Passion and Precision in the Heart of the Maremma – Tasting the New Release Podere Val di Toro Vermentino…

It is not very often that a new winery just drops in for an impromptu visit to introduce their wines and you fall completely in love with the entire range. Well that’s what happened when I first tasted Hugh and Anna’s wines from their Maremma winery Podere Val di Toro, situated between Grosseto and Scansano near the Tuscan coast.

Fast forward 7 or 8 years and the range has grown to include one of the most delicious up and coming cult Rose wines made in the mould of Whispering Angel but utilising Sangiovese grapes, as well as one of the very finest Vermentino whites in the Maremma where conditions are perfect for this aromatic variety.

With the close proximity to the sea, a soil rich in minerals and ample sunshine, the Auramaris Vermentino has garnered awards thick and fast including several 90-plus ratings and a 5 star award from Decanter Magazine.

Anna Maria Cruciata and husband Hugh Maxwell

Podere Val di Toro Auramaris Vermentino 2017, DOC Maremma Toscana, 13.5 Abv.

Primary, taut, vibrant and fresh, this young Vermentino positively bristles with new vintage energy. The aromatics are correspondingly fresh, pure and primary packed full of waxy green apples, creme soda, lemon grass, dried straw, honeydew melon and dusty crushed gravel minerality. The palate entry is also ultra mineral, reminiscent of sucking on wet river pebbles, classically dry and restrained showing a seamlessly balanced mouthfeel. The addition of 15% Grechetto increases the harmony and complexity of this wine and there is no shortage of green apple pastille and crunchy white peach fruit laced with subtle rock candy bon bon length. Sleek, classical and quite grown up, the Auramaris is one of the finest Vermentino examples in Tuscany. Drink now to 2024+.

(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Certified Organic through BioAgriCert.

http://www.valditoro.it

It’s Nero d’Avola But Not As You Know It – Tasting The Tenuta di Fessina ERO 2013…

Tenuta di Fessina is an winemaking project which took shape based on Silvia Maestrelli’s love of the land. In 2007, with the help of winemaker Federico Curtaz, who had worked as Gaja’s agronomist for twenty years, the Tuscan wine producer purchased an old vineyard of Nerello Mascalese grapes dating back to the past century. In the middle of the vineyard stood a true gem: an eighteenth -century lava millstone with the chianca – the winepress – still intact.

L’vigne di Fessina, as the locals have always called the Rovittello vineyards, located in the town of Castiglione di Sicilia, show all the love and care poured into them by the previous owners over generations. Their ERO is produced from Nero d’Avola fruit sourced in Val di Noto, south west of Syracuse.

In 2013, a dry spring followed a long and not too hot summer. August and September were characterized by abundant and unusual rainfall, favouring a slower and gradual maturation of healthy grapes with an interesting aromatic profile. After a rather cold and wet September, an October of fine dry weather followed, which allowed for a favourable harvest with fully healthy Nero d’Avola grapes.

Tenuta di Fessina ERO Nero d’Avola 2013, DOC Sicilia, 12.5 Abv.

Fantastically expressive nose of ripe red and black berry fruits, sun dried cranberries, bruised black plums, stewed winter fruits, wet straw and subtle peacan pie and molasses hints. While there are ripe, raisined black berry notes, you’d be mistaken for thinking this was just another run of the mill, over-ripe, sun drenched, sweet fruited, simple Nero d’Avola from Sicily. While the fruit for ERO is not from the Etna region where the winery is situated, it is handle in a more delicate Etna’ish manner, showing wonderful freshness, elegance and delicacy on the palate. The palate bristles with fresh acids, suave textured red fruits, cranberries, raspberries and logan berry with a delicious underlay of chalky, mineral tannic grip. So cool, so elegant, so fresh, this wine totally defies the stereotypical style of Nero d’Avola. Already 5 years old, this wine is as fresh as a daisy and should drink very well for another 6 to 8+ years. A really classy expression.

