A Taste of Alto Adige/Südtirol

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The cellar at Castel Sallegg

I have to admit, my knowledge of Alto Adige/Südtirol, a wine region in Northern Italy, was very limited prior to the research I did before writing this. That research began with the Wikipedia page of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, which does a decent job of running the reader through its history, which is not that easy to follow because of its location that put it in the middle of many power battles.

In short, previous rulers included the Romans; a combination of Germanic tribes, Alamannic Vinschgua and Bavairians; Charlemagne/Kingdom of Italy; Holy Roman Emperors’ “prince-bishops”; House of Habsburg; Austria; France under Napoleon quasi on behalf of the Austrians and Italians; Austro-Hungary; Nazis; Italy; and now semi-autonomous rule under Italy that the native Germans and Austrians don’t entirely like.

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An illustration of the current sensitivity can be seen on the region’s wine industry website, which labels itself with both the German and Italian languages in the same logo (Südtirol Wein/Vini Alto Adige – the respective names of the region and spellings of “wine”). To quote directly from vinepair.com’s page on the region:

“Most residents speak both Italian and German and two-thirds are native German speakers, hence the reason why the region is Alto Adige – Südtirol. Many wineries have names in both languages for the Cantina (Italian) or Kellerei (German), and wine labels could include a grape variety’s name in either language, such as Pinot Grigio or Grauburgunder. But despite its history of change, archaeological evidence places Alto Adige – Südtirol among the oldest winegrowing regions in Europe, dating back to the 5th century B.C.”

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Picture credit: Merles’ World

The region is quite mountainous as it plays home to sections of the Alps and Dolomites, which protect the vines from cold winds and rains, giving them roughly 300 days per year of sun. The warms days and cool nights (vines are planted at considerable elevation) help the grapes reach full maturity while preserving acid levels, a phenomenon well-evidenced in the wine reviewed for this post. Its fertile valleys make for great agricultural production and logging, while its lakes and rivers are harnessed to produce a good deal of electricity. Recently, tourism has become a major driver of the local economy as well.

Wine-wise, Alto Adige-Südtirol is best known for pinot grigio. There are six common varieties in addition to PG. For this post, I was able to taste three of them: gewürztraminer, langerin and schiava, the latter two reds. While PG is the most grown white (gewürzt is third on that list), schiava and lagerin are the two most planted reds.

Traditionally, gewürztraminer from the region is produced with a touch of residual sugar. Schiava and lagerin make very different wines. Gamay lovers may gravitate towards the former, while zinfandel lovers are more likely to appreciate the latter. All, I would argue, are good food wines due to their high acid. The three wines below were received as samples and tasted sighted. It was a delight to give them a try, and if you’re looking for a taste of the region, all offer good values.

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The 2017 gewurztraminer from Nals Margreid offers very honeyed and tropical aromas of honeysuckle, cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple, vanilla custard and just a hint of chili flake kick. It’s full bodied and lush, though the mineral-driven acid provides nice cut. The flavors are quite saturated, and feature a profile similar, if not drier, to the nose: mint, cantaloupe, pineapple, Granny Smith apple, vanilla custard and slightly bitter greens. This wells its 5.2 grams/liter of residual sugar with class. I’m a fan. 89 points. Value: B+.

The 2017 Castel Sallegg Lagrein Südtirol Alto Adige has a very saturated nose featuring crushed cherry, blackberry and boysenberry at the forefront. Underneath this hedonistic trio is sweet tobacco leaf and vanilla. Full bodied, the tannin and acid are each lean and mean. This one is driven by a rustic texture reminiscent of tannat. A bit dominated by under ripe red and black fruit (think plum, cassis, strawberry and cherry), it has nice touches of underbrush, baking spice and cigar. A wine to chew on, and one that benefits from several hours in a decanter. 88 points. Value: C+.

Finally, the 2017 St. Pauls Missianer Schiava Südtriol Alto Adige has a stewed cherry-rich nose with additional aromas of macerated strawberry, lavender, flower petal, cinnamon and toasted marshmallow. It’s medium bodied with bright, juicy acidity that’s well-integrated with a fine tannin profile to create a very smooth and easy mouth feel. The flavors are more powerful than the feel suggests, however, and begin with pretty florals and rose water and transitions to red-tinged fruit and slightly dirty soil and smoke. A seriously tasty that offers a lot for such an accessible wine. 90 points. Value: A.

2017’s Most Memorable Wines

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Last December (okay, January 4th, 2017), I did a post on The Best Reds, Whites and Values of 2016 that I came across in my wine escapades that year. It was an enjoyable post to write because it let me indulge in some great nostalgia, and I was excited to do it again for this year. This post was just as rewarding to write, and as the title implies, I’m taking a slightly different approach. What follows are the dozen most memorable wines I tasted this year.

