In my last post I wrote that Enrico Pierazzuoli was in San Francisco to pour his wines at Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri World Tour held at Fort Mason’s Festival Pavillon. Enrico is a practical man who does not place too much importance on scores, awards and such, but when his estate in Carmignano, Le Farnete, received a “Tre Bicchieri” for their 2013 Carmignano Riserva, he was clearly honored. It feels good to be recognized for your efforts, especially when it’s by Italy’s most influential wine and food publication.
Tuscany’s Carmignano is a lesser-known appellation, but its history of wine growing traces back centuries. In 1716, the Grand Duke Cosimo III de’ Medici legally recognized and identified this area for wine growing. Enrico appreciated the timing of receiving his first-ever “Tre Bicchieri” while celebrating Carmignano’s 300th Anniversary! The 2013 Carmignano Riserva is a blend of 80% Sangiovese with 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged in small oak barrel for a year and then another year in bottle before being released to market, it is a full-bodied expression of Sangiovese. The inclusion of a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon is enough to give the wine significant back-bone and structure. Less than 200 cases are produced of the Riserva and only in the best years. It is a wine with a long life ahead of it.
The Pierazzuoli’s run a traditional osteria on their estate in Chianti Montalbano. They sent out a notice earlier this week that they no longer have any reservations open for Easter. Of course there is lamb on the menu, so I am guessing patrons will be enjoying the 2013 Carmignano Riserva as it should be a perfect match. Shame I can’t be there! Buona Pasqua! -Anya Balistreri
This year’s visit from the Enrico and Gianlorenzo Show coincided with the Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri World Tour’s stop in San Francisco on February 15. Enrico was pouring his wine on the tour and Gianlorenzo Picollo, his friend, fellow winemaker, and traveling companion, came along too. Those two usually travel to the States together, which works out perfectly for us because we get the pleasure of meeting with two of our favorite Italian producers at the same time. I lovingly call their visit a “show” because they remind me of a duo á la Jay and Silent Bob, as Enrico is the talkative one and Gianlorenzo, shy and less sure of his English, taking on the role of the sidekick.
Enrico, Gianlorenzo and David
The “show” begins with Gianlorenzo pouring his fabulous Gavis. Pete wrote about the Rovereto earlier in the year. Since there are only two Gavis and the winemaking here is fairly straight forward, this portion of the show is quick. Next up is Enrico with his line-up from two estates; one from Chianti Montalbano and the other from Carmignano. This can take a while because Enrico is adamant on explaining all aspects of his wine production, not to mention that he is not one to hold back on sharing his opinion on, well, most things. I for one relish these presentations by Enrico. His enthusiasm and devotion to his work comes through with equal parts seriousness and humor. Enrico has a dry wit and delivers it with grand hand gestures and animated facial expressions.
2015 Chianti Montalbano
The first wine Enrico poured for us was the 2015 Chianti Montalbano and it was clear right off the bat that this is one of his finest efforts. Enrico, swinging his arms up and folding them behind his head, explained it this way, “in 2014 you really needed to make the wine, in 2015 it made itself…you could go to the beach”. 2015 was a favorable vintage across Italy and Montalbano was no exception. The Sangiovese fully ripened while retaining all the necessary structure, acid and tannin to make great wine. In general, Enrico’s Chianti Montalbano tends to be fruit-driven and light-to-medium bodied, but the 2015 is noticeably fuller and dense. The vines are now over twenty years old and that also contributes to the quality of the grapes.
TWH staff and Enrico spoke at length about the challenges of making and selling Chianti. So much of what is produced is what Enrico calls “industrially made”. These mass produced Chiantis are antithesis to the approach Enrico and his family take to making wine. For the Pierazzuoli’s, it is a real family affair. In addition to making wine, they produce their own olive oil as well as other food delicacies like vegetable conserves and fruit jams. They renovated their farmhouse into an agriturismo and most recently converted an ancient hayloft into a traditional Tuscan osteria. Last summer, my niece had the pleasure of staying a night at one of their apartments during a tour through Italy. She and her fiancé had dinner at the osteria. It was the highlight of their trip. I think I’m due a trip there myself! In the meantime, it’ll be bowls of pasta Puttanesca and glasses of 2015 Chianti Montalbano to tie me over until then.– Anya Balistreri
The Chianti sub-zone of Colli Senesi covers a large area, so as a whole, its reputation for quality does lag behind the more famous and narrowly defined Chianti Classico. But discerning eyes and palates know that drawn borders and appellations only tell part of the story. Take Le Rote as an example, located just a mile north of the famous towers of San Gimignano, you might also notice that it is just 16 miles due west of Castellina, the sweet spot of Chianti Classico. The soil, climate and altitude are quite similar to each other.
