Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Spotlight: Salice Salentino

Within Puglia (the heel of the boot) lies Salice Salentino, the very bottom tip of the heel. Founded in 2003, the Consorzio di Tutela Vini D.O.P. Salice Salentino is dedicated for the protection of PDO Salice Salentino wines. Salice Salentino, which was granted DOC status in 1976, has just over 2,000 hectares of vineyards and the name refers to both the village and the name of the wine.

Puglia is a workhorse region in Italy. 50% of Italy’s olive oil is produced in Puglia and 40% of Italy’s wine is produced here. Known as “the California of Italy”, because of the plethora of sunshine here (over 300 days of sunshine per year), many other regions bring in Puglian grapes for blending because the grapes can easily hit desired alcohol levels (partially due to the sunshine levels). The Mediterranean climate is hot and dry and the region lies between two seas, giving good winds which help prevent rot, mold, and insect problems.

Historically, as in much of the south of Italy, the wines here were not known for quality. Vines give high yields and the wines carried a baked character. Now, many producers are switching their focus to more quality wines. And here in Puglia, the prices are deceptive. Many, many quality wines can be found around $20/bottle, which in many other wine regions (outside of Italy) wouldn’t get you much. The new generation of producers are focused on modern winemaking techniques and also in “rescuing” and maintaining the use of indigenous varieties. There are over 546 indigenous varieties registered in Puglia, with many more unregistered.

The Negroamaro grape is king here. It is usually blended with Malvasia Nera di Lecce to soften tannins. Negroamaro has a super dark, almost black, color. The grape gives high yields and gives notes of black fruit, tobacco, and shoe polish. Primitivo is also very important here, though it is prone to uneven ripening, difficult to grow, and is not easy to handle in the cellar. It does accumulate sugar easily (which can lead to wines with higher alcohol levels). Primitivo gives ripe cherries, plums, underbrush, and herbs/tar. White grapes in Puglia include: Malvasia Blanco and Fiano (which is originally from Campania). The red Aleatico is used for a passito-style wine.

Wine styles include Salice Salentino Rosato DOC, the flagship wine of Puglia, made from the Negroamaro grape. Markers include white peach and passion fruit. These rosatos are made in the press method, not saignée. Next in importance is Salice Salentino Rosso DOC, a red wine made from a minimum of 75% Negroamaro. This wine generally gives blackberry, spice, black licorice, and pepper notes. If Negroamaro is on the label, it is a minimum of 90% Negroamaro. Riserva signifies it’s had at least 24 months minimum aging, with at least 6 months in barrel. Time agrees with Salice Salentino Rosso, and it can age like a mofo. Lastly, we have Salice Salentino Biano DOC made from either Chardonnay or Fiano.

Wines Tasted

Anticaia Rosato Salice Salentino DOP

Pale salmon color. This wine sees all stainless steel (no oak) and gives red fruit on the nose (strawberry), citrus (grapefruit), and herbs (dill, tarragon, oregano), floral, and minerality/brine. On the palate, bracing acidity with a savory/tart quality. Good structure with a licorice/rhubarb finish. 

Le Pozzelle Rosato Salice Salentino
Medium pink/salmon color. According to Laura, this wine smells like a ladies setting powder (spoken like a true Italian!). On the nose: ripe strawberry and peaches, plus floral notes (rose petals), and pink peppercorns. On the palate, so many primary fruit and floral notes. 

Apollonio Terragnolo Primitivo Salento Rosso IGP 2013
Deep ruby color. Red and black fruit on the nose (cherry, plum), spice (black pepper and cinnamon). A rustic and Italian feeling wine. Medium rustic tannins and good acid.

Vigneti Reale Rudiae Primitivo Salento IGP
Medium ruby in color. This wine sees all stainless steel, no oak, and gives red fruit plus floral on the nose, with a muted spice character. 

Pietra Salice Salentino DOC 2015
Pale ruby in color. On the nose: soft, delicate red fruit, spice, plus toast/oak. This wine is super smooth on the palate, with good acid. A bit more sophisticated than the first two reds. This wine is in the modern style and can compete on the international marketplace. Organic and sustainable vines. 

Vigneti Reale Santa Croce Salice Salentino DOP Riserva
This wine definitely smells like a Riserva due to the longer oak aging. It gives me the holy trinity of what I want in a red wine: red fruit, spice, and oak/toasty notes. A blend of Negroamaro and Malvasia.

Cosimo Taurino Salice Salentino Rosso Riserva 2010
This wine sees 6 mos French oak aging. With notes of red fruit, pepper/spice, plus dates/prunes. A very savory nose with an herbaceous note. Super spicy on the palate. 