The two questions I used to guide the formation of this list were (1) what are the wines from 2017 that I stand the best chance of remembering until I go senile, and (2) what wines from 2017 will guide my 2018 purchasing? Only after assembling the list did I look at the metadata contained within, and there are some surprises. First, a rose made the list. While I enjoy rose, I drank much less of it in 2017 than I did in previous years. This wasn’t for any conscious reason; it just played out that way. Second, in Good Vitis Land, it was the year of the white wine. Half of the list, and the largest component of it, are whites. Third, it’s a geographically diverse list: five U.S. states and six countries. And forth, unusual varietals came in at the #4 and #1 spots: mtsvane and Pedro Ximenez that was made into a white wine. What a cool 2017.

Without further ado, here are my twelve most memorable wines from the past twelve months.

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#12: 2016 Ehlers Rose. I reviewed this wine back in July when I profiled the winery and winemaker and couldn’t stop raving about it. The wine itself is terrific, but it will always stand out in my mind for the vibrancy and beauty of its color. My God, it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I’ve never fixated on the appearance of a wine before, so this one is special. I visited the winery earlier in this month and the rose was sold out. I was told I wasn’t the only one who can’t even with the color.

Tasting note: July 9, 2017 – I don’t normally comment on color but this is a gorgeous, watermelon-colored red with a pinkish hew. Nose: a bit reticent at first, it wafts lovely strawberry, watermelon, lime zest, white pepper, sea mist and parsley. The body is medium in stature and has a real presence on the palate, it’s entirely dry with nicely balanced biting acid. The fruit, all red with the exception of under ripe mango and lime pith, is bright and light and backed up by some really nice bitter greens, celery, thyme and rosemary. This brilliant effort is best served with food as the racy acidity needs to sink its teeth into something. I successfully paired it with Santa Maria-style grilled tri tip. I’d actually be curious to stuff a few of these away for a year or two and see how they develop over the following three years. 92 points. Value: B+

#11: 2014 Block Wines Chenin Blanc Block V10 Rothrock Vineyard. I love chenin. It competes with chardonnay for my favorite white varietal, and usually whichever is in my glass and singing is the one I choose. I’ve written about Eric Morgat’s chenins from Savennieres in the Loire Valley in France as my favorite example of the varietal, and while I enjoyed several of them in 2017, this year’s gold standard belonged to the Block Wines project in Seattle, Washington. Owned and sold exclusively by the retailer Full Pull, it sources exceptional grapes from exceptional blocks in exceptional vineyards across the state and hands them over to Morgan Lee to convert into wine. Morgan is one of my favorite winemakers anywhere, and what he did with these grapes was pure magic.

Tasting note: Friday, June 23, 2017 – Magical stuff, and only improving with aging and aeration. The nose is blossoming with honeysuckle, sweet lemon curd, parsley, big marzipan and just a wiff of ginger powder. The palate is medium bodied with cutting acidity and a well-framed structure. The fruit is sweet and comes in the form of lemon, peach, apricot and yellow plum. There’s a good dose of vanilla bean, a big streak of slate and just a bit of creaminess and some nice sorbet-tartness on the finish. The most compelling American chenin blanc I’ve tasted, this has at least three years of upward development ahead of it. Wish I had more than the one remaining bottle in my cellar. 93 points.

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#10: 2011 Domaine William Fèvre Chablis 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre. Unlike the #12 and #11 wines, this bottle is a well-known commodity. Among the most respected sites in Chablis, Montée de Tonnerre is often considered quality-wise on par with the Grand Cru sites despite its Premier Cru designation, while William Fèvre is widely respected as anything but a slouch producer. Despite the modest reception of the 2011 vintage in Chablis, this out-performed several other vintages of the same wine I’ve had previously. It was downright spectacular.

Tasting note: Friday, July 14, 2017 – Right from the uncorking this thing bursts with energy. The nose is spectacular, offering incredibly pure limestone, lemon and lime zest, chalkiness, parsley, mushroom funk, daisies and dandelions, and sea mist. The body is lush but offers great cut with impeccably balanced acid that zigs and zags with nervous energy and verve. This is why you drink Chablis, it makes life come to life. The abundant citrus is all sorts of zest and pithy goodness. The sea is very prevalent as are the bitter greens. It finishes with a really nice, modest sweetness that doesn’t overwhelm the nervous acid. An amazing achievement considering the vintage, it’s drinking exceptionally well right now. 94 points.

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#9: Forge Cellars Les Allies Riesling. I visited Forge in September and couldn’t help but gush about what they’re doing. Forge is Finger Lakes in a bottle in every aspect, and for me that means several things: absolute physical beauty and salt-of-the-Earth people with a total commitment to the land and community. Forge makes a lineup of rieslings (and pinot noirs) that, from top to bottom, are among the very best being made in America and worth making the trek to experience first-hand (read the hyperlink above about the unique and amazing tasting experience every visitor receives at Forge). My favorite is the Les Allies.

Tasting note: September 18, 2017 – Big on fennel and bitter greens, sharp citrus and Devil’s Club with sneaky slate and flint streaks adding depth. Though savory elements drive the wine, it’s balanced by big hits of fresh apricot and peach on the finish. This is going to go through some cool short-term evolution in the cellar, and was my favorite riesling of the day. 93 points.

