Posts Filed Under crowd pleaser wines

Complex, With A Complex (Vinas del Vero Somontano Recent Releases)

Old Vines Somontano

What do you do when your identity, your story, and even your best efforts are only seen through the contextual lens of your more famous cousins?

Besides developing an inferiority complex, I mean? After all, major characters in Greek tragedies were written with this stuff in mind; and it happens to be the defining lucha of Northern Spain’s Somontano wine region. That’s not the entire Somontano story, of course; as it happens, the region just might be the home of your next favorite Garnacha or Cabernet. While the DO is probably more familiar to WSET students than to American consumers, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot have been grown in Somontano for over one hundred and twenty years.

Viñas del Vero old vines

Viñas del Vero’s old hillside vines

Somontano is a place that’s relatively high on quality fine wine and winemaking prowess, but low on the ohhhhh-producing items (think indigenous grapes, or trendy stylistic techniques) that make for easy feature article material in the wine trade. The area largely produces wines from international varieties, in some cases from vines with significant age on them, done up in styles that are clean, fresh, and modern enough to all but dilute any defining sense of place.

But a sense of place does exist in Somontano, albeit courtesy of more famous wine regions. When the phylloxera epidemic spread throughout France, Somontano’s proximity and favorable climate made it an attractive spot for planting French vitis vinifera; which was later followed by declining demand and the abandonment of vineyard sites that were promising but difficult to farm. Sites like Viñas del Vero‘s “rediscovered” high-elevation plantings.

Situated at the northeastern slopes of the Somontano DO, along the edges of the European plate, these vineyards had dwindled down to 5 hectares by the time that Viñas del Vero rescued them (they’re now up to about 55 hectares). The oldest of the field-blended vines along those 800-meter-high, calcareous hills are in excess of 100 years in age. As Viñas del Vero’s vineyard manager José María Ayuso put it (during a media tour of the region), “you can get maybe one bottle per vine” from those old souls…

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Long Notes (Selva Capuzza Recent – And Not-So-Recent – Releases)

Vinted on July 7, 2017 binned in crowd pleaser wines, elegant wines, on the road, wine review

Lake Garda ruins

Like most musicians (ask me how I know), Luca Formentini has a day job.

That job would be helping to helm his family’s wine business in Brescia: Selva Capuzza.

As far as day jobs go, the one with an office that’s actually a picturesque vineyard spot about four kilometers from the shores of Lake Garda, in the heart of Lombardy’s Lugana winemaking territory doesn’t seem so bad. To wit: he soft-spoken (by Italian standards) Formentini usually has a wide smile plastered on his face. After tasting his family’s Lugana offerings, you might have one, too.

2017 marks the 100th harvest for the Formentini family, who now focus on the Lake Garda region’s indigenous varieties, and with whom I tasted during a media trip to the region earlier this year. In the 1980s, they changed the name of the business to reflect the locality, and their main focus is the annual production of about 250,000 bottles of the decidedly tricky white Lugana.

Selva Capuzza's Luca Formentini

Selva Capuzza’s Luca Formentini

Lugana’s has few better vectors for displaying its mischievous side than in the Formentini family’s wines. Tropical, vibrant, and mineral-driven in its youth, there’s little (other than the acidic scaffolding) in the young Selva Capuzza Lugana releases to betray the honeyed, toasty, and dazzling treat that awaits the more patient among us when a Lugana from a great vintage is allowed to rest on its haunches for several years…

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Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2017 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition Highlights)

San Diego kiss

Kiss kiss! We heart San Diego…

CIWC 2017I was once again fortunate enough to be invited to judge at the annual Critics Challenge International Wine competition, which took place late last month in Stay-Classy San Diego.

CC is always one of the highlights of my professional year; the organizers, volunteers, and fellow judges are all top-notch, and the fact that they’re also great people with whom to hang is just tasty icing on the cake. And then there’s the whole going-somewhere-gorgeous-to-taste-wines aspect, and, well, I suppose In can’t be helped for waxing too poetic at about it.

As in past years, I thought that I would highlight a few of the wines that I considered particularly memorable from the medal-winners. In this case, there were two that received a Platinum award from my judging panel that went on to take Best-in-category awards, and another that didn’t come from my table, but I just wanted to make sure was on your radar because it’s friggin’ tasty…

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Land Of The Almost Lost (Terre del Principe Recent Releases)

Vinted on April 13, 2017 binned in crowd pleaser wines, elegant wines, Italian Wine, on the road, wine review
Manuela Mancini

Manuela Mancini

Nestled in the sandy clay soils between the Taburno and Matese mountain ranges in Italy’s Campania region, at about 200 meters above sea level, sit a relatively small number thirty year old lost souls.

Well, almost lost souls, anyway.

Specifically, the “esoteric” grape varieties Pallagrello Bianco, Pallagrello Nero and Casavecchia, rescued in part as a passion project of husband and wife team Peppe and Manuela Mancini, the former lawyer and journalist, respectively, that founded Terre del Principe. (which I visited this year as part of a media tour around the Campania Stories event).

That their vineyard is a land of the almost lost (no Sleestaks, of course) is one of the more charming things about a charming couple who are making mostly charming wines.

Peppe Mancini

Peppe Mancini at Terre del Principe

Peppe Mancini, in remembering the Pallagrello wines form his youth, sought out the vines and ended up finding them in this vineyard, which turned out to belong to one of his family members. Until recently, Pallagrello Bianco wasn’t even in the National Register of winemaking grapes. Seemingly, it had fallen out of favor when the Bourbons fell during the unification of Italy (King Ferdinand IV had taken a liking to it), and had never recovered.

Similarly, Casavecchia (taking its name from an “old house” where the vine was found growing in Pontelatone) had been relegated to small-time, rustic production until Mancini helped to spearhead its rediscovery in the 1980s.

Along with cellarmaster Luigi Moio, Peppe makes the wines of Terre del Principe (while Manuela, as she modestly states, “just drinks it.”) in Castel Campagnano tufo cellar that dates back to the 10th century (the well in the 15th Century entrance is now used for lowering French oak barrels into the cellar space), and was likely part of the Longobardo castle’s external warehouses.

Everything about Terre del Principe seems similarly, charmingly small, and modestly adjusted only where absolutely necessary. The vineyards pergola training (a hold-over from the past, to protect the grapes from wild boar) is still in use, though modified slightly to reduce vigor. Production has recently been culled back to 20,000 bottles per year (“It’s higher quality,” notes Manuela, “and less work!”). And the wines, in turn, seem all the better for it…

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