Tasting Report: Rosso Montefalco and Montefalco Sagrantino, 2015 Releases

It’s been a year since we checked in with our friends in Montefalco, Umbria, and the time was nigh to revisit the wines of this storied region in Italy. Six wines were tasted as part of this live event broadcast from Italy — four 100% Sagrantino wines and two Rossos, which are only 10 to 15% Sagrantino but are mostly Sangiovese (60 to 70%). Other grape varieties make up the balance.

Let’s taste!

2011 Perticaia Montefalco Rosso DOC – Ample earth, dried herbs, and a lashing of currants. Restrained, this wine keeps the focus on the earth and its treasures — rosemary, sage, and some eucalyptus. B+ / $28

2011 Colpetrone Montefalco Rosso DOC – A much different, fruitier wine, with fresh strawberry and blackberry dominating the palate. Almost jarring at first, with its new(er) world approach and vanilla notes. Fresh and lively — and one of the few wines here that are approachable without food. B / $19

2008 Tenuta Castelbuono (Lunelli) “Carapace” Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG – Dense, wintry, with some smoky and coal dust notes on the nose. Aging well, the body exudes raisin and prune notes, old wood, and more charcoal notes. Thick and palate-coating with tannins and a lasting finish. B+ / $37

2009 Antonelli Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG – More balsamic character on this wine, its darker fruit notes tempered by spices and dried herbs. Earthy and mushroomy, with notes of truffles and cured meats. Give this one ample time in glass to show off the dense fruit at its core. A- / $45

2008 Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG – Lovely cherry starts things off on this expression of Sagrantino which has lightened up considerably since last year’s tasting of the same vintage. Watch for notes of dark chocolate and vanilla, and a finish that brings out blueberry notes. A really fun wine with a balanced but complex character. A- / $40

2009 Arnaldo Caprai “Collepiano” Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG – Tannic and still quite tight, this wine needs some air to pull fruit from the dusty coal and char notes that lie beneath the surface. This is a wine that will be ready to drink in another decade, but for now it showcases tightly bound earth and roots, licorice, and the essencce of a well-used fireplace in an ancient manor. Hints of blackberry and blueberry emerge on the finish… a taste of what’s to come (some day). A- / $60


Review: A Trio of Portuguese Wines – Grous, Ravasqueira, Esporao

Herdade do Esporao Duas Castas 2013Tis the season for Portugeuse vino, with affordable bottlings arriving from all over the small yet vineyard-covered country. Here’s a threesome that represents a range of blended styles common to Portugal.

2012 Herdade dos Grous Vinho Regional Alentejano Tinto – A red blend of aragonez, syrah, alicante bouschet, and touriga nacional from the Alentejano region. Well rounded, this is an earthy and herbal wine with a restrained fruitiness and notes of chocolate on the finish. Surprisingly balanced and nuanced for such an affordable bottling. A- / $14

2013 Monte da Ravasqueira Vinho Regional Alentejano Tinto – The same four grapes as the Grous make up this wine, a rather brutish, young, and ham-fisted bottling. Quite sweet, and tough to really get into, this wine exudes notes of strawberry candies and sugar cookies. A massive letdown compared to the prior bottling. C- / $10

2013 Herdade do Esporao Duas Castas 2 – A white blend of antão vaz and gouveio grapes. Tastes a lot like an Italian wine, heavy on pear notes, lightly sweet and a bit floral. The finish takes things to a slightly herbal place — particularly as it gets warmer — but on the whole it’s a simple sipper. B / $15

Review: 2013 Sequoia Grove Chardonnay Napa Valley

Sequoia Grove NV ChardonnayThis latest release from Napa’s Sequoia Grove is classic, buttery Chardonnay, offering an archetypal vanilla-apple core. It features an ample body with plenty of length, but there’s not much in the way of nuance from start to finish. The back end is a bit too lingering with sweetness, that vanilla component lingering for the long haul. You’ll know before the first sip if it’s something you’re going to enjoy.

B- / $20 / sequoiagrove.com

Review: 2010 Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Georges de Latour

1141109xBV’s top-end wine is still in its 2010 release, a key indicator of the amount of care that goes into the production of one of Napa’s most classic bottlings.

The 2010 BV Georges de Latour cuts an opulent and austere profile, in keeping with the general approach of this series. Strong cassis on the nose plus plum and raspberry give this wine an immediately engaging profile. On the palate, milky chocolate notes emerge, but they’re held in check by ample fruit and a well-balanced tannin structure. The finish is lengthy and sustained, offering a lightly bittersweet character that eventually showcases emerging vanilla and baking spice notes.

Most important in all of this is how well-integrated all of the various components are, making this a phenomenally easy-drinking wine that works as well on its own as it does with food. It’s not terribly complicated — which can often be a challenge with Napa Cabernet — but I’m happy to let this wine find its own footing.

A / $90 / bvwines.com

Drinkhacker 2015 Wine Cheat Sheet / Vintage Chart

Our popular Drinkhacker cheat sheet — the ninth version in our annual series of printable features designed to help you tell a good vintage of wine from a crummy one — is here!

Just print, cut along the dotted lines, fold it up (into thirds), and keep a copy in your wallet next time you need to quickly discern whether a wine vintage is a keeper or a throwaway.

As always, here’s how to use the cheat sheet: Only the last two digits of a year are included to save space, and the list only rarely reaches back into the pre-WWII era, so assume anything you see starting with a zero or one to be from this century.

All years listed here are considered good to great vintages, but those in green with underlining are the cream of the crop, “classic” years that you should consider the very best on the market. (Why green and underlined? So you can tell the difference whether you use a color or black & white printer.)

