Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Franciacorta: the Italian word for Champagne

As a guy that ran a wine shop for a few years, one of the pet-peeves I developed surrounded the champagne/sparkling wine/prosecco/moscato selection. It absolutely drove me CRAZY when someone walked into the store asking for "champagne" when they really wanted "cheap bubbly wine."

By definition, "Champagne" comes from a very specific region in France, is made from specific grapes, and made in a certain style. Unfortunately, "Champagne" starts at about $30-35/bottle minimum, but most of the good stuff is in the $40-60 per bottle range.

That being said, there are lots of good bubbly wines from all around the world that don't technically fall into the category of true Champagne. There are fantastic Cava wines from Spain, delicious Prosecco producers from northern Italy, great California imitations, and my new favorite: Franciacorta!

For all intensive purposes, Franciacorta is Italian champagne. Franciacorta is made from the same grapes as Champagne, and in the same method; called Methode Champenoise (if you're French) or Methode Franciacorta (if you're Italian). However, legal requirements for production volume, aging process, and grapes used are more strict in Italy than in France. Does that mean that Franciacorta from northern Italy is better than Champagne from France? Not necessarily. But it should make you wonder how loose the laws are in France!

Tonight's wine is the Tenuta Villa Crespia Franciacorta "Brolese" Brut Rose. Made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, this out-drinks many true Champagnes I've had at twice the price. The nose is fruity with a touch of earthy-funk, just like a traditional Champagne. On the palate the Brolese has some fruit, balanced with great acidity, a nice long finish, and perfectly dry.

As a Champange lover/snob/junkie, I feel that I can make an informed opinion of sparkling wine and bubbly imitations. Let me tell you: This is d.e.l.i.c.i.o.u.s.!!! I'm generally a fan of the small-production, high-quality grower Champagnes (especially from the Terry Thiese portfolio), and the Villa Crespia "Brolese" holds its own against many Rose Champagne's I've tried. Plus, to top it off, the "Brolese" should be selling at your local wine shop for about half the price of VC Rose, MC Rose, or any other big brand 'champagne' Rose!

Villa Crespia "Brolese" Brut Rose
TCSH Rating: 9/10
Aka - Stunning, I love it!
Bibo Ergo Sum

Monday, June 3, 2013

Wines of Braida

Folks, let me start by apologizing for my extended absence. Two contributing factors have left me sans-blogging for far too long. 1- I've been using my iPad more and more in place of my laptop, and the iPad and blogging don't cooperate well. and 2- I've been spending a lot (i.e. the vast majority) of my free time fishing. Point being, I'm sorry and I'll try to be more consistent. What a better week to get back into blogging than the week we have a visitor from the Braida winery!

The Braida winery was founded over fifty years ago by Giacomo Bologna. Giacomo and his winery Braida are widely recognized as the founding father of the modern wine we know as Barbera. Giacomo was the first person to really put time, energy, and money into the wine of the Barbera grape. Before his time, Barbera was largely used to produce large volumes of easy-drinking table wine. Utilizing very strict yields in the vineyards, meticulous winemaking methods, and an unflinching desire for perfection, Giacomo Bologna put Barbera on the map. Reborn in the image of "Bricco dell'Uccellone" and "Ai Suma" the winery's two top reds, wine in northern Italy has never been the same. (Some of you might remember my blog post back in February on one of the Braida wines: Montebruna.)

The wine "Ai Suma" (which translates to an expression similar to "We've arrived" or "We've done it"), is the very pinnacle of wine made from Barbera grapes. The Ai Suma wine is bade from 100% Barbera grapes in the DOCG of Barbera d'Asti. Grapes are harvested from a single vineyard in Rocchetta Tanaro, the best of all areas for the Barbera grapes. The grapes are left out on the vine just a touch past 'ripe', not quite late harvest, so let's say 'extra ripe.' Because of the harvesting method, the Ai Suma can only be made in the best vintages, when the climate and weather cooperate absolutely perfectly. The wine undergoes a long twenty day maceration, followed by roughly fifteen months in oak. The resulting wine is big and intense, about as enormous as you could possibly get a Barbera d'Asti under natural circumstances. The extra-ripe grapes and winemaking style gives the Ai Suma an unparalleled flavor profile and mouthfeel. The Ai Suma is the Italian wine for drinkers who love big, bold, over-the-top cabernet or syrah.

