John Szabo’s Vintages Preview for July 23rd – Live Austrian Duet; Top Ten Smart Buys and Italian Wine School: 7 classic wines from 7 regions
In a rare moment of celestial synchronicity, two of Austria’s top winemakers will be in Toronto on July 22nd to host a dinner at Cowbell Restaurant, on the eve of the release of their wines at VINTAGES. Even more remarkable is that both wines are excellent, and one, the 2009 LOIMER GRÜNER VELTLINER TROCKEN DAC Kamptal $18.95, is my number one smart buy this week. Loimer’s hands-off, natural (biodynamic, in fact) approach to wine production is much in evidence here: the nose is almost pure stony minerality the way we like it, with underlying ripe, vibrant, concentrated fruit and intriguing herbal and floral notes in textbook Grüner language. It’s a superb wine, especially at this price, and one I’d buy by the case.
Also revelatory, just when you thought you’ve had a lifetime’s worth of Chardonnay from every conceivable terroir, along comes another example, a real beauty in the cool climate, Chablis-esque genre. I’m willing to wager that few have had Chardonnay, or Morillon as it’s known locally, from Styria in southern Austria. If you enjoy elegant, minerally, classic old world style versions, lively and middle-weight with a fine streak of acidity, then you’ll enjoy Willi Sattler’s version: 2009 SATTLERHOF STERISCHE KLASSIK MORILLON Südsteiermark, Styria $22.95.
You can meet both Fred Loimer and Willi Sattler on the 22nd, have a fine meal, preview their excellent wines, then go and buy them on Saturday morning. That’s serendipitous synchronicity. And for even more amusement, check out how all of us expert tasters were trumped by a (decent but basic) Grüner Veltliner in the third episode of WineAlign’s So You Think You Know Wine?.
Also worth the drive to the LCBO this week is Argentina’s answer to amarone, made by one of Italy’s top amarone producers, another superb syrah from 400kms north of Santiago and a fine local rosé with which to ease back in the Muskoka chair and watch the sun set, or rise. Find the full top ten here.
An Italian Primer: 7 classic wines from 7 regions
The July 23rd VINTAGES Spotlight shines on Italy, a country of bedeviling complexity that never fails to instill feelings of overwhelming hopelessness in otherwise competent and dedicated sommelier students, not to mention consumers of wine. Italy’s sheer vineyard size, spanning all 20 administrative regions and locking up the world #1 spot for liters produced annually, its 1000+ native varieties that rarely grow in foreign soil, and often never even leave their local valley, and its countless wine styles make for a complex subject of study to be sure. But that’s the beauty of Italy: a lifetime’s worth of study, travel, tasting and experiencing, with no end in site.
If you’re up for the challenge, take this crash, self-taught, hopefully shared, experiential course in Italian wine: seven classic wines from seven corners of the country. Check out how marvelously diverse this country is. Seven weeks, seven days, seven hours, the length of the course is up to you. If you choose the latter duration, I recommend seven classmates, too. Total cost of materials, not including view of Positano on the Amalfi Coast, glassware, antipasti, secondi, caffé or digestivi, but including all wine, is $179.65. All bottles are available on July 23rd and I’ve listed them here.
Course 1: Alto-Adige
Aka Südtirol, the Alto Adige is nestled between the Dolomites and the Southern Alps just south of Austria, accessible via the Brenner Pass. The first, and co-official language for many inhabitants here is still German, despite Mussolini’s forced program of Italianization, and there are lots of suspiciously tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed citizens. What little agricultural land available is found along the Adige River Valley and its tributaries. You need strong calves and thighs to make wine in the Alto Adige. The region in general produces fresh, crisp whites and lively, juicy reds from a long list of grapes, though pinot grigio is the most popular, ranging from the banal to the sublime.
Homework: 2010 TIEFENBRUNNER PINOT GRIGIO DOC Südtirol-Alto Adige $17.95
Course 2: Campania
Home to Naples, Italy’s top tailors, Mt. Vesuvius, the Amalfi Coast, limoncello and Mozzarella di Buffala, Campania is also a treasure trove of high quality native grapes. Sophisticated wine lists, chalked up on the walls of ancient wine bars and preserved under the ashes of Vesuvius’ eruption, testify to two thousand years of serious wine drinking culture (also preserved are the pictogramic “menus” of the second oldest profession, another type of fun house altogether). But it’s up in the Apennines, inland from the heat and chaos of Napoli, where the top drops originate. The cool, bucolic hills of Avellino, Benevento and Tufo are major centers of wine production. Sturdy reds from aglianico and some of Italy’s most serious whites from fiano, falanghina and Greco are worth finding.
