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Just Released: 10 Collio Wines From Northeast Italy

Just Released: 10 Collio Wines From Northeast Italy


The Collio region of northeast Italy, about 90 minutes from the Venice airport, shares a common border with Slovenia and many of its winemaking traditions, as the coastal part of Slovenia was once part of Italy. With the Adriatic at its front door and the Alps at its back, Collio mainly produces white wines, although there are also some nice reds.

One of the best-known winemaking families in the region is the Fellugas. Brothers Livio Felluga and Marco Felluga started their own eponymous wineries years ago, and today Marco’s children are very active in winemaking. Roberto took over from his father at the Marco Felluga and Russiz Superiore wineries, while Patrizia and her children founded the white-wine-only Zuani and sister Alessandra runs Castello Buttrio.

Here are 10 recent releases from Roberto’s and Patrizia’s wineries.

2009 Marco Felluga Refosco dal Peduncolo Venezia Giulia rosso ($18). Refosco is a popular regional red grape, and here is makes a lovely, rich wine with tart, but dark cherry aromas and flavors and a touch of balsamic earthiness. It would be ideal with boar and other game.

2010 Russiz Superiore Collio cabernet franc ($26). (Russiz Superiore is a geographic name and not a quality designation.) This is an enjoyable, plucky food wine — lean, a little green savoriness, crisp in the finish.

2011 Zuani Vigne Collio biano ($24). The grapes are the native pinot grigio and friulano and international varieties sauvignon blanc and chardonnay, both widely used in Collio. This blend is without oak — juicy, very pretty, touch of mint, nice mouth feel, ripe fruit, light acidity — just an excellent wine.

2010 Zuani "Zuani" Collio bianco riserva ($26). Same grapes with oak aging. It has the flavors of fresh table grapes with citrus, particular orange, from the wood. Yes, I know it has two Zuanis in the name, but they like it that way.

2010 Marco Felluga "Molamatta" Collio bianco ($23). Lightly oaked, good fruit, fragrant, a touch of cleansing bitters, hint of tannins.

2011 Russiz Superiore Collio sauvignon ($23). Slightly gamey, grassy, juicy with good volume.

2007 Russiz Superiore "Col Disôre" Collio bianco ($18). A nice older wine — lightly sweet, old-wood flavors, a touch of sorghum, aging nicely.

2011 Marco Felluga “Mongris” Collio pinot grigio ($18). Typical pinot grigio flavors but with a little more substance. Fruity, with nice bitters around the edges.

2011 Marco Felluga Collio friulano ($18). Pleasantly assertive — a good mixture of tart and rich — with some cheesy, lactic flavors in the finish.

2005 Russiz Superiore Venezia Giulana IGT "Horus" Bianco ($26/ half bottle). Primarily from the picolit grape, it’s a delightful sweet wine — waxy with a lot of lemon zest and white pepper at the edges.


VinoCibo.com by Craig Camp

Italy's producers eye the skies with trepidation

The Marriage of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay

Wine is steeped in tradition and history. California wineries proudly talk of decades and French wineries centuries of tradition. Librandi, a winery in Calabria is also proud of their tradition. In fact, they have named one of their wines after a former winemaker, Magno Megonio, who wrote proudly of the wines he made from their vineyard – 2,000 years ago.

Winemaking history is long in Calabria, the peninsula that reaches out towards Sicilia. The Greeks and Phoenicians brought winemaking here some three thousand years ago. Cirò, home to Librandi and thousands of years of winemaking, is located in an area known as Enotria and locals believe they are the birthplace of winemaking on the Italian peninsula. Unfortunately, the winemaking did not change much there over the millennia and Calabria became a winemaking backwater making mostly rough wines for local consumption.

Librandi began bottling their own wines in the 1950’s and soon became recognized as a leading winery in Calabria. Like all of Calabria, the Librandi family is keenly aware of the history represented in their vineyards. Traditional vines like magliocco, mantonico and gaglioppo are given the finest care and full star billing in their best wines. They even reach back thousands of years for their names: Magno Megonio after the Roman centurion who grew wine in the same vineyards, Cirò was offered to Milo of Crotone when he won the ancient Olympic Games and the white wine Critone is named for Crito a disciple of Plato.

So why, in the face of centuries of tradition, does Librandi make Critone from chardonnay and sauvignon blanc? Walking nicely the line between tradition and using modern methods and international varietals, Librandi has created a top-quality line of wines ranging from wines steeped in tradition to modern blends of local and imported vines. Guided by superstar consultant, Donato Lanati, Professor of Enology at the Universities of Torino and Roma, Librandi is showing winemakers in Calabria what is possible.

Librandi Critone is a blend of 90% chardonnay with 10% sauvignon fermented and aged in stainless steel. Although Calabria is sun-bathed, the vines grown on the plain of Strongoli are placed perfectly between the mountains and the sea where hot days alternate with dramatically cooler nights – much the same as California. These cool nights along with careful fermentation gives Critone its fresh, fruitiness. It is a tremendous value at under $10.00 and is easily better and more interesting than California wines at this price point.

2004 Librandi Critone, Val di Neto Bianco, IGT

Tasting notes: Bright light gold. Fresh fruit and floral aromas fill the round nose. Honeydew melons, green apples and ripe pear scents brighten the lively bouquet. Medium bodied but mouth filling. Packed with zesty ripe fruit flavors -- cantaloupes and pears with a clean almond hint. Smooth and round, but not flabby. The long clean, fresh aftertaste is filled with juicy ripe pear flavors. The clean refreshing flavors of this wine make it a great choice for fried calamari and other fresh seafood.

Red Wines, Tomatoes and Fish

Surrounded by coastline, Italy is full of fresh seafood. Blessed by abundant sunshine, it is also full of richly flavored tomatoes. This means that the two often appear in the same dish and that creates a challenge for food and wine matching.

White wines always seem to fall a little short against the acids of the tomatoes and reds always taste a little more tannic contrasted against the seafood. Italians usually don’t give this much thought and make do with whatever is local. A tried and true solution is rosè, but good rosé can be hard to find. Fans of salmon and tuna long ago discovered the natural combination of pinot noir with robust fish dishes and the often garlicky and a bit spicy fish and tomato combinations of Italy fall in the same category. The problem is that wines like that are hard to find in Italy. Oddly enough a good solution can be found in the hills of Tuscany far from the fresh seafood restaurants on the coast.

The fine pinot noir vineyards of Marchesi Pancrazi are a lucky mistake. For years they produced an ordinary light red wine thought to be sangiovese then an enologist visiting owner Vittorio Pancrazi discovered the vineyards were in fact planted with pinot noir vines. These mis-identified vines were planted in 1975 and not correctly identified until 1989. This mistake made Vittorio Pancrazi the owner of the oldest pinot noir vines in Toscana and started him off in what was to become a passion: to make great pinot noir in Toscana.

The Marchesi Pancrazi pinot noir has now well established itself as one of the best pinot noir wines in Toscana and in fact in all of Italy. Dedicated research has adjusted Burgundian winemaking methods to the unique soils an climate of the Pancrazi vineyards which are located on the estate, dateing from the fifteenth-century, west of Firenze. New clones of pinot noir have been selected and vineyards replanted all with the goal of great pinot noir in mind. Fortunately not all the attention was focused only on great wines and in the process Marchesi Pancrazi has also created a charming and easy wine for everyday drinking that happens to go perfectly with the seafood and tomato dishes where we started.

The Pancrazi San Donato is made from 50% pinot noir and 50% gamay. The gamay undergoes carbonic maceration and this blend offers the charming fruit that this style of fermentation produces along with a balancing backbone from the pinot noir. In San Donato, Vittorio Pancrazi has created a lovely cru Beaujolais styled wine.

2001 Marchesi Pancrazi, San Donato, Toscano Rosso IGT

Tasting Notes: Sparkling bright scarlet with ruby hints. Just translucent. Lovely fruity floral nose filled with wild strawberry aromas. Spicy and very fruity on the palate with bright sweet canned cherry and ripe strawberry flavors. The finish is bright and fresh. A charming, appealing wine that should be served cool. Besides tomato, fish and seafood stews like San Francisco’s cioppino, France’s bouillabaisse, or Italy’s zuppa di pesce in its many forms this is a perfect wine for any casual occasion where many different types of foods will be served.

2005 - so far.

(ANSA) - Rome, July 19 - Italy appears set for a bumper wine harvest this autumn which should be in line with 2004 in terms of volume, sector sources said on Tuesday .

According to Italian Wine Union (UIV) and the agricultural services agency Ismea, weather will remain a major variable, but the harvest looks goods and will no doubt be better that 2002 and 2003, which were the worst years in decades because of drought .

