Tasting: Chiantis of Ruffino, 2015 Releases

ruffinoRecently I had the chance to virtually sit down with Gabriele Tacconi, Ruffino’s chief winemaker, to hear about the launch of its “Gran Selezione,” a new, upper-echelon expression of Tuscany’s most famous wine, Chianti. Gran Selezione add’s a fourth tier to this wine region, from Chianti to Chianti Classico to Riserva to Gran Selezione.

Gran Selezione wines must spend at least 30 months aging (including 3 months in bottle), a 6 month increase over the legal standards that Riserva wines are subject to, and these wines must be sourced from 100% winery-owned vineyards.

How does Ruffino’s first “GS” stack up? We tried the full range of Ruffino’s Chianti lineup (well, all four categories of Chianti, anyway), to experience for ourselves. Thoughts follow.

2013 Ruffino Chianti DOCG – 70% sangiovese, plus a mix of other stuff. Bottled in a Burgundy-style bottle, evoking the old wicker basket bottlings. This is a simple wine but it’s far more pleasurable than you’d expect, offering a simple fruit structure (more strawberry than cherry), some touches of roasted meats, and hints of vanilla. Both lightly tannic and lightly jammy, but so simple and extremely light on its feet (and in color). B- / $6

2013 Ruffino Aziano Chianti Classico DOCG – 80% sangiovese, 20% cabernet and merlot. Some pepper on the nose, then bright cherry fruit. Lush on the body, its cherry fruit balanced by notes of bacon, roasted meats, and touches of oak-driven vanilla. There’s a simplicity to this wine, but also a depth of character that makes the non-Classico wine look a bit undercooked. B+ / $12

2011 Ruffino Riserva Ducale Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG – 80% sangiovese, 20% cabernet and merlot. Somewhat jammy, with a clear cabernet influence on the tongue and some perfumed notes on the nose, driven by the merlot. Altogether it comes across quite a bit like a New World wine, fruit firmly forward, almost sweet thanks to significant oak influence, but nicely balanced and easy to enjoy. A- / $15

2010 Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG – 80% sangiovese, 10% merlot, and 10% cabernet sauvignon. Lots of similarity with the Riserva Ducale above, with lots of bold fruit up front and a finish that fades to chocolate and vanilla. There’s a nice and intricate tannin structure here, supporting blackberries, tobacco, and leathery notes. The finish tries to dial back some impressive fruitiness, but it can barely stand up to the assault. Old World, welcome to the New World. A- / $30

ruffino.com

Review: 2011 Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder

nullMt. Brave isn’t called that because they think the name is cute. It’s because the fruit for this wine is grown at high altitudes on the dedicedly inhospitable Mt. Veeder in Napa Valley, California.

This 2011 Cabernet (94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc) is the picture of restraint. The nose is very mild, with notes of blackberry, tea leaf, mushroom, and cedar — but in the distance, not punching at your nostrils like so many bolder, Napa-born cabernets. The body doesn’t immediate run any specific direction. It’s light and lively, almost to the point of feeling watery, again a big surprise given the usual trajectory for this type of wine.

Instead, look for notes of simple red fruits, vanilla, and a touch of fresh herbal character. Again, this is all very simplistic and a tad underdeveloped, which means it drinks easily enough, but lacks the depth that a wine of this stature should have.

B+ / $75 / mtbravewines.com

Review: NV Ferrari Perle Trento DOC

stilllife 012This sparkler is made in the same method as Champagne, but in Trento, Italy, located in the far north of the nation, midway between Milan and Venice. Made from 100% Chardonnay. It’s a fresh and flavorful wine that lands somewhere between Champagne and Prosecco in most of the facets of its construction.

Fizzy, but not too fizzy, it’s big with apple and peach notes and a touch of lemon oil up front. As it evolves, a touch of walnut, some light notes of roasted meats, and hints of red berry fruit come to the fore. Watch for a touch of floral character — white, springtime flowers — particularly on the nose as the wine opens up in the glass.

A- / $35 / ferraritrento.it

Review: 2012 Flora Springs Trilogy

flora springs trilogy2012’s bottling of the Bordeaux-style Trilogy is composed of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot, 6% Malbec, and 6% Petite Verdot — another quartet of grapes for a wine named for threes. It’s another knockout vintage, offering a lush core of cherries, currants, and plum, well-laced with notes of chocolate sauce. Beautiful perfume on the nose offers violet notes but also a mix of fresh and dried herbs, with a lightly tannic kicker. Very well crafted and ready to go now.

A- / $75 / florasprings.com

Review: Piper-Heidsieck Brut and 1995 Blanc des Millenaires

HeidsieckWe meant to review these two Heidsieck Champagne bottlings for the holidays but, you know, things got away from us…

NV Piper-Brut Champagne (red label) – Super crisp apple on the nose, with strong notes of lemongrass. The body is tart with just the right amount of sweetness to back it up, plenty more of those apples with a light, brioche-driven breadiness on the finish. Just about perfect. A / $39

1995 Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires Champagne – 100% Chardonnay. Drinking old. Sour apple up front, then intense notes of mushroom and musty bread amidst some vinegary, old-apple character in the middle. The finish continues to push some old wine notes. Fans of well-aged vintage Champagne may find all of this charming, but I can’t get onboard. C- / $185

piper-heidsieck.com

Review: Wines of Arrowood, 2015 Releases

arrowoodTwo new releases from Sonoma-based Arrowood, including — oddly enough — a new 2011 Cabernet, released in a time when everyone else is putting out their 2012 releases. Thoughts follow.