The wine "Bricco dell'Uccellone" is the little brother to the Ai Suma, but there is absolutely nothing little about this wine. Bricco dell'Uccellone takes it's name from the old woman who used to live next to the vineyard. As the story goes, she was always dressed in black and the neighbors called her "l'uselun", the big bird. The name of the wine "Bricco dell'Uccellone" means "the hilltop of the big bird." This wine serves as the flagship of the Braida winery. The grapes are again harvested from a single vineyard in Rocchetta Tanaro. Maceration is at least twenty days under strict temperature control, followed by fifteen months in French barriques and another year in bottle before release. The Bricco dell'Uccellone is a little softer and more elegant than the Ai Suma, making it the perfect representation of incredible, world-class Barbera.

Today the Braida winery is run by Giacomo's children, Raffaela and Guiseppe (Beppe). Both are third-generation winemakers and have carried on their father's legacy like few could imagine. Together they continue to make headlines for their stunning wines, including the Ai Suma and Bricco dell'Uccellone described above. The winery is also world-famous for their Moscato d'Asti and Brachetto d'Acqui, often referenced as the definitive wines in their respective DOCG's. As a matter of fact, if you've got a wine book at home that doesn't reference the Braida wines as some of the best in the Piedmonte region, simply throw the book in the trash. I've seen the Braida winery referenced in almost every serious wine book I own; I've even heard other winemakers mention the winery in an attempt to compare their own wines to the legacy that Braida has created.

If you've never tried any of the Braida wines, you absolutely must seek them out! Not only are they available in fine wine shops throughout Connecticut and New York, but they're readily available throughout many states. If you happen to be in Connecticut (like me), Sergio from Braida will be here in CT this week and there will be some tastings popping up over the next week or so. If you're in western CT, I believe Sergio is going to be in Kent this Friday, June 7th. Then on Saturday, June 8th, Sergio will be stopping at a couple stores near the shoreline: Spirits of Madison in Madison and Seaside Wines in Old Saybrook. If everything comes together, we're even hoping to do a little dinner with the Braida wines at Tosca Restaurant in Suffield on Saturday night.

Check your schedule, give your local wine shop a call, and get ready to experience the wines of Braida!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Evening of Beer in West Hartford

So what is there to do in central Connecticut on the evening of a good snow storm? Nothing really. Until you see in your Facebook news feed that Max Burger is tapping a log of New England Brewing Company's Fuzzy Baby Ducks IPA!

One of my buddies has been talking about this beer for what seems like forever. As much Ghandi-Bot and Elm City Pils that we consume, neither of us have been able to get our hands on the New England Brewing Fuzzy Baby Ducks IPA. The icing on the cake happens to be the fact that it's at one of the Max Restaurant Group locations in West Hartford, the Max Burger. As often as I've been to Max Amore in Glastonbury, even Max Fish several times, I've never been to Max Burger. With all due respect, Plan B Glastonbury is so close I could walk (though only if absolutely necessary). So the 20 minute drive across the bridge and into West Hartford Center just never won over 4 minute drive to Plan B.

Finally, the Fuzzy Baby Ducks
Well, combine a little cabin fever and some Fuzzy Baby Ducks, and Max Burger here we come... I don't mean to toot my own horn, but some of my friends know I have a knack for parking. So despite being 7pm on a Friday evening, I manage to pull up to Max Burger and get a spot right in front of the door. Once inside, however, we're not so lucky: the place is packed full! People crowded around the bar, people crowded around the hostess desk, and a number of people waiting in the foyer as well. So we skip the line and head straight to the bar. Indeed, Fuzzy Baby Ducks is on tap, and when Chris orders it he even gets a few questions from nearby drinkers. I get the distinct impression no one within ear-shot of us had ever heard of Fuzzy Baby Ducks before. At the very least, they didn't know we've been seeking this out like the one ring of Mordor.

