Browsing the blog archives for February, 2010

Tuscan Wines on the Horizon – New Wines from Le Miccine

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Tasting Note

I recently had the unique opportunity to taste four new wines from Le Miccine, an Italian winery in the heart of Tuscany.  The line-up consisted of a unique mono-varietal made from 100% vermentino, two chianti classicos, and a “super-tuscan” made from a blend of merlot and malvasia nera.

Left to right: ’08 I’aura, ’07 Don Alberto Chianti Classico Riserva, ’07 Chianti Classico, ’07 La Principessa

About Le Miccine…

When they purchased Le Miccine in 1996 Clifford Weaver and Donna Meneghetti Weaver took on the monumental task of converting a languishing bulk-wine producer into a  quality-focused estate winery.  For the past fourteen years, the Weaver’s and their team of experts, led by consulting enologist Vittorio Fiore and consulting agronomist Remigio Bordini,  have created award-winning wines tailored to today’s discerning wine drinker while maintaining the time honored traditions of Chianti Classico.

The Weaver’s acquired neglected vineyards with great potential in an area well suited to making premium Italian wines.   A rigorous program of thinning, retraining, and replanting the vineyards has resulted in lower yields, allowing each vine to produce the best fruit possible.  The changes in the vineyards, combined with upgrades to the equipment and technology in the winery have enabled the team at Le Miccine to dramatically improve the overall quality of their wines.

The Wines…

2008 Le Miccine I’aura (100% vermentino)

Finding vermentino in a mono-varietal wine is somewhat rare.  Most of the time you’ll find it blended with other varieties such as trebbiano.  I’aura is a distinctive wine that stands well on its own.  It has a pale golden color with floral and herbal aromas reminiscent of a crisp sauvignon blanc.  The light-bodied flavors are very refreshing with distinct notes of tropical and stone fruits tied together by an underlying backbone of flinty minerality. Its fresh acidity and clean finish make this a very food friendly wine that will pair well with light summertime fare.

2007 Le Miccine Chianti Classico (85% sangiovese, 10% malvasia nera, 5% merlot)

The ’07 Chianti Classico is a direct descendant of the Weaver’s first vintage in 1997.  Emanating from its gorgeous ruby color are refined aromas of dark cherry with delicate undertones of vanilla and toasty spice.   Juicy flavors of cherries and raspberries along with creamy vanilla nuances are brought into balance by bright acidity and light tannins with distinctive peppery spice.  The medium-length finish reinforces the well balanced combination of fruit an oak.  This wine paired nicely with the rich shrimp and pasta dish that we had for dinner.

2007 Le Miccine “Don Alberto” Chianti Classico Riserva (100% sangiovese)

The “Don Alberto” Riserva is made from the best fruit in Le Miccine’s vineyards.  In 2007 the small amount of fruit provided enough juice for only 155 cases!  Careful selection and meticulous vinification has resulted in an opulent Chianti Classico with a complex range of aromas and flavors.  The deep ruby color is full of rich cherry and blackberry aromas with complex hints of leafy tobacco.  Juicy black cherry flavors and spicy vanilla notes are integrated with well-rounded tannins made evident by the additional barrel aging required for riservas.  The lingering finish is laced with subtle flavors of dried berries and smoky vanilla.  I would give this one a more few years to mature in order to fully enjoy the complexities of a Chianti Classico Riserva.

Note:  This was a barrel sample provide by the winery.  The ’07 “Don Alberto” will be released in May, 2010.

2007 Le Miccine La Principessa (80% merlot, 20% malvasia nera)

The final wine in the line-up was La Principessa, Le Miccine’s “super tuscan.” It’s bright red ruby color is full of fresh cherry and wild berry aromas.  Full bodied flavors hold true to the aromas with the soft textures of creamy vanilla and soft well-rounded tannins.  Pair this with a succulent roast or a rack of lamb and you can’t go wrong!

A Final Note…

Le Miccine’s wines can be found in numerous retail outlets and restaurants in Illinois and the greater Chicago area.  They can also be found in a few select locations in California.  Keep an eye out for these wines in a location near you as they expand into the U.S. Market.  See Le Miccine’s website for a retailer or restaurant in your area.

