous and aromatic white Northern Rhone grape Viognier was also a recent ancestor, the reaction was nothing short of flabbergasting. I think that we’ve all known people whose looks and personality dramatically belie – for good or ill – the traits of their parents, so why should grapes be any different? So much for the apple not falling very far from the tree…Genetics is clearly anything but linear.

Historically, Freisa has appeared to the drinking public in the form of a sprizty and often off-dry drink that was most typically served with farmstead salumi and dishes featuring hand-foraged wild mushrooms. It was nearly always consumed at informal family dinners that went down not much more than a stone’s throw from where the Freisa vines sprang from the earth and were vinified. And while these stalwart and bucolic styles are still the norm, technological advances have allowed winemakers to produce still and fully dry examples of Freisa wine that can regularly transcend this variety’s historically homey nature. Let’s not kid ourselves however – even with these advances, Freisa does not now reach, nor will it ever reach the rarified heights that its progeny Nebbiolo does, but it doesn’t really matter, does it? All wines can shine in their proper settings, and Freisa is no exception.

So in keeping with this dictum, I matched this strapping, burly example of Freisa with a first course of chestnut gnocchi (home-made of course) with a creamy walnut and raw garlic sauce followed by polpettine di tonno e ricotta (deep-fried tuna and ricotta “meatballs”) with a side of spinach sauteed with garlic, olive oil and nutmeg.

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Pasquale Pelissero Langhe Freisa “La Ferma” 2011

Blackish, deep violet color. Punchy and pungent nose of wild blackberry and blueberry, black cherry, wood smoke, new leather, magic marker, and ground cloves. The palate is full-bodied, big, powerful, muscular and rough-hewn with a huge tannins and piercing acidity that push rustic, minerally  flavors of black currant, plum, mulberry, bittersweet chocolate, espresso, blood, and black licorice. The finish is super dry with notes of sweet and sour watermelon candy.

 

It’s really a pity that there aren’t more Hungarian wines on the market because Hungary, after Georgia, is the most wine-oriented nation in Eastern Europe. It’s also a pity that there aren’t more Hungarian really good wines that actually live up to this country’s great potential for fine wine, but the many reasons for this is the subject for another post. In any event, I can unequivocally testify that this one is one of the good ones, and from Hungary’s oldest and most famous wine region.

The region about which I speak is located in the northwestern corner of Hungary and it bears the name Tokaji, which despite the orthography, is pronounced “TOH-kai”. Tokaji is one of the undisputed pinnacles for the production of sweet wine in the whole world. Tokaji is made primarily from a grape called Furmint, this evening’s hero, Harslevelu (pronounced HARSH-leh-veh-loew), with the possible fractional addition of a local sub-variety of Muscat. Sweet Tokaji ranges in sweetness from the medium-sweet designation Szamorodni all the way up to the approaching syrupy-sweet Essenszia, half-bottles of which can cost $250 and up.

Wines that contain these sugar levels, untasted, might sound beyond the pale even for drinkers with the sweetest of sweet teeth, but here’s where acidity enters the picture. Harslevelu, and especially Furmint naturally possess nearly astronomical levels of acidity and sweet Tokaji is a wine whose constituent grapes are always and intentionally infected by a particular type of mold called botrytis cinerea that also carries the most evocative common name “noble rot”. In addition to having the effect of naturally desicating the grapes, and lending the final results a wonderfully distinctive flavor profile, this mold also has the effect of further boosting the acidity of these two already acidic varieties which ultimately serves to balance the intense sugar levels of Tokaji.

As it turns out, Harslevelu, whose name incidentally means “linden leaf” in Hungarian, is a name that doesn’t so much suggest a mirroring of the leaf shape of this vine, but rather the spicily aromatic smells of the leaves and blossoms of this flowering tree. Just as an aside, some recent in-depth genetic analysis has determined that Harslevelu is actually the “child” of Furmint and another very obscure Hungarian grape variety, making this evening’s wine a dry example of one of the constituent parts of the oldest officially-designated wine region the world (dating to the mid-16th century), and truly part of this regal lineage of this “Wine of Kings”.

