Wine Reviews: Weekly Mini Round-Up for April 12, 2021

I taste a bunch-o-wine (technical term for more than most people). So each week, I share some of my wine reviews (mostly from samples) and tasting notes in a “mini-review” format.
 
They are meant to be quirky, fun, and (mostly) easily-digestible reviews of (mostly) currently available wines (click here for the skinny on how to read them), and are presented links to help you find them, so that you can try them out for yourself. Cheers!

Upscale your palate! My new books are now available from Rockridge Press!

Copyright © 2020. Originally at Wine Reviews: Weekly Mini Round-Up for April 12, 2021 from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 33: Rare Like a Steak (Earl Stevens Selections Recent Releases)

American rapper E-40, a.k.a. Earl Stevens, is a living quote machine.

I could hardly keep up with his quips during a peripatetic (and yes, this is actually me saying that about someone else), entertainingly hilarious, and all-around eye-opening Zoom tasting of a handful of samples from his Earl Stevens Selections lineup.

“I’m 53 years old, but I ain’t lackin’ in my mackin’!”

“I’m solo/bolo, you feel me? I’m rare like a steak!”

“Everybody’s on an Easter egg hunt for my products.”

It’s a constant stream from this particularly prolific Hip Hop artist. Which shouldn’t have come as a surprise, I suppose, given how many entrepreneurial endeavors Stevens is up to at the moment. Aside from his own career in rap, there are his recent foray into alcoholic beverages of all stripes (including wines, sparklers, tequila, beer, bourbon, and gin), his own record company, and a planned venture into food (dubbed “The Goon with the Spoon”) that includes jerky and sausages, burritos, and ice cream.

I’m not sure if he sleeps. And if he does, I’m not sure he gets much of it.

Stevens, for his part, admirably sees little difference between all of these seemingly unrelated projects – he just wants to make them all successful (as he put it, “same hustle, different product”).

As for getting into wine and alcohol, Stevens sees it as a natural marriage of his personal history, his head for business opportunities, and his appreciation of the good life. for starters, he’s originally from Vallejo (“that’s my soil, man; it’s right there next to Napa, it’s only natural that I’d make wine”). And his love of wine started early, if a bit humbly. “I used to drink the shit out of jugs of Carlo Rossi,” he mentioned. “I used to sneak into my mom’s wine when I was younger. It just became the drink of my choice. People would be like ‘you got money, man, why you bringing Carlo Rossi and payin’ corkage fees at Ruth’s Chris?!?'”

His E-40 moniker is conspicuously absent from many of his products, and that’s by design. “I didn’t even want people to know I was a rapper, you feel me?” he explained. “I wanted people to whisper about it: ‘What’s that? man, that shit’s good… you know that’s Earl Stevens, right? That’s E-40!!'” But Stevens does have his family name on the wine selections, and so insists that it’s his call as to whether or not a product makes the cut for the lineup, employing blind tastings with his family and friends to determine what gets included.

So… let’s see if his boozy wares are Thirsty worthy, shall we?

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 33: Rare Like a Steak (Earl Stevens Selections Recent Releases)

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 33: Rare Like a Steak (Earl Stevens Selections Recent Releases)NV Earl Stevens Prosecco Extra Dry (Italy, $15)

A brand new release, with a rosé version also in the works. Stevens cut right to it on the origins of this bubbly: “I feel like it’s an untapped property in my culture. I’m like ‘shit, I might as well do something different than most people in my culture would do. Let me get up in this Prosecco!’ I was gonna do a Champagne, but I was like, ‘let’s do that later.’ I cut all the checks, and I chose to do it this way.” Floral, with tropical fruit, peaches, and white grape aromas, this sipper is easy-going, with an almost effortlessly drinking palate full of citrus and pear flavors. 

Verdict: Paint wetter than a lake (Yup)

 

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 33: Rare Like a Steak (Earl Stevens Selections Recent Releases)NV Earl Stevens Function Red Blend (California, $12)

“Strong but it’s good. It gets you drivin’ in the middle lane,” Stevens remarked about this red blend. Juicy, big, smooth, and oaky, it’s going to make a lot of friends, especially at this price point. This one’s obviously going after the entry-level fine wine red blend category, and will do well there because it’s way too easy to drink. Black and red fruits, sweet oak spices, lots of toast… you get the picture.