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Sassicaia 2015 – An Outstanding Vintage Release to Rival the Great 1985 from Tenuta San Guido in Bolgheri…

2015 was another wonderful year all across European winelands, producing some truly exceptional wines in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Spain, Germany, and of course Italy. While longer aged Brunello’s and Barolo’s are still some way off being released, 2018 is the year for a whole long awaited tranche of 2015 Tuscan gems from Sassicaia to Ornellaia, Tignanello to Solaia.

The release of the 2015 vintage of Sassicaia from Tenuta San Guido captures the essence of this truly unique vine growing terroir, showcasing generous, refined black fruit aromas, power and balance, together with beautiful freshness and elegance.

There has been much excitement about 2015 in Tuscany which the estate of Tenuta San Guido confidently compares to the very famous 1985 vintage. Both shared similar climatic conditions – a mild winter that was followed by heavy rains in the spring and a hot summer, with higher than average temperatures in June and July, resulting in very healthy vineyards and excellent ripening across all varietals.

Tenuta San Guido has created what James Suckling calls “potentially one of the best Sassicaia’s in decades”, awarding it 98/100 points in his most recent tasting report. Antonio Galloni’s early Bolgheri reports for Vinous, confirms that the “warm, dry growing season produced generous, highly expressive wines.” Collectors and connoisseurs of Italian Super Tuscan blends are in for a very big treat this vintage.

The Wines

Tenuta San Guido Le Difese 2016, IGT Toscana, 13.5% Abv.

Made up of its usual blend of 30% Sangiovese and 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, this is Sassicaia’s answer to an earlier drinking wine. Deliciously bright and inviting, the nose is intensely aromatic with spring violets, cherry blossom, dried rose petals and a wonderful melange of raspberry, crushed red cherries and salty red liquorice. Crunchy and crystalline, the palate shows velvety soft chalky tannins, mouth wateringly fresh acids, beautiful purity and a corresponding amount of verve and vigour. One wonders what else you could possible hope for from a classy little wine like this. Drink from release and for 10+ years if well cellared.

(Wine Safari Score: 91/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto 2016, IGT Toscana, 14% Abv.

Officially the second wine of Sassicaia created in 2000, this 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot blend is always one of the wineries most sought after wines due to its exceptionally high quality, outstanding value for money on release and its impressive ability to age. The aromatics tip their hat to big brother Sassicaia, with a dense core of Cabernet Sauvignon cedar spice, violets, cassis, earthy black berries and subtle mineral graphite notes. There is an abundance of opulence, expressive plummy flesh, leafy black currant spice and the most seamless, polished mineral tannins imaginable. A structural reprise on the finish reveals juicy tart red berry and cranberry fruit notes which combine with chalky grippy tannins, ensuring a long, distinguished finish brimming with power, elegance and superb textural balance. Drink from 2020 until 2035+

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2015, DOC Bolgheri Sassicaia, Toscana, 14% Abv.

Always exciting to taste this icon wine on release, none more so than in block buster quality years like 2015. First bottled commercially in 1968, this 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc blend comes from vineyards at 100 to 400 metres altitude, planted in soils rich in limestone and clay. The aromatics are instantly noticeable for their deeper, darker, riper, broodier fruit profile. Fairly closed and tight on opening, the perfume is a little shy but you can sense the depth and complexity waiting to emerge from beneath. So many notes of pithy black cherries, black currant, leafy black plum and a sappy, resinous fragrance from the Cabernet Franc component. The oaking is almost imperceptible, allowing the fruit and mineral terroir notes to take centre stage. The palate shows beautiful poise, elegance and harmonious balance, framing the red and black berry fruits with incredibly dense, creamy, velvety tannins. The acids are fresh and vibrant, embroidering the palate and keeping it crystalline and vital. Beautifully complex at this youthful stage, it remains imposing yet light on its feet, concentrated but energetic and pure. With such depth of fruit, intense structure and graphite minerality, this vintage looks set for a very long and distinguished road of evolution. A really outstanding effort. Drink from 2022 to 2045+

(Wine Safari Score: 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Possibly the Greatest Value Red Wine in Piedmont ~ Tasting Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo 2016…

There are not many certainties in the world of fine wine, but there are some. One is that Cantina Terlaner is the greatest white wine Co-operative in the world. The second is that Produttori del Barbaresco is the greatest red wine Co-operative in the world! It is also one of the most innovative, consistent and highly acclaimed producers in Piedmont, making exquisite traditional Barbarescos that are among the best examples of the appellation.

