Prepping For “Montalcino March” with Some Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello di Montalcino 2011…

Burgundy En-primeur has taken ownership of months January and February, Bordeaux April and May. So the gap in between had to be filled by Montalcino March. This region’s new releases now command more interest with drinkers than almost any other Italian releases including Bolgheri, Barolo and Barbaresco. Their quality, wine style and importantly, release prices, have struck a cord so loud and true that demand continues to grow year on year and demand is now outstripping supply. 


With our own Brunello EP tastings in London just days away, I thought I would start getting into the mood properly with a sexy bottle of last years Gaja Brunello di Montalcino 2011 release. Here’s my Wine Safari verdict…


Tasting Note: The Brunello di Montalcino 2011 is made from a blend of fruit from different vineyard parcels in the north west of Montalcino. The sites have more cooler northerly exposures than those of the Cru vineyards Rennina and Sugarille located further south around the winery, where warmer south and south easterly exposures dominate. The aromatics are dark, broody and spicy with a melange of dried herbs, tobacco, oregano and thyme and an overtone of aniseed root, raisined cherries, blood oranges and vermouth spices. You can taste the slightly cooler, spicier taughtness of the northerly sites which are crisper, fresher and more linear and angular on the palate. There are no over ripe fruit notes despite the 15 Abv, with the crisp fresh acids keeping the palate taught and slightly fours-square. The mid palate fruit is beautifully seductive and silky, spreading out across the palate to leave a long, pithy, graphite laden black cherry and aniseed finish. There is more frame, more angles, more spice than riper southern Montalcino wines. This wine is unashamedly youthful and minerally grippy but also vibrantly fresh. It does not possess the depth and power of the epic 2010, nor the sweet opulent generosity of the 2012, but it’s a thoroughly pleasing wine to swirl and savour. Start drinking in 3 to 5 years time.

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

Tasting the Superb Limited Release Val di Toro T3 Special Reserve 2010 Maremma Toscana IGT…

Today one of my favourite Italian producers popped in for a tasting of their new vintages. Hugh Maxwell and his wife Anna have been producing beautiful wines in the Maremma at Val di Toro since 2006. If my memory serves me correctly, I was the first wine merchant to buy their wines in the UK.


But today I was in for a big treat as Hugh brought along a very special bottle to taste. Having bought and sold a lot of Val di Toro’s 2010 estate wine, what a surprise to be given a bottle of the T3 2010! Standing for Tonneau No.3, this batch was identified at the time of production as possessing extra special qualities and so it was decided to separate out this tonneau and age and bottle it separately.


A blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Montepulciano, this wine would require at least 85% Sangiovese to qualify as Morellino di Scansano DOC, however that was never Hugh and Anna’s intention, hence the Maremma IGT classification. Here is my verdict…

The site of Val di Toro, near Grosseto

Tasting Note: As you raise the glass to your nose, it becomes evidently clear this is a special wine. Brimming with lifted perfume and aromatic complexity, this wine seduces from the outset. Lashing of caramelised cherry, kirsch liquor, raisined cranberries, vanilla pod and clove spice flow out of the glass. It’s hard to move past the opulence and extrovert character of the nose. Another swirl and yet more aromas waft out the glass… sweet tobacco leaves, cedar wood spice and aniseed root.


The palate certainly does not disappoint either. Richly textured, the layers of liquorice, sweet caramelised cherries, vanilla pod spice, sour plums and salty black currant are tightly woven together with just a hint of volatile acidity adding a mouth watering vibrancy. The finish is long, pithy and super intense, with sweet creamy tannins and lingering notes of plump sweet blood oranges, tart maraschino cherries and liquorice stick. Wow! This wine really reminds me of a top notch Brunello di Montalcino from a ripe vintage with extra complexity from a few years in bottle. This is indeed a profound wine that unfurls over the hours and builds to an epic crescendo. I don’t know who’s decision it was to separate out this single tonneau, but congratulations. You raised an Adonis of a wine! 

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


Giuseppe Mascarello Langhe Nebbiolo 2014 ~ A Snapshot Into the 2014 Barolo Vintage…

This week I met up with Giovanni Gaja to taste Gaja’s new 2012 Brunello di Montalcino. But discussions soon drifted to Barolo and Barbaresco and what we can expect from the upcoming 2014 vintage.


This chat raised a small perennial gripe I have… how Italian wineries, wine critics and wine consumers are very quick to talk down a vintage when it’s not necessarily a “blockbuster” or if it’s a cooler, fresher, more elegant, accessible vintage. You never hear the Bordelaise talk any vintage down, even when it’s a shocker like 2013. 