Verdict: Not a BB or a pellet gun (Nope), But a long barrel base drum (Yup)

 

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 33: Rare Like a Steak (Earl Stevens Selections Recent Releases)NV E. Cuarenta Tequila Blanco (Mexico, $55)

A fun pun on the naming belies a fairly serious effort here in this un-aged Tequila, double-distilled by Casa Maestri in Jalisco. Open source agave is used (both highlands and lowlands), with stone ovens and pot stills. The nose is nicely balanced, with hints of clay and herbs, and wafting aromas of cane/agave. It sports a powerful palate, nice consistency, voluptuousness, and a clean feel. The long finish – with an almost licorice tinge – justifies the price. Nice on its own, and extremely solid

Verdict: You softer than a sock? (Nope), You solid as a rock? (Yup), Cleaner than a bar of Dove soap? (Yup)

Cheers!

Upscale your palate! My new books are now available from Rockridge Press!

Copyright © 2020. Originally at Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 33: Rare Like a Steak (Earl Stevens Selections Recent Releases) from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Wine Reviews: Weekly Mini Round-Up for April 5, 2021

I taste a bunch-o-wine (technical term for more than most people). So each week, I share some of my wine reviews (mostly from samples) and tasting notes in a “mini-review” format.
 
They are meant to be quirky, fun, and (mostly) easily-digestible reviews of (mostly) currently available wines (click here for the skinny on how to read them), and are presented links to help you find them, so that you can try them out for yourself. Cheers!

Upscale your palate! My new books are now available from Rockridge Press!

Copyright © 2020. Originally at Wine Reviews: Weekly Mini Round-Up for April 5, 2021 from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 32: Roero Deep Dive

If Italy’s northwestern region of Piedmont is known for one thing, it’s being known for many things.

So many wine regions overlap in Piedmont that it’s not uncommon for the skills being used to produce, say, Barolo also being employed to produce Barbera, Moscato, or – in today’s case – Roero. I recently hopped on a samples tasting with several Roero producers, organized by the Consorzio Tutela Roero, to take part in a bit of a deep dive of both Roero Arneis and the tragically less well known Roero DOCG red category (crafted from Nebbiolo).

Roero DOCG producers generally pride themselves on a completely different expression of Nebbiolo than found on the other side of the Tanaro river in Piedmont: easier to access earlier, very fresh, with its own identity (due to their unique soils), and focusing on elegance and linearity. They have some enviable history to backup their regional pride, too – Roero was the name of a noble Asti banking family from the 13th century, and the wine is mentioned as far back as 1303 (as part of payment used for rent). Soils there are sedimentary, from ancient seabeds and beaches, with differences in texture based on the depth. About 7 milleion years ago, a closed lake in the area evaporated quickly, concentrating mineral salts, followed by the seabed becoming uplifted, creating the sandy deposits on which their vines grow today, with steep slopes/cliffs (due to erosion and diversion of the Tanaro river about 250K years ago).

The pitch from these producers is straightforward: Roero as an appellation is unique enough to produce high-level white wines, as well as high-level reds. They are also, in the case of my tasting, good for some money quotes:

  • “Roero is a meditation and a party wine” – Chiesa Carlo’s Davide Chiesa
  • “We have four pillars: precision, planning, interpretation, and terroir” – Costa’s Alessandro Costa
  • “The best feature is the massive amount of sand; [it] gives to the wine this elegant side, this sapidity, and this helps to pair it with almost every dish” – Nicolo from Filippo Gallino
  • “If you could define Roero Nebbiolo in a word, I wold say it’s ‘elegance'” – Malabaila’s Lucrezia Malabaila
  • “It’s something beautiful. I go around, and I’m proud to be a farmer [here]” – Giovanni Roagna of Cascina Val del Prete

They happen to produce some vino that’s well worth the money, too…

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 32: Roero Deep Dive2018 Chiesa Carlo ‘Quin’ Roero Arneis ($22)

An elegant, single vineyard delight, from a spot planted in the 1960s that’s textbook Roero: both sandy and steep. “We try to make wine we want to drink. Wine for our and your party” noted Davide Chiesa. Mission accomplished. This white is textural, sporting both structure and great lift. It’s also pithy and pretty, with lemon rind, toasted citrus peel, and great salinity – both thoughtfully complex, and practically delicious.