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#8: 2010 Baer Winery Arctos. I put this wine up against several legendary vintages from the legendary Bordeaux producer Las Cases in a post that asked, “Does Bordeaux Deserve Its Reputation?” More specifically, I asked “are six of the best vintages of the last fifty years of a storied chateau some consider worthy of first growth status really so good that it’s worth $150 per bottle at release and then two-plus decades in my cellar?” In order to answer this question, I picked Baer’s 2010 Arctos as a baseline wine. To be clear, I pitted a seven-year old blend from Washington State that retails for $43 against wines that are now only available at auctions for many multiples of that price point. My answer, which I’m pretty sure upset a few people, was “no.” I’m a Bordeaux skeptic, but more than that, I’m a Baer lover.

Tasting note: Thursday, April 20, 2017 – Bountiful nose of juicy red, black and blue berries, very sweet tobacco, thyme and black pepper. The palate coats the mouth with lush, polished and sweet tannins. It’s fully integrated and gorgeous. Sweet raspberries, cherries and blackberries swirl around with undercurrents of tobacco, graphite, cassis, nutmeg, cocoa, black currant, and rhubarb. Absolutely fantastic and pleasurable profile, it’s in exactly the right place. 94 points.

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#7: 2014 Covenant Israel Syrah. It’s a long story of how I came to know Jeff Morgan, the brains and brawn behind Covenant, a endeavor producing wine in California and Israel that has, as its genesis, the goal of making the best kosher wine in the world. I interviewed Jeff and told the fascinating story here. The Israel Syrah is a great example of how good Israeli wine and kosher wine can be, and a damn enjoyable bottle that will improve with more time.

Tasting note: Saturday, February 4, 2017 – This needed several hours of decanting. Nose: Dark and smokey. Stewed blackberries and blueberries along with maraschino cherry and caramelized sugar. Wafty smoke, a good dose of minerality and just a bit of olive juice. Palate: full bodied with coarse tannins that with multiple hours of air begin to integrate. Medium acidity. The fruit is dark and brown sugar sweet. Lot of blackberries and blueberries. Just a bit of orange and graphite and a good dose of tar. There are also some pronounced barrel notes of vanilla and nutmeg. This is a promising young wine. Fruit forward in its early stages, after 4 hours of air definite savoriness really starts to emerge. This has the tannin and acid to age and it will improve with another 3-5 years. 93 points.

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#6: 2005 Cameron Pinot Noir Abbey Ridge. Of course there’s a Cameron in this list. Cameron was my 2016 revelation and I spent a lot of time this year tracking down as much of it as I could find. It was a decent haul, but now I just have to be incredibly patient. The 2016 experience showed me that the older a bottle of Cameron pinot is, the better it is. In 2017 I had the 2005, 2010 and 2011 vintages of Abbey Ridge and the theme continued. This 2005 was AMAZING.

Tasting note: Saturday, July 1, 2017 – Another data point that Cameron is at the very front edge of domestic pinot noir. The nose is absolutely gorgeous, very floral and bursting with a cornucopia of sweet fruit. The body is rich but extraordinarily balanced and dancing light on its feet. The acid is lively and the pepper is sharp, while the cherries and cranberries burst with juiciness and richness. There are slightly bitter flower petals and a lot of Rose water. Absolutely fantastic wine sitting in a great place in its evolution. I can’t stop drinking this. 95 points.

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#5: 2012 Cameron Blanc Clos Electrique. Of course there are two Camerons on this list. Nuff’ said.

Tasting note: Sunday, July 23, 2017 – Just, and entirely, gorgeous wine. The nose has high toned honeysuckle, bruised apples and pears, dried apricots, Starfruit, vanilla and petrol. The body is in perfect balance. It is medium bodied with super bright, but not hurtful, acid. It offers reams of slate, mint, lime and funky goodness. There is a good dose of Mandarin orange that offers nice sweetness, and from the oak influence there emerges a nice amount of cantaloupe, Golden Raisin and yellow plum, while parsley and saline provide stabilizing undercurrents. This is all good, all the time, now and over the next five to ten years. 95 points.

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#4: 2015 Togo Mtsvane. This is a challenging wine to write about for several reasons, beginning with the unusualness of it and ending with the situation in which it was consumed, for good and bad reasons. The good reasons are written about in detail in what is probably my favorite post from 2017. I’ll summarize this wine, and the country where it is made, this way: you’ve never had anything like it, you have to go to the Republic of Georgia to try it, and you’re making a mistake if you don’t.

