Sunday, September 27, 2009

Visit to Le Macchiole

It was Francesco Tonninelli (from Enoteca Castagnetana in Castagneta Carducci) who, over the last years, introduced me to the most interesting wines from Bolgheri (Tuscan west coast). As a result I visited Grattamacco in 2008, and this year Le Macchiole.

Le Macchiole Bolgheri: the vineyard behind the cellarLe Macchiole: the vineyard behind the cellar, with the typical pine trees on the background (on a rare cloudy day).

Bolgheri is a modern Italian wine area: the development towards today’s typical Bolgheri wines has only begun in the second half of the last century. Grapes have been grown here since long, producing more or less anonymous, local wines. But today’s famous wineries are mostly the result of investments from newcomers, people from the classic Chianti and Piedmont regions (for more details also see the Grattamacco-story from last year).

In contrast, Le Macchiole emerges from the local winery from the Campolmi family, originally about 4 hectares producing Sangiovese and Trebbiano/Vermentino. The old winery was located in the lowlands towards the sea, surrounding the Campolmi restaurant, at the time the family’s major source of income.

From about 40 – 50 years ago interesting developments took place on the hillsides just behind the Campolmi premises, intriguing the young Eugenio. In the 70’s he went to France, to learn about the French way of winemaking, and in 1983 he joined the Bolgheri pioneers (a/o Sassicaia, Ornellaia and Grattamacco) by selling his old vineyards in the plains and acquiring his first 6 hectares in the Bolgheri foothills. With the last acquisition of land in 2004 the estate now counts 22 hectares. Today the domain is led by Cinzia Campolmi, after her husband Eugenio passed away in 2002.

Le Macchiole: sorting before and after destemmingLe Macchiole: first sorting table at the right side. After destemming there is a second manual sorting of the individual berries (belt on the left). Then the whole, uncrushed berries are fermented.

The primary reason to call the region ‘modern’ is the use of international grape varieties. Campolmi knew the potential of various wine grapes (the Merlot in Bordeaux, the Syrah, or actually Shiraz, in Australia) but decided experimentation was needed to see how the different varieties would behave on the Tuscan soils. More specific: in the early days of the winery it was necessary to search for an identity, the identity of the new estate.

So in 1983 the first 6 hectares were planted with cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, syrah, sangiovese and barbera, and for white with Vermentino, Chardonnay and sauvignon. For red survived: cabernet franc (40%), merlot (35%), Syrah (15%) and Sangiovese (10%), for white Chardonnay (50%) and Sauvignon (50%). Interesting detail: around 2000 all rootstocks hosting Cabernet sauvignon were re-grafted with Cabernet franc. In the Bolgheri climate the Cabernet franc ripens well, and at the same time the grape keeps a good level of acidity. The Cabernet sauvignon sometimes lacked this acidity, giving less elegant wines.

In the early 80´s the vine density was low (5,000 plants per hectare) and natural yields were high. The vineyards that were acquired later were planted with 10,000 vines per hectare, and in the first vineyards an additional row was planted between two existing rows. With this the natural yields are lower, and close to what is aimed for. In the vineyards with the best natural balance no green harvest is needed.

In most years de-leafing takes place. Amount and manner differ per year, but other than in France mostly the leaves at the sun side are kept (to protect the berries against the hot sun) while the leaves at the shaded side are taken away (to allow for sufficient aeration of the grapes).

Various fermentation vats at Le Macchiole: oak, steel and concrete.Various fermentation vats at Le Macchiole: oak, steel and concrete. The bucket in front shows that Le Macchiole applies remontages during fermentation. délestages are also practiced. If you want to learn more about remontages, délestages etc. see my summary about the vinification at Du Tertre (pdf).

Le Macchiole produces four wines, three of these are cépage wines, yet all four are actually blends of different parcels that are separately fermented. Making up the perfect blend is one of the key factors in producing Le Macchiole. And this is one of the moments where consultant Luca D’Attoma steps in, who has worked closely with Le Macchiole since 1991.

Le Macchiole Bolgheri Rosso is the estate’s ‘entry wine’. It is the only red that is a blend of several grape varities (50% Merlot, 30% Cabernet franc, 10% Syrah, 10% Sangiovese) and the only Macchiole which is a DOC (Bolgheri Rosso). The 2006 exhibits round, hearty sweetish fruit, is abundant and clearly matured on wooden barrels. Very accessible and with a good freshness, this “clear” wine is a sort of second wine for Le Macchiole, and presented as a summary of what the estate is capable of.

