Selections for June 2016


2011 CARPINETO Riserva – Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy

Here is 90% Sangiovese and 10% Canaiolo Nero, aged for two years in oversized, previously-used Slovenian oak casks.  Just importantly, it comes from the southern Tuscan region of Montepulciano.

With those facts in place, let’s now resolve some confusion – and cause some.

Depending on your experience of Italy and its wine, you may know “Montepulciano” as a completely different wine.  That’s because the “Montelpulciano” GRAPE happens elsewhere; especially in the Marche and Abruzzo regions on Italy’s eastern side along the Adriatic.  THAT wine is darker in color; a nearly-black, compact lesson in walnut skin tannins.  As mentioned above, we are tasting the Tuscan PLACE called Montepulciano here, where the predominant grape is Sangiovese and the challenge to your palate is less tannic, more acidic.  “Montepulciano” the grape and “Montepulciano” the wine place could not be more unalike.  Got it?

Now, let’s get blurry.  Italy is a very old wine country, but a fairly new one politically.  Formerly divided up in many mini-kingdoms, a myriad of cultures coincided on this long, narrow band of land.  Each affected cuisine, language, fashion, and – of course – wine.  Finally unified as of the mid-1800’s, the newly intact nation still features significant regional variations.  The Sangiovese grape itself indicates this, with different names and clones and many a proud, local claim for whom has the best examples.  Grown not far from the hill town of Montepulciano, Montalcino’s “Sangiovese Grosso” makes the Brunello wines.  Montepulciano’s clone of Sangiovese is different:  “Prugnolo Gentile.”  Whether the latter is within the clonal jurisdiction of the other is the subject of much chatter which I find wearying and – after a while – unnecessary.  I would rather leave it to this:  The two wines are different.  Sangiovese from Montalcino (Brunello, that is) tends to be more brawny than this more sleek and vibrant Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.  We expect heft from the former, zest from the latter.  Unashamed to be but medium-bodied, this Carpineto compensates with character.  Its 2010 predecessor (provided to your club in late 2014) received a 93 point rating from Wine Spectator and subsequently appeared on that publication’s famous “Top 100” list.  This 2011 has now received the same score with the notes:

“A rich, powerful style, this evokes black cherry, black currant, plum, leather and tar flavors. Balanced and ready to enjoy, with lingering accents of spice and tobacco. Drink now through 2023.”      

“Rich”?  “Powerful”?  Are they referring to Vino Nobile di Montepulciano?  Yes, if character and not body is the reference.  As for Carpineto’s best use, wild boar is the ideal.  Lacking that, a thick smoked pork chop would certainly do just fine!

He did it again . . .

2015 De MORGENZON RESERVE XXXXXXXXXXX (The best grape in the world) – Stellenbosch, South Africa

This is a rare but perfectly legal (we wrote the rules) provision of a white wine.  World Class Club members are typically amenable to the idea that wine beauty happens in more than one color.

A great fellow wine mind, Jeremy, showed this to me in a vendor appointment just last week.  Unlike the rest of his line-up he poured it unrevealed and used a Burgundy glass.  This was less about stumping the chump, more about objectivity.  I knew his game - or most of it:  His glass choice and the mystery wine’s obvious resemblance to Meursault or Chassagne-Montrachet meant to have me guessing outside of Burgundy’s Chardonnay places.  I observed that Burgundy-like Chardonnay, with its graceful take on that oft-overmade grape, sometimes happens elsewhere.  Kumeu River in New Zealand, Luca in Argentina, and certain conservatively rendered Santa Maria Chardonnays came to mind.  Here was a wine suggesting any and all of those with a nose bringing lively crème fraiche richness and poached pear and apple crate lift.  The message in the mouth, however, was a departure, with more baking spice than I’d expect.  I’d hit a dead end.

Finally, Jeremy relieved me of my quandary.  Here was 100% Chenin Blanc from the only place in the world where “The best grape in the world” can consistently, sometimes brilliantly succeed – other than its Loire Valley regions of Vouvray, Saumur, Savennieres, and Montlouis-sur-Loire.  South Africa makes many an affordable Chenin quaffer, and sometimes aspires to this level of gorgeousness.  Note that within the layers of fruit generosity there persists a lean-ness of tongue-bracing lemonicity.  This acidic feature is what makes great Chenin one of the world’s few age-able whites.  I once tasted a 1947 Chenin Blanc in Saumur, uncorked within sixty yards of its moldy crypt deep within a moist chalk cave.  It was more than just alive.  It was fresh, dynamic, shiny.  Naturally, few Chenin Blancs (few wines of ANY variety) have this propensity, but the wine before you will provide very good things over at least ten years’ time.

“The best grape in the world?”  That occurs on every Wine Steward WineBar menu whenever Chenin Blanc is in the mix.  I proclaim this knowing there’s no such thing, and to assert my way past its jug wine stigma:  Chenin is truly A great grape of the wine world.  A perusal of the ratings given to this particular maker’s Chenin Blanc efforts suggests the wine critics are on my side!