 

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 32: Roero Deep Dive2020 Cantine Fratelli Povero Terre del Conte Roero Arneis ($15)

This one punches well over its fighting weight class. Farmed organically, and priced almost in “total steal” category, this has a metric ton of peach, melon, and tropical tones. Minerality, depth, even hints of spiciness, and a long finish, all for under $20? Sign me up. Actually, sign us all up.

 

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 32: Roero Deep Dive2019 Costa Stefanino Nino Costa Roero Arneis ($17)

This overachieving number has an absolutely banging nose of white flowers and intense tropical fruits. Salinity, depth, pithiness… it’s all there. This is a wine that’s aggressive, but undeniably very, very good – so you won’t mind the forceful acidity, especially on a warmer day.

 

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 32: Roero Deep Dive2016 Antica Cascina dei Conti di Roero Vigna Sant’Anna Riserva ($NA)

This Nebbiolo is a treat, and combines tradition with a modern sensibility. As Cascina’s Daniela Olivero explained, their vineyard was planted in 1954 by her grandfather on “very steep” slopes that need to be worked by hand. Natural fermentation is employed (“my husband decided to make this wine like my grandfather”), bringing some extra character to the texture. From its tar, violets, black cherry, black raspberry, and dried herb notes, to its fresh, exciting, structured, mouthfeel, this one is screaming – both in general, and to be paired with osso buco.

 

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 32: Roero Deep Dive2018 Malabaila di Canale Bric Volta Roero ($23)

These guys can trace their history back to 1362 – almost back to when Roero got itself started- when the family arrived in the area from Asti. Apparently, the Prince of Piedmont was asking for their wines personally in the 15th Century.  Three women now run the business, which is farmed organically (with truffles and hazelnuts also part of their estate offerings. Offering notes of crushed violets and dark cherries, this red is vibrant, with sapidity and transparency all the way through. It has grip, and I imagine will still be pretty a few (or even several) years from now.

 

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 32: Roero Deep Dive2016 Mario Pelassa Antaniolo Roero Riserva ($NA)

This single vineyard Nebbiolo hails from the northernmost portion of Roero. As Daniele Pelassa explained, the soil’ “red sand and gravel makes our wines quite special.” In a word, this red is textural. The acidity is focused and pronounced, but has soft, rounder edges. The cherry fruit flavors have staying power, enhanced by wild raspberry and earthiness on a long finish.

Cheers!

Upscale your palate! My new books are now available from Rockridge Press!

Copyright © 2020. Originally at Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 32: Roero Deep Dive from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Wine Reviews: Weekly Mini Round-Up for March 29, 2021

I taste a bunch-o-wine (technical term for more than most people). So each week, I share some of my wine reviews (mostly from samples) and tasting notes in a “mini-review” format.
 
They are meant to be quirky, fun, and (mostly) easily-digestible reviews of (mostly) currently available wines (click here for the skinny on how to read them), and are presented links to help you find them, so that you can try them out for yourself. Cheers!

Upscale your palate! My new books are now available from Rockridge Press!

Copyright © 2020. Originally at Wine Reviews: Weekly Mini Round-Up for March 29, 2021 from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 31: Counting on the Count (Tenuta Col d’Orcia Recent Releases)

Image: Col d’Orcia

Count Francesco Marone Cinzano didn’t want to live in Tuscany. When his father moved the family to ‘the hill overlooking the Orcia River’ (Col d’Orcia), it was ‘quite remote, the middle of nowhere.” Not exactly the place to appeal to a young guy, even if the aesthetic beauty of the place was beyond question. Today, it’s a different story: Cinzano is now inextricably tied to his family’s winemaking estate, among a UNESCO World Heritage site in Tuscany. “I started feeling a duty of protecting this very special environment,” he explained during a Zoom tasting of three of Tenuta Col d’Orcia’s latest releases. “A duty to protect this treasure that I inherited and would leave for future generations. We farm biodiversity; we farm protection of the environment.”

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 31: Counting on the Count (Tenuta Col d’Orcia Recent Releases)
Count Francesco Marone Cinzano (image: Tenuta Col d’Orcia)

Winemaking history for Tenuta Col d’Orcia’s estate dates back to the 1700s. It’s changed hands a few times, as these estates tend to do, with a Florentine family (the Francheschis) purchasing the property in Colle, Montalcino that was then known as Fattoria di Sant’Angelo in Colle in the late 1800s. Today, the estate is owned and managed – with an accessible sense of flourish – by Count Cinzano.