There is a white Macchiole, the white Paleo, I didn’t taste it, and I will write about white Bolgheri’s in a future posting. This time I only sampled reds, and the three grand wines of Le Macchiole are Messorio (Merlot), Paleo (Cabernet franc) and Scrio (Syrah).

All three wines are abundant, round and ripe. The Scrio 2005 shows ink, dairy and oak. The wine is somewhat spicy too. The slightly vegetal tones in the background account for a pleasant freshness with a good (chalky, fresh) finish.

The Paleo 2005 (my favourite) is a little leaner with some smoke in the nose, and with sweetness and yellow peppers. It is a clear, precise, powerful wine, spicy and fresh. The Messorio 2005 is clearly the biggest, most seductive wine. I scribbled down sweet-ripe-deep-round. It does not have the freshness of the Paleo and Scrio, it does have a big and powerful finish.

What all Macchioles have in common is that they are precise and well-composed, and that on a high quality level. Ripe and round, yet clean and - especially for this warm type of wine - with a pleasant freshness.

Francesco Tognoni in front of his Enoteca Tognoni in BolgheriFrancesco Tognoni in front of his Enoteca Tognoni in Bolgheri.

Last year I recommended Francesco Tonninelli’s enoteca in Castagneta Carducci, and I visited him again this year. Here's a second recommendation: Enoteca Tognoni from Francesco Tognoni in Bolgheri (Via Lauretta, 5). With a beautiful spacious tasting room, great selection and good prices it is, just as Le Macchiole, worth a visit!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Italian intermezzo

This is what I should do: scale up Bolomey Wijnimport and add Italian wines to my portfolio. I love exploring wines from different countries, but only with Italian wine I repeatedly feel the inclination to do something with it, to start importing it. I love France and its wines, and in the same, but totally different manner I love Italy and its wines. The diversity, the classic originals such as Barolo and Brunello, side by side with original modernists such as those from the Bolgheri region. And all that in a country with unparalleled beauty – the Arcadian landscape, the ancient culture, the untouched villages, the climate, the elegantly dressed and good-looking people, the delicious food…

These days I am relaxing at the Tuscan west coast. Just around the corner from Bolgheri, the young wine region where, at its best, totally seducing deep velvet reds are being produced. These are the result of the Italian sun, soil and spirit at the one hand, and French grape varieties and winemaking principles on the other hand. When I entered the spacious vat room of Azienda Agricola Le Macchiole last week I couldn’t suppress a strong association with a random top Bordeaux estate. The looks, the smells (it was during fermentation, with remontages etc.), the high-end touch of it all. A detailed account of my visit to this highly interesting estate will be published in about a week.

And yes, I did find out why the phone was never answered at star San Vincenzo restaurant Gambero Rosso Pierangelini… it is closed. Perhaps temporarily. Does anyone know why?

Friday, September 11, 2009

A success story: Giovanni Negro

Dwayne Perreault - It can get very hot in Piedmont, and this is primarily red wine country, but fortunately white wines are also made to quench the thirst of locals and visitors on sweltering sunny summer days. The favourite house wine of most osterias is made from the Favorita, an uncomplicated grape which renders fruity, quaffable wines. More complex whites come from the Arneis variety, with its distinctive tones of apples and chalky minerals.

Amphitheater-like landscape of RoeroAmphitheater-like landscape of Roero

But in introducing the wines of Giovanni Negro, I want to begin with something more rare than a white Piemontese truffle, and just as delicious: his Roero Arneis Spumante Extra Brut 2005, a beautiful sparkling wine made in the traditional method, with two years bottle ageing with lees contact. Thank goodness someone had the common sense to do this, for as we all know, nothing refreshes better on a hot day than a bottle of bubbly. Negro is the only producer in the world to make a sparkling wine from 100% Arneis grapes, and the result is something quite like champagne, a wine with great acidity and minerality, full-bodied and extremely refreshing.

Roero Arneis Spumante Extra Brut 2005Roero Arneis Spumante Extra Brut 2005

Located in the hills of Roero, the Negro family has been making wines since 1670 but the modern business started 30 years ago with a modest 2 ha. This has now grown into an estate of 70 ha with an annual production of about 350,000 bottles per year. Great care is taken to make authentic wines which express the terroir of calcareous and alluvial soils found in this corner of Piedmont, and they are exported all over the world, even to my native Canada with its communistic Liquor Control Boards.

Clearly, Negro is doing something right. The winery beams a sense of accomplishment, and a visit there is an eye-opener. A large new cellar has just been constructed in a classical style, made of brick, not cement, with massive stainless steel fermentation vats and room enough to age thousands of hectoliters of wine in barriques, tonneaus, botti and bottles. These are friendly, industrious and busy people.