Varietal Voyage No.16 – 2006 Charles Krug Napa Valley Merlot

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Varietal Voyage

Varietal Voyage No.16 represents the sixteenth wine on our journey and the first wine made primarily from merlot. Charles Krug’s 2006 Napa Valley Merlot ($16) seemed like the perfect choice to represent the American leg of our voyage.

Charles Krug founded Napa Valley’s first winery in 1861. As a young winemaker, he quickly became a leading figure in the development of California wines. His foresight in viticulture and technological skill laid the groundwork for America’s budding young wine industry.  After his death in 1892, Krug’s winery was sold to James Moffitt who carried it successfully though the turbluent years of Prohibition.  Moffitt would later pass the winery to Cesare and Rosa Mondavi, the parents of Robert and Peter Mondavi, in 1943.  Eventually the two brothers, Robert and Peter, would have their turn running the winery.  After their father’s death in 1959, Rosa became president and assigned Robert as the general manager and gave Peter the position as vice president.  The relationship between the two brothers was always a little stormy, and in 1965 Robert would leave Charles Krug to start his own winery.  Today, Peter, along with his two sons, Peter, Jr. and Marc Mondavi continue with the same innovative spirit started by Charles Krug almost 150 years earlier.

The Charles Krug Winery is located in St. Helena, in the northern portion of Napa Valley. The grapes used in the 2006 Napa Valley Merlot come from several of the Mondavi family’s vineyards located within the region.  The climate in Napa Valley is a little warmer and drier than its neighbor, Sonoma County, to the east.  The Mayacamas Mountains separate the two regions, preventing some of the rain and cool, Pacific ocean breezes from reaching Napa’s vineyards.  The southern areas, near Carneros, tend to be cooler than the northern parts of the valley because of the cooling influence of San Pablo Bay.  Cabernet sauvignon is the primary grape grown here, but merlot runs a close second. The red wines made here have rich, intense fruit flavors with riper, fuller tannins as you move further up the valley.

This definitely is not a “wimpy” merlot.  This deep ruby colored wine is full of intense black cherry and currant flavors wrapped in fragrant aromas of blackberries and boysenberries with the subtle spicy character of pepper and anise.  The addition of cabernet sauvignon, bolsters supple tannins and supports the spiciness resulting in a rich, velvety texture.  A light, but lively level of acidity keeps the flavors alive and nuanced hints of vanilla and spice linger on through a long finish.

2006 Charles Krug Napa Valley Merlot ($16)

  •  93% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, o.5% Petit Verdot, o.5% Cabernet Franc (you can really taste CF ;))
  • Napa Valley, California
  • Charles Krug Information Sheet

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

Pizza Man Tops the List of Best Bars & Clubs 2010

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News and Events has just released their picks for the Best Bars & Clubs for 2010!  Pizza Man, known for it’s incredible selection of over 500 California, Washington and Oregon wines, topped the list, despite the tragic fire that destroyed it along with several other businesses and apartments on January 19th.  What makes this award even better is that the owner’s of Pizza Man, Mike and Deanna Amidzich, have vowed to reopen at a new Milwaukee location sometime in the near future.  Hopefully they will reopen soon so they can keep the title in 2011!

Among the 22 finalists for 2010 are several other wine bars in Milwaukee.  Among them are:

2. Balzac
4. Vino 100
9. Thief Wine Shop and Bar
12. Indulge
21. Zin’s

Click here to see the entire article, including the the entire list of Milwaukee’s bests bars and clubs.

Congratulations to all of the winners for 2010!

Midwest Wine School Experience – WSET Intermediate Level – Class 3

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Midwest Wine School Experience

Our third class of the WSET Intermediate Level course was led by, Rendell Thomas from WineStyles in Brookfield.  Rendell’s session focused primarily on chardonnay and pinot noir and the regions best suited to these two varieties.  As a sidebar, we also got a glimpse of an unsual variety from South Africa called pinotage, a cross between pinot noir and cinsault.

Chardonnay is a resilient and forgiving variety and has been grown with much success in a many of regions and climates.  For this session we concentrated our efforts on Burgundy and California, two places known for their outstanding chardonnays, but made with vastly different styles.  What is most intersting are the range of aromas and flavors that can develop depending on where the chardonnay is grown and the processes used make it.  Cool climates, like Chablis, create wines with lots of acidity and flavors of green apples and citrus.  Warmer places, like California’s Napa Valley, tend to yield fuller bodied wines with pineapple and mango flavors.  The hand of the winemaker can have a dramatic effect as well.  Malolactic fementation and aging in oak can create buttery and spicy notes that can either improve or detract from chardonnay’s delicate aromas and flavors.