Thank you Laura Donadoni for leading us through the wines of Salice Salentino!

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Bodegas LAN: Rioja in Three Letters

At the Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla last October, I attended a seminar about the wines of Bodegas LAN, led by Doug Frost, one of only four people in the world with both the MW and the MS certification. The thought of that seriously makes my head hurt. I digress......

Bodegas LAN was “born” in 1972 and is named after the initials of the three political provinces in the DOCa Rioja: Logroño (now La Rioja), Álava, and Navarra. LAN blends the best of Rioja tradition with modern winemaking and an innovative approach to oak use. They own 20,000 barrels, so there are a lot of oak options. Signature handling of oak includes the use of Russian oak, hybrid oak barrels with American staves, and French oak tops and bottoms. Yes, they use Russian barrels, and they admit it! Overall LAN has evolved into a more modern winery versus a traditionalist. They make wines in the international style. This helps the international market understand what they do and helps move bottles…the ultimate goal!!

In Rioja there is a good number of women winemakers and oenologists. According to Doug, women are making more “exciting” wines in the Rioja, such as María Barua at the helm of winemaking at Bodegas LAN. Though we all know that good winemaking actually begins in the vineyard. The 72-hectare (178 acre) estate vineyard is named Viña Lanciano and is situated between the sub-regions of Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa. Bodegas LAN subscribes to sustainable viticulture with no mineral or chemical fertilizer (only organic solutions, as needed) use. And no herbicides or pesticides.

Credit: Bodegas LAN

At the vineyard, the continental climate is moderated by the Cierzo and Solano winds. The vineyard is nestled between the Cantabrian mountain range and a loop of the River Ebro, which both shield the vines from extreme frosts and summers. Many think that Rioja is just HOT. It can be, but it is not a one-trick pony. It is close to the Atlantic and also has Mediterranean influences.

Viña Lanciano offers well-drained soils of sandy loam (including pebbles, gravel, and sand). Consequently, the vines dig their roots deep into the soil for nutrients. The vines (planted to: Tempranillo, Mazuelo, Graciano, and Garnacha) are old, low-yielding and between 40-60 years of age.

Credit: Bodegas LAN

LAN Classic Range
Grapes sourced from long-standing suppliers in the Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa.

LAN Crianza 2014 $14
(95% Tempranillo, 5% Mazuelo)
Young, fresh fruit on this value-priced, everyday red wine. Bright, juicy red fruit plus black cherries. Medium, well-integrated tannins plus a whisper of tertiary notes (coffee and chocolate).

LAN Reserva 2011 $20 (92% Tempranillo, 8% Graciano)
A nice interplay of lovely fruit plus some savory notes. The oak influence is starting to show here. This wine tells a beautiful Old World story in the glass…..and that whole story is a bargain at $20. Compare that to the sea of shitty, commercial $20 wines out there. The best wine tip (as far as finding a good value), is to go to the Old World!

LAN Gran Reserva 2010 $25 (90% Tempranillo, 10% Mazuelo)
In order to meet the “Gran Reserva” category in Rioja, the wine must have a minimum of 5 years aging: at least 24 months in oak plus at least 24 months in bottle. This wine sees 24 months in barrel plus 36 months in bottle before release. If this wine was a music style, it would be an R&B slow jam…..some baby makin’ music! It’s slow…..smooth……and warm. Notes of cigar box (smoke) plus spice box moves into licorice and coffee bean on the back palate. Also some garrigue notes (fennel/cumin). Will continue to age for 20+ years.

LAN D-12 2014 $20
(100% Tempranillo)
The winemaker’s favorite tank (#12). Produced with select wines from small parcels in the Rioja Alta and Alavesa. Vignerons choosing their favorite tank to keep and drink themselves is a tradition in Rioja.

LAN Estate Range
Reflects the unique identity of Viña Lanciano, the estate vineyard.

Viña Lanciano Reserva $30 (87% Tempranillo, 8% Graciano, 5% Mazuelo)
Named in homage to the vineyard, and is the flagship wine. Oh yeah……big ass tannins. But very well-integrated. Give me some food here, and I’m a happy girl!

LAN Edición Limitada $50 (87% Tempranillo, 9% Mazuelo, 4% Graciano)
All grapes come from carefully hand-selected vines of very low production in the “Pago El Rincón” area of the vineyard.