But it’s the Burgundian’s who are very well versed in the professional art of describing a vintage without saying it’s great or poor. Instead they focus on the weather and how conditions affected the terroir and final wines’ expression. Vintage variation is celebrated. Perhaps this is a better model for Piedmont to follow?


Giovanni Gaja confirmed that 2014 was indeed a difficult vintage and required growers to manage their vineyards and cover crops very carefully in a challenging but potentially good quality year. The summer was wet, cool and cloudy, requiring countless hours in the vineyards. In some areas, like Barolo and Barbaresco, September sun ripened grapes fully. 

So like all vintages, consumers should expect variable quality… everything from block busters from some of the top domaines to the occasional weedy dilute wine from lesser growers utilising lesser terroirs. Ultimately, there will be no substitute for tasting before buying. But still, there is no reason to write-off the whole vintage just because the upcoming 2015 is yet another 5 star stunner.


Tasting early release cuvees like Langhe Nebbiolo allows an early snapshot into the quality of fruit. Mauro Mascarello has been at the helm of his family’s estate for more than forty years, building up the winery’s reputation. Their flagship wine may be the fabled Barolo Monprivato, from a stunning south west facing vineyard in the village of Castiglione Falletto in the heart of Barolo, but they also make one of the most respected Langhe Nebbiolo wines in Piedmont.


Tasting Note: Crisp crystalline pale cherry red colour, this little Langhe has slightly subdued, delicate aromas to begin. Soft red plums, macerated cherries, earthy raisined strawberries, charcoal embers, blood oranges and dusty, granitic minerals. The palate is soft, harmonious and moderately fleshy, with a good glycerol mouthfeel freshened up with crisp, pithy acids that emphasise the wines dusty gravelly minerality and fine powdery, silty tannins. There is breadth, spice and warming earthy red summer fruit notes. Red cherries, spicy cranberries, orange peel and red plum skins. For just a modest classification, this Langhe Nebbiolo has lovely typicity and purity of fruit. Classic Nebbiolo that feels like it’s been gently extracted and the grapes not worked too hard. The wine finishes with pithy orange citrus, spicy red cherry, strawberry pips, and soft suave potpourri and liquorice stick complexity. Drink this wine from 2017 to 2024+. 

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

Tasting the New Release Gaja Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello di Montalcino 2012 with Giovanni Gaja…

There are few regions as close to my heart as Brunello di Montalcino. The opulence, the complexity, the age ability, and the sheer magic that the very best examples reveal to their drinkers. I have always been a massive fan of the Gaja Brunello wines ever since I enjoyed the 1996 at a tasting with Gaia Gaja many years ago at Theo Randall’s restaurant. But Since 2007/8, the wines have really started to reach new heights of quality.


The 2012 vintage marks another change in the production of Gaja Brunello with all the wines being vinified in 500 litre tonneau instead of the usual mix between large barrels, barrique and tonneau. This move, Giovanni insists, will give the wines greater elegance, purity and textural finesse.


2012 was indeed a warmer, dryer vintage producing rich, opulent wines with higher alcohol and massive extract. Hence the decision was taken to christen the new oak tonneau in this vintage and blend all the Cru’s into just one estate wine. So like Gaja’s Barbaresco 2012 which included all three Cru’s, the Pieve Santa Restituta Brunello 2012 is a super cuvee that includes the fruit harvested from Rennina and their excellent five-hectare Cru site of Sugarille with galestro limestone soils and all-southern exposures. Suckling has already called the 2012 Brunello vintage “A Rock Star Vintage”… so expect big, dense, showy wines.


Tasting Note: The 2012 is a dark, dense seductive beast. Richly fruited with a lush, fragrant bouquet, there is a lot to this wine which reveals the profound, complex notes of a warmer, more exotic vintage in Montalcino. The nose offers up black cherry, kirsch liquor, cherry blossom perfume, and vanilla and licorice stick. There is a massive textural concentration and opulence immediately evident. This might be a first date but it’s not a wine shy to reveal all its assets. Vibrant layers of raisined black cherry, cranberry and forest strawberries emerge in a luxurious, opulent, hedonistic expression. But the wine never looses is varietal typicity of cherry stone fruits, licorice, aniseed root, dark damson plum spice and sweet tannins. Along side all the textural palate richness is a vibrant, fresh, cherry acidity that moves in parallel to the rich, harmonious fruit. A very generous wine that finishes broad and long with the most pretty bruleed, aniseed and white toast finish. Drink from release and over 8 to 10 years. 

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

Giuseppe Rinaldi Rosae Vini Rosso 2014 ~ Tasting Barolo’s Burgundy Roots…

It’s not a secret that Giuseppe Rinaldi is one of my favourite producers in Piedmont. Making an attractive and distinctive Barolo style, Beppe Rinaldi and his daughter Marta, have focused on retaining the traditions of the past while embracing the excellence and purity of modern Barolo. 