Tasting note: May, 2017 – Gia’s 2015 Mtsvane was picked at 25.8 brix and finished at 14.8% ABV, which it wells extremely well. The word “mtsvane” means green (the color), and this particular source vine was found in a family plot that Gia is slowly bringing back. It is thin skinned and very difficult to grow because of its fragility in the region’s rainy climate. Nevertheless, the aromatics were gorgeous with mint, dulce de leche, sweet lemon and light tobacco. The palate was equally appealing and satisfying as it offered honeysuckle, apricot, ginger, vanilla, green apple and a big hit of mint.  Multiple bottles consumed over a long and drunken evening with the winemaker, his family and my friends. Unscored, but otherworldly.

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#3: 1998 Pian Delle Vigne (Antinori) Brunello di Montalcino. Aged Brunello, need I say more? The 1998 was considered a good but not great vintage when it was released, but I think people have realized over the following 19 years that it’s gone through a particularly impressive evolutionary arc. This wine certainly proves that. Well-aged Brunello has some wonderfully unique qualities, and again, this wine certainly proves that. Basically, this wine proves that all the good things about Brunello can be true in one bottle.

Tasting note: Saturday, October 28, 2017 – This is remarkably good. The nose is pure heaven, and very fragrant. Super sweet cherries, strawberries, Açaí, cinnamon, nutmeg, dried tarragon, a bit of sea mist and a small finish of olive juice. The palate is fully integrated: extremely fine grained and polished tannins have faded into the background while the acid is mellow but zips. The Alcohol is seamless. It’s the full, professional package. What a gorgeous mouthfeel. Flavors pop with cherries, strawberries, tobacco, thick dusty cocoa, Herbs de Provence, bright orange rind and a wiff of smoke at the end. This has a few more years of good drinking, but why wait? 95 points.

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#2: 2012 Smith-Madrone Cook’s Flat Reserve. Stu Smith and his family are some of my favorite people in the wine industry, and among the most generous I’ve met. He’s also one of the best winemakers in a state known for attracting many of the best winemakers in the world. Cooks’ Flat is his reserve wine, which he makes during good vintages. It retails for $225. Given the region, that’s a steal for a wine of this quality and, in one of many manifestations, evidence of his generosity. I’m not a lover of most California wine, and I don’t get the California Cult Cab thing with its focus on fruit and tannin. Stu could care less whether his wines were considered “cult,” but it certainly tops the list of cabernets from the Sunshine State that I’ve had. The fact that any California cab made my most memorable wine list is personally surprising, but that it landed at #2? It’s just that good.

Tasting note: December 7, 2017 – This seems to me to be what Napa cab should be all about. It hits the palate with a velvety lushness, and is followed by waves of red, blue and black fruit that polish a core of dark minerals and Earth that broadens the mid palate and adds depth to the wine. The acid is towards the higher end of the Napa range, adding juiciness to the fruit and levity to the body. Unlike many California cabs, the tannins are well-kept and aren’t allowed to dry the palate and prematurely kill the finish. This is elegant and refined wine. Given the price of reserve wines from Napa, the Cook’s Flat is a downright steel. 95 points.

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#1: 2016 En Numeros Vermells Priorat DOQ. A small amount of the small production En Numeros wine makes its way to a retailer near me in Virginia. The importer, a friend of Silvia Puig, the winemaker, pours the wines himself one afternoon a year and I look forward to the email announcing it. This is the first vintage of this white wine, which is made out of the Pedro Ximenez grape that is usually made into Port, and the first of its style I’ve ever had. The tasting note below is the first time I drank it. I revisited it in November and it had changed fairly dramatically. Some of the lushness was gone, and the acid was more pronounced. To be honest, it was a bit more complex the second time around. That said, it’s the first bottle that will leave the lasting impression, and so I’m using that note. It’s one of those wines that is “unique” in the sense of the word: one of a kind.

Tasting note: Sunday, July 23, 2017 – Coolest. Nose. Ever. Sophisticated as shit movie theater buttered popcorn, honeyed hay, flannel/linen and balsamic reduction. The palate is lush, oh-so-smooth and super glycerin-y without being heavy at all. There is no waxiness to this whatsoever. It has definite sherry qualities, but is entirely dry. There is sweet cream, Jelly Belly buttered popcorn flavor and lemon curd, along with sweet grapefruit and a ton of pear nectar. This is a weirdly bold wine with a ton of subtly, it’s wholly captivating. 94 points.

And there we have it: the dozen most memorable wines of 2017. I already have some great stuff t’d up for 2018, and I hope the year will bring adventure and surprise. Wishing everyone a great end to 2017 from Good Vitis! Thanks for the readership.

Two Great Wines from the Famous Land of Tomatoes

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So it turns out wine from the heel of Italy is pretty good. Specifically, San Marzano wine. I’ll admit to knowing next to nothing about wine from this part of Italy, this part being Puglia. When I hear Puglia, my mind goes back to Mario Batali’s old (and best) Food Network show, Molto Mario. My first culinary love was Italian food, and in my formidable teenage years I learned through the show the concept of what I can call “regionality,” which effectively means that how and what people cook varies by where it’s done. If this sounds a bit like terroir, that’s not far off, although it encompasses a bit more: in addition to how differences in land and climate affect the taste of the ingredients, it also includes methodology traditions, ingredient combinations, religious influences, past conqueror(s) influence, and more. One could make a case that terroir can encompass all of this as well, but I think that goes beyond the spirit of terroir’s focus on non-human elements.