Homework: 2009 TERREDORA LOGGIA DELLA SERRA GRECO DI TUFO DOCG $17.95
Course 3: Basilicata
Where for the love of Bacchus is Basilicata? You won’t find it on any tourist itineraries; it’s the forgotten region that forms the instep of the boot, sandwiched between Puglia to the east, and Calabria and Campania to the west. There’s a lovely, unspoiled stretch of Ionian coast, too. I believe that there are still more sheep living in Basilicata than Italians. As far as wine goes, there’s only one you have to know: Aglianico del Vulture, with the EMphasis on the first syllable: VUL-too-ray, to sound like you know what you’re talking about. Aglianico is the name of the grape, once thought to have come from Greece (an Italianization of ellenico-Hellenic- “Greek”), but recent studies points to origins in central Europe. It’s a savage beauty, wild and untamed, like a rustic country cousin of nebbiolo, full of tannins, acid and savoury pot pourri flavours. When grown on the slopes of the extinct Vulture volcano, it takes on a salty mineral edge.
2007 CANTINA DI VENOSA TERRE DI ORAZIO AGLIANICO DEL VULTURE DOCG $17.95
Course 4: Abruzzo
On the beautiful Adriatic coast, Abruzzo borders Le Marche to the north, Molise to the south, and Lazio to the west; it’s a 200km drive from Rome across the rugged Apennines. Southern Italy’s highest peak at 2,914m, the Gran Sasso d’Italia (Italy’s Big Pebble), is here. Mussolini made his daring, German special forces-assisted escape from the Campo Imperatore ski resort high on the Gran Sasso on September 12th 1943, offering him a short reprieve from the inevitable. But I digress. The viticultural action occurs outside of ski resorts at lower elevations; the best vineyards sit around 300-500 meters where the summer heat is moderated by cool mountain air. There are only two grapes of note: trebbiano is at best a pleasant quaffing white, while montepulciano can be everything from red-and-white checked tablecloth trattoria house wine to one of Italy’s most intense and flavourful reds.
Homework: 2007 CANTINA TOLLO ALDIANO MONTEPULCIANO D’ABRUZZO RISERVA DOC $16.95
Course 5: Tuscany
Any introduction necessary? Don’t think so. Just picture Cypress tree-lined country lanes, olive groves, medieval villages floating atop rolling hills, vineyards everywhere, as well as mad Germans and Swiss driving BMWs and Mercedes’ at formula One speed, rushing to relax in some ancient castle converted into a luxury Spa. Sangiovese is the grape that grows most widely under the Tuscan sun. It has been undergoing a serious makeover in the last twenty years, and it’s no longer possible to generalize about it; it ranges in style from pale, zesty, juicy, dusty cherry-flavoured (old school-pizza pasta wine) to seriously dark, thick, oaky and more cabernet-like (modern style), especially when it’s made with cabernet. Overall, quality has risen dramatically, hand in hand with prices, but when it’s good, as in top Chianti, Brunello, Morellino and Vino Nobile, it’s really good.
Homework: 2005 IL MARRONETO BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO DOCG $46.95
Course 6: Piedmont
Terroir spiritualists are at home in Piedmont. Piedmontese winegrowers are indeed kindred spirits of that other spiritual sect, the Burgundians, both working for the most part with single grapes, and looking to articulate and emphasize the nuances imparted by terroir with religious zeal. Nebbiolo, not the most planted but certainly the most headline-grabbing grape, is possibly the greatest red grape on the planet if such an unlikely title could ever exist. It smells like no other (well, maybe a little like Brunello or aglianico, especially after a decade or more in the bottle); it’s a trickster, setting you up to believe that you’re about to experience a light, delicate wine with its deceptive pale garnet colour. Then it hits you, full force, like a sumo wrestler or a German Panzer attack, before subsiding like a passing hurricane. As you slowly recover from the oral symphony, minutes later, with the whispering after effects still audible, you can only conclude that the experience was mesmerizing, and that you want to do it all over again (how was that for mixed metaphors? Isn’t it great what you can get away with on the internet?)
Homework: 2006 FRANCO MOLINO BAROLO DOCG $29.95
Course 7: The Veneto
The Veneto, anchored by the watery, melting, fairytale city of Venice in the northeast, is a powerhouse of wine production. Many of Italy’s most popular regional brands are made here: Soave, Valpolicella, Prosecco, not too mention oceans of pinot grigio, among others. As you know, meaningless DOCs are no guarantee of quality: there’s sublime Soave, and then there’s the ridiculous; there’s valorous Valpolicella, and then there’s the vacuous. Knowing the right producers is important everywhere, but the need is particularly acute in the Veneto, where industrial meets artisanal on the same shelf. Admittedly, I’ve never fully understood the attraction to one of the region’s most celebrated wines: amarone. I’m fond of raisins in my cereal more than my wine, but it seems I’m the outsider so I’ll just go with the flow. There are excellent examples than even a man of my simplistic tastes can appreciate, such as the bottle suggested for your homework below.
Homework: 2006 NOVAIA CORTE VAONA AMARONE DELLA VALPOLICELLA CLASSICO DOC $39.95
International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration (i4c)
Reminder to get your tickets for the i4c, Friday July 22nd through Sunday July 24th. at www.coolchardonnay.org and at the host wineries. David Lawrason and I will be there all weekend, so stop by and say hello.
John Szabo, Master Sommelier