Wine growers had been concerned after sparse rainfall in June, but rain and cooler-than-normal temperatures in the first half of July, together with long and rainy winter, should produce healthy grapes for September .

According to an Ismea-UIV report, the situation is not uniform throughout the country. In Piedmont, for example, late spring cold reduced the Nebbiolo grape crop by some 10% .

In neighboring Lombardy, sufficient water supply permitted vines to withstand the June heat wave and the harvest will be good, even if just below the volume of last year .

Volume will also be off in Veneto and Friuli, but this will be due more to the abundance of last year's crop, the report said .

Production in central Italy is expected to be closer to that of last year in the Marche and Tuscany, while volume will be down in Lazio because of damaging hail storms last month .

An increase in production is forecast for the southern regions of Molise, Puglia and Sicily, while volume should be the same as 2004 in Sardinia .

Wine experts agree that it is still to early to make any plausible predictions on the quality of the 2005 harvest. However, there is guarded optimism on the part of some producers who recalled that climate conditions this year are similar to those of 2001, one of the great vintages in recent memory .

The Outstanding Selections of Jens Schmidt


The room is packed with wine lovers clutching oversized wine glasses. Behind each of the dozen or so tables covered with wine bottles stands an Italian winemaker busily pouring their wines into the mob of outstretched glasses in front of them and trying explain in their best English their vinous creations. Through the crowd darts the energetic and passionate Jens Schmidt, owner of Montecastelli Selections. Each of these producers are part of the Montecastelli portfolio - his selections. Jens seems to be at every table at once as he tries to convey his passion for these wines to each of the consumers attending.

The sold-out tasting is at Sam's Wine Warehouse in Chicago, one of the world's largest fine wine retailers. It is not easy for new importers to get their wines into such a high profile store, but almost the entire Montecastelli catalog is represented on the wine racks at Sam's - a tribute to their quality and the sharp palates of Sam's Wine Director Todd Hess and Italian Buyer Greg Smolik. Hess and Smolik are looking over the crowd at the tasting with satisfaction as each guest departs with shopping carts laden with the delicious Montecastelli wines. Their customers are sure to return for more as these wines will taste even better at the dinner table.

Jens and Ruth Schmidt have come a long way in a very short time. Montecastelli was only founded in 1997 and their American importing company was born in 2002, yet they have established themselves with some of America's most demanding retail buyers and are distributed in 22 states. They have accomplished this with only two tools: a dedication to quality and old-fashioned hard work. Montecastelli is the name of their home and farm in Tuscany where they have restored an 11th century monastery. Here they produce their excellent olive oil and have also established a lovely agriturismo. They are living in reality what so many thousands only dream about.

One thing that is certain when tasting through this portfolio is that all of the wines are absolutely delicious to drink. They are modern wines, yet they pay homage to traditional winemaking and never let modern methods overwhelm the integrity of the vineyard. Jens describes his palate in this way, "Technically speaking I value cleanliness, fruit and natural balance of acidity. I disapprove of even only small amounts of Bret (brettanomyces-a winemaking fault that is sometimes considered acceptable in small amounts), oxidization and lack of acidity. However in our wines I am looking for more: To make things unique I always look for character and integrity. Integrity is the combination of the vintners approach and individuality confronted with the things in nature he cannot change: history, climate and soil type. Character is emerging as a unique expression of the vintner findings over time and his ability to listen and taste."

Indeed each wine in the Montecastelli portfolio is a wine of character.

Recently tasted wines all of which are highly recommended:
Cesani, Toscana (2002 Chianti Colli Senesi, 2001 Ireos, 2000 Luenzo, 2002 Sanice) Cima, Toscana (2001 Montervo, 2001 Romalbo) Col Vetoraz, Veneto (Prosecco di Valdobbiadene - Brut, Extra-Dry, Cartizze, 2001 Millesimato) Collelceto, Toscana (2001 Rosso di Montalcino) Destefanis, Piemonte (2000 Nebbiolo d'Alba) La Rasina, Toscana (1999 Brunello di Montalcino, 2001 Rosso di Montalcino) La Tenaglia, Piemonte (1999 Barbera del Monferrato Tenaglia e', 2000 Barbera d'Asti Giorgio Tenaglia) Le Fonti, Toscana (2001 Chianti Classico, 2000 Vito Arturo) Novaia, Veneto (2000 Amarone della Valpolicella, 2001 Valpolicella Cantoni) Palazzo Bandino, Toscana (2002 Chianti Colli Senesi, 2000 Bandinello) Perticaia, Umbria (2000 Sagrantino di Montefalco) Pira, Piemonte (2001 Dolcetto d'Dogliani -Bricco Botti and Landis, 2001 Barbera - Fornaci and Briccobotti, 2000 Nebbiolo d'Alba Bricco dell'Asino) Ronchi, Piemonte (2000 Barbaresco, 2001 Barbera d'Alba, 2001 Dolcetto d'Alba) Terre del Sillabo, Toscana (2001 Sauvignon, 2001 Gana) Torre Quarto, Puglia (2001 Guappo Rose, Bottaccia Uva di Troia, Quarto Ducale and Tarabuso Primitivo)

Retailers with extensive selections of Montecastelli wines:
North Berkeley Wine Merchants (Berkeley, CA) Sam's Wine Warehouse (Chicago) Italian Wine Merchant (NY) E and R Wines (Portland) Hi Time Cellars (LA) PJ Wine (NY) The Wine Merchant (St. Louis) and Whole Foods Markets in New York, San Francisco, Portland, Santa Fe, Seattle, Cary NC, and Atlanta.

Mancianti San Feliciano Extra Virgin Olive Oil

There are many good extra virgin olive oils available from Italy, but few that will change the way you think about olive oil altogether. In the hills overlooking Lake Trasimeno in Umbria, Alfredo Mancianti produces some of Italy's finest and most distinctive olive oils including the rare "Affiorato" which may be the finest olive oil produced anywhere.

The San Feliciano is a wonderfully fragrant oil with a lively pungent tang balanced by the flavors of artichokes and almonds. This complexity makes San Feliciano the perfect condiment to almost anything and this exceptional oil can turn simple grilled bread into a feast. Go out of your way to find Mancianti oils.

Terrabianca Extra Virgin Olive Oils

The Terrabianca estate in Tuscany is loaded with style, after all the fashion industry provided the financial fuel for this beautiful estate. However, never satisfied with just good looks, the Guldener family has pursued quality both inside and outside of their bottles. The wines of Terrabianca are justifiably famous as each is of superb quality, but wine is not the only excellent liquid that Terrabianca puts into bottles. They also produce a delicious extra virgin olive oil from their Il Tesoro estate in Maremma on the Tuscan coast. To make things more interesting, Terrabianca offers a range of flavored oils that comes in an assorted gift set of six 100 ml. bottles. The package includes one bottle each of Terrabianca extra virgin olive oil plus bottles of their oil flavored with oregano, basil, white truffles, hot peppers or rosemary. These oils add an easy creative touch to your cooking - and like all things from Terrabianca they look good on your shelf too.

Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato

Ruché just doesn't taste like it comes from Piemonte. It is a graceful wine, elegant and floral with a body more defined by its lively acidity than its soft, round tannins. If there is a wine in Italy to relate to fine Beaujolais it is most certainly not the tart dolcetto, which is often referred to in that context, but the refined smoothness of ruché can be more than a little reminiscent of a Fleurie or Chènas. Of course, ruché is not Beaujolais and has its own distinct character, but as most people have not tasted this delicious wine it is a fair way to set a point of reference.

Ruché now sports its own DOC, Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato, and this small zone in the hills just outside of Asti is responsible for all the production from this rare variety. Now that DOC status has been awarded to this region you can expect to see production expand perhaps making ruché easier to find. This is one of those wines that one sip is likely to inspire gulps and case purchases. Ruché is pure forward fruit flavor.

Ruché is a bit of a mystery vine. Local wisdom says it is an ancient variety probably indigenous to the Monferrato hills. Even the origin of the name is unclear with some claiming it came from the name of a local monastery while another source points to a resistance to a particular vine disease. Whatever the case, little documentary evidence exists and the history of ruché is more folklore than fact.