Pinot noir, on the other hand, is a finicky grape variety that is difficult to grow and only thrives within a narrow range of regions and climates.  It too, can be made in a variety of styles depending on the place and the winemaker.  Again, Burgundy and California were the the regions selected for comparison.  Burgundy is the classical home of pinot noir and is one of the two grape varieties (gamay being the second) allowed to be grown there.  Here the cool, well drained slopes of the Côte d’Or, yield some of the most delicious (and rare) wines in the world with delicate red fruit flavors and light tannins.  Winemakers in California are creating pinot noir in several styles ranging from cool climate, Burdundian style wines, to full-bodied, jammy wines with dark cherry flavors and well rounded tannins.   Similar to chardonnay, techniques like malolactic fementation and oak aging can create buttery and spicy notes that can dramatically effect this delicate wine.

Next week Jessica will guide us through the intricacies cabernet sauvignon, merlot and sauvignon blanc.

Wines Tasted (Class 3):

  1. Mischief & Mayhem 2006 (Chablis, France)
  2. Domaine Renaud Mâcon-Villages 2008 (Mâcon, France)
  3. Hess Collection Chardonnay 2006 (Napa Valley, CA)
  4. Benzinger Pinot Noir 2006 (Sonoma, CA)
  5. Winery of Good Hope Pinotage 2008 (Stellenbosch, South Africa)
  6. Volnay (Argh…Can’t remember the producer, but it was incredible!) 2006 (Burgundy, France)

Varietal Voyage No.15 – 2005 Château Bernadotte

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Varietal Voyage

The fifteenth wine on our journey and the last cabernet sauvignon comes from the Haut-Medoc, on Bordeaux’s “Left Bank.”  Château Bernadotte is in the commune of Saint Sauveur, close to the western edge of the Pauillac appellation.  Even though Château Bernadotte lies within the borders of the Haut-Medoc (map) , it is only a few miles from prestigious neighbors like Château Mouton-Rothschild and Château Latour, in the region of Pauillac.

Like the majority of producers in Bordeaux, Château Bernadotte has a long history, going back as far as 1645.  In the early 1800′s, The château recieved the name, Bernadotte, in honor of  Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, a field marshal under Napolean I.  Attracted by the favorable climate and soils and its proximity to other classified growths in Pauillac, Château Bernadotte was acquired by Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in 1997.   In 2007, May Eliane de Lencquesaing, the owner of  Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande sold the majority interest of both properties to the Champagne house of Louis Roederer.

The vineyards of Château Bernadotte are blessed with similar soils to the classified properties closer to the Gironde River.  The sandy gravel promotes good drainage and a layer of clay helps the vines resist draught while the grapes mature.  Like most producers in Bordeaux, they have planted cabernet sauvigon, merlot, with smaller amounts of cabernet franc and petit verdot which are blended together create the final wine.  Because weather conditions in Bordeaux can vary dramatically from year to year, the proportion of grapes in the blend can change to adapt to the variations of each growing season.  The 2005 vintage is a blend of 49% cabernet sauvignon, 48% merlot, and 3% cabernet france.  Petit verdot was omitted from the blend in 2005.

The 2005 Château Bernadotte is well crafted with many of the qualities expected from a good Bordeaux.  This medium-bodied wine has a deep red color with fragrant aromas of plums, black currants and layers of earthy green herbs. Flavors of  juicy black currants and raspberries dominate the palate with overtones of mint and woody spice.  Bright acidity balances the ripe fruit as the aggressive grip of young tannins builds thoughout a long toasty, vanilla laced finish.  Unless you like dry, tannic wines, I recommend using a decanter or just letting is rest a few more years in order to soften the young tannins.  This will be great one to revisit in five or ten years.

2005 Château Bernadotte ($33)

  • 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 48% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc
  • Haut-Medoc, France

This was the last cabernet sauvignon on the voyage.  Merlot is the next variety we’ll explore, which will bring us back to Bordeaux sometime in the next few weeks.

