Wolffer Estate Fatalis Fatum 2011

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I’ve had a life that’s full

Everyone’s been good to me

So fire up that fiddle boy

and give me one last drink

when the sun comes up I will leave without a fight

the world is mine tonight!

This is a song called “One Last Drink” (a concept I struggle to get my head around), by an Irish band called  “Enter the Haggis.”  My daughter says it reminds her of me, and I would say it is a fairly accurate description of my life!  My Life is full; in general I have a blast. I travel, I meet interesting people, I read great books, drink good wine, eat great food, I see and understand stuff that is going on around me I believe far more accurately than most.  For the most part, life comes under a heading of “it is what it is,” and I accept that because I know I can’t change a thing!

Everyone is generally good to me, hell some are so good as to get me great wine to drink, and others are at least kind enough to tell me about it.  Case in point: today’s wine from Wolffer Estate on Long Island.  This wine is courtesy of Jessica, the lovely and talented Josephine’s daughter, and her son-in-law, Matt, who took a trip to Montauk and while there visited Wolffer Estate.

Christian Wolffer had already enjoyed a full life with a career that included investment banking, venture capital, real estate, agriculture and entertainment parks.  His weekend retreat on the Island started off as a state-of-the-art horse park–the wine Fatalis Fatum is named after one of his famous horses–and grew to include 55 acres of vineyards when he purchased Sagpond Vineyards in 1978.  The winery name was changed to Wolffer Estates in 1998, but the vineyard is still called Sagpond.  In total, the estate is 170 acres; not too bad for a weekend home.  Christian passed away in 2008, but his legacy lives on in his wines.

The winemaker at Wolffer Estate is Roman Roth, a German by birth but a world traveler by choice, and a hell of a wine maker by vocation.  The vineyard is managed by Richard Pisacano.  Together they makes some very sophisticated and polished wines.  Taste them and see if you don’t agree these wines can stand next to any in the world and not be ashamed.

Fatalis Fatum is a red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon 17%, Merlot 44,5%, Cabernet Franc 32%, Malbec 6% and Petit Verdot 0.5%.  Really, 0.5%?  The label is very interesting, almost all white, but if you look at it for a bit the horse’s face slowly reveals itself.  I know nothing about jumping horses, steeple chase I think they call it, but Fatalis Fatum was a champion.  And so is the wine.

The color was crystal red.  The tasting notes say brick red, but it would have to be one very new brick!  One breath and you know you are drinking a Cabernet, the aroma is that distinctive.  Again, compared against the noses of the professionals, who note aromas of blackberries, figs and sandalwood, all I got was the distinct scent of Cabernet Sauvignon.  The flavor was great: black cherries and prunes, very chewy, and with nice, soft tannins.  You could taste the European influence of the terroir and winemaker.  The Fatalis Fatum was very fruit-forward but more in the Bordeaux tradition than California. The finish was long, with hints of chocolate and leather.  It was a great glass of wine.

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Pietro Disarti Nebbiolo d’Alba 2011

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All the greats have done them: Suzanne Collins has “The Hunger Games,” E.I. James painted with “Fifty Shades of Gray” (come on I know you read it), and lets not forget Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”  So welcome to the third installment of Griffy on Wine’s Nebbiolo Trilogy.

We’ve experienced Barolo, the Lee Marvin of Nebbiolo; gravelly voiced, hard boiled, a true tough guy, and it’s brother Barbaresco, the Daniel Craig James Bond-type Nebbiolo.  Now let me introduce their cousin Nebbiolo d’Alba.  This is the pretty boy Nebbiolo; think Brad Pitt in Mr. and Mrs. Smith.  This wine is not a pushover, but it doesn’t have the hard-hitting temperament of either Barolo or Barbaresco.

Alba is the capital of Langhe.  The DOC of Nebbiolo covers wines made outside of Barolo & Barbaresco.  This wine tends to be lighter and earthier.  Rather than mandate a 100% Nebbiolo, producers are allowed to blend a small percentage of Bonarda, Croatina and Vespolina, though most modern producers favor a high percentage of Nebbiolo.  The wines tend to be less tannic and lighter, but wine from Alba under the Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC do have a complexity and body very closely related to Barolo and Barbaresco.  The thing that makes this whole exercise interesting to me is all of these wines are made with in 30 miles of each other, from the same grape, yet taste remarkably different!

Our wine is Pietro Disarti Nebbiolo d’Alba 2011.  The first thing you’ll notice is the nose, it’s lighter and earthy, like a garden after it rains.  It’s color is a clear red that reminded me of a California Pinot Noir.  If you like oak, you’ll taste it, along with all the usual fruits and spice (ginger and pumpkin).  The color is no indication of the power of the taste; while the color says light, the taste is full.  Compared to the Barolo and Barbaresco there are far lighter tannins compared to what I might usually drink, strong (i.e. dry) tannins.  Pair the d’Alba with red meats, heavy pasta’s and stinky–I mean strong–cheese.