Cantine Sant'Agata is making an exceptional assortment of ruché wines and excellent wines from Asti's two other important red wine vines: barbera and grignolino. Founded in 1916, the present generation, Franco and Claudio Cavallero, produces 150,000 bottles of wine from their own vineyards, which total 30 hectares. Other than a small amount of chardonnay all their vines are indigenous and all their wines are of excellent quality and value.
Tasting Notes:
2003 Cantina Sant'Agata, Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato, 'Na Vota ($19)
Brilliant ruby with a just a touch of purple, quite translucent. Smooth, forward ripe cherry vanilla nose with a bitter tinge. a touch of cassis and lovely hints of wildflowers and violets. Firm and fresh on the palate with flavors that expand and grow mirroring the forward yet complex fruit and flowers of the bouquet. In the finish the cassis dominates carried by a refreshing acid zip.(89) The warm 2003 vintage produced particularly rich versions of lesser known Piemontese varietals like ruché. grignolino and freisa and you should keep an eye out for them as they are now in the market. They also offer a special selection ruché, Pro Nobis, to continue the Beaujolais reference, it is to regular ruché what Moulin-a-Vent is to normal Beaujolais. It has all the characteristics of the 'Na Vota on steroids. I will confess I prefer what I consider the more balanced 'Na Vota, but I am probably in the minority on that choice with most consumers preferring the chunky Pro Nobis.

A John Given Selection-Imported by John Given Wines (Northeast and other states)
Imported by Siema Wines (southeast and other states)
and other importers including: Wine Appellations

A facinating Gravner debate from Robin Garr's Forum

Soffritto-Mirepoix-Sofrito

Through the haze of jet-lagged sleep the aromas would wake me and lift my tired, but still hungry body to the lunch table. Normally we would arrive at the airport at 7 a.m. and then go straight to bed for a few hours sleep when we reached my in-laws house just northwest of Milano. As lunchtime approached a fragrance would slowly grow and expand throughout the house and before you know it my nose would set off the alarm clock in my stomach.

That fragrance was created by my father-in-law, Aldo, cooking his soffritto as he began to prepare for lunch. Soffritto is that simple combination of sautéed aromatic vegetables that is the basis of a seemingly endless list of Italian dishes. Everything from pasta sauces to ravioli filling to Brasato al Barolo has at its heart a fragrant and flavorful soffritto.

The basic soffritto is equal amounts of chopped celery, carrots and onions slowly cooked in butter or olive oil so they release their flavors and aromatics into the ingredients that are then added. The trick is the temperature of the pan: too cool and you just poach the vegetables in the oil -- too hot and you start to caramelize the vegetables. In France they call it mirepoix and in Spain sofrito, but whatever you call this process of cooking aromatic vegetables in fat to create a foundation of flavors for a dish, it is a basic element of good cooking in every cuisine: both for amateurs and professionals.

The word soffritto is a conjugation of the Italian verb soffriggere, or to fry lightly, which is an accurate description. A good soffritto needs a little attention from the cook. A trip to the wine cellar while the vegetables are cooking can result in a burned soffritto. Expect to devote an attentive 10 to 15 minutes to cooking your vegetables. They do not need constant attention and stirring, but they do want a watchful eye. You will know you have it right by the mouthwatering aromas that fill your house.

Soffritto is about flavors. If you buy bland, old vegetables you will get a bland soffritto. Go out of your way to get the freshest most flavorful vegetables available. While carrots, onions and celery are the holy trinity of soffritto, there are as many variations as there are vegetables. Garlic often makes an appearance in southern Italian dishes. Some soffritti include pancetta or other meats in the preparation. In classic risotto recipes, onions stand alone as the soffritto. Remember soffritto is a technique and a concept in flavoring not a specific recipe. Try the recipes below and then get creative. Each serves six as a main course and eight to ten as a first course.

Spaghetti con Pomodori e Soffritto
Recommended wine: 2003 Conterno Fantino, Dolcetto d’Alba, Bricco Bastia*

2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped.
2 large stalks celery with leaves, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1- 28 oz. can excellent quality crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. thick spaghetti (avoid very thin spaghetti)
Sea salt
Grana Padano or Parmignano Reggiano cheese for grating

Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat and add celery, onions and carrots. Sauté the vegetables gently for about ten minutes until just before they began to brown, then add sugar and cook for one minute more. Add canned tomatoes and mix well. Cover and slowly simmer for thirty minutes stirring often. Salt to taste.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 1 heaping tablespoon of salt for every two quarts of water. When the water returns to a boil add the pasta and cook until not quite done.

Bring the heat under the pan with the sauce to high and drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the pan and gently mix the pasta and the sauce. Continue cooking until the pasta is done.

Serve immediately with grated cheese on the side.

Penne con Ragu alla Varano Borghi
Recommended wine: 2001 Destefanis, Nebbiolo d’Alba

1 lb. ground sirloin
1 sweet Italian sausage, skin removed and chopped coarsely
2 large carrots peeled and chopped
1 large onion chopped
2 large celery stalks with leaves, chopped
1- 28 oz. can excellent quality crushed tomatoes
a piece of lemon peel
1 bay leaf
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ lb. unsalted butter
1 cup red wine
1 cup beef or chicken broth
Grana Padano or Parmignano Reggiano cheese for grating
1 lb. penne pasta

Heat and melt the butter in a heavy tall-sided pan over medium heat and add celery, onions and carrots. Sauté the vegetables gently for about ten to fifteen minutes until just before they began to brown then add the ground sirloin and sausage, cook for several minutes more. Add canned tomatoes, wine, broth and mix well. Add bay leaf and lemon peel. Add salt and pepper to taste. Loosely cover and slowly simmer for thirty minutes, then cover tightly and simmer on very low heat for 3 hours stirring often.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 1 heaping tablespoon of salt for every two quarts of water. When the water returns to a boil add the pasta and cook until not quite done.

Bring the heat under the pan with the sauce to high and drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the pan and gently mix the pasta and the sauce. Continue cooking until the pasta is done.


VinoCibo.com by Craig Camp

Mancianti San Feliciano Extra Virgin Olive Oil

There are many good extra virgin olive oils available from Italy, but few that will change the way you think about olive oil altogether. In the hills overlooking Lake Trasimeno in Umbria, Alfredo Mancianti produces some of Italy's finest and most distinctive olive oils including the rare "Affiorato" which may be the finest olive oil produced anywhere.

The San Feliciano is a wonderfully fragrant oil with a lively pungent tang balanced by the flavors of artichokes and almonds. This complexity makes San Feliciano the perfect condiment to almost anything and this exceptional oil can turn simple grilled bread into a feast. Go out of your way to find Mancianti oils.

Gazza Ladra, Fiano

2002 Santa Lucia, Gazza Ladra, Fiano, Puglia ($16)

The natural high acidity of fiano grapes make them the perfect choice for growing in the southern Italian sunshine. This rich wine is so nicely balanced by that fresh natural acidity it makes you wonder why anyone is struggling with chardonnay in these climates.

Tasting Notes: Bright light gold. Ripe nose full of pear and almonds. Full and ripe on the palate. Deep ripe cantaloupe and pear flavors are balanced by nutty flavors and a slight touch of butterscotch. The finish is full, but held up by a crisp acidity and dry almond tang.

2002 Villa Russiz, Sauvignon de la Tour, Collio

French varietals in Italy seem to be a modern issue as the press concentrates on the blending of Bordeaux varietals with sangiovese in Tuscany and new chardonnay releases from the Sicily. However, in many regions French varietals have been in place since the end of the 1800s when many vineyards where replanted after being devastated by the phylloxera root louse . In particular, Friuli Venezia Giulia saw an influx of new plantings. In Friuli these varieties have been established so long that they are almost indigenous and no one locally thinks of them as "French".

Not only French vines immigrated to Friuli. In 1869 Théodore de La Tour selected the hills of Collio for his home and winery. There along with his Austrian wife, Elvine Ritter (Friuli was part of Austria in those days) he not only brought vines from his native France, but the most advanced winemaking concepts of the day. This was the estate that was to become Villa Russiz, one of Italy's finest producers of white wines. De la Tour passed away in 1894 and his dedication to quality was continued by his widow, Elvine, until the ravages of World War I forced her to abandon the property. After the war, Adele Cerruti acquired the estate and created a children's institute which still exists today. Villa Russiz is still a non-profit organization and the charitable activities of the children's institute continue.

Under the guidance of general manager and enologist Gianni Menotti, the wines of Villa Russiz have continued to go from strength to strength and in 2003 the estate was awarded the prestigious Gambero Rosso award for the best white wine in Italy for their 2000 Chardonnay Gräfin de La Tour. Named for the estate's founder, the Villa Russiz De La Tour single vineyard selections are among Italy's finest wines.

The grapes for the Sauvignon de la Tour are selected from a small, prime vineyard location at the very top of a hill overlooking the winery. After a very gentle pressing, this wine ages ten months on the lees in stainless steel tanks. The ripe fruit flavors gain layers of complexity from this lees contact and the substantial weight of the wine is carried by a racy acidity that will seduce the most ardent Sancerre or Pouilly Fume lover. In all regards, this is an outstanding white wine and one of the finest sauvignon blanc wines I have tasted.