Regardless, when I think of Pulgia and San Marzano, I think about food and the latter’s renowned tomatoes (though don’t let the grocery store packaging fool you). Until now, until these Talo wines. I tasted them over two nights, and had a neighbor over to try them on the second. Not a wino, he asked me to tell him about the wines and I found myself going down the rabbit hole of trying to explain the terroir of certain wines from Southern Italy and Greece, which I flippantly referred to as “Med wines,” a terrible term that doesn’t actually exist outside this world of one because it also applies to wines from, say, Israel, that offer little in similarity. In my mind, Med wines are driven by a peppery spice and loam-driven minerality that I can pick out of any assembly of wines from around the globe. Not having tasted San Marzano wine before, I could’ve called Med wine in a blind tasting but in a million years would never have placed them in the land of the world’s most famous tomatoes.

And what a pleasant surprise, because these are uniquely expressive and approachable wines that bring that “Med wine” edge that I’ve always loved and have never spent enough time getting to know. I’ll be reviewing a trio of whites from Greece in an upcoming post, and these two wines have made me a little more excited to do that. I had a lot of fun with these, reviewing them separately and then going back and forth identifying differences and themes.

On quality and approachability, they are comparable. Both benefit from an hour or so of decanting. Their textures suggest the same warm, dry climate, and they both deliver that peppery-loam energy I noted earlier. Beyond that, we’re talking about distinctly different wines that can still be thoroughly enjoyed by anyone liking either. That is to say, if you get to try one and like it, definitely seek out the other. Or better yet, just get both and drink them together.

The 2015 San Marzano Talo Malvasia Nera, made from the Malvasia grape, is the more fruit forward of the two. It’s dark, brutish nose bursts with bruised cherries, crushed blackberries, blood orange, tar, violet and crushed rocks. The palate is full bodied with saturated grainy tannin that never seem to settle in one place. The juicy, bright acidity keeps the wine from developing a cloying sensation, which is an important counter balance to the sweet fruit that comes in waves of boysenberry, strawberry, blueberry, Acai and bewildering big dose of grapefruit that I could never get over, or stop appreciating. There are streaks of loam, saline and sweet tobacco leaf as well. Overall, it’s a brilliantly unusual package of aromas, flavors and textures. I’m giving it 89 points with a value rating of A.

The 2015 San Marzano Talo Negroamaro, made from the Negroamaro grape which I’m not sure I’ve had previously, is also a real treat and my preference of the two if I’m forced to pick. The fruit is a bit more reserved than the Malvasia Nera, which allows more savoriness to come through. The nose is all about minerality and Earthiness, offering seasoned leather, tar, wet Earth, granite, Evergreen, saline and sour cherry. On the palate, it’s full bodied with lush, juicy acidity that really carries the flavors and round, fine grained tannin that keep things well-framed. The flavors strike an almost-elegant tone. The fruit is sweeter on the palate than the nose, boasting cherry concentrate and huge hits of black and red currants. Dusty mocha, loam, graphite and bright, sweet orange juice come through as well. I suspect this one might improve with a year of aging, but decant it for an hour and it won’t matter. This one deserves 90 points and an A value rating.

Since we’re less than a week out from Thanksgiving, I’ll answer the question: yes, these would work well for your feast. They also work well on their own, and I can imagine them pairing nicely with a big range of foods, even including heartier seafood. At roughly $15 each, they are some of the more interesting and unusual wines you’ll find in that price range. I’ll put it succinctly: there’s good reason to find and try these wines.

Zachys DC is Open and Raring to Go

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The new opening of a location of Zachys in Washington, DC is a big deal for the local wine market. Even though the location won’t have a retail storefront – at least for now – bringing one of the most influential names in wine to the District says something about the growing power and sophistication of the market here.

Zachys is bringing a number services to DC: wine storage; direct-to-consumer sales of wines otherwise not offered DTC to DC customers; tastings and classes; wine dinners; a customized corporate tasting service; collection assessment; other TBD events; and, for the first time in thirty years, a live wine auction. That last one isn’t an insignificant deal.

Wine auctions signal an opportunity to at least be around, if not acquire, the world’s best and often rarest wine. Putting aside for now the recent past proliferation of fake wine facilitated in part by wine auctioneers, including Zachys – a topic to be discussed in an upcoming Good Vitis review of In Vino Duplicitas – Zachy’s DC existence means a new and much higher level of access in DC to wines that likely wouldn’t otherwise be available to locals. While I imagine the best of Zachys’ lots will remain the purview of its New York auctions, Zachys wouldn’t have made the decision to enter the DC market if it didn’t think our market wasn’t craving a higher level of wine.