Cinzano’s commitment to the land seems to be quite a bit more than lip service. Their vineyard’s limestone and marl soils, situated around At 1,500 feet above sea level, are protected by Mount Amiata against natural issues like floods and hail. They now happen to be the largest certified organic vineyard in all of Tuscany, with the longest streak of utilizing vineyard cover crop going in the region. Next to their cellar sits a small one hectare plot containing what’s currently the largest selection of native grapes in Tuscany, partly dedicated to Sangiovese clonal research.

Speaking of those limestone and marl soils: Cinzano emphasized that the importance of the limestone component in particular can’t be overstated in terms of defining the style of their reds. “That’s the essential element for the quality of Sangiovese,” he noted. “The limestone defines the quality of the tannins.” As it turns out, that quality level is permanently set to HIGH

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 31: Counting on the Count (Tenuta Col d’Orcia Recent Releases)2016 Tenuta Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino (Tuscany, $60)

100% Sangiovese, aged three years in 25, 50 and 75 hl Slavonian and French oak casks, blended from all of the vineyards on the estate. “2016 was a great vintage” Cinzano noted. And, well… yeah, it definitely shows. Elegant, juicy, and reserved, with red plums, toast, vanilla bean, rose petal, and dried herbs, this red is taught and fresh, with focused red fruit flavors, and plentiful hints of leather and spices. Some lovely cherry, clove, juniper, and earth notes all make appearances, too, as do elegant touches of graphite, and dried orange peel. The finish is incredibly long, even for this relatively lofty price-point. Textbook, picture-perfect Brunello, basically, and absolutely lovely.

 

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 31: Counting on the Count (Tenuta Col d’Orcia Recent Releases)

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 31: Counting on the Count (Tenuta Col d’Orcia Recent Releases)2013 Tenuta Col d’Orcia Poggio al Vento (Brunello di Montalcino Riserva, $163)

At a much loftier price-point comes this Reserva, 100% Sangiovese aged three years in 25 and 75hl Slavonian and Allier oak barrels, followed by three years refinement in the bottle. The Poggio al Vento vineyard sits in a former seabed dating back several million years, with sandy soil high in limestone and fossils, and low in water retention. The clones there have been studied for helping to improve vine quality throughout the region. Cinzano described it as “what for us is the essence of Brunello.” The name means “windy heights” – close to the Mediterranean coast, it sees its fair share of sea breezes. Regarding 2013 specifically, it was “a very small vintage,” according to Cinzano – “we produced only about 12000 bottles.”

The operative word here, again, is elegance. “The ‘elegance’ element is more important than the ‘structure’ element,” explained Cinzano. “2013 Is more on the ‘elegant’ side, and 2016 is more on the ‘structural’ side.”

Wow. This red is immediately stunning. Incredibly pure on the nose, with wild raspberry, plum, cherries, dried rose petals, herbs, dried orange peel, licorice hints, truffle, and cloves. On the palate, it’s all freshness, salinity, juicy cherry fruitiness, sinewy, with an elegance bordering on literary poignancy. The tannins are pitch-perfect. Talk about inviting you in for another sip… Gorgeous.

 

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 31: Counting on the Count (Tenuta Col d’Orcia Recent Releases)2015 Tenuta Col d’Orcia Olmaia Cabernet Sant’Antimo (Tuscany, $69)

100% Cabernet Sauvignon, sourced from the Olmaia vineyard on their estate, at about 350 meters above sea level. The name translates to ‘Elm tree wood’ and is based on plant remains that his father found when first planting the vineyard in 1984. At that time, “it was very difficult to sell wines from Tuscany,” Cinzano stressed; “expensive wines from Tuscany were not very well known, even in Italy.” This in a way afforded Cinzano’s father some freedom to experiment with his plantings, thus going for Cab here over Sangio.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record here, this is both elegant and excellent. Yeah, the dried herbal side and dusty tannins of Tuscany come through, as does the acidic verve, but there’s so much depth and lovely balance here, especially between the tangy red fruits (plums, currants) at its core, and the darker black fruits that provide the roundness at its edges. A downright dreamy Cabernet.

