Flavor Notes by Robert Rich: Food, Wine, Restaurants & Recipes


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Posted July 11, 2006

Slow Food's "Golden Glass"
Italian Regional Wines

Wine Tasting Notes from June 10, 2006
at Fort Mason in San Francisco
by Robert Rich.
Photos by Dixie Chan & RR.

For three years, the Slow Food organization has invited some of the best wineries from Italy to the United States for a fundraising event that celebrates the diversity of Italian regional winemaking styles. They divide the Herbst Pavilion at Fort Mason into four islands that represent the four major vinicultural areas of Italy: Northeast, Northwest, Central and South. They hold a silent auction for collectible bottles of these wines, and local Bay Area food purveyors serve samples of their signature dishes next to cheeses and meats imported from Italy.

Golden Glass offers a good opportunity to educate oneself about Italian wines. I still consider myself a beginner when it comes to Italy's winemaking styles, and I can't think of a better organization to introduce them than Slow Food. Below you will find my quick notes about a few of the many excellent growers pouring on this day.

Golden Glass also provides a platform to show off some of the best of our own local food purveyors here in the Bay Area. Between sipping and spitting, we sampled charcuterie, cheeses, tapenades and treats from various purveyors and restaurants. San Francisco's A16 restaurant made an uncompromising carnivorous statement with a whole stuffed pig (head and all) filled with paté of its own meat.

Next to A16, two men shucked oysters for a ravenous crowd. (Alas, I failed to note the company they represented, but their shirts all said Royal Hawaiian.)

Berkeley's famous Chez Panisse offered tasty scoops of bean purée on toast. Harley Farms handed out its delicious fresh chevre, and Berkeley newcomer Fra'Mani Handcrafted Salumi gave samples of its house-made cured meats. We certainly nibbled enough to skip lunch and dinner.

Above: Chez Panisse with bean purée

Above: samples from the Ark of Taste

Above: wines and cheese for the silent auction

Golden Glass Tasting Notes:

North Eastern Italy
Alto Adige, Friuli, Veneto
Generally cooler growing region just south of Switzerland, Austria and Croatia, featuring excellent white wines and lighter-bodied reds, as well as the intense Amarone della Valpolicella, made from intentionally raisined late harvest grapes. At this tasting, Amarone was not so well represented.

2004 Bastianich, Tocai Friulano
Is this perhaps related to the Takaj grape of Hungary? In this form, a rich tasting buttery white wine with tropical notes of pineapple and bubblegum.

2002 Bastianich, Vespa Bianco
An unusual blend of 45% Chardonnay, 45% Sauvignon Blanc, and 10% Picolit. The chardonnay asserts its dominance with apples and hazlenuts, while its overt buttery qualities are tempered by ageing half in stainless, half in oak. A complex wine, hard to pin down.

2003 Albino Armani, Corvara Rosso
A low-tannin crisp red wine with dark fruit overtones of black olive, tar and chocolate with an oily mouth feel in the finish.

2001 Venturini, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
Not one of my favorites during this tasting, a port-like big tannic wine with raisin overtones and a hot alcoholic nose. 16% alcohol could explain the heat.

2003 Venturini, Classico Superiore Semonte Alto
A grassy red wine with Brett smells and a tight minty finish.

2003 Zenato, Valpolicella Ripassa
An excellent complex red wine with bright ripe fruit, low oak, medium to light body with delicate spicy notes of anise - black liquorice, and a lingering peppery spice finish.

2005 Zenato, Lugana Vigneto San Benedetto
A supple, rich mouth-filling white wine with citrus and apples and lingering oily texture.

North Western Italy
Valle D'Aosta, Piemonte
Northwestern Italy hosts some of my personal favorites among Italy's wines. This is the home of the great leathery Barolos and ripe layered Barberas. I confess that I spent more time covering these wines than the others of the day - their high quality kept me looking for new discoveries.

2004 Cave du Vin Blanc, Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle Brut Metodo Classico
A warmly hued sparkling wine with apricot and lemon overtones enriching its crisp mineral nose.

2001 Bric Cencurio, Barolo Costa di Rose
Nose of tar and strawberries, ripe deep fruit, with oily mouth feel. Rustic profile.

2003 Bric Cencurio, Barbera d'Alba Naunda
A lovely big supple wine. Black fruit in the nose, smooth and rich in the mouth, with cocoa tannins and a round lingering finish. Generous and warm.

2001 Cascina Adelaide, Barolo Preda
Graphite tones in the nose, with big tannins, earthy fruit and notes of granite or limestone. An austere and serious wine.