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Wine auctions are held in the biggest, most prestigious wine markets in the world: New York, London, Hong Kong, Geneva, and Paris are the standards. Although the biggest general auctioneers like Christie’s and Sotheby’s haven’t visited DC in a while, within the world of wine auctions Zachys is among the very top and their decision to auction wine in DC – their appropriately named inaugural “Capital Collection” auction will take place on October 27th and 28th of this year – marks Washington’s entrance onto that top stage, something that shouldn’t go unnoted.

Last Friday, I attended a grand opening party at Zachys, which featured sixteen different tables pouring wine from California, Virginia, France and Italy ranging in price from $14 to $1,110. From top to bottom these were good wines, many hitting their price point with impressive quality. The ability to source such a lineup is indicative of what I think Zachys is going to bring to my local market: a large range of impressive wines where anyone – even those who will never lift a bidding paddle – can find what they want. Welcome to town, Zachys!

Before signing off, I’ll highlight a few of the wines I found particularly impressive:

2014 MacMurray Range Central Coast Pinot Noir: At $19.99 it’s the best $20 California pinot noir I’ve had.

2013 RdV Vineyards Virginia Rendezvous Red Blend: While many feign spending $70 on a wine from Virginia, it stood out among the domestic offerings as the most multidimensional.

2015 Domaine Leon Boesch Sylvaner Les Peirres Rouges: a Sylvander for Sylvander haters and lovers, everyone should try this pleasurable $16 wine.

2014 Domaine Blain-Gegnard Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru La Boudriotte: The best white Burgundy of the night for me, I placed an order. Hard to beat at $59.99.

2014 Jl Chave Selections Saint Joseph Offerus: Year-in and year-out, this is a classic from one of the regions of the Rhone valley producing some of the prettiest syrahs. The 2014 doesn’t disappoint, and is a real value at $32.99.

2008 Chateau Larcis Ducasse St. Emillion: Really popping right now, it has all the classic St. Emillion notes and is far from poorly priced at $64.99.

2011 Chateau Margaux: Yes, it’s barely crawling at this stage, but when it gets to a full gallop…

2004 Roberto Voerzio Barolo Rocche dell`Annunziata Torriglione: From a 3 liter. Dear God, this was the best wine of the night. The bittersweet cocoa that comes with age on a fine Barolo is out in force. What a pleasure and treat.

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2012 Antinori Marchesi Pian Delle Vigne Brunello Di Montalcino: Despite having attended the Consorzio del Vino Brunello Di Montalcino’s 2012 vintage tasting in New York earlier this year, I hadn’t yet had this marvel of a wine that is, for me, a standout wine in a standout vintage. I grabbed a few for myself.

2012 Brunellos are alive, well, and coming to a store near you

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The Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino setting up in Gotham Hall

So. Much. Brunello. I shouldn’t be surprised, I mean, this was the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino’s “Benevenuto Brunello, “or “Welcome Brunello,” 2012 vintage release tasting in New York City. Between the seated and the walk-around tastings I had the option of trying around 50 producers’ Brunellos – and their Rossos, their Sant’ Antimos, and their Moscatos. Some brought multiple vintages, others riservas to augment. One even had 100% merlot and cabernet sauvignon bottlings. It was without doubt a great line up. But, wow, so much Brunello.

Brunello, made entirely from the sangiovese grape, is one of Italy’s most lauded wines. All of it is made in a small area surrounding the town of Montalcino, which sits atop of a four-sided pyramid-shaped mountain that tops out at 2150 feet above sea level. As the mountain slopes down and flattens out, vineyards fan out in all directions, 360 degrees, at elevations between 400 and 2150 feet above sea level. The geographic distribution of vineyards covering 8,650 acres, combined with the winds that its proximity to the sea provide, the variation in elevation, and four distinctly different soil types (with variations of each) add up to a diversity of terrior. Most wineries produce blends of multiple vineyards while some produce single vineyard designates as well. It is admittedly hard to discern a lot of difference in nuanced flavors among just-released Brunello, but one can find a great deal of distinction in their youth by paying close attention to their respective structure and balance.

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The Il Poggione Winery in Montalcino (Credit: www.livelikeanitalian.com)

The 2012 vintage has been lauded by the industry and press as one of the finest in this still young century, so this event was held with palpable anticipation. For most in attendance this was our first crack at the 2012s prior to their release. It was a vintage marked by small production – one-third less than average – with a hot, hot summer followed by August rain that reduced hydric stress on the vines and finished off with what many producers called the perfect final eight weeks. The combination of esteem and small production is likely to mean higher prices. Many retailers and distributors were at the event angling to pick up the lines they most wanted, and consumers can expect to see the 2012s showing up in stores and online over the next two to three months.

All-in-all the wines didn’t disappoint, thought it’s always hard to predict where a wine will be in 10-20 years, which is how long these 2012s likely need in the cellar to fully reward. When a wine with the tannic fortitude of Brunello lives up to its potential, as it did in 2012, so much can be hidden in its youth. Attempting to see the trees through the forest, if you will, was challenging with so many tannic beasts available at beautiful Gotham Hall where the event was held.