To continue the story, Le Rote is owned by Massimo Scotti and his family. They run a successful agriturismo business, make olive oil and produce wine. Their wine production is small, most of it consumed by the guests staying at their restored 18th century farmhouse and also sell a large portion of their fruit to off-set costs. Their Sangiovese is grown on a south-west facing hill with a 100 meters of separation from top to bottom. Depending on vintage conditions, they may either harvest from the top, the bottom, or the middle of the slope. Because they can afford to harvest by altitude, their Chianti has incredible consistency. The importer for this wine explained to me that “we’ve never met anyone else with the circumstance and ability to be so surgical in their harvest”. Their enologist, Paolo Caciorgna, who also makes wines nearby for Andrea Bocelli, is a native of San Gimignano and appreciates the approach the Scotti’s take to viticulture. The historic clone Sangiovese grapes are hand-harvested, sustainably farmed and dry farmed. Total production of the Chianti Colli Senesi is shy of 600 cases with yields averaging a bottle a plant.
The 2011 Chianti Colli Senesi from Le Rote is jam-packed with black cherry flavors, some sweet earthy aromatic notes, and a satisfying, easy-going finish. It’s drinking optimally right now and should stay so for months to come. To inaugurate The Wine House’s 39th Anniversary Sale, the 2011 Le Rote Chianti Colli Senesi is now on sale for $14.95 per bottle, down from $19.98. To sweeten the pot even further, we are also offering the enticing special full-case price of $142 – that’s less than $12 per bottle! Now that’s a deal, non ci piove! Take advantage of this deep discount to spread holiday cheer far and wide. A bottle for your neighbor perhaps who pet-sits in a moment’s notice or for the friend who is always available to help out on demo-days? Stashing a case is going to make last minute gift-giving a cinch. Who wouldn’t love a bottle of Chianti?
During my research for this write-up, I felt it compulsory to test out a bottle with a bowl of classic red-sauced pasta. Talk about comfort food. You could put a candle on it and serve it to me in lieu of a birthday cake. No joke. There is something magical about the combination of Sangiovese and a tomato-based pasta sauce. The fruit flavors of Sangiovese waltz seamlessly with the acid of the tomato. A dusting of Parmigiano Reggiano completes the sweet/salty balance to achieve flavor nirvana. Cook up a pot, open some bottles of 2011 Le Rote Chianti Colli Senesi and invite a bunch of friends over for dinner. Do it – it’ll be good for you! – Anya Balistreri
As 2016 continues to buzz away, here we are past the halfway mark. July is a great month for oh-so-many reasons. The fourth falls of a Monday this year, and that’s great for those of us who like three day weekends! Baseball’s mid-summer classic is coming up soon, and the long summer days of July are great occasions to get outdoors and enjoy yourself! It’s always good to have some reserves, so we’ve put together a great July Dirty Dozen to keep you prepared for any vinous emergency. Happy July!
Reorder Special !!! 20% off 6 bottles or more of any one regularly priced Dirty Dozen wine! Or 10%/Net Wines – 5%/ Sale Wines
2014 Screen Porch White, HRW $11.98 net price, $10.78 reorder
Going back in time here with a Napa Valley Chardonnay for $12! Some Pinot Gris was added to the blend to perk up the acidity, making this the ideal, hot weather sipper from the folks at Hendry Winery. We’re told this is a one-off, so enjoy it while its still available. Crisp and crunchy peach flavors abound. Pair with a main course salad out on the veranda.
2014 Sauvignon Delle Venezie, Torre di Luna $11.98 net price, $10.78 reorder
Torre di Luna Sauvignon is a refreshing, simple and delicious white wine from the region of Trentino in Northern Italy. The light – only 12.5% ABV – crisp flavors are especially welcome this time of year as we head into summer’s heat. Chill it down well to accentuate the fresh tropical flavors. Pair with light pasta dishes, pizza bianco, or fresh spring rolls.
2015 Soave San Rocco, Monte Tondo $11.98 net price, $10.78 reorder
Monte Tondo specializes in Soave. Their hilltop estate, not far from Verona, overlooks the valley. The San Rocco is their entry level Soave, but it is by no means inferior to their estate-branded wines. Offering incredible value, this Soave is vibrant and mineral-driven. Tank fermented, try it with bay shrimp stuffed avocados or a Panzanella salad.