Nebbiolo d’Alba wines are going to clock in around the $20 mark, which makes them pretty affordable compared to the Barolo and Barbaresco.  They will not age, mature, or grow up like those wines, but really, at my age, that’s not a big deal.  If asked to pick a favorite I’d go with the Barolo, I liked the flavor the best of the three.

This has been a great education for me, I can’t remember even drinking the wine of the same grape for the better part of a month and yet experiencing a distinctly different reaction each time.  I have been able to truly understand the magic or terroir, and the way winemakers influence the wine. I hope you’ve tried this adventure with me, if not, please do, it will set you back about $100 but well worth the investment.

I know the WINE-DAR is not done with Piedmont.  This part of Italy is rich with fantastic wines; Barbera is the most widely-grown wine in Piedmont and is the antithesis of Barolo and Barbaresco, having very soft tannins and not requiring a long maturing period to be drinkable.  Dolcetto is the most quaffable of Piedmont’s reds, Bodarda and Vespolino two minor blending grapes, are usually mixed with Nebbiolo in Gattinoro and Ghemme.  Then there are the whites, Gavi and Arneis, Cortese, and the most well known Moscato, a great varietal for those who like sweet wine.  If you like sparkling wines try the wines of Asti.  Sicily is still my spiritual home, but you could spend a good part of you wine-drinking life just exploring the bottled joy of Piedmont.

What are you waiting for, get drinking!

Franco Serra Barbaresco 2008

IMG_0955As I related in the Cordone Barolo post, I’ve developed a thing for Piedmont wines right now, and the more I learn the more I enjoy them.  Today’s wine is a Barbaresco.  I have been told the  difference between Barolo and Barbaresco is that Barolo is more masculine, while Barbaresco more feminine.  I get the comparison but it’s not accurate, that’s too much of a difference for what are two very similar wines.  I think of them more like brothers: masculine, muscular, bold, and strong, but one needs to shave twice a day (Barolo), while the other just once in the morning and he’s good (Barbaresco).  To the guys reading this, I know I’m not making too much sense, but the ladies know what I’m talking about, so go ask them.  Another way to describe the differences is Barolo is more brooding in comparison to the more outgoing and cheery  Barbaresco.  By the end of this post you’ll understand.

They make about half as much Barbaresco as they do Barolo in Piedmont.  Barbaresco can be made in only three villages; Barbaresco itself, Neive, and Treiso.  Both wines are made from the Nebbiolo grape, but the aging and requirements for Barbaresco are two years in barrel and bottle, respectively.

Let’s talk about “aging” for a minute.  It’s a fact of life that no one wants to get old.  Neither does wine.   We, like wine, strive to mature, to grow in nuances and grace, and in the eyes of winemakers, they don’t “age” their wine.  Rather they “bring them up” like children.  The word in Italian and English I’ve learned is “Crescere” the French use the term “Elever.”  A wine can grow old without ever maturing, just like some people I know.

So, what about our wine?  Nothing here but great aroma and taste.  The color of the Franco Serra was a classic red, clear and clean, with an orange rim.  As for the aroma, well it was remarkable; I got heavy anise, liquorice, vanilla, some floral notes, and a little cherry.  And it got better over time.  By day three the anise faded into the background with the cherry and floral/violets taking over.  The nose is just great, trust me you’ll love it.  Finally we arrive at the first taste.  Big and dry, but not nearly as dry as the Barolo.  Flavors did not evolve as much as the nose, but there was plenty of cherry and spice, a significant amount of drying tannins, and ample acidity.  The Franco Serra is a flavorful wine that will pair with great food, but please, no pizza or burgers.  Time was taken to make this wine, so give it a meal that takes a little preparation as well.

Franco Serra is made by the Sperone family, who has produced affordable, premium wines for four generations.  In 1920, Antonio Sperone opened a small wine shop in Torino where he sold bulk wine directly to consumers.  Unsatisfied with the quality and price of the local wine, Antonio started his own winery in Puglia, where land was inexpensive and produced good wine.  He built a bottling facility in Torino and was soon able to offer his customers quality wines at prices everyone could afford.  Sadly, it was destroyed when the city was bombed in World War II.  The winery in Puglia survived the war and enabled Antonio’s grandson, Giacomo, to open a new facility near Milan where he produced vermouth, sparkling wines, spirits, and fine wines.  With the help of his sons Paolo and Antonio, the company grew quickly and achieved distribution throughout Italy, and later expanded into foreign markets.  In 1965, the family purchased 75 acres of prime vineyards in Piedmont and built a new winery in Monferrato.  