Culmen Reserva $65 (88% Tempranillo, 12% Graciano)
All grapes come from carefully hand-selected vines of very low production in the “Pago El Rincón” area of the vineyard. This wine is only produced in excellent vintages. A perfumed note makes this wine very special. Especially tannic plus a savory/garrigue note.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Planeta: An Exploration of Nero d’Avola

More and more people are talking about Italian wine. Italy’s rustic and interesting wines appear to be on an increasing number of wine lists, beyond the requisite Prosecco and Tuscan wines. And while Italy has always been a major tourist destination, people seem to be diverting to some of the lesser traveled regions not normally on the international traveler’s radar. Sicily is leading the way. I can’t flip through a travel or food magazine without reading about how Sicily is an “undiscovered gem” and how the volcanic wines from Mount Etna are “dark, smoky, and brooding". Sicily has stepped up their wine game, tourism game, and food game. Or maybe it’s been there all along and their only now getting noticed for it? In fact, there are now 4 restaurants with Michelin stars in Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean. 

I recently attended a "Masterglass” seminar at Eataly Los Angeles focusing on the Nero d’Avola grape, native to Sicily. Our seminar was led by Alessio Planeta, of Planeta Wine, a Sicilian producer. Alessio is co-owner and lead winemaker at Planeta. "MasterGlass" comes in to play because the tasting was conducted using glasses designed by Riedel specifically for Planeta and Nero d’Avola.

“Nero” means black and “Avola” is a small village near Noto, on the island of Sicily. Nero d’Avola grapes have vigorous vines and give wines with moderate alcohol and good acid. Classic Nero d’Avola notes include: black currant, carob, and balsamic.

In 2012, traces of 6,000-year-old wine was discovered in clay amphorae pots a Sicilian cave! As every region of Italy, there are grapes native to Sicily. The main red grape is Nero d’Avola, while the supporting actor for red wine making is Frappato. Frappato is best used as a blending grape, while you will see many varietally labeled Nero d’Avola wines. Surprisingly, Catarratto, a white grape, is the #1 grape grown in Sicily, with 32% of vineyards planted to Catarratto*. Mainly because it is the main grape used for Marsala, a huge export of the island.

*source: Winesearcher.com

The Planeta family has been in agriculture for over 400 years (18 generations)! Planeta Wine was born about 20 years ago and they now have 400 hectares across 6 sites in Menfi, Vittoria, Noto, Etna, Sambuca di Sicilia, and Capo Milazzo. The Planeta estate holdings now include a B&B as well as Casa Planeta, a restaurant run by Alessio’s father and his five siblings. 

Alessio Planeta

Wines Tasted

2016 La Segreta Grillo Sicilia DOC $14.99
A crisp, clean wine with lots of primary notes, including citrus (orange blossom, lemon peel, grapefruit), green fruit (pear, green apple). Also a nuttiness on the palate (bitter almond skin) that gives a nice medium + finish. Marked salinity. 

2017 Planeta Rosé Sicilia DOC $20.99

This was a nice, spicy rosé made from 50% Nero d’Avola and 50% Syrah. A change of pace from some of the wimpy, watery rosés on the market.

2015 Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico DOCG (60% Nero, 40% Frappato) $23.99
A wine medium ruby in color. Juicy cherries on the nose with a marked rusticity or earthiness. Soft, well-integrated tannins on the palate, plus cherry and strawberry nose. This feels like an “island red”. I’m not exactly sure what that means except that this is a smooth, relatively light, easy to drink red that makes me happy. And islands make me happy. I heard a rumor this pairs well with seared tuna.

2015 Dorilli Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico DOCG (70% Nero, 30% Frappato) $32.99
Medium ruby color with purple hues. On the nose, the fruit is a bit more complex than the previous reds. Riper strawberry (almost jammy) moving into black pepper, cedar, and a basement feel. More acid as well. This wine feels a bit more “Italian”.

2015 Mamertino DOC (60% Nero, 40% Nocera) $32.99
Medium ruby in color. On the nose I get beautiful fruit plus floral (violets). This is a perfumed wine. Medium – acid, and soft/velvety on the palate.

2013 Santa Cecilia Noto DOC $40.99
This wine is deep ruby in color. On the nose, this wine has much more aromatic intensity than the other reds. Primary red fruit and spice (cinnamon/clove) mostly, plus secondary notes of earth, dirt and rusticity. Moving into tertiary (leather) notes. This wine has medium + drying tannins and a combination of red and black fruit plus balsamic notes.

Library Wines Tasted

2007 Santa Cecilia IGT Sicilia (now Noto DOC)
A dark ruby color with an orange rim. On the nose, black fruit and blueberry, plus some savory notes. On the palate, a clear note of tomato leaf.

2005 Santa Cecilia IGT Sicilia (now Noto DOC)
The age of this wine really shows. And it’s lovely. A deep ruby color with a garnet core. So many lovely aged/savory notes on both the nose and palate, including: cola, dried mint, toasted nuts, and black olive.

Gratuitous Italian lunch spread