2003 Cascina Adelaide, Barbera d'Alba Superiore Amabilin
With 15% Nebbiolo added for extra structure, notes of black liquorice and ripe berries with full mouth-filling texture and bright clean finish.

1999 Castello di Nieve, Barbaresco Riserva Santo Stefano
Complex and earthy, showing a wide range of Nebbiolo fruit's deep profile. Combining mineral and leathery fragrances with creme de cassis, black tar and liquorice, with a bright tannic leathery finish. Beautiful.

2004 Castello di Nieve, Dolcetto d'Alba
A young and fun fruity red wine, with smooth soft tannins and a light red-fruit finish, a hint of banana in the nose?

1999 Cortese Guiseppe, Barbaresco Riserva Rabaja'
Perhaps one of the most memorable wines of the day, with rustic overtones that split my opinions between favorite and questioning. This Riserva had a rich mahogony color that gave evidence to some oxidation with age, mirrored in the slightly Madeira-like nose; but also generous with black cherry fruit and deep earthy notes. Massive tannins in the mouth might never resolve, still huge while the rest of the wine seems to be fading slightly. But still an amazing range of flavors.

2003 Cortese Guiseppe, Barbaresco Rabaja'
Light garnet color and low oak profile (18 months in neutral oak) with bright red cherry fragrances and a hint of Brett's wet grasses. A minty finish with high tannin and restrained fruit, a traditonalist's rustic but graceful wine.

2002 Damilano, Barolo
Balancing at the dark side of this often austere wine, with nose of leather and graphite, black pepper and clove, oily mouth-feel with tarry black fruit and a lasting intense leathery finish. Excellent.

2004 Damilano, Barbera d'Alba
Nose of tar and black cherries, soft but bright on the palate with cleansing acidity and low tannins. A good food wine.

2001 Gianfranco Alessandria, Barolo
Among my favorite winemakers of the day, this Barolo offered a generous and deep range of woodsy fragrances, with smoke, chocolate, tobacco and hints of limestone soil. The warm fruit ameliorates the sizeable but balanced tannins. ($340/case wholesale)

2001 Gianfranco Alessandria, Barolo San Giovanni
The reserve bottling of the above wine, with even more generous rich black fruit, liquorice mid-palate and supple lingering finish. I picture a big muscular hand in a black velvet glove. ($532/case wholesale)

2001 Mauro Veglio, Barolo Vigneto Arborina
Located close to Gianfranco Alessandria, but in sandy soil instead of limestone. It's fascinating to taste the difference between the two soil types. Mauro Veglio's wines show a more floral profile - almost feminine compared to GA's masculinity. This Barolo smells softer, with notes of violets and roses, smooth mid-weight palate with hints of tar, and a less tannic finish.

2001 Mauro Veglio, Barolo Vigneto Gatera
With a similar floral profile as the Vigneto Arborina, but not as unified on the palate, with flavors that separate from each other amidst a slightly hotter (more alcohol-ish) texture. Still, delicious overall and a good study of contrasts.

2003 Monchiero Carbone, Roero Printi
Mineral and oceanic smells with coffee and graphite. Stands out as quite unique among a table dominated by Barolo. ($36/bottle wholesale)

2001 Prunotto, Barolo Bussia
Prunotto's wines appear very generous and round in the context of the region. This Barolo shows ripe dark earth with characteristic graphite and leather but surrounded by rich supple berry fruits. ($85/bottle retail)

2001 Prunotto, Barbera d'Asti Costamiole
Soft, ripe and chocolatey, offering cinamon, plum, coffee and black liquorice. An inviting and delicious, ripe and warming ball of flavor. ($60/bottle retail)

Central Italy
Abruzzo, Marche, Toscana
Home to rich ripe dark red wines that deliver hefty grounded flavors without requiring as much time to age and soften (compared to a Barolo for example), yet with excellent structure and depth and generally good prices. Trebbiano, Montepulciano and Brunello offer serious complexity, and of course Chianti is famous for its earthy food-friendly character.

2005 Valle Reale, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Vigne Nuove
Very soft with slightly herbacious overtones, dark notes of chocolate and coffee. ($12/bottle retail)

2003 Valle Reale, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo San Callisto
Much tighter acidity than above, with bright herbal character, green olive, chocolate, plummy fruit, smooth medium tannins and a vanilla toffee finish. ($35/bottle retail)

2003 San Giovanni, Rosso Piceno Superiore Axeè
70% Montepulciano and 30% Sangiovese grapes, with a light back cherry nose, smooth in the mouth with lingering black tar/liquorice and minty tannins.