Tasting Notes: Bright light gold with green highlights. The aromas radiate out of the glass and are full of lycee, tart pear and mineral notes laced with a smoky tang. Full, but lively on the palate with fantastic creamy sweet fruit that is pungent and dry at the same moment. All of this is held together by a energetic acid rush. The finish is almost unending and very lively with bright acid and citrus carrying the ripe pear and apricot flavors and hard mineral textures. An outstanding wine.

A Neil Empson Selection - Imported by Empson USA

Villa di Corlo, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro

Grapes: Lambrusco Grasparossa, 85% other Lambrusco varieties and/or Fortana and/or Malbo gentile, up to 15%.

Terrabianca Extra Virgin Olive Oils

The Terrabianca estate in Tuscany is loaded with style, after all the fashion industry provided the financial fuel for this beautiful estate. However, never satisfied with just good looks, the Guldener family has pursued quality both inside and outside of their bottles. The wines of Terrabianca are justifiably famous as each is of superb quality, but wine is not the only excellent liquid that Terrabianca puts into bottles. They also produce a delicious extra virgin olive oil from their Il Tesoro estate in Maremma on the Tuscan coast. To make things more interesting, Terrabianca offers a range of flavored oils that comes in an assorted gift set of six 100 ml. bottles. The package includes one bottle each of Terrabianca extra virgin olive oil plus bottles of their oil flavored with oregano, basil, white truffles, hot peppers or rosemary. These oils add an easy creative touch to your cooking - and like all things from Terrabianca they look good on your shelf too.

Beppe Colla

He quietly moves through the winery with a slight limp. He greets visitors with a humble handshake and smile then goes back to his work. This quiet man is Beppe Colla and he is one of the giants of Langhe winemaking standing in importance alongside the greatest names of the region like Giacomo Conterno, Paolo Cordero di Montezemolo, Renato Ratti, Bruno Giacosa and Alfredo Currado: people that defined Barolo and Barbaresco and laid the foundation for the wines of today.

For over fifty years Beppe Colla has made wine in the Langhe and has seen the transition of this zone from a region on the edge of disaster to the home of some of the worlds most expensive and sought after wines. From his first vintage in 1948 ( a disastrous vintage) and his just completed 56th vintage in 2004 (which looks to be an excellent vintage) he has seen it all and possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of every aspect of the climate and vineyards of the Langhe zone and has personally experienced every vintage of the modern era of Barolo and Barbaresco. It is this incredible range of experience that he brings to winemaking at Poderi Colla.

After working for other producers, Colla acquired the Prunotto winery in 1956 and quickly set about turning it into one of the regions best wineries. In 1961, (in his opinion the finest vintage he has experienced) he bottled the first range of single- vineyard wines in the zone: Barolo Bussia, Barbaresco Montestefano, Nebbiolo Valmaggio, Barbera d'Alba Pian Romualdo, Dolcetto d'Alba Cagnassi, Freisa Ciabot del prete. Their quality and clear distinctive character convinced others to follow his lead and changed the entire concept of winemaking in Barolo and Barbaresco, which had always been blended wines. As a founder of the "cru" concept in the region Colla has firm ideas of what are the finest vineyards of the area and singles out the following sub-zones as the greatest nebbiolo vineyards:

Barolo: Cannubi a Barolo, Brunate a La Morra, Bussia a Monforte, Rocche di Castiglione a Castiglione Falletto, Vigna Rionda a Serralunga, Ginestra a Monforte
Barbaresco: Montestefano a Barbaresco, Rabajà a Barbaresco, Gallina a Neive, Rizzi a Treiso, Roncaglie a Barbaresco.

When asked what were his favorite wines he produced during the time at Prunotto he singles out:Barolo Bussia 1961/1971/1982 Barbaresco 1964/1971/1978 1961 Dolcetto d'Alba Caramelli 1967 Nebbiolo d'Alba Occhetti and 1971 Barbera d'Alba Pian Romualdo. Many of these classic Barolo and Barbaresco wines still appear on the auction market. I thought it was interesting to note that his favorites were not only Barbaresco and Barolo.

Looking back on almost six decades of winemaking Colla notes with satisfaction, "I have now seen, that after a first period of strong criticism, that all the producers have accepted the philosophy of bottling separately the different top vineyards."

Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato

Ruché just doesn't taste like it comes from Piemonte. It is a graceful wine, elegant and floral with a body more defined by its lively acidity than its soft, round tannins. If there is a wine in Italy to relate to fine Beaujolais it is most certainly not the tart dolcetto, which is often referred to in that context, but the refined smoothness of ruché can be more than a little reminiscent of a Fleurie or Chènas. Of course, ruché is not Beaujolais and has its own distinct character, but as most people have not tasted this delicious wine it is a fair way to set a point of reference.

Ruché now sports its own DOC, Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato, and this small zone in the hills just outside of Asti is responsible for all the production from this rare variety. Now that DOC status has been awarded to this region you can expect to see production expand perhaps making ruché easier to find. This is one of those wines that one sip is likely to inspire gulps and case purchases. Ruché is pure forward fruit flavor.

Ruché is a bit of a mystery vine. Local wisdom says it is an ancient variety probably indigenous to the Monferrato hills. Even the origin of the name is unclear with some claiming it came from the name of a local monastery while another source points to a resistance to a particular vine disease. Whatever the case, little documentary evidence exists and the history of ruché is more folklore than fact.

Cantine Sant'Agata is making an exceptional assortment of ruché wines and excellent wines from Asti's two other important red wine vines: barbera and grignolino. Founded in 1916, the present generation, Franco and Claudio Cavallero, produces 150,000 bottles of wine from their own vineyards, which total 30 hectares. Other than a small amount of chardonnay all their vines are indigenous and all their wines are of excellent quality and value.
Tasting Notes:
2003 Cantina Sant'Agata, Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato, 'Na Vota ($19)
Brilliant ruby with a just a touch of purple, quite translucent. Smooth, forward ripe cherry vanilla nose with a bitter tinge. a touch of cassis and lovely hints of wildflowers and violets. Firm and fresh on the palate with flavors that expand and grow mirroring the forward yet complex fruit and flowers of the bouquet. In the finish the cassis dominates carried by a refreshing acid zip.(89) The warm 2003 vintage produced particularly rich versions of lesser known Piemontese varietals like ruché. grignolino and freisa and you should keep an eye out for them as they are now in the market. They also offer a special selection ruché, Pro Nobis, to continue the Beaujolais reference, it is to regular ruché what Moulin-a-Vent is to normal Beaujolais. It has all the characteristics of the 'Na Vota on steroids. I will confess I prefer what I consider the more balanced 'Na Vota, but I am probably in the minority on that choice with most consumers preferring the chunky Pro Nobis.

A John Given Selection-Imported by John Given Wines (Northeast and other states)
Imported by Siema Wines (southeast and other states)
and other importers including: Wine Appellations

Paternoster, Basilicata

2001 Rotondo, Aglianico del Vulture, Paternoster, Basilicata

grape: Aglianico Aglianico could very well be poised to join nebbiolo and sangiovese as Italy's most noble vines. Importer Jens Schmidt is extremely excited by this variety which has produced some spectacular wines in Campania and Basilicata. He is convinced that when the vintage 2003 wines from this variety are released that there will be no doubters left.

Fortunately you don't have to wait for that release to taste the exceptional potential that wines from Aglianico can reach when paired with an passionate winemaker. Paternoster has been proving for years that Aglianico is a great varietal and their current releases are all outstanding wines each showing great character and depth.

The single vineyard 2001 Rotondo ($40) is a perfect wine to introduce you to the rich pleasures offered by this varietal. It is a brilliant deeply colored ruby with with hints of purple. The bouquet is expansive, rich and complicated. The dramatic flavors fill the mouth with ripe raspberry, tar and warm black licorice. The finish is almost unending. The tannins are substantial, but are well integrated and help to carry the concentrated flavors. While it is made with a modern touch none of the character of the vine or vineyard is sacrificed. Paternoster is making Aglianico that competes with Barolo and Brunello in complexity and refinement. These are very serious wines.

A Jens Schmidt Selection: Imported by Montecastelli Selections

Poderi Colla - traditional innovation

"Elegance, finesse, balance," these are not words that many use when describing Burgundy, but for Barolo and Barbaresco words like powerful, tannic and potent are more common. However, for me, elegance, finesse and balance are the exact characteristics that describe the experience of nebbiolo at its finest. These characteristics are why lovers of either of these great mono-varietal wines also tend to love the other although they taste nothing alike. "Elegance, finesse, and balance" describe an experience not a flavor.

All to often, both Langhe winemakers and the press seem enamored of power. Giant, potent wines from the 1997 and 2000 vintages have received glowing notices at the expense of more refined and balanced vintages like 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2001. Yet fine nebbiolo is not about size, but the tightrope it can walk between intensity and delicacy. Few wineries make wines that walk this tightrope as well as Poderi Colla.