Cheers!

Wine Reviews: Weekly Mini Round-Up for March 22, 2021

I taste a bunch-o-wine (technical term for more than most people). So each week, I share some of my wine reviews (mostly from samples) and tasting notes in a “mini-review” format.
 
They are meant to be quirky, fun, and (mostly) easily-digestible reviews of (mostly) currently available wines (click here for the skinny on how to read them), and are presented links to help you find them, so that you can try them out for yourself. Cheers!

Upscale your palate! My new books are now available from Rockridge Press!

Copyright © 2020. Originally at Wine Reviews: Weekly Mini Round-Up for March 22, 2021 from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 30: Soul Power (Alma de Cattleya Recent Releases)

Bibiana González (via winesbybibiana.com)

Winemaker Bibiana González was part of one of the earliest COVID SiP virtual sample sipping sessions that I attended nearly one year ago, so it seems fitting that her Alma de Cattleya lineup is the focus of this 30th (!) edition of the Wine in the Time of Coronavirus series that was born out of necessity in 2020 when global wine travel effectively shutdown.

Columbian-born González has one of the more intriguing journey-to-winemaker stories that you’ll ever encounter – and I’m not going to repeat it here, as it’s detailed in the write-up of our tasting from last year. What I will reiterate is that her résumé is, in a word, impressive – including stints with Château Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion in Bordeaux, Stephane Ogier and Domaine Clusel-Roch in Côte-Rôtie, South Africa’s Soronsberg Cellars, and La Crema, Peay, Au Bon Climat, Qupé and Lynmar Estate in California. So… uhmm… daaaaaammmmmmnnnnn, girl!

We recently caught up to taste through her personal Alma de Cattleya project, roughly meaning “Cattleya soul” or “Orchid soul,” Cattleya being a genus of orchids prevalent from Costa Rica south to Argentina, and having special significance for González’s homeland in Columbia. In trying to summarize her intention behind the project, she boiled it down to one word: honest. “By honest, I mean it’s really 100% the varietal [sic]; it’s 100% Sonoma County.”

As you’ll see below, González’s wines are also 100% tasty, accessible, and worth finding…

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 30: Soul Power (Alma de Cattleya Recent Releases)2020 Cattleya ‘Alma de Cattleya’ Sauvignon Blanc (Sonoma County, $22)

3000 cases were made of this SB, sourced from several different hillside vineyards in total, but using a predominance of Russian River fruit (“Russian River for Sauvignon Blanc… it’s like heaven!” according to González). The focus here was on freshness: “acidity is very important to me. When I was in France, we would never talk about alcohol [but] acidity was always a conversation. We harvest at night, everything is harvested by hand. I press very gentle, even more so in 2020. We picked before and at the start of the fires. I’m always at the press, always at the sorting table.”

Herbs, white flowers, exotic fruits, melons, citrus, grapefruit, mandarin orange… this one delivers on the nose as well as – or better than – any Californian SB i this price range in recent memory. Racy, with nice roundness, and key lime flavors, it’s crisp and racy, but also has some fo that West Coast heft (and great length, too).

 

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 30: Soul Power (Alma de Cattleya Recent Releases)2019 Cattleya ‘Alma de Cattleya’ Chardonnay (Sonoma County, $26)

Aged on the lees, in neutral French oak, and sourced from six different vineyards, only 1400 cases were produced of this Chard. “2019 was just an amazing vintage for us” González  reminisced. Same deal here as with the SB in terms of treatment: light pressing, a lot of RRV fruit, and wild yeast fermentation.

Pear and peach dominate the ripe-feeling nose, with slight floral hints, vanilla, and lemon curd all playing along. It’s very fresh, which matches well against the broadness and purity of this white on the palate. Some toast, with lots of baked apple appear in the finish. This is really lovely, while also having a sense of power, and it punches well above its weight class.

 

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 30: Soul Power (Alma de Cattleya Recent Releases)2020 Cattleya ‘Alma de Cattleya’ Rosé of Pinot Noir (Sonoma County, $22)

Joining González’s penchant for RRV fruit in this case is Carneros, together making up the majority of the fruit sourced by hand for this rosé. “It’s a purposefully made rosé,” she noted, harvested at night and not using any saignée.