But this modest wine from the Rinaldi range is a first for me. Vino Rosso Rosae 2014 is made from the Ruche variety, supposedly a grape originating in Burgundy, a region very close to Beppe’s own heart. 


Tasting Note: Beautifully bright ruby red with crystal purity. There are multiple complex aromatic layers of spicy, pithy, peppery red fruits, stalk sap, gun smoke, graphite, and red apple skin spice. Such purity and minerality, the palate is elegant and sweet fruited with subtle, classical tart red cherry, raisined cranberries and spicy red plums with sappy, peppery tannins. There is vibrancy and intensity with a lovely natural feel to the wine that finishes with an animated, salty red liquorice and rustic aniseed twist. 

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

Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2014 from Bolgheri – Reviewing The New Release of One of Tuscany’s Most Successful Fine Wine Brands…

Over the past decade, the Sassicaia Bolgheri estate has done a sterling job cementing its status as a “must buy” fine wine on release. One thing you can be assured of if you pay the opening release price for this wine is that you’ll never find the same vintage on the market, 3 to 6 months later, for cheaper. 


But how is this achieved year after year? Well, for starters, the wine is always offered at a very reasonable opening release price, or in the case of 2014, at £545 per 6 Under Bond (US$675). Admirably, despite demand growing yearly,  this release price has remained nearly unchanged for 2 to 3 years. This modesty and “un-greedy” positioning has found great resonance with fine wine consumers and earned the estate a solid amount of continued loyalty.


After the spectacular 2013 release, the 2014 was always going to have a tough act to follow and was characterised by a late growing cycle with Sassicaia’s last grapes only being harvested on the 31st of October, and was generally considered to be a difficult vintage, along side the likes of 2005, 2004, 1999, 1998 and 1988…(challenging years which all scored 93/100 points or below).


Recent tastings of some of the above vintages reveals some of Sassicaia’s prettiest wines with 1988 often touted by the Marchesi as possibly a finer vintage than even the mythical 100 point 1985. And what not to love about the dense, powerful 2004 or the elegant, finesse laden 2005. This all bodes very well for the 2014. 


Tasting Note: Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 2014 Bolgheri ~ The 2014 has a dark ruby plum colour and the most charming lifted aromatics of dark black plum, bramble berries, and spicy peppery graphite notes. Also plenty of sweet broody raisined black cherry, dried herbs, tobacco leaf and dried mint. The palate is bold and plump with a sweet fruited entry showing exotic hints of tart Victoria plums, dried peaches, and red apple Bon Bons. Plenty of fleshy, suave textural puppy fat on this young wine but also a core of subtle tension lurking below the overt fruit layers. This is one of the most forward and accessible Sassicaia wines in many years, and a genuine extrovert offering wonderful overt generosity. This beautiful wine is going to make a lot of friends. (Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Tasting the Sassicaia 2002 from Magnum along side the 2014. The 2002 from a “difficult” vintage was once regarded as the ultimate “restaurant vintage”.

The Cutting Edge Cos Pithos Rosso 2015 ~ A Biodynamic Sicilian Block Buster…

Another quick review of a new vintage of one of my favourite Sicilian red wines. Cos Pithos Rosso 2015 from Vittoria, made biodynamically from Nero d Avola and Frappato, fermented in Amphorae, and bottled with minimal sulphur additions.


At COS, Giusto Occhipinti’s Pithos Bianco and Pithos Rosso are named after the 400 litre giare or pithos that are buried in the floor of the winery. The white, pure Grecanico, is redolent of wild herbs, whilst the red is an appealingly earthy morello cherry-scented Cerasuolo-style blend. 


Some may wonder what exactly is my fascination with amphorae wines? To be honest, I ask myself the same question regularly. But I think I can confidently surmise it’s got something to do with the extra effort and passion required to want to use these ancient, historical vessels to make wine when stainless steel is plentiful; Also the extra complex earthy, savoury dimension that amphorae impart on the wines fermented inside them, if done properly with precision and an eye for cleanliness. 


Tasting Note: Brilliant, bright ruby translucent colour. Nose is complex, rich, deep and intricate. Strands of earthy black cherry, violets, red plums and peanut brittle are interwoven with stewed plums, black berry crumble and an earthy, savoury, wild forest berry underlay. This 12 Abv. wine is lush, dense, but boldy vibrant and fresh on the palate, with tannins that are slightly chalky, slightly peppery, and slightly salty. All the earthy fruit notes of black plum, pithy cherry and strawberry compote are wrapped up tightly, seamlessly, with a pleasing red fruit infused herbal tea finish. A wine bursting with energy that I really want to drink. Super amphorae effort! (Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)