2012 Gewurztraminer Rosenberg, Domaine Ehrhart $21.99, $17.59 reorder
Rose petals and lychee nuts are descriptors that follow Gewurztraminer around as the aromas of this variety are definitely marked by these distinct fragrances. This single-vineyard Gewurz is a bit off-dry, as evidenced by the sweetness scale that the Ehrharts use on the back label. Pair this opulent nectar with spicy curry or red beans and rice.
2014 Rosé Les Trois Frères, Domaine Des Aspras $17.59, $14.07 reorder
Every now and then something fancy lands in the DD, and this month, we’ve got a full-fledged Provençal Rosé in the box! Domaine des Aspras is located in the village of Correns, which is an all-organic village. It’s a blend of Cinsault and Grenache, and has aromas of mint, strawberry, peach, and orange blossoms. Pair it with a simple salmon roasted in butter.
2014 Montravel Blanc, Château Calabre $8.95 sale price, $8.50 reorder
Longtime friend of TWH, Daniel Hecquet continues to turn out delicious wines for a song, and his Château Calabre Montravel Blanc is another winner on a long list of winners! Here, the blend is 50% Sauvignon Blanc, 40% Sémillon, and 10% Muscadelle just like many whites coming from nearby Bordeaux. Fresh and zippy, pair it with a chicken salad.
2014 Poggio d’Elsa, Bruni $12.98 net price, $11.68 reorder
This 50/50 blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon hails from the region of Maremma Toscana, a two-hour drive southwest of Florence. Maremma Toscana was only recently promoted to DOC status, though Azienda Bruni has been making wines since the 1970’s. Rustic, spicy with bright tart red fruit, a must for pizza or meaty baked pasta dishes.
2012 Minervois Cuvée Spéciale, Château de Paraza $11.98 net price, $10.78 reorder
Château de Paraza, like many wineries in the Minervois, can trace its history back many centuries. In 2005 the Danglas family purchased the winery with the intent of bringing its reputation back to its former glory. The quality has improved exponentially and has been a favorite here at TWH for the past five vintages. Juicy, robust, supple. Try it with lamb!
2014 Rosso Conero, Marchetti $12.98 net price, $11.68 reorder
Maurizio Marchetti’s Rosso Conero is made with Montepulciano grapes grown along coastal vineyards near the Adriatic Sea south of the seaside town of Ancona. A gentle pressing ensures freshness and supple tannins. A short rest in barrel, maybe 3-4 months before bottling, also aids in making a juicy, delicious red. Serve with chicken cooked under a brick.
2014 Chianti Montalbano, Tenuta Pierazzuoli $13.49, $10.79 reorder
Having visited us earlier in the year, Enrico Pierazzuoli showcased this newly-arrived Chianti Montalbano and our staff happily closed out the day sipping this textbook, 100% Sangiovese with some fresh salumi and provolone. It’s a medium bodied red with fresh acidity making it kind of the utility player of wines … it just goes with everything.
2013 Agrippa, Vignobles Boudinaud $17.49, $13.99 reorder
Thierry Boudinaud doesn’t make his Agrippa every year; the conditions must be just right for this 100% Syrah named in honor of the Roman statesman who oversaw the construction of the famous Pont du Garde. Good thing he’s in southern, Mediterranean France! It’s a concentrated complex Syrah, great for barbecue season, perfect with grilled smoky meats.
2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, Vinum Africa $17.99, $14.39 reorder
This Cab Sauvignon from South Africa is a great wine to wrap up this month’s DD. The fruit comes from two prized vineyards in the foothills of Helderberg Mountain, just south of Stellenbosch. It’s a full-bodied Cabernet with a core of red and black fruit, earthy mineral, a hint of herbs, and good grip. This is best served with rack of lamb or a rib-eye.
Three winemakers from TWH’s Italian portfolio paid us a visit last week. The trio consisted of Giavi’s Marco Cuscito, Ernesto Picollo’s Gianlorenzo Picollo, and Tenuta Pierazzuoli’s Enrico Pierazzuoli. A visit from a producer is a mix of business and pleasure. David drove “the boys” all over the Bay Area, meeting with restaurants and fine wine shops. The trio had also “worked the market” in LA, getting their wines placed on some pretty impressive wine lists. To say the wines were well received is an understatement. Our back stock of their wines have dwindled. David spent several days after they left trying to figure out the quickest way to get more wine imported from Italy!
