Each week I review a wine with my “Sip It!”-or-“Skip It!” recommendation. All Vintages and product numbers refer to the LCBO.
Barone Riscasoli Rocca Guicciarda Riserva Chianti Classico 2011
LCBO #: 943613 | 750 mL bottle | $24.95
Wine Type: Red
A reliable producer, this Riscasoli is hard for me to comment on because my bottle was ruined by the presence of cork taint! That’s right – the telltale smell of wet cardboard, and musty basement ruined what would otherwise have been a very respectable wine. (Don’t believe me? Monica Larner of erobertparker.com gave this bottle 92 points.) Trying to get past the flaw, the ruby-garnet wine was medium-bodied, with sour red cherry, and earthy, forest-floor notes, underpinned by the subtle presence of phenol, and toasted wood. I would probably give this another try given how fruit-forward it would otherwise have been. Unfortunately, I have to give this two corks because of the flaw.
LCBO #: 409144 | 750 mL bottle | $19.95
Wine Type: Red
According to The Globe and Mail, the Italian word “governare” refers to the addition of raisined grapes to the first wine of the harvest — a technique that kicks off a second fermentation that enhances the body of the wine, while adding flavour and texture. This medium-bodied wine is, however, only so-so in my opinion, despite several reviews suggesting that it tastes well above its price point. I found the acidity a bit too biting, and the red fruit flavours a little too tart to make this wine easy-drinking. The body is sufficient to have this wine stand up to a hardy tomato sauce dish, but its powerful toasty-tobacco notes overpowered a delicate ricotta ravioli with oven-roasted cherry tomatoes.
Tenuta Torciano Bartolomeo Rosso Toscano IGT San Gimignano 2011
750 mL bottle | $63.69
Wine Type: Red
Among the wines I ordered and had shipped from Italy when I visited last year, this red Super-Tuscan blend from the hilly region around San Gimignano is exceptionally complex. Opaque, inky-purple on the nose, the wine is sharply alcoholic, with mingled aromas of forest floor, toasted wood, tobacco, and spice box. Aged in oak and chestnut wood, the luxurious full body and weighty mouth feel is pleasantly married with flavours of powerful oak, tart red cherries, and red plums. It’s reminiscent of a left bank Bordeaux with classic notes of a Cab Sauv pitted against the sometimes aggressive acidity of a Sangiovese. What’s odd, and yet quite interesting about this wine, is how it seems quite brawny, and yet, going down it’s almost velvety, with a long finish. Not the most elegant or refined wine, it’s a fascinating drink, but far from quaffable, if you catch my drift.
Tenuta Torciano Poggioaicieli Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2013
750 mL bottle | $44.47
Wine Type: White
From the only white DOCG in Tuscany, this clear, light, pale lemon wine has a lively bouquet of canied ginger, crisp citrus, and floral notes. The dryness of the wine is nicely offset by a pleasant, albeit subtle, minerality, and flavours of Granny Smith apples, Meyer lemons, and a muted herbaceousness. I would have appreciated a longer finish, but it’s a solid wine. Not, perhaps, worth the steep price point, it did pair well with cheese and other antipasto.
Tenuta Torciano Vin Beato Vino Liquoroso (Dessert Wine)
750 mL bottle | $42
Wine Type: Dessert
I felt remarkably on trend for 2015, when I uncorked this bottle at Christmas. After a barrage of Twitter tweets proclaiming orange wine as “in,” it seemed time to open my only bottle, which had been sitting around, waiting for its moment since early May. The amber-orange wine appealed to the Sauternes-haters who appreciated the more moderate sweetness. On the nose, aromas of brown sugar, honey, candied orange, and mulled spices were quite pronounced. The wine was medium-bodied, with a creamy-smooth finish. It paired delightfully well with amaretti cookies, which were imported from Italy for the occasion — just the way I had tasted the wine in San Gimignano!
Frescobaldi Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino
LCBO #: 650432 | 375 mL bottle | $26.95
Wine Type: Red
For those who have hung in until the bitter end, I’ve saved the best for last. Craving a late-night snack and a wee tipple on a cold weeknight in Sudbury earlier this month, I stumbled across this half-bottle at the LCBO on La Salle. What a find! Opaque, dark ruby, full-bodied, and heavy, the sweet smell of cherries were remarkably inviting–the perfect prelude to a velvety wine. On the palate, the wine exploded with robust fruit flavours of stewed plums and blackberries. The lightly toasted wood notes were the perfect punctuation to a lovely, lingering finish with just the right balance of acidity. The wine spends three years in cask and at least six months bottle aging. The full bottle retails for $49.95; if you’re in the mood to splurge, then I wouldn’t hesitate to snap it up!
Dispatches from the world of wine – a roundup of blog and news articles of the week.
- In Ontario’s continuing efforts to modernize the way alcohol is sold in the province, the government announced the arrival of vino at up to 300 grocery stores beginning this fall.
- B.C.’s burgeoning love affair with sparkling wine saw consumers buy over 2.5 million litres of bubbly last year, up almost seven per cent over the 2014.