I paired this very distinctive wine with a first course of a traditional type of Hungarian fritter called langos, with this particular iteration of said filled with dill-flavored caramelized cabbage and onion with apple cider vinegar, and drizzled with a thinned and garlic-infused sour cream sauce, followed by a skewered and grilled chunks of chicken breast marinated with onion, garlic, marjoram, caraway, sweet paprika, allspice and white wine, with a side dish of asparagus in a roux with tarragon.

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Patricius Tokaji Dry Harslevelu 2011

Bright, pale golden color with green reflections. Strongly-scented nose of apricot, apple, pear, lemon zest, ginger, green tea, marzipan, and intense yellow flower notes. The palate is medium-full, with a fresh, minerally, tightly-wound and “nervous” structure, and piercing acidity with flavors of white currants, dried pineapple, gooseberry, curacao and Shiitake mushrooms. Long, quinine-flavored finish.

 

A few moments scanning a map of Europe might eventually bring your eyes across the small nation of Slovenia. This very pretty and now quite prosperous was once part of the now defunct nation of Yugoslavia, but now, Slovenia is a full-fledged member of the European Union. But  again, the map holds the key to this proud nation’s largely unknown viticultural traditions.

Though Slovenia is a place with a strong ethnic identity and its own Slavic language spoken nowhere else, its official borders have been quite fluid over the centuries, and prior to independence, and prior to its inclusion in Yugoslavia, Slovenia was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and returning to the map once again, today, independent Slovenia holds borders with Italy, Austria, Hungary, Croatia, as well as a small sliver of the Adriatic Sea. And while one’s neighbors always influence one’s view on the world, this goes at least double for a place like Slovenia, and no place more than at the dinner table.

So both in terms of food and drink, Slovenia clearly displays the influences of the culinary traditions of its larger, more powerful neighbors while still maintaining a unique identity. But in terms of viticulture Slovnia truly is a multi-culti poster child. Within its cozy borders grow Ribolla Gialla and Schioppettino (here called Pocalza), two varieties most closely associated with Friuli in Italy, Furmint from across the Hungarian border, Grasevina from Croatia, as well as tonight’s featured variety that is most closely associated with Austria, and this is to name just a few and not to mention a few handfuls of very scarce but exclusively Slovenia vines as well.

And in order to not sell Slovenia short, even though the lion’s share of Blaufrankisch is grown in Austria, carries a German-language name, and even on the label of this Slovenian wine bears this same German-language moniker, the origins of Blaufrankisch have never been conclusively proven to be rooted in Austria, and indeed the Slovenians have their own local name for this vine – Frankovna Crna – so it is entirely possible that Slovenia could be this dark and vivacious red variety’s home.

But regardless of where this vine originally hails from, there is no disputing the fact that it does exceptionally well in Slovenia, and this particular bottling clearly bears that out; it is made in a uniquely hearty, countrified, and decidedly Slovenian style that markedly diverges from the fresher, “clearer” styles that emanate from across the border. So whether it’s with this wine or some other, get yourself down to the crossroads.

I matched this homespun but still polished wine with a classic Slovenian menu that clearly shows its identity as a Slavic culture with strong Teutonic and Latin influences: a thick pasta and bean soup with smoked bacon, tomato paste, paprika, bay leaf, marjoram et al., followed by cevapcici (grilled beef and lamb “sausages” with mint, rosemary, thyme, parsley, garlic, etc.) with ajvar (a pureed red pepper and eggplant condiment) and stacalca (a side dish of mashed potatoes, green beans, garlic, lard and vinegar).

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Kobal Posavje, Slovenia Blaufrankisch 2011

Intense and unfiltered deep purple/garnet color. The nose is elegantly rustic with strong notes of prune, myrtle and mulberry fruit, behind which protrude bold aromas of brown spices, hazelnut butter, maple syrup, motor oil, pine needles, violet and subtle notes of new oak. The palate of the wine is full, rich and intense with a chewy texture, a prominent acidity and a firm tannic structure that carries deep flavors of black cherry, blood orange juice, black currants, damp, black earth and juniper berry. Long and powerful “sweet and sour” finish.