Check back next October for the next revision of the cheat sheet!


Drinkhacker.com wine cheat sheet download options:

drinkhacker cheat sheet 2015 [doc]

drinkhacker cheat sheet 2015 [pdf]

Review: Wines of Balletto, 2015 Releases

Balletto_CH_Teresa_bottleBalletto is primarily a grape grower — 90% of the company’s harvest is sold to other vintners — but it also vinifies its own wines, including a wide range of NorCal classic styles. Recently we tried four modestly priced bottlings. Thoughts follow.

2014 Balletto Rose of Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – Fresh, with light strawberries and some floral notes. A touch of creme brulee underneath on the palate, with grapefruit notes adding tartness to the finish. B / $18

2014 Balletto Chardonnay Teresa’s Unoaked Russian River Valley – A crisp and nicely acidic unoaked chardonnay, loaded with green apple and grapefruit, plus a dusting of fresh herbs — rosemary in particular. Cleansing on the finish. A- / $20

2014 Balletto Chardonnay Russian River Valley – Restrained on the butter/wood component, but the toasty wood notes eventually evoke brown butter and some melon notes. Uncomplicated but well balanced. A- / $28

2013 Balletto Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – A bit bloated at first, with modest cherry and currant notes and some licorice. Dried herbs lead to a light finish, but give this wine some time and some light chocolate notes emerge, adding some structure. B / $29


Review: 2013 Santa Cristina Umbria Bianco IGT

santa cristinaCheap Italian white doesn’t get much better than this, a crisp blend of grechetto and procanico (plus unnamed others) from the Umbria region. Very light peaches, tropical fruits, and a dusting of coconut form the core of the wine. The finish showcases some banana notes and a touch of vanilla cookie. Nothing fancy here, but a great wine to pair with seafood pasta.

B+ / $10 / santacristina1946.it

Review: Wines of Planeta (Focus on Sicily’s Etna), 2015 Releases

002Planeta is one of the icons of Sicilian winemaking, and recently I had the pleasure of meeting Alessio Planeta (pictured below), head winemaker for this operation that sprawls across the island of Sicily. Over lunch at San Francisco’s SPQR, we tasted through a series of Planeta’s Etna-grown wines. (Etna is on the east coast of the island, near the famous volcano… and the rich soils it has created.)

Here are some thoughts on all wines tasted.

NV Planeta Metodo Classico Brut – A 100% carricante sparkler. One of my favorite wines of the day, a fresh citrus-fueled wine, not too fizzy, with crisp apple notes and a clean finish. A- / $40

2014 Planeta Etna Bianco DOC – 100% carricante. Fragrant and lemony, with notes of white flowers. Acidity is high, but the body’s a little thin. Interesting to see the same grape as a still wine vs. the sparkler above. B+ / $24

2014 Planeta Eruzione 1614 Carricante – 90% carricante, 10% riesling. A hint of white burgundy gets this blend going, and what a difference a touch of riesling makes. Quite floral, it builds on a buttery body to a nutty character as it warms up. Quite opulent. A- / $32

2011 Planeta Eruzione 1614 Carricante – 95% carricante, 5% riesling. The same wine with some age on it. More fragrant, despite the lower level of riesling in the blend. Notes of brown butter showcase some nice maturity here, but give it a little air before gulping it down. A- / $32

2014 Planeta Etna Rosso DOC – 100% nerello mascalese. A little thin, a rustic wine with dense berries and tart cherry notes. Some rosemary on the finish. B / $25

2014 Planeta Eruzione 1614 Nerello Mascalese – 100% nerello mascalese. Intense herbs and vegetation here at first, very young, with some ethanol notes. Tight today, but showing promise. B+ / $35

2011 Planeta Eruzione 1614 Nerello Mascalese – 100% nerello mascalese. Beautiful fruit showing on this slightly aged vintage, with maturity proceeding nicely. A little vanilla and a slight balsamic edge get along well; nice balance and fun to drink, but with ample complexity. A / $35


Review: Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley and Alexander Valley, 2012 Vintage

louis martiniThe 2012 vintage releases from cabernet-focused Louis Martini are here. (For 2011 vintage reviews, click here.) Let’s see what this vintage has in store for us!

2012 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – Dense and raisiny on the nose, almost pruny at times. The body offers dried herbs atop a plum, raisin, and dark chocolate core. Somewhat bittersweet and drinking quite tight at the moment, with a lengthy finish that kicks up the sweetness around the edges. Not bad, but a bit workmanlike. B / $25

2012 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley Sonoma County – Cohesive and well-structured, this wine offers a better balance than the Napa bottling, with plenty of fruit but less jamminess. Chocolate notes are easy to enjoy, but the kick of licorice gives it some nuance. The finish is drying but far short of astringent. All in all, it’s a solid and easily drinkable effort. A- / $19


Review: 2014 Chateau d’Esclans Rock Angel Cotes de Provence Rose

Chateau d'Esclans Rock AngelRarely have I been so unoffended by a wine.

In this case, Provence-based Chateau d’Esclans makes a rose from (red) grenache and (white) vermentino (aka rolle) and bottles this barely pink wine as Rock Angel. (The wine replaces the company’s previous rose, Whispering Angel.)

It smells basically like almost nothing at all, just the lightest fragrances of peaches, citrus, and vanilla, but largely gossamer thin on the nose. The body is a little more present, thanks to some citrus-fueled acidity and some peach/tropical character. Clean finish. At $25 this is crazy money for a wine of this level of simplicity, but at least, on a technical level, there’s nothing especially wrong with it.

Ho hum.

B- / $25 / esclans.com