Evan Spingarn wants to turn America onto Rieslings and this is his gateway drug. But can a young wine still have baby fat? And where’s the best place to go dancing on the Upper West Side if you have a time machine? Find out when Lyle Fass reviews the Gunderloch Jean Baptiste Riesling 2009.
Evan Spingarn is out to change Lyle’s mind about Rosé. Does calling him the George Bernard Shaw of wine reviewers help out? Watch this review of the Bisson Golfo Del Tigullio Ciliegiolo Rosé 2009 and find out.
What is this bottle doing on the Orange Wine list, and why can its perfect food match wind you up in prison? Lyle Fass welcomes Evan Spingarn, of NYC’s Tangled VIne Bar, to the No Spoof Zone to find out.
Gewurtztraminers are love it or hate it wines. They can be flamboyant, but which of these wines is more Liberace and which is more Ted Allen? Lyle tastes two vintages of the Binner Gewurtztraminer Cuvée Beatrice.
Has Lyle met his match? He can’t even think straight after trying this Ploussard. It will puzzle you, frustrate you, but eventually satisfy you. It must be the Domain de la Tournelle Uva Arbosiana 2007.
I have recently returned from an inspirational trip to Valpolicella, where the Amarone wines – those dry and complex, alcoholic yet sumptuous Vini di Meditazione made from dried grapes – are revelling in their newly upgraded and long overdue DOCG status. That amarone has gone a long way to re-establishing the reputation of the Valpolicella region is not in doubt and production continues to increase.
But what of Valpolicella itself, the lighter bodied red wine, the so-called normale? It’s made from the same grapes as amarone – blending corvina, corvinone and rondinella alongside small quantities of other indigenous grapes. However, fresh rather than dried grapes are usually employed, so that a refreshing medium-bodied red wine of modest alcohol and sour cherry fruit is made. Yet so much of Valpolicella disappoints, traduced by over cropping and bulk industrial production, reinforcing a perception that it is cheap and cheerful.
Another reason for dull examples of Valpolicella is, ironically, the demand for Amarone. The grapes used for Amarone are usually the best selection from those same vineyards used for Valpolicella – up to 70% of the harvest is allowed to be used for amarone. Where a producer selects a high proportion then only a rump of lesser quality grapes is left over for the Valpolicella – not a recipe for great wine.
As may be expected, the best producers are devoted to making excellent wines throughout their ranges, meaning that Valpolicella is capable of being a fine and delicious red wine in its own right. The best are made without the need to be beefed up by clever techniques such as Ripasso, where the spent Amarone grapes are added to the new wine and an ensuing second fermentation adds colour, alcohol and body. Of those, one of the most remarkable is from Ca’ La Bionda, run by the Castellani family, located in the heart of the Classico region near Negrar. They have 29 hectares of vines based around the spectacular fossiliferous limestone hillside of Ravazzol. Alessandro Castellani showed me around; he spent the year after graduation from wine-school working at the splendid Tuscan estate of Isole e Olena. They (and no doubt their splendid Supertuscan wine called Cepparello) have clearly inspired him.
Ca’ La Bionda stopped using chemicals in 1998. Ca’ La Bionda uses organics to make the best wine they can while also creating the legacy of a healthy environment for the family and their descendants. Alessandro said that that organic conversion was hard; in the first three years, insect pests ravaged the crop. But then the vineyards found their natural equilibrium. Now this winegrowing philosophy extends to the new purpose built winery – for example, using wild yeasts for fermentation, using minimal levels of sulphur, letting gravity to move the wine from vat to cask and paying attention to lunar phases when racking and bottling. Alessandro himself is a very thoughtful highly skilled winegrower who tastes widely, to learn from comparing the wines with others from Valpolicella and around the world. There’s no Italian campanilismo here, and this openness and questing approach is surely the key to the excellence of the wines.
Allesandro told me that the Valpolicella “is not trying to be a great wine”, meaning that it is the entry-level wine, made in stainless steel and seeing no oak maturation, designed to be enjoyed young. But that does not mean that it isn’t made with skill and care. The grapes used have not had an amarone selection taken from them, meaning that this Valpolicella includes the best of the harvest, predominantly corvina and corvinone, with 20% rondinella and 5% other indigenous grapes such as molinara and oseleta. They are handpicked and the main varieties are fermented separately. 60% are fermented as whole bunches, the rest being de-stemmed. After fermentation the wine remains in stainless steel until it is blended and bottled unfiltered some three months later. No oak, whether traditional large cask or modern French barrique, is ever used.
The result is a fresh, aromatic and fruity wine without high levels of tannin designed for young drinking. It’s a medium-ruby colour, with a nose showing floral, violet-tinged notes and crushed red berries (red cherry, raspberry and cranberry). The palate, while being relatively light and with moderate alcohol, is deliciously refreshing, thanks to lovely silken-textured acidity. The sour cherry fruit is delightfully pure and clean, very precise before a gentle and spicy fade. This is not a red wine made for power and complexity or indeed deep reflection. But then again it isn’t remotely weedy; rather it achieves balance and a surprising elegance with a sigh of pleasure. Drink now- don’t keep it, enjoy it while at maximum freshness and by then the next vintage will be out.
It also makes a wonderful companion to antipasti – serve with salami, rocket and parmesan shavings with a little olive oil as a dressing.
I also strongly urge you to discover the other Ca’ La Bionda wines. Their Valpolicella Classico Superiore Casal Vegri lives up to the superior billing, being a single vineyard wine aged for 20 months in large oak casks. This is a very serious Valpolicella; again beautiful drinking when young, yet it will be better for a couple of years keeping and unusually has the ability to age for a decade. Meanwhile, their Amarone Ravazzol remains one of the best available, a single-vineyard wine with power, caressing richness and complexity. The current 2006 release can be enjoyed young but another decade or so in bottle will reveal awesome complexity, judging by the 1998 vintage, the first year they made it.