Poderi Colla combines the talents of Federica Colla and Tino Colla, respectively daughter and brother of Langhe winemaking legend, Beppe Colla, who serves as winemaking consultant extrordinare. The Colla family originally brought Prunotto to fame and founded Poderi Colla after selling Prunotto to Antinori. "Elegance, finesse and balance," are Tino Colla's words when asked to define their wines and I could not agree with him more. Just as the wines of Prunotto were among the finest produced in the 1960's and 1970's, today the wines of Poderi Colla are among the finest wines produced in the Langhe today.

Tino Colla sees the greatness of nebbiolo as coming from having a unique dimension, a "third dimension" as he puts it. That third dimension is the emotion that truly extraordinary wines can evoke. Most wines are two dimensional, but greatness comes from this third dimension and it is his goal at Poderi Colla to bring this experience to their wines. The soul of the Colla wines comes from their three outstanding vineyard locations:

Dardi le Rose, in the Bussia zone of Monforte in Barolo. The wines of this vineyard have been made by Beppe Colla since 1961. Bussia is not a vineyard, but a sub-region of the Monforte zone, just east of the Barolo commune, that includes such grand vineyards as Dardi, Pianpolvere and, in Bussia Soprana: Cicala, Gabutti, Colonnello, and Romirasco. All of which can appear under the Bussia name. The Dardi vineyard produces the most classic of Barolo wines, a style that requires significant bottle aging to release its full personality. The Dardi vineyard is at an altitude of 300 to 350 meters and is planted only with nebbiolo (60% michet and 40% lampia) in a perfect south, south-west exposure. Skin contact during fermentation is about 15 days. Aging is only in large casks of French and Slovenian oak for 24 to 28 months.

Roncaglie, in the Barbaresco commune of the Barbaresco zone. Beppe Colla has made wines from this vineyard since 1956. The Roncaglie vineyard is in the heart of some of the Barbaresco commune's finest vineyards. Located in the southwest corner of the Barbaresco commune, near the border with Treiso, the great vineyards of Roncaglie and Roncagliette forum an upside down "U" of perfectly exposed vineyards that would be a lot more famous if Gaja had not chosen to call his two vineyards located here Sori Tilden and Costa Russi instead of using the actual vineyard names. These vineyards produce some of the richest wines in Barbaresco combining depth of flavor with exotic aromatics. Besides the Barbaresco Roncaglie, this vineyard is home to the Barbera d'Alba Costa Bruna, Dolcetto d'Alba Pian Balbo and the Langhe Chardonnay Pian Martino. The vineyard is between 240 and 280 meters above sea level. For the Barbaresco, skin contact during fermentation is about 15 days and aging is only in large casks of French and Slovenian oak for 12 to 14 months.

Cascine Drago, located just outside of Alba near the Barbaresco zone was the property of Luciano Degiacomi, an old friend of Beppe, who ran the estate as a labor of love to feed his passion for wine. Degiacomi sold the property to the Colla family as he knew they would continue using the vines he had planted to make the finest wines possible. Here is planted nebbiolo for their Nebbiolo d'Alba along with riesling, freisa and the pinot noir vines that make the excellent pinot nero, Campo Romano. From these vineyards comes the dolcetto and nebbiolo for their blend Bricco del Drago, the original super-Piemontese blended wine. The vineyards here are between 330 and 400 meters in altitude.

Tino and Federica describe their philosophy as a commitment to "naturalness and originality". Originality may seem a strange claim to make for wines so traditional in method and character, but in today's world of wines made for judging, not drinking, the refined wines of Poderi Colla may indeed be original. These are wines made with as little human intervention as possible, even the anti-mold sprays used by most wineries are avoided in their vineyards, which are farmed in an organic style.

"Most of today's wines are very similar, albeit obtained from very different climates and varieties: dense, dark wines with high alcohol content and loads of wood, oftentimes difficult to drink or match with food. We, on the other hand. wish to go in an entirely different direction, seeking not excess and forcibly "international wines", but balance, finesse and original nuances. Our wines are not high-tech. They are man-made, with a strongly human element and outstanding concentration thanks to terroir and fruit and (no thanks to wood and machinery) and very sophisticated components. They are wines to be enjoyed with food, not to make a superficial splash at tastings," say Tino and Federica.

One of the key aspects of the style of Poderi Colla is their obsession with picking their grapes at optimum ripeness - not over-ripeness. The super-maturity that mars so many Baroli and Barbaresci is the antithesis of the Colla style which features balance and complexity not power. "We don't want a jammy nose," says Tino Colla. "The passito flavors of Amarone are not correct for Barolo and Barbaresco."

The wines of Poderi Colla are among the finest wines produced in the Langhe and the Barolo Dardi Le Rose and Barbaresco Roncaglie are a must-buy for anyone interesting in collecting wines for long-aging that exhibit the pure beauty of the nebbiolo grape. While the winemaking in the ripe 2000 vintage is to be commended for its restraint, the glories of the 1999 and 2001 vintage are very clear and the Colla's have produced stunning wines in these fine vintages.

1999 Poderi Colla, Barolo, Bussia, Dardi Le Rose ($55)
Bright scarlet/ruby with hints of garnet. Translucent. Smoky, dried porcini aromas slowly open into tart raspberry fruit. Closed and intense on the palate with layers of flavors: mushrooms, leather, cherry and raspberry. The finish is concentrated, long and very tannic. Truly an outstanding, classic wine destined for long- term greatness this wine needs at least ten years of aging and can benefit from more patience in good storage conditions. A classic Barolo that collectors should seek out. (Rating A++, a must-buy worth a special search of the market)

2000 Poderi Colla, Barolo, Bussia, Dardi Le Rose ($55)
Brilliant ruby, garnet, Just translucent. Deep ripe plums mixed with leather and dried roses on the nose. Big and rich on palate with a warm alcohol punch. A deep brooding wine with layers of bitter licorice and tar blended with sweet ripe cherry fruit. The finish is very concentrated and still closed with firm tannins made sweeter by ripe fruit and a warm, ripe richness. Perhaps the most ageable 2000 I have tasted and certainly among the most interesting. One of the few I would rate above an A. (Rating A+, outstanding)

2001 Barbaresco Roncaglie ($48)
Brilliant scarlet with orange garnet highlights. Quite translucent. Expansive, elegant wild flower highlights blend with an exotic spiciness and a firm, mineral tinged bittersweet raspberry fruit. A complete, pure nebbiolo on the palate. Firm black licorice, bitter tar and iodine touches intertwine with light hints of cassis and black truffles expand on the palate and grow in the firm, still angular finish. The tannins are still aggressive in the finish, but everything you could hope for is there and clearly this will be a grand wine in ten years or so. Classic in every aspect. (Rating A++, a must-buy worth a special search of the market)

2001 Campo Romano, Pinot Nero, Langhe DOC ($26.00). Bright scarlet/ruby with just a touch of garnet. Translucent. Layered complex nose. Ripe spiced plums and strawberry aromas broaden into dark wild cherry. Racy and complex on the palate with wave after wave of flavor. Ripe cherry and wild strawberries expand into complex tar, porcini and oak flavors. Still a bit lean and closed on the mouth and nose but very promising. The finish is long and spicy with apparent but well integrated tannins. (Rating A, excellent)

2002 Nebbiolo d' Alba ($24)
Brilliant light scarlet with orange hints. Quite translucent. The nose is layered with delicate fresh cherry fruit and bitter tar with a smoky porcini highlight. Elegant, balanced and restrained on the palate, it is already drinking well for such a firmly structured wine. The finish has plenty of grip, but is shows a silky gracefulness. Drink now and over the next several years. Aged in large casks for 10 to 12 months. (Rating A-, excellent)

2002 Barbera d'Alba, Costa Bruna ($24)
Brilliant bright ruby, just translucent. Fresh, lively cherry aromas with a nice spicy touch. Very clean and lively on the palate with a brilliant, juicy finish. Drink this wine while young and fruity. A nice effort from a difficult vintage. Aged in large casks for 10 to 12 months. (Rating B+, very good)

2000 Bricco del Drago, Langhe Rosso ($30)
Bright ruby with hints of purple and garnet highlights. Just translucent. Brilliant bright cherry fruit blends with earthy warm aromas on the nose. Forward ripe fruit with a sudden hard mineral impact. The finish has a dense ripe plum fruit blended with a firm tannic punch and a warm roundness. A unusual blend of clean sweet fruitiness with warm, brooding earthiness. The only Colla wine to see any barrique aging, some of which are new and aging ranges between 12 and 18 months. 85% dolcetto and 15% nebbiolo(Rating A-, excellent)

2003 Dolcetto d'Alba Pian Balbo ($14 - Best Buy)
Brilliantly purple with ruby highlights. Just translucent. A fantastic dolcetto packed with mouth watering fruit. Expansive bright plums and cranberries on the nose lead to lively deep sweet cherry flavors with a fine mineral backbone and bitter tang. The finish is filled with warm raspberry fruit brought alive by a zesty acidity. Just plain delicious. drink now and over the next several years. Aged only in stainless steel. (Rating A-, excellent)

2003 Freisa, Langhe DOC ($14)
Freisa does not get any better than this. Brilliant bright ruby with purple highlights. Tooth jarring acidity explodes into deep sweet plum and blueberry fruit flavors. The finish is zesty with cassis highlights. A little gas is left in the wine for even more liveliness. Drink as soon as you can! (Rating B+, very good)


Côtes de Provence Wines: A Brief Guide

Published in the Journal of the Association of Surgeons of Great Britian and Ireland,
Number 36, March 2012 (Full print article can be down loaded here)

Whilst many readers will be used to trainees having a whine, I would wager far fewer will be used to trainees having a good wine. Having read Professor Alderson’s excellent recent article on his secret wine life [1] I felt the need (after a glass of wine) to add a few further comments.