The Consortium of Brunello producers has awarded the 2012 vintage with its full five-star rating. Frankly I don’t have the encyclopedic experience with Brunello to register an opinion on whether it’s deserving of five stars, but I can say I bought into the potential of 2012. I’m going to post some cursory tasting notes below on the wines I sampled – and I didn’t attempt to try nearly all of them – but I’d like to comment first on some characteristics that shown through many of the offerings as well as the two standout producers and one standout wine.

As I looked over my notes I found a few consistent scribblings that painted a profile I feel fair ascribing to the vintage: bright acidity generally in good balance with heavy, grainy tannins that suspend above the palate for a bit before crashing down and taking over. The fruit was generally red and fresh, with the most interesting bottles offering additions of pomegranate and watermelon. Many showed Earthy flavors like tar, cigar tobacco and smoke while the most complex delivered good salinity and floral qualities as well. Tannin integration remains modest at best for many, but this is one of the reasons why many advocate for at least a decade of aging post vintage for Brunello. If you have sufficient cellar space I suggest lying most of the 2012s down for at least that long and then consuming over the following five to fifteen years.

The day’s two standouts were wineries I had never tasted before: Máté and Tenuta Buon Tempo. Among a crowd of similarly-profiled wines the offerings from these two stood out, Máté for its full and smooth mouthfeel and dense complexity that included strong doses of herbs and wet Earth, and Tenuta for its best-in-show finesse and elegance. The standout wine, however, was a 1995 Brunello Riserva Poggio All’Oro offered to me from the generous fellow pouring at the station for the renowned Banfi. Bringing a 1995 to a 2012 vintage release party is like bringing a gun to a knife fight, so it wasn’t even close to being fair. But I’m not crying foul. A very good but not great vintage, it was nevertheless a compelling case for why Brunello deserves patience for its completeness, complexity and full integration of tannin when given time to coalesce.

Many thanks to the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino and its members who poured their wines for us. In the notes below I will put an * next to wines I would happily drink again. Wines with ** are wines I hope to revisit with purpose.

Seated Tasting (all 2012 Brunello di Montalcino DOCG unless otherwise noted)

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The seated tasting

Castelgiocondo – Very aromatic and dark with pronounced barrel and tobacco notes to go along with red fruits. Palate is quite astringent and acidic with big, juicy and tart red fruit along with leather and black pepper. There’s a nice cut of saline. The finish is quite persistent. Needs many years to integrate but the balance shows considerable progress.

Collosorbo – Very dark fruit aromas along with sweaty gym socks, Earth and pepper. The palate is impressively developed for its age, with thick tannins and balanced acid. The fruit is red and tangy, and there is tar and a bit of vegetal greenness.

La Magia – The winemaker made some brief remarks about the vintage, saying that for La Magia it was better than the lauded 2010. His vineyards are between 1,300 and 1,650 feet in elevation and this moderated some of the heat of 2012, which he believes makes it more drinkable in its youth. I found the nose to be slightly bloody and more earth than the prior two. It was still a bit reticent but is promising. The palate has strong grainy tannins but offers quite ripe strawberries that are dripping with acidic juiciness. It’s a very fresh wine but a bit singular at this point.

*La Macioche – This one showed red fruit and gasoline on the nose, with the body of the wine on the lighter side and with more lifted acid. The fruit is sweet and red with pomegranate and watermelon. It’s a little leathery and offers a celery seed spice. The integration is quite good on this and aided, I believe, by the use of French oak (not all that common in Brunello).

Loacker Corte Pavone – Very brooding nose with a dark fruit core and untanned leather. The palate is big with coarse tannins and moderate acidity. Big leather along with cranberries, raspberries and strawberries. The integration is good.

*Pian Delle Querci – Lighter bodied and more polished than any of this batch of wines, it offers strawberries with sporadic fine grained tannin. It’s a bit smoky and spicy, and in my mind the most classically styled of the bunch. The bright acidity plays with the taste buds as it washes in and out rounds of different flavors.

Talenti – Very dormant nose. The palate is big and coated with sandpaper tannin. Bright red fruit, tar and leather with black plums. Relatively approachable at the moment but it offers a lot of upside.

Banfi 2011 Riserva Poggio Alle Mura – Very expressive nose bursting with red fruit. The palate is lighter than any of the 2012s but not lacking in complexity or tannin. The acid is persistent and delightful. The fruit is red and tangy and the wine offers a nice round of herbaceous qualities.

From the Walk Around Tasting

*Altesino Rosso di Montalcino 2014 – Floral nose and perfumed palate, it’s high toned acid and high octane, literally offering some gasoline-like flavors.

**Altesino Brunello di Montalcino 2012 – A dense wine, it has sweet red fruit with floral qualities that make it very pretty. There’s a lot of minerality on the palate that suggests a very pure wine.

*Altesino Brunello di Montalcino Poggio Alle Mura 2012 – rich and ripe fruit on the nose along with sea brine. Palate is pure and mineral-driven with saline and red fruit.