This famed co-operative in Piedmont dates back to 1894; forced to close in the 1920s because of fascist economic rules, it was regenerated and revived in 1958 by the village priest of Barbaresco who recognized that the only way the small properties could survive long term was by joining forces and combining their efforts. Today the cooperative has 56 members and 100+ hectares of Nebbiolo vineyards in the Barbaresco appellation, which amounts to almost 1/6 of the vineyards of the area.

Their Langhe Nebbiolo in particular has long been one of the greatest and most profound value reds on the market, recognised and lauded buy critics far and wide. The 2016 is no exception and once again pushes the boundaries of red wine quality even further.

Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo 2016, 14.5 Abv.

This is a super attractive 100% Nebbiolo wine sourced from DOCG certified Barbaresco vineyards. Grapes were picked from both younger vines, lower aspect sites and vineyard spots that don’t quite meet the high standards of the Produttori Barbaresco co-operative. There are beautiful aromatics of sappy red cherry, red liquorice, star anise and tarry spice. The palate is gorgeously pure, finely poised and elegantly harmonious. It seems almost inconceivable that a wine so attractive can cost less the £20. It possesses such wonderful core focus and finishes with tender, sleek fine grained tannins and deliciously fresh mouth watering acids. Such a pleasure to drink and impressively, you’d never detect the 14.5 alcohol such is it’s cool, polished refinement. A truly tantalising release. Drink now to 2026+

(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Another Superb Giuseppe Rinaldi Red Reviewed ~ Tasting the Barbera d’Alba 2016…

I visited the Gaja estate in Barbaresco just before harvest in 2016 and everything was looking set for another high quality harvest across Barolo and Barbaresco. So now it seems the consensus throughout the Piedmont region is that 2016 stands as a very promising and potentially exceptional high quality vintage.

Most producers in the region felt happy with the final results of the harvest season, reporting a crop both high in quality and quantity, with grapes possessing sugar concentration to rival the richness of 2015 but with greater structure and livelier acidity.

Giuseppe Rinaldi Barbera d’Alba 2016, 14 Abv.

This beautiful 2016 Barbera d’Alba from Giuseppe Rinaldi echoes the above sentiments and is evidence of another very good vintage. The nose is slightly exotic but very alluring. Plenty of black cherry coulis, wood smoke, hints of tar, sweet tobacco, black plum spice, oyster shell and salty cassis. Obviously very youthful still, however there is a silent confidence to this wine. The palate reveals ripe fruit and ample textured roundness but with perhaps a little more mineral grip and piquant tannins than the fleshier, riper 2015 expression. With such opulent bright black and red berry fruits bolstered by a mouth watering refreshing acidity, this wine impresses from start to finish. Wonderful depth and harmonious balance, you get to see the real ability of this great classical Piedmont estate to deliver iconic reds vintage after vintage. Barbera can really be a real thing of beauty when handled with serious intent. Drink now to 2028+.

(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Tasting the Profound Wines of Tenuta San Leonardo in a Three Decade Vertical…

After much anticipation, today I finally attended a fascinating vertical tasting with Marchese Carlo Guerrieri Gonzaga and his son Anselmo, owners of the iconic Trentino winery Tenuta San Leonardo. Carlo has been a long time admirer of the great red wines of Bordeaux so perhaps it was inevitable that he would steer his estate in that direction and utilise their special planting’s of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere and Merlot to produce one of northern Italy’s truly great iconic red wines.

Carlo asserts that the excellence of San Leonardo can also be directly attributed to the rigour and passion of his son Anselmo and the whole winemaking team, as well as their 270 hectare estate and its unique 30 hectares of plantings, terroir and Mediterranean-Alpine climate where the fruit is grown.