Mmmm, Fuzzy Baby Ducks
Smells a lot like Ghandi-Bot initially, which doesn't surprise me, they probably use the same type of hops. Tastes a lot like Ghandi-Bot too, which still doesn't surprise me too much. But the finish... hmmm, the finish is lighter and less-boozy than Ghandi-Bot. Plenty of upfront hops, nice bitterness, a relatively dry and lasting finish, but Fuzzy Baby Ducks is like a lighter version of the Ghandi-Bot. Chris and I both enjoy this beer quite a bit, but with a 30+ minute wait for a table, we might be moving on. The inside of Max Burger was very cool, like a dignified version of a good beer bar. People were coming and going constantly, and I saw quite a few tasty looking plates of food walk by. However, it's 7:15pm on a Friday night, and Chris and I are going to need a little food, and soon!

Right around the corner are two of my favorite beer stores, and Chris is now seriously jonesin' for some NEBCo Ghandi-Bot. If anyone has some Ghandi-Bot left, it's these two stores. First stop? The Wise Old Dog (formerly Quaker Lane Package store) just two minutes down the road on South Quaker Lane. Jacob and the team is always super friendly, and for a relatively small store they pack in a ton of variety. One of the sales-reps is here tonight doing a little wine-tasting, excellent! Apparently all the talk I do about this place, Chris hasn't been paying attention, he's quite surprised by the selection. Brooklyn Black Ops, Allagash Curieux, Oskar Blues Gubna, all intrigue us momentarily, but we're won over by an old favorite: Lagunitas Sucks. Six-pack prices here are very reasonable, some of the best I've seen, so no complaints here. If you haven't been to The Wise Old Dog since Jacob started running the place, you need to swing by.

I also suggest we make a quick stop at another of my favorite beer stores, Harvest Fine Wine. While the name "Harvest Fine Wine" doesn't scream 'craft beer', this place is insane. Every time you think you've seen all the beer, you turn around to walk away and BAAAM, there's another shelf you didn't see before. There are dozens (literally dozens) of beers here that I've never seen or tried before. There's a stack of Aprihop, at least 5 cases of Bigfoot, Dogfish Immort, Dogfish Burton Baton, a single beer selection that could choke a horse, and now my head is spinning. This place is absolutely wicked! There are two young guys working tonight that must have asked each of us three times if we needed any help or recommendations. We shot the proverbial shit for a few minutes and the guys really know their beer. (unlike the average big box type store where the girl behind the counter says "Ghandi what?!") Point being, Harvest Fine Wine is a local beer store that demands checking out.  Anyway, Chris grabs a single of something random to try and we decide that we seriously need some food now. I don't know where the idea came from but one of us finally says "Ever been to McLadden's?"

This was just one of the
two chalkboards!
Well guess what, McLadden's is right around the corner, so off we go! On the way there Chris is checking their facebook page and website. He finds a list somewhere of their regular drafts and a rotating guest draft list. We both get nervous, it sounds like they have all the regular crappy beers, and maybe two or three taps that get rotated for good craft beer. Again, we get a parking spot right in front of the door, and we make our way inside. Pretty good number of people here tonight, but the place isn't over-crowded. Chris walks away for a minute for a phone call or something so I make my way to the bar. I can see several tap towers scattered down the bar so I start looking for a tap list somewhere. Ah, here it is, tucked around the side of the bar in a spot that's not easy to find or read. Aaaaaaand we were both very wrong. They've got a dozen or so of the regular mediocre beer like Guiness, Smithwicks, Harp, Stella, Blue Moon, etc (no thank you). And they've got a chalk-board devoted to real beer. Twenty-one beers on the list, each with the date it was tapped. PBR, Harpoon, Anchor Steam, oh there it is! Stone "Enjoy By", yes bartender, I'll have two of those please!