Dried rose petals, strawberry, dried citrus peel, cherries, and a slight earthiness all coalesce on the complex but delicate nose. It’s bursting in the palate, however, with more floral notes, just-ripe wild red berry / raspberry flavors, and a crisp texture. Delicious, and goes down (way too) easy.

 

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 30: Soul Power (Alma de Cattleya Recent Releases)2019 Cattleya ‘Alma de Cattleya’ Red (Sonoma County, $27)

A blend of 64% Syrah, 14% Merlot, and 22% Cabernet Sauvignon, all from hillside fruit, this red is aged on all neutral French oak barrels for 18 months. In terms of sourcing, González used Sonoma Coast and Sonoma Valley for the Syrah, RRV for the Merlot, and (interestingly) Fort Ross-Seaview for the Cabernet. “I’m a big Syrah fan. Big, big, big big big” she exclaimed, a preference developed during her time in Côte-Rôtie. “And Syrah has bad reputation, especially in America. This is my fun blend. It’s a very serious red wine, it’s very balanced, but it’s about having a good time.”

This nose makes a soild case for this red even before it touches your lips: cassis, black raspberry, smoke, meat, cocoa, and dried herbs that are slightly tinged from being used as a steak rub on the grill. Bright, peppery, and youthful on the palate, with raspberry, blackberry, and plum action, it’s just jumping with freshness and spices. Delightfully delicious… or maybe that’s deliciously delightful?

Cheers!

Upscale your palate! My new books are now available from Rockridge Press!

Copyright © 2020. Originally at Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 30: Soul Power (Alma de Cattleya Recent Releases) from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Wine Reviews: Weekly Mini Round-Up for March 15, 2021

I taste a bunch-o-wine (technical term for more than most people). So each week, I share some of my wine reviews (mostly from samples) and tasting notes in a “mini-review” format.
 
They are meant to be quirky, fun, and (mostly) easily-digestible reviews of (mostly) currently available wines (click here for the skinny on how to read them), and are presented links to help you find them, so that you can try them out for yourself. Cheers!

Upscale your palate! My new books are now available from Rockridge Press!

Copyright © 2020. Originally at Wine Reviews: Weekly Mini Round-Up for March 15, 2021 from 1WineDude.com - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 29: Catching Sparks (Masciarelli Tenute Agricole Recent Releases)

Miriam Lee Masciarelli

“I grew up in the winery. Literally.” Miriam Lee Masciarelli, Brand Ambassador for Masciarelli Tenute Agricole, was basically born into the wine business. She’s a second generation Masciarelli, which nowadays pretty much means being one of the faces for all of Abruzzo wine, despite the fact that her family’s winery sits in a province with a population of only about 800 people.

Masciarelli’s father, Gianni Masciarelli, is more-or-less credited with modernizing wine production in Abruzzo, and setting it on the path of competing in the quality wine market throughout Italy and the rest of the world – specifically by focusing on lower quantity and higher quality grapes. “My father, when he was 25, went to work as a picker in Champagne,” Masciarelli noted during (yet another!) live Zoom media samples tasting that I attended recently. “He decided to leave university and start this beautiful work. Forty years ago, it was not so trendy and cool to be a winemaker in this region! Everyone said ‘you are crazy!’ He changed everything completely here where we are.”

While the winery itself may be a mere 40 years old, the Masciarellis have been in the wine business for over a century. Their vineyards sit near the Adriatic coast, on the opposite side of Rome in central Italy. “One of the greenest portions of Italy,” Masciarelli explained, “the landscape is wild, but also the people!” The terroir is unique in that it’s near the mountains, but also within 15 minutes drive from the sea. “In the middle, we have a lot of hills and lakes.” If so inclined (ha ha!), you could ski there, with the sea still in view.

Regarding the fact that her family’s winery is now a bit of a regional wine icon, Masciarelli is pretty matter-of-fact: “our winery is not very fancy, not very cool, but it’s very functional. 90% of the work is in the vineyard.”