Sites are at a relatively low elevation of 150 metres, where the Merlot is planted in gravel-rich soils that were once the bed of a branch of the Adige river. Sandier, pH-neutral soils, at elevations of 150-200 metres host Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere. Vineyards are mostly planted to 6,600 vines per hectare and trained to the Guyot system except for some of the old vine Carmenere that is still planted at 1,650 vines per hectare on a pergola system.

The average blend consists of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Carmenere and 10% Merlot, all naturally fermented and blended in concrete vats before ageing in barriques, 20-25% of which are new oak. The final blend is then assembled in vats, aged a further 4 months before being bottled and aged in bottle for 2 years before release.

Tenuta San Leonardo Vertical 1986 to 2013

(None of the wines have an Abv greater than 13.5)

San Leonardo 1986

Lovely picante nose of bruleed coffee beans, sappy wood spice, earthy black bramble berries and foresty leafy spice. Plenty of tertiary allure but also superbly vital. Acids are crisp and the earthy, leathery red fruits very juicy. A statesman of a wine, standing bold and tall, with wonderful elegance and mature finesse.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

San Leonardo 1990 (Magnum)

Beautifully lifted warming nose reminiscent of great Bordeaux. Tea leaf, cedar spice, coffee bean and saddle leather together with a delicious leafy under tone of sweet earthy red currant fruits. Acids are super bright and fresh and the finish incredibly powerful and bold with fine grained tannins adding shape. Lovey fruit depth and intensity. A mature majestic beauty.

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

San Leonardo 1995

Taught lifted nose of graphite, cut steel, blood and iron and tart earthy red plums. Plenty of coffee bean bruleed notes and green leafy spice. Impressively mineral, fleshy and plump textured with a tart, grippy energetic finish. Solid effort but not profound.

(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

San Leonardo 1996 (Magnum)

Exotic nose of sweet baking herbs, leafy spice, wet tobacco leaf, coffee bean and crushed gravel. Classical aromatics follow to a cool, super elegant, fine boned palate with feminine elegance, subtlety and ample finesse. Attractive sweet black currant nuances and forest floor complexity on a silky, cool classically restrained finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

San Leonardo 1997

A classical cool climate Bordeaux style with grilled herbs, tannery leather, gun smoke, crashed leaves and earthy black berry fruits with a sizeable dusting of crushed gravel minerality. Palate shows sappy sweet black berry, coffee bean spice, herbaceous allure and picante mineral tannins. Very suave, elegant plump fleshy texture and a long, sweet macerated red currant finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

San Leonardo 1999

Dark dusty broody mineral nose of wood spice, crushed gravel, polished oak and earthy black currant fruits. Hints of wood smoke and herbal green tea spice. Palate is bold and fleshy, full and round, dense and creamy, yet retains super elegance and harmony, albeit with a little more fat and flesh. Very youthful still.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

San Leonardo 2000

Classical nose with lovely dark black berry Cabernet fruits boldly asserting themselves. Seamless aromatics of earthy cassis, forest bramble berries, black plum and sweet caramelised coffee bean hints. Ripe and opulent, there is plenty of flesh on the palate together with dense sweet tannins balanced with soft acids. A ripe high quality vintage, this expression is still youthful and precocious. Give this a few more years in the cellar. Supremely delicious.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

San Leonardo 2001 (three bottles tasted)

Quite an atypical nose with overt caramelised black berry fruit and creamy oak notes, vanilla pod spice and lactic caramel notes. Texture is very sleek, the acids pin point and fine, but the fruits are little too tertiary for the vitality of the structure. Fruit and tannins are moving at two different evolutionary speeds. Start drinking this one up over the next 3+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 90/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

San Leonardo 2004

Dense dark and smokey with sweet herbs, coffee beans, graphite and wood smoke spice. Hints of leafy spice, green beans, black berry and dusty crushed gravel. Tannins are sweet and taught, the fruits slightly chewy and youthful. But the underlying balance is harmonious if not just a little bit youthfully rustic. Fine length and textural depth, you can comfortably leave this in your cellar for another decade.