We might need another
round of food...
True Test - Nachos & Wings
The whole rest of the night here I was thoroughly impressed! Our three benchmarks for measuring the quality of a beer bar like McLadden's have become 1-Tap List, 2- Nachos, and 3- Wings. Tap list is long, pretty damn good, and including the dates is a huge gold star in my book. Nachos were well made, large, and pretty tasty. Buffalo wings were a little lacking in sauce choices, but the "Buffalo Hot" that we chose was damn near perfect - hot enough to make your nose run, but not unbearable. Our waitress was great, super friendly and attentive. The place never got too loud or crowded (although there was a band setting up for 10pm I believe). Overall I was really, really pleased with the evening. I've been to plenty of "Irish Pubs" up and down the east coast and never been too impressed. There's even one in Glastonbury (you know who you are) with a mediocre beer selection, mediocre wine selection, and food that's just 'okay'. But McLadden's, you've done a hell of a job, Chris and I salute you!

So next time you're looking for something to do in West Hartford, I hope we've given you some ideas. Chris and I are already talking about heading back to Max Burger when the place isn't so crowded, and we'll evaluate the food at that time. At the very least, we'll be making McLadden's a regular stop when we're looking for a great beer selection. And if you're out and about, let me know what the beer lists look like, maybe we'll come have a beer with you! Until then...

Bibo Ergo Sum

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Castello Romitorio Brunello di Montalcino 2004

During the month of Montalcino, the Vinifera guys and I have a lot of incredible wines in our bag of samples. This week I had a bottle of the 2004 Castello Romitorio Brunello di Montalcino with me. Castello Romitorio is an estate owned by the famous artist Sandra Chia. Sandro was in NY painting a mural in the early 1980′s when he received a call from a friend in Italy. The wonderful estate in Montalcino was for sale, and Sandro immediately flew back to Italy to make the purchase.

After some renovations to the castle and some planting of vineyards, Castello Romitorio was transformed. Since 1986, Castello Romitorio has been producing world-class Tuscan wine. To supplement his passion, Sandro Chia enlisted the help of Carlo Ferrini, one of (if not THE) top oenologist in Tuscany.

The wine in question today is the Castello Romitorio Brunello di Montalcino 2004. The wines of Castello Romitorio tend to be much more ‘new world’ compared to many of their neighbors in Montalcino. After fermentation, the wine is aged for 12 months in lightly toasted French oak barrels. The wine is then transfered to large Slovenian oak casks for an additional 14 months.

Already eight years past vintage, the Romitorio Brunello 2004 still shows like a very young wine. Deep and dark color is more rich and clean looking than most wine half its age. Bright and full aromas of dark berries jump from the glass immediately. On the palate the Romitorio Brunello is so incredibly rich yet smooth, I’m having a hard time putting it into words. Throughout the day the wine develops into a softer, more delicate wine, and starts to show a little bit of its age after a few hours.

But I’m not the only one that loves the Castello Romitorio Brunello di Montalcino 2004. The wine was awarded 93pts from Wine Spectator, 93pts Wine Enthusiast, and 92pts Robert Parker.

Castello Romitorio Brunello di Montalcino 2004
TCSH Rating – 9.5/10
Aka – Out of this world!

Bibo Ergo Sum

Friday, February 8, 2013

Stone Double Bastard Ale

A beer that I've been itching to review (drink) for quite some time now. Stone Brewing Double Bastard Ale is a brew that comes to the east coast in relatively limited quantities. I just never got around to having a bottle for myself until this one. Of course, this bottle has been sitting in my beer fridge since just before the New Year. Now that we're half0way to snowed in, I figure this is a good time to crack open the Double Bastard Ale, finally.

As soon as I open the cap, I can smell a good bit of booze seeping out the top. I can't say that I'm surprised, with a name like Double Bastard, I would expect it to be a big, boozy version of the Arrogant Bastard. If you haven't seen my reviews of the Arrogant Bastard in the past, I'll admit that I'm not a huge fan of Stone's flagship beer. I've always found the Arrogant Bastard to be a bit too rough and unbalanced for me.

The Double Bastard pours a dark, rusty brown color, and very cloudy opaque. Almost no head whatsoever surfaces, except when I pour it vigorously. Even the head that does arise is a very thin film of off-white head, which dissipates quickly. The nose reveals a touch of hops, but is largely overwhelmed by some roasted malts and booze.