I had met Enrico in Italy a few months after I started working at TWH. I had planned the trip in advance of accepting a position at TWH and it happened to coicide with this new relationship between TWH and Pierazzuoli. That was nearly twenty years ago! My boyfriend, now husband, and I drove north from Radda to Montelupo and somehow managed to find our way to Pierazzuoli’s estate tucked in the rolling hills of Montalbano. Enrico proudly showed off his new vineyard plantings, the cellar, and a farmhouse that he said he hoped to renovate to make into an agriturismo. Seeing Enrico in San Francisco reminded me of how hard he has worked to make his dreams come true making wine on his family’s estates. I’m guilty of this too, to think “wouldn’t it be great to have your own winery in Tuscany” without considering all it takes to make that a reality especially if you are not being funded by deep pockets. Enrico is a talker and he talks a lot about the trials and tribulations of running a family business in Italy. When it is quiet at the winery, Enrico is out promoting his wine abroad. He comes to the US every year as he knows it doesn’t just end at making great wine…you need to make sure it gets into the right hands.
Enrico’s 2013 Chianti Montalbano is a great example of a simple wine that delivers charm and purity of fruit. In comparison to most Chianti’s out in the market below $15, Enrico’s Chianti Montalbano offers more delicious fruit and clean flavors. I have been tasting quite of few value-priced Chianti’s lately and I am appalled at the shoddy quality and metalic flavors. Some are downright awful and undrinkable. On the other hand, Enrico’s Chianti Montalbano has fresh-picked, bright cherry fruit flavors. It may lack girth but that is not its purpose. It is meant to be that perfect back drop to your favorite bowl of pasta. For me personally, I adore the Chianti Montalbano with a Bolognese sauce. The tangy, red cherry fruit marries well with the tomato sauce and the acidity level is just right not to overwhelm the dish.
Marco, David, Gianlorenzo and Enrico
Over dinner at the newly opened Fiorella in SF’s Richmond District with Enrico, Gianlorenzo, Marco, David, Tom and I in attendance, stories were shared with much laughter emanating from our table. Those Italian boys are good people and that matters! I left home that evening with a feeling of satisfaction knowing that when I recommend a bottle of 2013 Chianti Montalbano there is a real person who made every effort to make the best wine they could. Tenuta Pierazzuoli is not a label but a family business. I like to think I’m part of that family. So cook up a whole lotta pasta and gravy and invite your family over to share stories, laugh, eat and make sure to serve the 2013 Chianti Montalbano to make it all that much better!– Anya Balistreri
The majestic, undulating hills of Montalcino give birth to some of the Italy’s greatest wines made from Sangiovese: Brunello di Montalcino. Regrettably, I am not as well-versed in Brunello as I’d like to be. Opportunities to evaluate them have been limited during my wine business tenure and well, they can be too pricey for casual exploration. Luckily I have an ace in the hole for when the urge strikes for a taste of that suave, bright cherry Sangiovese fruit, delivered in a slightly more opulent package than its cousin to the north in Chianti, and that is a bottle of delicious Rosso di Montalcino. Recently, we took in some 2012 Rosso di Montalcino from Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona which I wasted no time purchasing to evaluate at home with a Sunday supper.
The 2012 Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Rosso di Montalcino is a beauty with rich layers of black cherry, anise and spice. What attracted me most to this wine is the texture. It has a powerful impression to the fruit but the finish and mouthfeel is pure luxe and velvety smoothness. The texture is the result of fermentation in tank, stainless and concrete, and then a 12 month rest in large Slavonian oak, followed by a few months in bottle before going to market. This regiment smoothes out any sharpness to the acid or roughness to the tannins. It is straight out of the bottle ready.
The Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona estate dates back to the 17th century, changing hands from church to titled aristocracy. Current ownership of the estate belongs to the Bianchini family who inherited it from the Countess Ciacci Piccolomini, who had no heirs. Giuseppe Bianchini, who has since passed, lived on the estate and raised his family there while overseeing the day-to-day operation of food and wine production for the Countess. In 1985 Giuseppe was willed the estate and his dream to produce Brunello became a reality. Today his children, Paolo and Lucia run the estate and wine production.
I traveled and stayed in Montalcino in the late 90’s. I remember at the time thinking to myself – why all the fuss over vacationing in Chianti and not Montalcino? Less tourists, less traffic, similar beautiful vistas and equally, if not better, wine – impossible not to fall in love with the region.