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

San Leonardo 2007

Wonderfully harmonious wine with fine complexity with perfume and fruit notes tightly interwoven. Subtle hints of bruleed oak spice, earthy black current, bruleed coffee beans, espresso and cassis berry. Palate is plush, ultra lush, structured and pure, showing the most beautiful black cassis fruits, chalky gravelly tannins, and seamless acidity freshness. While youthfully grippy, this wine looks like the complete package. Really very impressive now, but will be ultra impressive in 8 to 10 years time. Wow.

(Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

San Leonardo 2010

This powerful wine possesses real dark broody depth, black plums, earthy cassis, polished mahogany and subtle bruleed wood spice complexity. Super cool, elegant and pure fruited, the blueberry and saline black berry fruits are so seductive and creamy, balanced by sweet powdery tannins. This is another classic in the making with knock out intensity and mouth watering length. Very impressive.

(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

San Leonardo 2011

Thoroughly classy nose exudes breeding and class. No doubting there is something very serious lurking in the bottle. The nose is dark and black fruited, quite tight and broody with reductive cassis, blueberry and graphite hints. The palate holds no secrets, unleashing waves of saline cassis and opulent blueberry muffin and caramelised fruit notes. So utterly seductive, beautifully polished, and highly accomplished. One to drink now if you can’t resist, and to watch for 10 to 15+ years for future greatness.

(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

San Leonardo 2013

Rich dark bruleed nose showing caramelised wood spice, black current and earthy foresty notes. Pretty perfumed red cherry pithy notes lift the whole aromatic profile. The palate is suave, silky and seamlessly soft with plush creamy tannins and a concentration of fruit that treads incredibly lightly. The palate finishes with chalky dry tannins and an understated acid freshness, all in perfect harmony. Definitely a wine where less is more. A real beauty.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Baby Unicorns Taste Even Better – Drinking the New Giuseppe Rinaldi Barbera d’Alba 2015…

Sometimes even just mentioning a wine repeatedly is enough to add to the collector feeding frenzy let alone actually tasting and rating a wine. But any Italian or Piedmont follower will already be fully aware of the explosion in demand for the cult wines of Giuseppe Rinaldi over the past 2 to 3 years. Forget trying to buy their Tre Tine Barolo blend let alone his Brunate Cru! Even sourcing the “lesser” Dolcetto, Freisa and Barbera d’Alba have become a major challenge in itself.

But it is only when you taste the wines that you realise why this traditionally leaning producer has acquired the cult following that they have. The wines are beautifully classical, pure, unadulterated, subtly mineral, full of energy and tension and of course, utterly delicious.

The 2015 growing season in Piedmont included the region’s hottest July since 1880. That might have endangered grape quality but plentiful reserves of water after a wet winter kept vines from shutting down, and growers were better adapted to managing leaf canopies this time compared to the torrid 2003 vintage, thus being able to keep the vines healthy and promote more even grape ripening.

July and August were also windy, keeping air circulating through the leaves and avoiding excessive heat under the canopies. Vineyards higher on the slopes may have enjoyed a slight advantage over warmer, less breezy downhill spots, enjoying longer ripening periods. In addition, higher diurnal temperature swings in September provided the right conditions for ripening both sugars and tannins in not only Nebbiolo but also Barbera.

Giuseppe Rinaldi Barbera d’Alba 2015, Piedmont, 14 Abv.

From a super opulent ripe vintage in Piedmont comes yet another profound expression of Barbera from Giuseppe Rinaldi. The aromatics are so rich and exotic with sweet baking spices, black berry fruits tinged with brûléed oak spice notes and buttered brown toast. This wine is very expressive but also beautifully complex with fine palate weight and superb intense fruit concentration. Multi layered and textural, the brûléed black berry fruits reach all corners of the mouth with creamy blueberry and black cherry depth and such delicious fleshy, harmonious elegance and power. Certainly a facet of this superb vintage, this wine has a definite feel of more modernity and purity of fruit than previously vintages. Really lush, attractive, and so mouth watering and drinkable. You wouldn’t expect anything less from this iconic cult producer. Drink now to 2028+

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)