Posted by: tomciocco | March 30, 2014

CALIFORNIA DREAMING…OF THE LOIRE…

If you page back through any of my previous posts about wines from The Golden State, you’ll likely be able to read a mini-screed about how California, a place that is a veritable paradise for the grapevine but is unencumbered by centuries or even millennia of stylistic traditions and equally long-term allegiances to local grape varieties, should be focusing on blends made from the furthest flung vine varieties from Portugal to Georgia as long as they are well adapted to the local terroir, rather than imitating any number of celebrated Old World wine styles. Well, that’s what we’ve got here this evening (sort of).

This evening’s wine is a blend of 93% Cabernet Franc and 7% Gamay Noir that is not grown and vinified in one of the most famous California wine regions at the extreme  western, Pacific Ocean-influenced counties like Napa, Mendocino, or Sonoma, but rather in eastern El Dorado county, roughly due east of The Bay Area, but hard by the Nevada border, and not too far from Lake Tahoe. The El Dorado A.V.A. (American Viticultural Area) ranks as the California wine region with the highest average vineyard elevations (between 2,000 and up to 3,000 feet above sea level) in the entire state, and the vine varieties found growing here can, and indeed do conform to this much cooler climate, hence the Cabernet Franc/Gamay blend as opposed to the all-too-common “Meritage” (read “Bordeaux”) blends that proliferate in the aforementioned wine counties, not to mention the Languedoc or Zinfandel/Petite Sirah combinations found in really hot zones like Lodi.

So even though this wine is not a throw-the-”rules”-out-the-window mix of Tempranillo, Barbera, Tannat or something similar, this wine does represent a rarely-seen-in California Loire-style blend – and a somewhat peculiar one at that with the addition of the Gamay which is a transplant from Burgundy – that perfectly suits its cooler, less sun-drenched climate. Would that there were fewer growers who had decided to plant all that Chardonnay in hot, hot Napa 25 or 30 years ago…

I put this very well-balanced and well-made wine with a first course of a rice salad with a kitchen-sink mash-up of Spring veggies, followed by a main course of a take on chicken-fried steak with vinegar-soured sauteed onions on top, and a pile of pearly hominy grits on the side.

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Aha Wines El Dorado County “Bebame” Red 2012

Just translucent, medium blackish/purple/garnet color. Clean and gregarious nose of blackberry, prune, and red currant preserves with underlying aromas of coal smoke, black licorice, cake crust, honey, cumin, allspice, and very subtle notes of barnyard funk. In the mouth the wine is medium-full in weight, with a plush texture that is very well-countered by a prominent acid/tannin structure that beautifully supports clean but textured and fairly complex flavors of black cherry, blueberry, bitter orange zest, rose water and a fairly intense stony minerality. Long, “sweet” and slightly peppery finish. Nice stuff.

 

Posted by: tomciocco | March 26, 2014

GRECO: IS IT GREEK TO YOU?

The purported origins of some grapes are often obscured by the myth fabricated by some large growers or merchants now lost to history wanted their buyers to think they were from. In latter years, there have been numerous such associations with France, presumably with the view to promote the notion that an association with a great winemaking nation such as France would give some extra heft to the claims made for the quality of the wines made from these varieties, and that these farmers or merchants were peddling. Varieties like the eastern European variety Blaufrankisch (“Blue French”) or Portugal’s Touriga Franca are two such examples, both of which have been determined almost unequivocally NOT to be French.

And prior to France being seen as the “it” place for grapes to be from, it was the cradle of the classical world, Greece. In Italy alone there is Grechetto, Greco Nero, Greco Bianco, as well as any number of other “Greco di (fill in the blank)” grapes, all or most of which as far as any current science can say, have absolutely no connection to Greece or whose Greek origins are simply one of several credible theories, and the the grape which makes up this evening’s wine, a Campanian grape typically and most fully called Greco di Tufo, is almost surely a victim of this misnomer.