It’s good work if you can get it, as it turns out…

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 29: Catching Sparks (Masciarelli Tenute Agricole Recent Releases)2018 Masciarelli Marina Cvetic Trebbiano d’Abruzzo Riserva (Abruzzo, $50)

This excellent white is sourced from 2 specific vineyards, each about 40 years old, at altitudes ranging from 750 to 1,200 feet. The mostly calcareous clay and lime soils definitely do right by Trebbiano (and the sea breezes certainly don’t hurt in keeping ripeness in check). “It’s one of the longest-lived whites,” Masciarelli emphasized, “we do a lot of verticals, a few months ago we opened a `95, a `97.” Honey, lemon, peach, stone fruits, citrus, almond, white flowers, tropical fruits – it’s all textbook Trebbiano in the best ways. Lots of lovely complexity and headiness. The palate is downright superb: full of vivacity, bit also broad with its tropical and citrus flavors, and elegant structure. There are toastiness (courtesy of oak aging) and power (thanks to, well, Italy) on the finish, which has hints of grilled citrus, smoke and cedar notes.

 

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 29: Catching Sparks (Masciarelli Tenute Agricole Recent Releases)2016 Masciarelli Marina Cvetic S. Martino Rosso (Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva, $32)

Fruit is culled from four different estate plots for this red, all about 40 years old and at altitudes averaging about 400 meters, and it spends 12-18 months in first-passage French barriques. Dense and focused black cherry fruit, with minerals, and dried herbs mark the nose. Touches of tobacco leaf and leather make some supporting appearances, too. Red and black cherries abound on the palate, with plums, spice notes, and impressive power, depth, and freshness. Chewy, bold, and just FULL-ON. But the balance absolutely is there, and it’s especially food friendly for such a ‘big-boy’ styled wine. It would rock with basically anything from the BBQ. “We’re looking for elegance, but also with… personality, with structure.” Masciarelli noted.

 

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 29: Catching Sparks (Masciarelli Tenute Agricole Recent Releases)2015 Masciarelli Marina Cvetic ISKRA Rosso Colline Teramane (Abruzzo, $38)

A single-vineyard red, with vines located in the province of Teramo at an altitude of approximately 2,400 feet, trained in pergola as well as high density spur cordon and single guyot (because you were just dying to know all that, right?), and all hand-harvested. The name means “Spark” in Slovenian (in dedication to her mother, who is Serbian-Croation and from a cooperage family). Montepulciano. Closer to the coast, and with sandier soils (vs. clay in the south), this more northern Abruzzo vineyard produces a meatier, darker, riper, spicier, and more aromatic red than the Marina. Stewed black plums, blackberry compote, leather, dried herbs, cigar, and black cherries kick it all off, and everything carries over from the nose to the palate, with the addition of smoke, fine wood spices, along with power and heat. It’s burly, but it’s delicious. “The vintage was perfect,” reminisced Masciarelli. “We were used to sleep during the night! You should buy and keep it in your cellar!”

 

Wine In the Time of Coronavirus, Part 29: Catching Sparks (Masciarelli Tenute Agricole Recent Releases)2015 Masciarelli Villa Gemma Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva (Abruzzo, $90)

The Montepulciano fruit for this Riserva comes from the tiny Colle Cave vineyard in Chieti, which sits just above and behind the house of Gianni’s grandfather, where he first started making wine in 1930. It’s a steep-sloped site consisting of limestone, clay and gravel. “The quantity is very, very low” from each of the 40-year-old vines, Masciarelli explained. The name pays tribute to a family matriarch: “when he was 24, [my father’s] first winery was in his home. In Italy, we have a tradition to put the name of the grandmother on the house.”

Masciarelli isn’t shy about her opinions on this one: “My favorite wine! Since 2012 I’m in charge of this wine. I used to call this wine Highlander, because it seems very immortal to me.” Her focus became to make the wine more accessible earlier, while still maintaining its structure and ability to age in the bottle. This is interesting, since traditionally in this region of Italy, older wines were once viewed as being past prime. Masciarelli’s grandmother apparently was using older vintages of Haut Brion and other famous Bordeaux reds from the family cellar to make vinaigrette (according to Masciarelli, she would get some gried from her grandmother when trying to stop her from raiding the cellar – “it’s old! you can’t drink it!”).

Several different types of cherries and plums mix in the nose here, with tangy black raspberryaction , savory notes, and dried herbs and tobacco leaf. The palate is dense, concentrated, leathery, spicy, complex, chewy and powerful. Just… BOOM! No quarter asked, and none provided. The stewed plums and spices carry on for minutes on the finish. Only recently imported to the U.S., and absolutely worth hunting down.

Cheers!