Giovanni Negro's brand new cellarPart of Negro's brand new cellar

I'm proud to sell a number of Negro's wines, including the Spumante, Sudisfà and Nebbiolo d'Alba, but the list of produced wines is long, so there was room for new discoveries in the tasting. One such wine was the Perdaudin Roero Arneis 2007, more golden than green in the nose, very soft and creamy with a mineral dry aftertaste.

Red wines are still the order of the day here, and they did not disappoint. The 2005 Roero Sudisfà (which means 'satisfaction' in Piemontese dialect) Riserva was indeed very satisfying. This is Nebbiolo aged two years in used barriques and six months in the bottle, very fruit driven, dark and inky (by the way, when I say 'inky' I mean that in a good way).

Cleaning barrels with hot waterBarrels are cleaned using water with a temperature of 80˚ Celsius

The Barbaresco Basarin 2005 has a complicated ageing process: 20 months in big Slovenian oak barrels, 4 months in tonneau and 6 months in bottle. Barbarescos are known to age slightly quicker than Barolos, and this is a good thing in today's impatient wine market. The wine is more oak influenced than the Sudisfà, and it is a matter of personal taste to determine which is better, but both are extremely good and similar in price.

We finished off with a Piemontese curiosity: the Langhe Rosso Millon 2006, made from 50% Nebbiolo, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 10% Bonarda Croatina, a regional grape which adds freshness and acidity to the wine. Only 4,000 bottles are produced annually, and apparently the Piemontese do not care for it, which does not surprise me since the nose took me straight back to Bordeaux. I found it delicious, something like marrying a Haut-Médoc with a Barbaresco.

If you live in Amsterdam and can't make it to Piedmont, don't worry: you can order some of Negro's wines through my website, as they are imported into the Netherlands by Claudia Mario, who deals almost exclusively with better restaurants.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

What to write about this evening?

It is time to give a sign of life. But what to write about this evening?

Should I mention the smell of lime blossom and honey in the just-not-dry (sugar 15 gr/ltr) Vouvray "Le Peu Morier" 2006 from Vincent Carême that I am drinking right now? Last weekend I presented Carême's dry Vouvray at a public tasting. Some people do not know what to say, and some people get very excited. A good sign, I like these extreme reactions. Especially from those people who DIG! the wine, and almost get emotional.

Or should I mention that La Revue du Vin de France writes: "Bordeaux 2006 très prometteur, 2007 trop cher"? I am still glad I didn't stock any 2007s. Not that the 2006s are easy sells, but... they are promising! And some are delicious already.

Or should I mention that more and more of my customers get hooked on the - original - wines from Orléans that I import? Dutch wine writer Harold Hamersma just wrote an article about both the red (pinot meunier 80%, pinot noir 20%) and the white Clos St-Fiacre 2008 (100% chardonnay, unoaked), and earlier this summer wine writer Nicolaas Klei had bought a stack of cases for himself. To be honest, it is great to see people pick up something that I found.

Or should I mention that in the new Decanter (September) Beverley Blanning MW writes an interesting article about Morey-St-Denis, and that one of the four producers that she mentions is David Clark!? Only too bad that she says "he sells all of his production, in the UK, US and Japan" and simply forgets that there is one importer on the European mainland to whom a modest portion is sold... By the way, the featured Côte de Nuits-Villages is the 2007, not the 2005 as is printed. 2007 is also the first vintage in which Clark produces his Côte de Nuits-Villages. Available at the end of this year.

Peugeot 505 V6 3.0 1987
Or should I mention that we did Amsterdam-Paris-Amsterdam with a truly kick-ass car, a Peugeot 505 V6 3.0 from the year 1987? What an unbelievable car! In Paris we did what we like most: walk and walk, and go from the one restaurant to the other. People who follow this blog know what I have been looking for. Correct: all kinds of exciting offal. The St-Sulpice quartier again offered plenty to enjoy.

Or should I wonder why the phone is never answered at Gambero Rosso Pierangelini, the famous restaurant in San Vincenzo (Tuscany) when I try to book a table? I will soon be in San Vincenzo, and I think it is worth checking out this restaurant.

Well, actually the last hour of the Sunday I will enjoy my - just opened - Château Arnaud 2001 (Haut-Médoc). Summer has disappeared at once here in Amsterdam, and the last days have been dark and wet. So this autumnal wine is... very pleasant now. The wine smells dark and deep, oaked and leathery... a sort of welcome to the dark days ahead of us.

Yes, this wine, it makes it easier to say goodbye to the summer.