Anyway, knowing I was going to be matching dinner up with the 2012 Rosso di Montalcino from Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona, I naturally turned my thoughts to preparing something Tuscan or at the very least, Italian. I wanted to cook up something comforting but at the same time I didn’t want pasta. I was stumped, so I decided to widen my culinary borders and settled on Shepherd’s pie. I like to include lots of mushrooms to the ground lamb to lighten up the dish a bit, and I always double the portions – gotta have leftovers. The Ciacci Piccolomini Rosso was divine with the dish. The creaminess of the mashed potatoes and the gaminess of the lamb suited the succulence of the Sangiovese beautifully. The wine’s underlying acidity was welcomed and cut through all that comfort food richness.
In the last half of May, my daughter will have performed in three different dance/musical productions. Last night she sang the opening number followed by a long monologue. It was the first time she had a solo role, so emotions ran high. I was excited for her and felt proud watching her overcome nerves to deliver a strong performance. Afterwards, the family celebrated with sweets and libations. No, I didn’t serve the 2012 Rosso di Montalcino from Ciacci Piccolomini, but I did serve chilled bottles of Giavi Prosecco that were quickly and happily depleted by my guests. I think I can get used to this stage mother thing!
Whew! As another week zooms by, what lies in its wake? Well, the big event this past week, no doubt, was Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri tasting. Gambero Rosso is a well known Italian wine publication which rates the country’s wines by bicchieri, or glasses, three being the highest. Each year they hit the road with the latest recipients of this designation, and the show was here in SF this past Thursday. Believe it or not, coincidentally, two of our Italian producers were also here on Thursday, though neither was part of Gambero Rosso’s event. Gianlorenzo Picollo was here pouring his family’s Gavi and Gavi di Gavi, and he was joined by Enrico Pierazzuoli from Le Farnete. I have to say that Enrico’s Carmignano has been a personal favorite of mine for many vintages, and as I’ve alluded to recently, this can create lofty expectations, which of course are sometimes difficult to live up to.
So this past Thursday at closing time, Gianlorenzo and Enrico stepped into our staff tasting area and opened some of their recent releases for us. The wine of the tasting? For me, it was the 2012 Le Farnete Carmignano. I don’t know what it is with this wine, but as I said, I have some history with this wine. I remember loving the 2004. I stocked up on the 2005 after we put it on sale, as it was the mother of no-brainers.Anya and I both thought enough of the 2008 to write about it. The 2009 was another winner, so when it came time to taste the 2012 with Enrico in the room, the pressure was on. I remember the warmth cloaking me and the smile that I couldn’t hide after I put my nose in the glass. Wonderful stuff. Incense, clove, black cherries, forest floor, black tea.My kind of wine. The palate was lush, well balanced, and complex. The finish was firing on all cylinders, another winner!
Le Farnete’s Carmignano is a blend of Sangiovese (80%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (20%), a wine that might be misclassified as a Super Tuscan. But no, this is not a Super Tuscan. As we have previously reported, under Italian law, Cabernet Sauvignon has been allowed to grow in Carmignano since Medici times. What we didn’t know was this tidbit that Enrico let us in on. In the 16th Century, when Catherine de’ Medici married French King Henry II, as a wedding gift, the French delivered some Cabernet Sauvignon vines that would be planted in Carmignano. And the rest is history.
Considering the price of this wine, it’s another no-brainer. Wines of this kind of quality can sell for double this price or even higher. It’s 13.5% alcohol and can pair with a myriad of cuisine. All of the traditional Italian dishes are easy pairings; osso-buco, bistecca alla Fiorentina, or rabbit pappardelle would be lovely, but the Carmignano is inexpensive enough to pop with simple pasta with Bolognese or Arrabiata sauce and is perfect with a sausage pizza. We had a lovely visit with these two Italian gentlemen.
I hope you all had a wonderful Valentine’s Day. The weather here in San Francisco was incredible, or as I’ve said many times, “If it’s not going to rain, it may as well do this.” We’ve got some exciting stuff on the horizon coming your way soon. It starts on Monday. Yes, we’ll be open on President’s Day, normal weekday hours of 10am-6pm. There was no footy, or at least not for my team this weekend, but that’s okay because the Champions’ League knock-out phase begins Tuesday!!! We’re up against French giants Paris Saint Germain. This will be one of those rare weeks when I won’t have my usual Wednesday off. Come on you Blues! – Peter Zavialoff