Varietal Voyage – See how it started…

Midwest Wine School Experience – WSET Intermediate Level – Class 2

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Midwest Wine School Experience

The second class of the WSET Intermediate Level course focused mainly on the winemaking process and the factors that effect the style, quality and price of the finished wine. We also delved into the topic of organic wines and processes used to create them.  Finally, we began looking at all of the information that can be gleaned from the labels on a bottle of wine.  This session was intended more as an overview of the concepts and conventions, with more detailed information to follow during the remaining classes.

For myself, I found the first portion of the class to be a good refresher on the basics of how red, white, and rosé wines are made.  Jessica Bell covered many topics illustrating how factors such as the grape variety and environment can effect the raw materials of wine.  She also discussed how the role of the winemaker can effect the overall style, quality and price of the end product.  The topic on organic wines was also very informative.  Organic farming and winemaking has continued to grow in popularity as consumers have become more educated about what they eat and drink.

The part I found most interesting was the section on understanding wine labels.  This is always a confusing topic, especially when you are trying to understand European wine labels.  There are so many different regulations governing what can and cannot be displayed on a label. Combine that with the language barrier and you can have a daunting task when trying to select a wine.  With just a little bit of education and research you can quickly discover useful information to help guide you to the quality wines you want.   Jessica and WSET have done a great job of organizing this information helping make this easier to understand.

The wines that Jessica had selected for this week’s session were made from a wide array of grape varieties and came exclusively from France and the United States.  Jessica had made a point of selecting wines at different price points to help illustrate the differences in style and quality among the producers.  The wines, especially the French ones, gave as a good primer on decoding the French AOC labeling laws.

Next week Rendell Thomas will help us explore pinot noir and chardonnay.

Wines Tasted (Class 2):

  1. La Divette – Muscadet Sur Lie 2007 (Muscadet Sevre et Main, France)
  2. Charles Smith – Charles & Charles Rosé 2008 (Columbia Valley, Washington State)
  3. A to Z – Pinot Noir 2007 (Oregon)
  4. Hurrah Surrah – Syrah 2005 (Paso Robles, CA)
  5. Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 (Calistoga, California)
  6. Chateau Moncontour – Vouvray Demi-Sec 2006 (Loire Valley, France)

2006 Chateau Montelena Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

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Tasting Note

This past Wednesday I had the opportunity to taste Chateau Montelena’s 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($49).  It was included in a flight of wines that I tasted during the WSET class being taught at WineStyles in Brookfield. Sue bought a bottle of the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon last year and is still resting in the cellar waiting for that perfect meal or occasion.  Although the 2006 harvest wasn’t as good as the one in 2005, I think this wine offered a good preview of things to come.

Chateau Montelena is at the northern tip of Napa Valley, in the heart of the recently christened Calistoga AVA, a region known for the quality its red wines.  All of Chateau Montelena’s vineyards for this wine are located close to the banks of the Napa River and share similar soil characteristics to those found in Bordeaux.  It is these characteristics and the hot dry California climate that deliver a complex and concentrated cabernet sauvignon.  Much like the winemakers of Bordeaux, Chateau Montelena has chosen to blend in small amounts of merlot and cabernet franc to soften the otherwise aggressive tannins of the youthful cabernet sauvignon and create additional layers of complexity.

Tasting Notes:

The experience of tasting this wine started off a little rough.  The first bottle we opened was “corked”, a notable flaw in the wine caused by tainted cork.  Rendell Thomas, the owner of WineStyles, was observing the class and offered to supply another bottle so we could fully appreciate what this wine had to offer.  The new bottle was much better, with no sign of cork taint. In the glass the ’06 has an intense ruby color with just a touch of purple round the edges.  Rich aromas of ripe black cherries and currants are laced with layers of spicy pepper and cedar.  The aromas carry through into the palate with lots of ripe black fruit at the forefront.  The acidity is well balanced making the ripe fruit seem juicier. Notes of vanilla and chocolaty spice are accompanied by the grip of young, ripe tannins that continue to build throughout the long finish.

2006 Antinori Pèppoli Chianti Classico

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Tasting Note

The Antinori family has a long history of making fine wines going back as far as 1385. Considered to be pioneers and innovators in the Italian wine industry, their methods and techniques have helped reinvent winemaking in Tuscany and have been credited with starting the “Super-Tuscan” revolution. Over the past six centuries, Antinori has developed and acquired vineyards throughout Tuscany and across the world, including the United States, Hungary, Chile and Malta.