On the palate, the Stone Double Bastard is bounding with roasted malts, distinctly rough and earthy sides to the sweetness. There's a good bit of subtle hops on the back of the tongue, but the bitterness is quickly washed away by the booze and malts.

Have you ever had the Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale? Imagine the Arrogant Bastard pumped up with more roasty, sweet malts, and lots and lots of alcohol. For my personal taste, this is exactly what I was hoping the Double Bastard would be. As I've said before, I think the standard Arrogant Bastard isn't quite my style. It's plenty hoppy and plenty malty, but neither the bitter hops nor the sweet malts take the lead. Tonight's beer, the Double Bastard, takes the indecisiveness of the Arrogant Bastard and kicks it in the ass with booze and malts!

The Double Bastard is a bit intense to drink much of, but since the snow isn't getting any lighter, I might as well keep going. I've got a couple more beers in the cooler, but they're going to have to be pretty bold and serious beers to follow this Stone Double Bastard!

Stone Brewing
Double Bastard Ale
TCSH Rating - 8.5/10
Good beer, but nothing incredible.

Bibo Ergo Sum

Santa Fe Imperial Java Stout

 Hey guys, it's been a while. I know I made a few promises back in the fall about beer reviews I would post and blah blah blah. Well, as you can see, I didn't keep those promises. I'm sorry. But here I am now, and I've got another beer review for you.

Some, very few, of you know that I am in Chicago for brew school. Yes, I am learning to be a professional brewer. No, this is not a conflict of interest. It's been very interesting and intense so far. But good.

On to the beer, I guess. Let's see if I can still do this.

Today I am presenting you the Imperial Java Stout from Santa Fe Brewing Company out of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Yes, it comes in a can. No, that is not a bad thing. The craft beer movement is directed toward cans for certain styles, and the aluminum can provides some benefits against bottles. If you're curious, feel free to ask me about it.

Looking at the can, Santa Fe clearly boasts about the coffee in the beer with its "before noon" side (left picture). Their boast is not a bluff, there is a lot of coffee in this beer. Upon opening the can the smell of fresh brewed coffee pours out from the hole. Once poured into the glass, the beer is a dark ruby with a small light beige head. It isn't as dark as one would hope, but it still looks in line for the "imperial stout" style.

On the subject of this beer being an "imperial" stout, it is only 8%. That isn't very "imperial" but I suppose it is "out of style" as one brewer described what makes a beer "imperial." No complaints. The aroma is straight and solid coffee. That is it. Very one dimensional, but not bad. Not bad at all. And, as expected, the taste follows suit with solid and straight coffee.

Imperial Java Stout verges on a thick, full bodied mouth feel, is smooth in all ways, and has a soft, lightly fizzy mouth carbonation to keep your mouth interested so you don't otherwise get tired of the coffee. This brew (pun) finishes with a coffee bitterness bite, as expected. If coffee is your thing, this is definitely a must try. If coffee isn't really your thing, you might wanna skip this one.

Imperial Java Stout
Santa Fe Brewing Company
TCSH - 8/10
A.K.A. Worth a try, the company is solid.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

2008 Brunello di Montalcino courtesy of Wine Enthusiast

With the greatly anticipated arrival of the newest releases from Montalcino, everyone is anxious to see how they compare to the two previous vintages. The vintages of 2006 and 2007 were hailed as two of the best in a decade, and back-to-back marked a succession that almost never happens. The following article was published on Wine Enthusiast's website, written by their Italian Editor, Monica Larner. Scroll down to find that all three of Vinifera's Montalcino producers faired very well in comparison to the competition.

2008 Brunello di Montalcino: A 90-Point Vintage
Wine Enthusiast’s Italian Editor, Monica Larner, tastes more than 250 of the highly anticipated Tuscan bottlings.
Published on Jan 31, 2013

The 2008 Brunello di Montalcino—arguably Italy’s favorite wine—has just hit the market, and producers of this celebrated Tuscan appellation are presenting these anticipated bottlings at Benvenuto Brunello—an event taking place on January 31 at Gotham Hall in New York City. Follow-up tastings will occur in Italy next month.
So will the new vintage be as well received as the soft, rich wines of 2007 and the elegant, refined wines of 2006?

As Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s Italian Editor—I was one of the first to taste these new wines just shortly after their official release date on January 1. I rate the 2008 vintage of Brunello di Montalcino 90 points out of 100.

Austerity—an overused word in the corridors of European government and finance agencies these days—happens to perfectly describe these wines. The 2008 summer was cool and moderate in temperature, and there were hailstorms and showers at certain locations on the southern side of the appellation just before harvest, resulting in wines with high acidity and bright berry tones.

“The 2008 wines are austere,” says Giancarlo Pacenti, vice president of the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino and a Brunello producer. “Sangiovese is a variety that shows naturally high acidity, so the challenge in a vintage like this is keeping that freshness in check.”

Indeed, some wines do show a nervous vein of sharp acidity, but they are well balanced by plump, ripe fruit tones of cherry and blackberry.

“Acidity can be a determining factor in the longevity of a Brunello,” says vintner Donatella Cinelli Colombini. “The key, however, is finding wines that show balance and harmony in the manner that acidity is delivered.”

The Consorzio seems to think the 2008 shows that balance, scoring the vintage four out of five stars. The 2006 and 2007 vintages both received five stars from the Consorzio, and I awarded them 93 points and 95 points, respectively.

Be sure to check out more than 250 Brunello reviews in the May 2013 issue of Wine Enthusiast Magazine, or visit the Buying Guide on April 1. In the meantime, here’s a sneak peak of my top Brunello and Riserva Brunello picks.

2008 Brunello di Montalcino
94 Uccelliera 2008 Brunello di Montalcino. A Marc de Grazia selection; various American importers. Cellar Selection. abv: NA Price: NA

93 Casanova di Neri 2008 Tenuta Nuova (Brunello di Montalcino). Dalla Terra Winery Direct.
abv: 15% Price: $80

93 Cupano 2008 Brunello di Montalcino. Verdeor Select Vintages. Cellar Selection.
abv: 14.5% Price: $130

93 Siro Pacenti 2008 Brunello di Montalcino. Michael Skurnik Wines. Cellar Selection.
abv: 14.5% Price: $85

92 Altesino 2008 Montosoli (Brunello di Montalcino). Winebow.
abv: 14% Price: $100

92 Castello Romitorio 2008 Brunello di Montalcino. Vinifera Imports.
abv: 14.5% Price: $50

92 Fanti 2008 Brunello di Montalcino. Massanois Imports.
abv: 14.5% Price: $70

91 Le Gode 2008 Brunello di Montalcino. Superior Wines LLC.
abv: 14.5% Price: $50

91 Valdicava 2008 Brunello di Montalcino. Vinifera Imports. Cellar Selection.
abv: 13.5% Price: NA

2007 Riserva Brunello di Montalcino
98 Capanna 2007 Riserva (Brunello di Montalcino). Masciarelli Wine Co. Cellar Selection.
abv: 15% Price: $70

98 Valdicava 2007 Madonna del Piano Riserva (Brunello di Montalcino). Vinifera Imports. Cellar Selection. abv: 14% Price: NA

96 Padelletti 2007 Riserva (Brunello di Montalcino). Holiday Beverage. Cellar Selection.
abv: 14.5% Price: $100

95 Castello Banfi 2007 Poggio all'Oro Riserva (Brunello di Montalcino). Banfi Vintners. Cellar Selection.
abv: 14% Price: $150

94 Canalicchio di Sopra 2007 Riserva (Brunello di Montalcino). Vinifera Imports.
abv: 14.5% Price: $100

94 Castello Romitorio 2007 Riserva (Brunello di Montalcino). Vinifera Imports.
abv: NA Price: NA

93 Marchesi Antinori 2007 Pian delle Vigne Vignaferrovia Riserva (Brunello di Montalcino). Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.
abv: 14.5% Price: $125

93 Máté 2007 Riserva (Brunello di Montalcino). Vinilandia USA.
abv: 15% Price: $94

As always, if you have any trouble finding the wine you're looking for, please feel free to message me...

Bibo Ergo Sum