Even as the prices fetched for wines from this increasingly-fashionable region continue to climb, the Sperone family proudly focuses on value.  The Franco Serra line provides everyone with the opportunity to drink thoughtfully-crafted, distinctive wines from Italy’s most renowned region.  The Barolo and Barbaresco selections are sourced from a few trusted suppliers and undergo part of their ageing directly in the Sperone’s cellar where they are constantly monitored and sampled to ensure uncompromising quality is maintained.  Hopefully my store still has some of these left, as I would like to grab several more to see what a few years in bottle do.  At $27 a  bottle this wine is a great value.  I got my two bottles are Center Street Wine and Spirits.

Before we wrap up for the week, I have a book recommendation for you.  “The Vines of San Lorenzo” by Edward Steinberg.  This is a great wine book told from the unusual perspective of the vines.  The story is about the quest of Angelo Gaja to make the best Barbaresco in the world.  The story is told through the 1989 vintage Barbaresco for Gaja’s flagship wine Sori S, Lorenzo.  At $360.00 a bottle these are some grapes.  It’s a great story about making a great wine.  From growing the grapes, to the harvest, to fermentation, extraction, “ageing”,  the barrels, bottles, and corks, oh yeah, and marketing.  Sounds tedious, but it’s not, it’s a great wine education in 260 pages.  

Cordone Barolo 2009

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The WINE-DAR has outdone itself this time.  Today’s wine is from Northern Italy, Piedmont specifically, and is truly one of the great wines of Italy and the world: the Cardone Barolo.  Made from the Nebbiolo grape this is truly a world-class wine.

The Barolo DOCG comprises 11 communities in Piedmont, with the most important being La Morra, Castiglione, Falletto, Monforte d’Alba, and Serralunga d’Alba.  Time is the most important aspect to Barolo.  It takes lots of time for the tannins in Barolo to soften and become a wine that you would enjoy drinking.  By law, Barolo must age for a minimum of 3 years between the barrel and bottle.  A five year-old Barolo is very young, and can age for decades.

Before the 19th century Barolo was a sweet wine, not unlike an ice wine, because the Nebbiolo grapes ripen late, sometimes being harvested in November and December.  By that time the temperatures in Piedmont are cold enough to stop fermentation, leaving a ton of residual sugar in the wine.

Enter Camillo Benso and French enologist Louis Oudart.  Together they began to improve winemaking techniques in Piedmont.  Focusing on the Nebbiolo grape, they developed a great-tasting, long-lasting dry wine that soon became a hit with the ruling class in Turin and the house of Savoy, giving Barolo the moniker, “the wine of kings and the king of wines”.  It’s always about marketing!

Nothing much changed until the 1960’s when Italy was beginning to wake up from a 100 year nap.  Individuals–oh my god, not that–started growing and bottling their own wine.  One of these aspiring winemakers was Angelo Gaja, who is today known around the world for his Piedmontese wines, especially his Barbaresco.  In 1980 Barolo was given it’s DOCG status.

Our wine here, a Bruno Cordone 2009, comes for the Vineyard Terre da Vino and is rated “Due Bicchieri” or “Two Glasses” by Gambero Rosso, Italy’s famed wine guide.  So it’s a fairly good wine.  As you may remember, to be outstanding it would need to be “Tre Bicchieri” or “Three Glasses.”

I learned about Barolo from my good friend Mario at Center Street Wine and Spirits in Wallingford CT.  So, when I first opened the Cordone it didn’t seem right: the color was wrong, it was clear!  Typically, Barolo is rust colored and opaque, not clear.  At 2009 I had a very young Barolo, so I was a little concerned that I had pulled the cork too early.  However, as the air got to the wine the color grew into the rusty color I had expected.  The reviewers claim the nose of this wine as tar and roses.  Well not in my garden!  The aroma was pleasing and prevailing, but I didn’t get tar or roses.  Instead I got a slight leather.  Taste was D-R-Y.  I mean unabashedly dry.  If you don’t like dry wine, drink something else, as you’ll likely hate this wine.  I, on the other hand, love dry wines and strong tannins, so I was pleased to the max.

Barolo is not for everyone.  If you are a vegetarian, may I suggest something in a white?  This is a big wine and needs big food roasted meats, high proteins or heavy pastas.  The tannins will  combine with the food proteins and the wine will come across softer.  Barolos can be expensive, but worth it in my opinion.  I got lucky and caught a special with the WSJ wine club, but like everything else I enjoy, it’s either fattening, expensive, or sold out.  In this case it’s the latter.

We are not done with Piedmont.  I am reading a book “The Vines of San Lorenzo “ which is a biography of Angelo Gaja, and if you read the blog you know if I read about a wine, it’s almost certain I will drink it.  I love the research as much as the wine itself.

“A good wine is something that pleases you and that you like because it satisfies your taste and knowledge and passion for wine”.   Angelo Gaja