2013 Arrowood Chardonnay Sonoma County – Nothing new to see here. This California starts off with buttery vanilla notes and sticks with them to the end. Some pear and banana notes arrive in the middle, but otherwise this wine fades into relative anonymity in short order. B / $20

2011 Arrowood Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County – Hearty and a bit rustic, this Sonoma Cab kicks off with a ton of fruit before delving into notes of blackberry syrup, coffee beans, dark chocolate, and some bitter root notes. Not entirely well-integrated, the tannin almost gets away from this one with a finish that is more herbal than fruit-driven. B / $37

arrowoodvineyards.com

Review: Wines of Frei Brothers, 2015 Releases

Frei Brothers Reserve 2013 R. River Valley-Sonoma County Pinot Noir 750mlThree new wines from Sonoma’s Frei Brothers, which seemingly only has a “Reserve” label. Thoughts follow…

2013 Frei Brothers Chardonnay Russian River Valley Sonoma County – A big, slap-your-mama California Chardonnay, but one that’s not without some charm. The big vanilla is kept in check by some lemon and orange notes, with a pervasive apple cider character. There’s enough acidity on the back end to give this wine a fair amount of life, but given the lingering sweetness, I’d still reserve it for the dessert course. B- / $20

2012 Frei Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley Sonoma County - Initially very fruity, to the point of being jammy, this wine eventually settles down to reveal lots of black fruit, dark chocolate, and coffee bean notes. I get hints of cinnamon and allspice, but by and large it’s a chewy, Napa-style cabernet with gentle tannins, modest sweetness, and a lengthy, dense finish. B+ / $27

2012 Frei Brothers Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Sonoma County – A workmanlike Pinot, drinkable but too thin, simply lacking in enough body. The fruit is there, but it’s restrained — cherries and some raspberry notes — dialed back and held in check for a short, but innocuous, finish. B / $27

freibrothers.com

Review: Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel and Chardonnay, 2015 Releases

frank family zinfandelNapa’s Frank Family has two of its flagship wines ready for their 2015 debut. Thoughts on the winery’s Chardonnay and Zinfandel follow.

2013 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay Carneros – Same aging regimen on this Carneros bottling — barrel fermented in 34% new, 33% once, and 33% twice-filled French oak barrels for 9 months. Moderately tropical on the nose, but it’s surprisingly mild on the whole. The big, oaky body is a clear Cali bomb — all brown butter, vanilla, and notes from the barrel. Desperate for some acidity, the finish is a bit flabby and uninspired for a wine at this price. B- / $35

2012 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel Napa Valley – Textbook Zin, pushing the fruit to within an inch of its life, but still just hanging on to some balance by the skin of its teeth. Raisin notes, some forest floor, and tea leaf all make an appearance, giving this an unusual but surprisingly lively construction. Quite food-friendly. 79% Zin, 18% Petite Sirah, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. B / $37

frankfamilyvineyards.com

Event: IPOB Offers Pinot with a Twist

San Franciscans, please join me on March 16 at the Metreon City View for In Pursuit of Balance, a tasting of California pinot noir and chardonnay that has an honest-to-God manifesto behind it. IPOB is a group of producers “seeking a different direction with their wines, both in the vineyard and the winery. This direction focuses on balance, non-manipulation in the cellar, and the promotion of the fundamental varietal characteristics which make pinot noir and chardonnay great – subtlety, poise and the ability of these grapes to serve as profound vehicles for the expression of terroir.”

You can get your lips around these wines — and these are some excellent producers, I can attest myself — in just over a week. To wit:

On March 16 (from 6 to 9 pm), thirty-three of California’s top wineries will share their wines at In Pursuit of Balance, an event created in 2011 to celebrate balance in California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Joining those wineries will be nine of the Bay Area’s top restaurants, including SPQR, Nopa, Bar Tartine and RN74. IPOB represents a unique opportunity to taste thirty-three of the finest California pinot and chardonnay producers in a focused setting. As one of the most exciting and controversial movements in California wine, IPOB has been covered by, among others, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and Food + Wine Magazine.

Tickets are $125, and you can nab them here. (Not in SF? IPOB is also headed to Houston and Japan.) Cheers!

Review: 2013 Menage a Trois Chardonnay California

Menage a Trois 2012 Chardonnay Hi Res Bottle ShotThis year’s expression of California Chardonnay from Menage a Trois is a tough one, loaded with vanilla candy to within an inch of its life, and balanced only by a hint of caramel apple and a twist of lemon on the finish. Cloying and mouth-coating from the get-go, it grabs you by the sweet tooth and never lets up. Enter at your own risk.

D+ / $8 / menageatroiswines.com