According to research claims presented in Jancis Robinson’s great tome entitled “Wine Grapes”, there is precisely zero proven connection with Greco and any Greek grape variety currently growing anywhere in that nation, and in fact, according to the genetic mapping done on Greco di Tufo, it has been determined that it is identical to the very local variety Asprinia (endemic to the little Campanian town of Aversa) and very closely related to the light red-skinned, aromatic and oh-so-Italian variety Aleatico. Greece has plenty of really fine and incontrovertibly Greek wine grapes from which they make some really fine wines, but Greco di Tufo isn’t one of them, and it probably never was.

Greco is one of the great trinity of Campanian white grape varieties along with Fiano and Falanghina, and amongst the three, Greco is clearly the biggest and baddest: deeply colored, profoundly complex, and powerfully structured. And this particular example of Greco from the mountainous Taburno region directly follows suit.

So in keeping with the idea of matching like to like, I served this very expressive wine with a first course of pennoni with a cauliflower, green pepper, and tuna sauce, followed by eggs pan-poached with spinach, potatoes, shallots, shredded mozzarella and grated pecorino.

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Ocone Taburno Sannio Greco “Giano” 2012

Medium-deep coppery-gold color. Complex and powerful nose of apricot, muskmelon, yellow pomegranate juice, vanilla bean, wet stones, dried ginger, flint, toasted grains and iodine. The palate is full, dense, muscular, bold and powerful, with a pronounced and intense minerality, a piercing acidity and notably stiff structure that conveys deep flavors of peach nectar, quince, papaya, rosemary, oregano and cocoa butter. Strong, long and dry candied citron on the finish.

 

If anyone knows where Frascati comes from (which is the territory immediately south and east of Rome, by the way) it’s probably the only wine that most folks can identify as coming from the Lazio region and the image of said wine is fairly accurately but also unfortunately debased. Fortunately there’s also a (mostly unknown) array of grapes and wine regions in Lazio that deserve a level of notoriety that they don’t currently enjoy, and the Cesanese variety is definitely one of them.

There are two sides to the Cesanese family of vines – a larger-berried and somewhat more pedestrian strain called Cesanese Comune and the finer smaller-berried version called Cesanese d’Affile, and this more esteemed type is the one we’re dealing with here. Though Cesanese can make up a portion of the blend of a number of appellations in Lazio, there are also three Cesanese-exclusive designations in the region. Cesanese di Olevano is a D.O.C. typically made from Cesanese Comune. The other D.O.C. is the eponymously-named Cesanese d’Affile region that is obviously made from the Cesanese d’Affile clone, mostly in and around the town of Affile. The third all-Cesanese wine region in Lazio is the one from which this evening’s wine emanates and it carries Italy’s highest appellation designation, D.O.C.G., and it goes by the name of Cesanese del Piglio.

When you eventually get a chance to sample this fairly rarely seen red, you’ll wonder, at least in terms of what it presents in the glass,  why it isn’t MUCH better known and loved – it’s got a plush, polished and elegant overall character with lots of refined cherry and berry flavors that might be likened to a slighter plumper and more affable cousin of Pinot Noir. Sounds great, right? So why the obscurity? Well, the reasons are two-fold. First, all three of these regions are not very large, and Rome is a big, thirsty city, so much of the production stays in Lazio. The second issue is one involving the vine’s physiological nature – like Pinto Noir, it is very difficult to fully ripen it, and it has a particular susceptibility to a very common vine disease called powdery mildew, so while the ultimate potential for Cesanese is very high, all too little of the total production reaches this potential. But Cesanese del Piglio was not awarded a D.O.C.G. for nothing, and this particular producer consistently ranks among the finest sources for this potentially very fine vine. So if you’re in Rome, or a particularly well-curated wine shop in you neck of the woods, grab a bottle and dig it…

As the saying goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do, so who am I to countermand? First course: the very, very Roman/Laziale dish Bucatini all’Amtriciana. Main course: butterflied and floured tranches of pan-fried pork tenderloin seasoned with fennel seed and rosemary. Side: Boiled and then sauteed broccoli rabe with garlic, breadcrumbs, anchovies and lemon juice.