There is certainly a lot of pretentious tosh spoken about wine, and a straight talking Geordie approach is as good a way of cutting through that! Nonetheless wine is very subjective, and the need for ‘wine talk’ to describe it is important. There are as many different opinions on a bottle of wine as there are people drinking it, a situation not a million miles away from some clinical encounters I have experienced. The “mumbo-jumbo” of wine tasting talk (think Jilly Goolden’s infamous” sweaty saddles” comments) is not always helpful. Nonetheless I would argue that wine tasting has evolved its own technical language through the need to give physical descriptions to subjective sensations or appearances in the same way that our own medical language originally evolved for similar purposes [2]. These days we take for granted the whimsical Greek tradition of likening anatomical structures to musical instruments, plants and animals – perhaps Jilly Goolden’s elaborate wine tasting descriptors may have fared better in an earlier era.

“Tasting is completely subjective. We each inhabit a unique sensory universe, formed by memories and experiences. There are no rules, just opinions. However, some are more informed than others”. im Atkin, wine writer

I am pleased to have sipped some of the outstanding wines recommended in Professor Alderson’s article, including Moss Wood, Grant Burge, and Vasse Felix’s finest – but only when the boss is paying (hence rarely!) A great deal of my personal pleasure over the years has come from exploring far-flung or unfashionable wine regions in order to find the undiscovered, great value heroes of the wine world. This has only been partly successful, in that some of the wines I fell in love with 10 years ago have now been ‘discovered’ and I can no longer afford to purchase them! But for fellow junior doctors on our meagre salary, it is worth spending a little time digging around off-the-beaten track.

Nonetheless, getting good value from wine is not just about looking for under-valued wine regions or grapes. Currency fluctuation plays a part, with South Africa and South America currently offering better value than Australia and North America. Also important are the actul cash-values of what you’re prepared to pay. Cheap wine is a false economy, yet in the UK the average price point for a bottle of wine is only £4.85. Duty and VAT already account for half of this, and when the retailer, shipper and fixed costs (bottle, label, cork, etc) are taken into account very little is left over the wine itself.

The following figures are a little out of date now (VAT is 20%, duty now £1.81/bottle, and you’d be lucky to find any bottle worth drinking at £3.99) but they do show how spending a little extra on a bottle gives a return on the wine inside out-of-proportion to your extra spend [3]:

Paracelus, 16th century Swiss physician

For doctors, who spend a career trying to rationalise uncertainties, these unpredictable facets are perhaps less troubling and indeed add to the fascination. Without doubt there is also an endless academic pleasure in learning about wine too, and like constantly progressing medical knowledge every new vintage will add to the wealth of wines, wine makers and wine regions waiting to be discovered. The medical nerd is well catered for in the wine-world, with point-scores to memorise and vintage charts to recite. Similarly, those of a more romantic or philosophical disposition can wonder at how the science of ‘terroir’ – the geology, geography and climate of a vineyard – translate into the art of making and enjoying a wine every bit as individual as its unique vineyard site. Good wines – and not the industrial scale, chemistry set wines too often seen these days – are much more than a liquid commodity. Every one of these has a story to tell, but many branded wines have now lost contact with the place that the grapes were grown and the people that made them.

“I was convinced forty years ago–and the conviction remains to this day–that in wine tasting and wine-talk there is an enormous amount of humbug” Thomas George Shaw

It strikes me there is scope for more wine-related articles in the JASGBI. The ‘Surgeons News’ magazine from the RCSEd runs a regular column [5] and I hope the JASGBI will consider introducing something similar. Perhaps even a wine tasting at the ASGBI Congress? As a shared interest, there can be few other non-clinical topics that bring so many colleagues together for such a sociable activity. As one of the founding principles of ASGBI was “…the promotion of friendship amongst surgeons” what better lubricant to facilitate this that than a good glass of wine?

1. Alderson, D. The Secret Life of … On the subject of wine. JASGBI 2011 35:24-25.
2. Wulff HR. The language of medicine. J R Soc Med. 2004 April 97 (4) : 187–188.
3. Robinson J. Why cheap wine is a false economy in the UK, and the US: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/inside051113.html
4. Smoliga, J. M., Baur, J. A. and Hausenblas, H. A, Resveratrol and health – A comprehensive review of human clinical trials. Mol. Nutr. Food Res 2011, 55: 1129–1141. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201100143
5. Surgeons News: http://www.surgeonsnews.com/spectrum/wine


Saturday, 30 November 2013

The fifth year of CX HKIWSC

Lunch on day four - after finished judging food/wine pairing
My October started with a judging at the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine & Spirit Competition (CX HKIWSC). This is the fifth year of the competition and my fourth as a judge. I ran the back room logistics in the first year during my holiday in Hong Kong and afterwards Simon Tam offered me a job at Independent Wine Centre, which ended my years of wandering around the world and brought me back to Hong Kong. Because of this, the competition will always be something special to me.

More importantly, it is the community spirit that I treasure. Even though we may be tasting some interesting and good wines, we still need support, jokes and laughter to get through over 400 wines in four days! I have had some experience (nowhere near as much as some other judges though) in other international competitions, but the CX HKIWSC certainly has the best vibe.

There are many different formats of judging. In some, the panel of judges sits together around a table, waiting for each other to finish a small flight, then briefly discusses it. This can put pressure on some judges who are slower. In others, judges score individually and there are no discussions in the panels so there may be errors where judges misread a wine. It also doesn’t allow the less experienced judges to learn from others.

What I like about the CX HKIWSC is that each judge scores a flight of about 30-50 wines at his own pace, then the panel gathers to discuss those that have a wide range of scores. Judges debate and re-taste those wines until a consensus is reached. Moreover, judges are rotated everyday for a better learning experience. This method does not have the shortfalls of the others and also fosters a team spirit among the judges.

The most interesting part of this competition is the food/wine pairing judging. It started off with only four Chinese dishes (braised abalone, Peking duck, dim sum and kung pao chicken) and has now extended to cover 10 dishes from four countries (the new dishes are sashimi, shrimp tempura, beef teppanyaki, yakitori grilled chicken, pad Thai and chicken tikka). I think this sends a very important message to consumers that wine can indeed go with Asian food—not only delicacies like abalone and sashimi but also everyday food like dim sum and pad Thai. We Asians don’t drink a lot of wine because we do not yet have the culture and we tend to think that wine only goes with western cuisines or expensive banquets. Pairing wine and everyday food will help us develop our own wine culture and eventually expand the market. Unfortunately, however, this potentially powerful message has yet to be communicated effectively to consumers. I really wish that both the organisers (sorry Debra) and the winners could do more to spread the word.

The most educational part of the competition is 'Test Your Palate'. CX HKISWC is the first competition to open its doors to the public at the end of judging each day so people can taste the diverse styles of wine of various grape varieties from different countries. And what’s more, they can ask judges face-to-face anything they want to know about wine. This is a great learning experience and a wonderful opportunity for wine lovers to compare and contrast — you have to admit that no one in their right mind would open 10 different bottles of wine in one go just to try. At Test Your Palate, there are over 400 wines available every evening! What is even better is that there is a ‘fault’ table carrying wines rejected by judges during that day. Consumers can taste what is really meant by 'reduced', 'oxidised' and 'corked'. Test Your Palate has been running for three years now. In the first two years guests were mostly wine students, but this year it was pleasing to see a more general range of consumers, showing that the event is becoming better known. I even saw some of my secondary school friends, a few of whom I hadn’t seen since graduation!