The Pèppoli vineyards are one of the newest acquisitions.  Located in Italy’s Chianti Classico region, Pèppoli is just a few miles from Antinori’s famed Tignanello estate.  Antinori purchased the property in 1985, on the family’s 600th anniversary in the winemaking business, and released the first vintage of Pèppoli Chianti Classico in 1988.  The vineyards are planted in a protected valley on east and northeast facing slopes where the grapes can take full advantage of the morning sun.  The rocky, mineral-laden soils are perfect for growing sangiovese with lively fruit flavors and bright acidity.

Tasting Notes:

Pèppoli ($23) is a blend of 90% sangiovese and 10% merlot and syrah, creating a unique expression of Chianti Classico, with the characteristics of a young fruit-forward wine and the complexity of an oak-aged riserva.  This modern Chianti has a deep ruby color with the juicy aromas of strawberries and raspberries, amplified by vanilla and toffee notes imparted while aging in American and Slovenian oak barrels. The flavors are fruit-forward, but not sweet, with full body and soft, round tannins that play out over a long finish.

Midwest Wine School Experience – WSET Intermediate Level – Class 1

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Midwest Wine School Experience

This past Wednesday was the beginning of the WSET Intermediate Level course.  The class is small (ten people, one attending from Green Bay), but a good mix of people with varied backgrounds.  There are people from the food service industry, graphic designers,  business professionals, even a home winemaker, all coming to together to expand our horizons.  The one common thread is that we are all wine enthusiasts!

Jessica Bell of the Midwest Wine School is leading the class and has done a great  job organizing all of the class materials and outlining what to expect throughout the course.  Jessica, as well as, Jaclyn Stuart (co-author of The Complete Idiots Guide to Wine & Food Pairing), and Rendall Thomas (co-owner of WineStyles – Brookfield) will guide us through the world of wine over the next eight weeks.

Our first foray into all things grape, started with the obligatory administrative and housekeeping items typical for the first day of school.  Once that was complete, we quickly delved into the coursework starting with the factors that effect how and what we taste in a bottle of wine.

The next topic described a systematic approach for evaluating wine, including helpful ways of describing the various colors, aromas, flavors, and textures.  To help illustrate what we had learned so far, we compared the six different wines (3 white and 3 red), starting with a very light-bodied pinot grigio from Italy and ending with a sweet, heavy-bodied monastrell from Spain.  Each wine had very a distinct profile that helped you identify the characteristics of what you were tasting and feeling.

The last topic of the evening revolved around the sometimes difficult task of food and wine pairing.  Jessica helped simplify the food matching experience by providing some samples of basic foods (apples, spinach, nuts, cheese, chips, chocolate) and had us compare them with the six wines we tasted earlier.  It is remarkable how different a food or wine can taste depending on what precedes or follows it!

Next week we’ll explore the wine making process to see how the grapes get from the vineyard to the bottle.

Wines Tasted (Class 1):

  1. Alois Lageder – Pinot Grigio 2007 (Dolomiti, Italy)
  2. Domaine Bott Freres – Reserve Personelle Gewurztraminer 2007 (Alsace, France)
  3. Randall-Monroe – Sonoma County Chardonnay 2007 (California)
  4. Louis Jadot – Beaujolais-Village 2007 (Beaujolais, France)
  5. Chateau la Lauzette – Cab/Merlot blend 2005 (Listrac-Medoc, France)
  6. Castano – Monastrell Dulce 2003 (Yecla, Spain)

Midwest Wine School Starts This Week!

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Midwest Wine School Experience

As a Christmas present, Sue secured a seat for me in the upcoming winter session at the Midwest Wine School.  Sue knows my personality and passions better than anyone, and thought this would make the perfect gift.  She was right!  I’ve always been one to say if you are going to do something make damn sure you do it right!  The Midwest Wine School, sanctioned by the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) seems like the perfect place to start.  Since I’ve studied this subject off and on for some time now I’m beginning with the Intermediate Level course.  This will be a good place to learn new things and reinforce some topics I already know.

Classes start on Wednesday evening at Winestyles in Brookfield and run through March 24th.  I’ll do my best to share my experiences and keep you up to date.

Now where did I put my Spider-Man lunch box and those No.2 pencils?