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Casale della Ioria Cesanese del Piglio “Campo Novo” 2012

Slightly cloudy, blackish/brown deep crimson color. Pretty aromas of chocolate-covered cherries, blood orange, strawberry preserves, aromatic red flowers, mineral, hazelnut butter, and eucalyptus. In the mouth the wine shows a smooth, soft, medium-full body with a finely polished tannic structure and a fresh and juicy acidity with flavors of red plums, myrtle, black raspberry, beeswax, sweet spices and subtle vegetable soup notes. Finishes with bitter/sweet honey notes.  A decidedly elegant and feminine wine.

 

Posted by: tomciocco | March 16, 2014

IT TAKES (AN OBSCURE) VILLAGE – CHUSCLAN

When you really break it down, the Rhone wine region is so huge geographically as well as varied in terms of elevation and soil that it really should be re-thought and consequently re-classified. Red Northern Rhone regions are fairly cool in terms of climate. All of the growing zones there are situated on shale-y soils at fairly high altitudes, and are dominated by the Syrah grape, and can in some appellations include the aromatic white grapes like Viognier as well as Marsanne and Rousanne. The south is hotter and sunnier, dominated by a much flatter terrain with soils chock full of large alluvial stones whose blends can be composed of a couple of handfuls of different grape varieties in a fairly loose set of percentages allotted to each.

Then there are the actual legal classifications (moving from simplest to most prestigious): Cotes du Rhone, Cotes du Rhone Villages, Cotes du Rhone Villages that include the specific village name, and the Crus (like Hermitage in the North and Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the south.) In the glass these wines can and do range from flabby, boring plonk all the way to bottles of the most sublime nectar and of course everything in between.

So if many of the basic CdR are at best charmingly rustic and at worst just bulk jug wines, the Crus can range from very good but ultimately overpriced to drinks that can literally change your life. All of the best examples of all of these levels of wines have their uses at the table, but for me, the “sweet spot” in the Rhone is with the name-designated Village wines, and that’s what we’ve got up on the bench tonight in the form of the little known CdRV-Chusclan.

Chusclan is located just few clicks north of the ancient Papal city of Avignon on the right bank of the Rhone river on pebble-rich sandy clay soils underlaid by limestone and this particular one is made from a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Counoise ans Mourvedre. This soil composition is the major contributor to the fruitiness for which Chusclan is known, and this five variety blend gives this wine a complexity typically only seen in Cru bottlings. And would that this area was better known than it is, but with only about 150 hectares of land under vine, there isn’t much to go around, but the region’s relative obscurity and production limitations are your gain – these named Village wines often represent the “knee in the curve” in terms of price to quality ratio, and Chusclan more often than not comes out at the top of that list. Keep your eyes peeled.

I matched this wine with a first course of bread rounds spread with a hash of tuna, egg, herbs and spices followed by a great classic from the Provencal kitchen, Daube (A complex beef stew with wine, mushrooms, olives, anchovies, orange rind, salt pork, herbs, etc.) alongside some flat egg noodles with boiled cubed potatoes.

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Chateau Signac Cotes du Rhone Villages Chusclan Cuvee Tradition 2012

Medium deep crimson/garnet color. Quite complex nose of dried red currants, wild strawberries, plum, cloves, dried lilies, fresh mushrooms, burnt wood match and tomato leaf. The body of the wine is big and chunky with a dry, smooth tannic structure, and an overall balanced and cohesive character that displays flavors of cranberry, black cherry, grape fruit leather, mocha, black pepper, and walnut paste, all pervaded with a slightly salty minerality. Long, pleasantly bitter/tart finish.

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