- Okanagan’s Crush Pad winery will make its European debut in March at the Düsseldorf trade show, Prowein 2016.
- Any reason to drink more wine! A recent study carried out by Washington State University and Harvard suggests resveratrol stops fat cells from expanding in the body.
- Bankrupt California wine seller Premier Cru is being investigated by the FBI after some customers claimed it was operating an illegal Ponzi scheme.
- In France, rosé is outselling white wine–a trend that Australians expect to see replicated over the next decade.
- Is Merlot on its way out in Bordeaux? Climate change may be wreaking havoc on the poor little grape.
- Officials in China’s award-winning Ningxia wine region has announced plans for its first classification system.
WINE REGION SPOTLIGHT
Under the Tuscan Sun
In his definitive volume on Italian wine, Joe Bastianich calls Tuscany “the Centre of the Italian Wine Universe,” arguing that while “some people rank the wines of Piedmont higher…from a commercial standpoint, there is no comparison–Tuscany’s brand recognition is far greater” (J. Bastianich and David Lynch, Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy, Clarkson-Potter, 2002: 200). Indeed, the home of such iconic wines as Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino invariably make Tuscany the Bordeaux of Italy.
According to Berry Bros. & Rudd, Tuscany is not a “heavyweight in terms of quality.” Bastianich certainly suggests that Piedmont “outdoes Tuscany in terms of enological complexity,” but its most famous grapes, including the ubiquitous Sangiovese, make some of the world’s most well-known wines, and, when you stumble on some quality finds as I have, it’s hard to resist the allure of a region that draws tens of thousands of tourists each year, and is one of the most scenically breathtaking areas in the entire country.
It’s rare that I can weigh in on the regions that I write about, but, in this instance, I’ve actually visited Tuscany and toured the Chainti wine region, where I stopped at Fattoria Poggio Alloro, an organic farm and winery; strolled through the medieval city of San Gimignano; and enjoyed an expansive tasting at Tenuta Torciano, a winery just over thirty minutes outside of Florence, and whose wines are featured prominently in my tasting notes this week.
I am embarrassed to admit that I don’t know much about Italian history, save for a bit about the period of city-state fragmentation pre-dating unification, and even then I’m stretching the depth of my knowledge, but Chianti is really a wine historians dream come true where some of the oldest wineries in the country still exist today, and where, in 1716, Grand Duke Cossimo III de’ Medici created the first legislation governing wine production in the region.
Tuscany’s hilly terrain, aside from being a delight to navigate, have a moderating effect on the region’s maritime-influenced mesoclimate. Tempering the summer heat, vines are typically planted on the higher hillside elevations, but for the “sun-loving Sangiovese,” as Oz Clarke calls it, can concentrate the heat as well, helping the grapes to ripen.
While Sangiovese gets a lot of exposure (after all, it has over a dozen sub-varieties, including Brunello di Montalcino and Prugnolo Gentile di Montepulciano, and is the backbone of so many Tuscan blends), Trebbiano is the dominant white, and together these two varieties are not only the most planted in Tuscany, but also the most planted in all of Italy. Vernaccia (mostly grown around San Gimignano, and arguably the most famous of Tuscan whites), Malvasia, Vermentina, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon (which has risen to prominence thanks to the ascent of Super Tuscan wines), Merlot, Syrah, Canaiolo, Sauvignon Blanc, and Grenahce are also planted in varying quantities, and find their way into myriad blends.
The Chianti DOCG is arguably the most famous, and has over forty thousand acres under vine. Its many sub-zones, like Rufina, east of Florence, or Montespertoli, east of Pisa, produce wines of varying quality, with Rufina widely regarded as the most consistent. No doubt many of you have seen the name “Chianti Classico” on labels and simply “Chianti” on others; Chianti Classico refers to the original region identified in Cosimo de’ Medici’s edict, well before the region was delimited in 1932, and expanded a few decades later. For trivia buffs, shortly after Italian unification, a nobleman named Bettino Riscasoli (second president of Italy, and whose family name is on the first bottle of the wine I reviewed this week) concocted the “recipe” for Chianti reds, which has since been amended to drop the Malvasia.
But Tuscany is much more than Chianti. The diverse wine-producing region is home to over forty DOC and almost a dozen DOCGs, including the renowned Brunello di Montalcino appellation that abuts the medieval city of Siena, and Vino Nobile de Montepulciano (not the grape of the same name, by the way), a wine made from a sub-variety of Sangiovese and a “papal favourite” since the 14th century. In recent years, several coastal appellations, such as Morellino di Scansano or Val di Cornia, Montecucco, Monteregio di Massa Marittima, Montescudaio, Capalbio and Sovana, are being put on the map, and the Vin Santo appellations, which produce a well-known dessert wine, are all worthy of mention. Of course, I’m giving the wines of this complex region short shrift, but I hope this primer, as short as it has been, has encouraged you to explore the wines of Tuscany on your next trip to the LCBO.
Above: The streets of San Gimignano, vineyards in Chianti Classico, and my lunch at Tenuta Torciano.