2004 Baracchi Riccardo, Rosso Smeriglio
Herbal, slightly raisined, with coffee, black liquorice and a hint of dry grasses.

2003 Baracchi Riccardo, Ardito
Also showing signs of raisined fruit, this 50/50 blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon is aiming at "Super Tuscan" status. Rubbery tar, espresso, cooked plums, rich and soft sweet spices grow in the palate toward the finish.

2001 Capanna di Cencioni, Brunello di Montalcino
Bright and clear, wth balance and centered crisp acidity, red cherry fruit. ($50/bottle retail)

1999 Capanna di Cencioni, Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
Rich and balanced flavors, much more complex and interesting than the above 2001 Brunello, with fat leathery cherry fruit and layers of generous earthy flavors that evade simple names. Excellent. ($80/bottle retail)

2002 Casa alle Vacche, San Gimignano Rosso Acantho
Red vines liquorice, soft coffee and a hint of Brett. Soft and earthy. ($30/bottle retail)

2001 Fattoria Le Corti / Tenuta Marsiliana (Principe Corsini) Marsiliana
One of the most immediately approachable wines of the day, with rich round ripe black fruit, medium acidity, and a very full fruity mouth feel. Oily milk chocolate with rising tannins at the finish. Sumptuous and layered within its generosity

2001 Felsina, Chianti Classico Riserva Rancia
Red cherry fruit hovers above this big clean wine, with tones of mint and gravel, finishing with huge crusty tannins on the palate.

2000 Fornacina, Brunello di Montalcino
Plump ripe fruit hides some sizeable tannins within a matrix of chocolate-mint, smoke, liquorice and an attractive tiny hint of barnyard Brett. A very pleasant wine.

1999 Fornacina, Brunello di Montalcino Riserva
Brighter acidity and more austere than above, with black cherry, leather and huge lingeng tannin.

2001 Il Molino di Grace, Chianti Classico
Coffee, black liquorice, and a fair whiff of Brett.

2001 Il Molino di Grace, Gratius
Leather, coffee and Brett. Barnyard dominates the nose.

2004 Sassotondo, Rosso
Oily red cherry, vanilla toffee and clean bright acidity on the palate. A good food wine at $16/bottle retail.

2001 Sassotondo, San Lorenzo Ciliegiolo
A "Super Tuscan" blended with appellation grapes rather than the Bordeaux varietals one commonly finds. Exhibits smooth chocolate and black cherry fruit with big rounded tannins, leather and graphite, liquorice and tar, big in the mouth and dominated by fruit despite using 100% new oak. Excellent ($52/bottle retail)

Southern Italy
Calabria, Campania, Puglia, Sardegna, Sicilia
The red wines of the south often show a raisiny profile imparted by the arid climate and extreme heat of summer. Often velvety soft, these wines fit those palates that have become accustomed to the sweet ripeness of California's central valley or Austalia's warmer regions.

2003 De Concilis, Aglianico, Naima
Smelling a bit hot at 15% alcohol, bright and clear yet with overtones of mulched leaves and coffee, some raisining, earthy on the palate with hints of mint and chocolate.

2004 De Concilis, Fiano, Donna Luna
A lovely tropical-smelling white wine resembling a California Central Coast Viognier, with floral li-chi perfume. Plump and sexy.

2004 Feudi San Gregorio, Primitivo di Manduria Ognissole
Is Primitivo the distant uncle of Zinfandel? It's easy to understand why people think so. Blackberry, chocolate, brambly herbs and dust show Zinfandel-ish qualities while also exposing the sun and soil of southern Italy. A well made and attractive big red. Drink this young to feel the ripe fruit.

2003 Coppadoro, Radicosa
Dark red fruit with bright acidity, very tannic in the mouth with an astringent finish.

2004 Coppadoro, Rosa di Salsola
A pink wine (rosé) made of 100% Montepulciano grapes, light and dry with a clean finish, smelling of rose hips. Very nice.

2004 La Cantina di Gallura, Nebbiolo Colli del Limbara "Karana"
Woody nose, with harsh tannins up front, cherry fruit leather and tobacco leaf flavors. Intense and quirky.

2005 Cantina Sociale Trapani, Forti Terre Siciliana Bianco
A beautiful rich tropical white wine, with fresh pink grapefruit and li-chi characteristics.

2003 Cantina Sociale Trapani, Forti Terre Siciliana Nero d'Avola
An very good wine, with velvet texture, chocolate and liquorice nose within ripe fruit, hiding big tannic-acid structure, with a hint of raisins in the finish. Of the southern Italian wineries tasted today, this is my favorite.

(Re-written from notes on July 9, 2006)

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