But the best of the best has to be the dinners. Sarah, one of the panel chairs, always spoils us with her wines—not the most expensive ones but lesser-known and truly interesting. Of course, there are always a few bottles that our judges bring from their home countries. This year, Chinese wines were a constant fixture on table, thanks to Christian!

Wine competitions are about rating wine for average consumers and giving them guidance in this complex world of wine. CX HKIWSC is doing a good job for the Hong Kong consumer. Next time, pick a bottle of wine with a CX HKIWSC medal, and especially try the food/wine pairing winning wines. Check out the 2013 competition results here.


Just Released: 10 Collio Wines From Northeast Italy - Recipes

2013-01-20T00:08:50.788+00:00 Louis Roederer Champagne Tasting Notes <div dir="ltr" style="text-align: left" trbidi="on"><div style="clear: both text-align: center"><a href="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-yO-oXA2MRK4/UPsxs_WAbmI/AAAAAAAAAHE/lWZV5do_384/s1600/IMAG0187.jpg" imageanchor="1" style="clear: left float: left margin-bottom: 1em margin-right: 1em"><img alt="Louis Roederer Champagne Tasting Notes" border="0" height="401" src="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-yO-oXA2MRK4/UPsxs_WAbmI/AAAAAAAAAHE/lWZV5do_384/s640/IMAG0187.jpg" title="Louis Roederer Champagne Tasting Notes" width="640" /></a></div><br /><span style="font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif"><b>Louis Roederer Champagne Tasting Notes</b>&nbsp</span><br /><span style="font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif">Vivat Bacchus, 14 Jan 2013<br /><br />The famous house of Louis Roederer was founded in 1776, and although the family name was lost through marriage, direct descendents are still involved in running the house.<br /><br />The house produces approximately two-thirds of its own grape requirements. Bought-in grapes are only used for the NV wine the vintage wines are come from 100% own vineyards. These are located in all three main growing areas (Côte des Blanc, Montagne de Reims, and Vallée de la Marne). Roederer have more biodynamic vineyards than any other producer the feeling is this leads to riper grapes. A proportion of these are going into Cristal.<br /><br />Generally malolactic fermentation is avoided where possible in order to maintain freshness. The reserve wines are kept in large old oak vats (not barrels) so as to minimise any oak character.<br /><br />Disgorgement takes place after 3 years (although legally only 15 months is required). Freshly bottled wines are kept for a further 6 months prior to release.</span><span style="font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif"> To give some perspective on production, the house makes slightly more than Pol Roger or Bollinger.</span><br /><br /><span style="font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif">Wines and related&nbsp</span><span style="font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif"><span style="font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif"><span style="font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif"><b><a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/?_encoding=UTF8&ampcamp=1634&ampcreative=19450&ampfield-keywords=Louis%20Roederer%20&amplinkCode=ur2&amptag=bacchuoxfordu-21&ampurl=search-alias%3Daps" target="_blank">Champagne Louis Roederer</a> </b><img alt="" border="0" height="1" src="https://www.assoc-amazon.co.uk/e/ir?t=bacchuoxfordu-21&ampl=ur2&ampo=2" style="border: none !important margin: 0px !important" width="1" />products are available <b><a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/?_encoding=UTF8&ampcamp=1634&ampcreative=19450&ampfield-keywords=Louis%20Roederer%20&amplinkCode=ur2&amptag=bacchuoxfordu-21&ampurl=search-alias%3Daps" target="_blank">here</a></b><img alt="" border="0" height="1" src="https://www.assoc-amazon.co.uk/e/ir?t=bacchuoxfordu-21&ampl=ur2&ampo=2" style="border: none !important margin: 0px !important" width="1" />.</span></span> </span><br /><br /><span style="font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif">A generic range of&nbsp<b><a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/?_encoding=UTF8&ampcamp=1634&ampcreative=19450&ampfield-keywords=champagne&amplinkCode=ur2&amprh=n%3A266239%2Ck%3Achampagne&amptag=bacchuoxfordu-21&ampurl=search-alias%3Dstripbooks" target="_blank">Champagne guide books</a></b><img alt="" border="0" height="1" src="https://www.assoc-amazon.co.uk/e/ir?t=bacchuoxfordu-21&ampl=ur2&ampo=2" style="border: none !important margin: 0px !important" width="1" /> for the wines and region are available <b><a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/?_encoding=UTF8&ampcamp=1634&ampcreative=19450&ampfield-keywords=champagne&amplinkCode=ur2&amprh=n%3A266239%2Ck%3Achampagne&amptag=bacchuoxfordu-21&ampurl=search-alias%3Dstripbooks" target="_blank">here</a></b><img alt="" border="0" height="1" src="https://www.assoc-amazon.co.uk/e/ir?t=bacchuoxfordu-21&ampl=ur2&ampo=2" style="border: none !important margin: 0px !important" width="1" />.</span><br /><br /><span style="font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif"></span><span style="font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif"><b><span style="font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif"><b>Louis Roederer </b></span>Brut Premier NV</b><br />A blend of 6-8 vintages hailing from 400 plots of vines. It accounts for approximately two-thirds of the house’s production. This is approximately 30% chardonnay, 20% pinot meunier with the remainder pinot noir. Medium lemon colour. Little persistence of bubbles, probably more to do with the glasses than the Champagne. Soft, bready, yeasty nose. Very light, fine mousse. Medium acidity. Medium length. This is a really very good NV, better than many houses prestige bottlings.</span><br /><span style="font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif"><br /></span><span style="font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif"><b><span style="font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif"><b>Louis Roederer </b></span>Blanc de Blanc 2006 </b>(Côte des Blanc grapes)<br />Very small production, with approximately only 600 bottles allocated to the United Kingdom. As for many Blanc de Blanc, the pressure is reduced to 4 atmospheres (from typical

6) to aim for a ‘creamy’ taste, otherwise the wine is too acid sharp.&nbsp Because of the higher acidity in Blanc de Blancs, the wines have a greater potential for ageing.&nbsp Lees-aged for an extended period. This is medium-plus lemon. Fine mousse, but again troubled by little persistence. Noticeably richer nose. Fuller, more creamy palate. Very fine. Typically £70/bottle in UK where available.</span><br /><span style="font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif"><br /></span><span style="font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif"><b><span style="font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif"><b>Louis Roederer </b></span>Vintage 2006</b> (Montagne de Reims grapes)<br />The production for this wine is centred around Verzenay. Approximately 70% pinot noir and 30% chardonnay. The vintage bottling of Louis Roederer pre-dates the creation of Cristal. Medium lemon. Firmer mousse, fine and more persistent. This is a more structured wine. Spicy fruit rather than berry fruit. Medium acidity. More meaty on the palate. Long finish. This has

20-years ageing capacity. Around £55/bottle in UK. Very fine.</span><br /><span style="font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif"><br /></span><span style="font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif"><b><span style="font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif"><b>Louis Roederer </b></span>Brut Rosé 2007</b> (Vallée de la Marne)<br />Production centres around Cumières. Maceration takes place on the skins – they are the last producer to do this apparently. It sees 6-10 days skin contact and approximately 30% chardonnay is also blended into the wine before fermentation. Pale salmon pink. Light red berry and firmness of structure. Medium acidity. Good for

2012-09-11T16:19:44.123+01:00 World Tour of Pinot Noir <div dir="ltr" style="text-align: left" trbidi="on"><div style="font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif"><br /></div><div style="font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif"><b>World Tour of Pinot Noir – Bacchus Vintage tasting</b><br />Friday 22 July 2012<br /><br />My turn to provide the tasting after many years of talking about it. Finally. There follows a very diverse range of Pinot Noir with all the major wine producing regions represented apart from Australia (not a deliberate omission – just had difficulty in tracking down some good examples for the evening). Price points for the bottles ranged from