**Armilla Rosso di Montalcino 2015 – Very brooding palate offering discernable oak qualities that turn the red fruit dark and bring out vanilla. The palate is similarly complex with noticeable oak influences.

Armilla Brunello di Montalcino 2012 – very round and full with a lot of floral qualities to go with big red fruit and smoke.

Banfi Rosso di Montalcino Castello 2015 – light and lean with very red fruit A little singular but also pleasurable.

*Banfi Rosso di Montalcino Poggio Alle Mura 2015 – Nose is dominated by iodine with good texture on the palate that features red fruit and pepper.

*Banfi Brunello di Montalcino Castello 2012 – Good funk and fungal notes on the nose along with strong, ripe cherries. Smoothly textured, dense but fine tannins and ripe juicy fruit with a saline finish.

Banfi Brunello di Montalcino Poggio Alle Mura 2012 – A lot of rhubarb on the nose. Very sandy tannins with dark fruit that’s a bit underripe. Some mushroom and hickory smoke on the palate, too.

**Banfi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1995 – Rich oak flavors along with dark fruit and classy Earth notes. It’s smooth and pleasantly sweet and has achieved full integration.

*Bonacchi Rosso di Montalcino 2015 – Bit funky on the nose but in a good way, it is fruit forward with a weighty body and has a nice little addition of cigar tobacco.

**Bonacchi Brunello di Montalcino 2012 – Very lifted palate with nice acid and tamed but rigid tannin. Really nice red and blue fruits with smoke, saline and sweet tobacco.

*Il Poggione Moscadello di Montalcino 2016 – Tantalizingly sweet and heavy, it offers delicious mango, cantaloupe, strawberries and vanilla.

*Mate Sant’Antimo Cabernet Sauvignon/Mania 2013 – high toned, acidic for a cabernet sauvignon – and for Brunello (higher acid level than Mate’s Brunellos). Very classic cabernet sauvignon flavors but leaner and more acidic than others it would be a fantastic wine for a big steak.

*Mate Sant’Antimo Merlot/Mantus 2013 – Big, dark nose with cherries, cocoa and gasoline. Lot of acid on this as well, would be a great merlot to pair with a big steak.

*Mate Rosso di Montalcino 2015 – perhaps the best Rosso of the tasting for me, this has big strawberries and cocoa with a slightly lusher mouthfeel that retains the region’s acidity.

**Mate Brunello di Montalcino 2012 – top-2 Brunello of the tasting, this has a huge nose with fruit that is incredibly dense, pure and tangy. The palate is very round and full with smooth tannins, nice herbs and wet soil.

Palazzo Rosso di Montalcino 2015 – Really nice and juicy, not super complex but ready and rearing to go. Classic Rosso all-around.

*Palazzo Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2011 – Dark and brooding with a nice addition of Acai flavor to go with pepper and orange.

Palazzo Brunello di Montalcino 2012 – Skunky nose with a big and dense palate and strong acidic finish. This needs time.

*Paradisone Colle Degli Angeli Rosso di Montalcino 2014 – Ripe and ready to go. The fruit is on the sweeter end of the Rosso spectrum and offers playful acidity.

*Paradisone Colle Degli Angeli Brunello di Montalcino 2010 – Smooth and nicely integrated with flamboyant dark flavors of petrol, tar and smoke to go along with massive strawberries.

Paradisone Colle Degli Angeli Brunello di Montalcino 2012 – Big tannic structure with strong acid, saline, tar and herbs. Fruit is definitely secondary at the moment.

*Tunuta Buon Tempo Rosso di Montalcino 2014 – Very pure and elegant fruit on the nose with a body that is smooth and satisfying and heavier than the first sip suggests. Beautifully floral.

**Tunuta Buon Tempo Brunello di Montalcino 2012 – Pretty and elegant nose. Fruit is gorgeous, diverse and complex in the mouth where the wine is very perfumed. There is blood orange as well, and all of it plays in a the wonderful structure and balance.

**Tunuta Buon Tempo Brunello di Montalcino P.56 2012 – Very, very good. One of the top two Brunellos I tried. Very pretty and feminine but doesn’t sacrifice a stout structure. Approachable now but will improve. Sweet fruit, leather, smoke and Earth and nice florals abound.

Villa Poggio Salvi Rosso di Montalcino 2014 – Nice acidity and mature fruit. Smooth with substantial tannins that thankfully don’t distract too much.

Villa Poggio Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2011 – Very pretty and a little floral.

**Villa Poggio Brunello di Montalcino 2012 – Really nice red fruit on the nose offering a little extra in the way of pomegranate. Very smooth and satisfying with gorgeous tannin integration. The fruit is red and perfectly sweet. Little bit of soy sauce. Could well be the third best Brunello of the tasting.

*Villa Poggio Brunello di Montalcino Pomona 2012 – Extremely pretty nose. Palate as saturating dusty tannins and bright acidity. Flavors are of red fruit, graphite and flowers.