2012-07-13T18:25:39.236+01:00 Beginner’s Guide to White Wine Grapes <div style="font-family: Arial font-size: small">Beginner’s Guide to White Wine Grapes</span></strong></div><div /></div><div style="font-family: Arial"><span style="font-size: small"><strong>Introduction</strong><br />After the vineyard site has been chosen, the starting point for any wine is the grape variety selected by the winemaker. This alone is the most important factor determining the character of the liquid swilling around in our glasses. To the complete beginner the familiar names of Chardonnay or Shiraz may represent the first tentative steps into the world of wine - but do you know what tastes and aromas to expect from the bottle? Discovering your personal wine tastes and the art of matching food &amp wine all depend on a basic knowledge of grape varieties. A little background reading in this area should be the starting point for all newcomers to wine, and will soon reap its rewards…</span></span></div><div /></div><div style="font-family: Arial"><span style="font-size: small"><strong>Varieties of vine</strong>There are 20 or so different varieties of vine within the genus Vitis, but only one, Vitis vinifera, is capable of producing decent wine with any regularity. Vitis lambrusca is a wilder variety that is grown in some parts of the Eastern USA but invariably produces disappointing wine. Vitis rupestris is a parent of many commercially important rootstocks due to its resistance to Phylloxera – the troublesome little bug that infests the roots of vines and decimated the French vineyards in the 1860s and Australian vineyards in the 1880s.</span></span></div><div /></div><div style="font-family: Arial font-size: small">There are about 5000 varieties of Vitis vinifera. We are not going to describe them all – partly because we’re lazy but mainly because only 60 or so of these varieties will produce wines with a recognisable and enjoyable flavour. Of all of the factors that can influence the character of a wine – such as soil type, viticulture, microclimate and time of grape picking – the most easily detected is the variety of grape. This guide aims to introduce you to some of the commoner grapes you are likely to encounter.</span></div><div /></div><div style="font-family: Arial font-size: small">Common White Grape Varieties</span></strong></div><div /></div><div style="font-family: Arial"><span style="font-size: small"><strong>Chardonnay</strong><br />This ubiquitous, fashionable white grape is now found growing in almost every wine producing country. However, this popularity can make it hard to define due to the myriad variations in soil type, climate, clone and viticulture that influence the final wines. Chardonnay is particularly user-friendly to the winemaker, growing almost anywhere and able to be moulded into various styles ranging from classy long-lived white Burgundy, to Champagne, to rich buttery Aussie whites. The flavours associated with Chardonnay depend upon the winemaking. While there is an enormous amount of non-descript peachy, oaky dry white made from the grape, better examples taste of lemon, green apples and grapefruit in unoaked and lightly oaked styles, through to melon, white peach and cashew nuts in medium-bodied wines, and on to rich butter and toast in the barrel-fermented or barrel-aged wines. Chardonnay may also be put through malolactic fermentation - when harsh malic acid (think green apples) is converted to lactic acid - thus giving the wine a more creamy finish. While many Chardonnay aficionados look to Burgundy for their tipple, there are a number of producers in other countries that arguably make wines of similar complexity at more reasonable prices. South African stars include Vergelegen, Rustenberg, De Wetshof, Hamilton Russel, and Bouchard Finlayson, while great Aussie wines are made by Leeuwin Estate, Petaluma and Coldstream Hills, among numerous others.</span></span></div><div /></div><div style="font-family: Arial"><span style="font-size: small"><strong>Colombard</strong><br />Widely grown in California and South Africa (where it is also known as Colombar), the origins of this grape stem from its’ distillation for the famous brandies of Cognac and Armagnac in France. Its susceptibility to rot in France’s moderate climate led to the decline in plantings for still wine production. However, the hot climates of California and South Africa have welcomed the grape, where it produces plain, crisp, dry whites. These are often blended with Chenin Blanc or Chardonnay.</span></span></div><div /></div><div style="font-family: Arial"><span style="font-size: small"><strong>Chenin Blanc</strong><br />Chenin blanc is one of the mainstays of the Loire Valley in France, and is the most widely planted variety in South Africa (where it is occasionally called Steen), with a few wines hailing from California, Australia, and New Zealand. When made well, Chenin Blanc wines can taste superb, but often they are unripe, flabby, or over-sulphured. The grape has a naturally high acidity and thus lots of sun is required to bring out the fruit flavours. Chenin Blanc is very versatile and can be used to produce sparkling wines or dry, demi-sec and sweet still wines. The latter wines from Vouvray, Bonnezeaux, Quarts de Chaume, Jasnières and Coteaux du Layon in France’s Loire Valley, can have incredible sublime flavours of beeswax, marzipan, honey, pralines and spice with a tremendous capacity to age. South Africa also occasionally makes great long-lived sweet wines. In the New World Chenin is often used to bulk up blended white wines, as it is often fairly neutral, fruity stuff.</span></span></div><div /></div><div style="font-family: Arial"><span style="font-size: small"><strong>Gewürztraminer</strong><br />One of the most easily recognised grapes, both on the vine and in the glass. The grapes are characteristically pink while the wines have an unmistakable aroma of flowers and spice (in German Gewürz means spice), flavours of lychees, rosewater, ginger, and cinnamon, and an oily mouthfeel. Good Gewürztraminer is so obvious that people either love it or hate it. Unfortunately, most Gewürz is drunk as a sweet blend with Riesling and, while this is a fabulously easy-drinking style, it does not let the true nature of the grape shine through. The best examples, from Alsace and Germany’s Pfalz region, are dry wines that combine the amazing perfume with a complex spicy palate, and make perfect partners to Asian food. To experience truly outstanding Gewürztraminer wines, try a late harvested (vendange tardive) or botrytised example (sélection des grains nobles) from Alsace, both of which are unctuously sweet. Outside these regions, Gewürztraminer is also grown widely in Italy and Austria, with New World plantings in California, Chile and New Zealand.</span></span></div><div /></div><div style="font-family: Arial"><span style="font-size: small"><strong>Grenache Blanc</strong>The white grape sister of the red-skinned Grenache Noir. While originally a Spanish variety (where it still play a role in north-eastern whites from Rioja, Navarre, etc.) this grape is now most widely planted in France’s Rhône Valley (especially as the most important grape in white Châteauneuf-du-Pape) and Languedoc-Roussillon. Frequently blended with other southern French varietals such as Marsanne and Viognier, the grape can produce good quality, fat, richly flavoured wines.</span></span></div><div /></div><div style="font-family: Arial"><span style="font-size: small"><strong>Marsanne</strong><br />Not one of the most widely-seen varieties, but justifies inclusion due to its importance as a key grape in the white wines of the Rhône Valley. It has a floral, herby, limey flavour and is quite aromatic (again floral). In the Rhône, Marsanne is usually blended with a host of other white grapes, as in the long-lived Hermitage wines, or may even be blended with Syrah to give red wines a floral lift. Marsanne may also be encountered as a varietal, especially from Aussie producers in the Goulbourn Valley (Chateau Tahbilk or Mitchelton), and in this guise it can age well to produce wines with intense honeysuckle aromas.</span></span></div><div /></div><div style="font-family: Arial"><span style="font-size: small"><strong>Muscat</strong><br />The dead-giveaway for wine made from grapes of the Muscat family is that they actually smell of grapes. In those areas where Muscat is made into dry table wines - northeast Italy, Southern France, and Alsace - flavours and aromas of grapes, apples and mandarins may be encountered. Muscat grapes are also used to produce fizzy styles of wine, as in Asti, Moscato d’Asti and Clairette de Vie. However, to my mind, the most exciting Muscats are the sweet ones. There are two styles of sweet Muscat - the unfortified, as in Moscatel de Valencia (Spain), and the many fortified wines of Australia, the Rhône (notably Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise) and Southern France. The Australian examples in particular can taste strongly of raisins and Demerara sugar, while French vins doux naturels may have more barley sugar and orange character.</span></span></div><div /></div><div style="font-family: Arial"><span style="font-size: small"><strong>Pinot Blanc</strong><br />Pinot Blanc could perhaps be likened to a light, unoaked Chardonnay, without the upfront fruit. If over-cropped it can produce very neutral, acid wines – a perfect base for sparkling wines such as Crémant D’Alsace. However, good examples of still Pinot Blanc wines from Alsace or Italy (where it is known as Pinot Bianco) are attractively creamy, often with a nutty flavour. Germany also produces some Pinot Blanc, known as Weissburgunder, but the majority of Californian Pinot Blanc is actually Muscadet.</span></span></div><div /></div><div style="font-family: Arial"><span style="font-size: small"><strong>Pinot Gris</strong>This grape is also known as Tokay Pinot Gris, but bears no relation to the Tokay found elsewhere in the world (Hungarian Tokaji being made from a variety of grapes, while Australian Tokay is Muscadelle). In Italy, Pinot Gris (called Pinot Grigio) is used to made light-bodied, fairly neutral wines that are good partners for seafood. Alsace vignerons make an entirely different beast of a wine - most is dry, full-bodied, aromatic, spicy stuff, while some is beautiful, sweet late harvested (vendange tardive) or botrytised (sélection des grains nobles) with a characteristic smoky smell. A number of wineries in Oregon, Australia and New Zealand are experimenting with this variety.</span></span></div><div /></div><div style="font-family: Arial"><span style="font-size: small"><strong>Riesling</strong><br />Without doubt the king of white grapes, and one that best reflects terroir (the special vineyard combination of soil, climate, aspect etc. that gives a wine its’ particular character). Yet despite this it remains surprisingly unpopular on the world market. The grape has a high acidity and is best without the influence of oak. It can be grown in a wide variety of climatic conditions and is susceptible to infection by Botrytis, thus leading to a huge variety of different styles. The best examples hail from Germany, usually from the slate soils of the Mosel and Rhine. These typically have a low alcohol (


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