Something Old; Something New

castello di argiano.jpg

 I usually use this space to Feature wines that are new to us, and we’ve got some of those here. But I’m also pleased to be re-stocking some wines from Turner Wine Imports that we have been out of or in short supply for some time. Restocking is a good time for reaquaintance. I call this “Something Old...” though these tasty reds are not really “old” - they’re “aged to perfection” (like so many of us).
 
Francesco Bonfio Chianti Colli Senesi 2006 - Regular $16.35/ Feature $13.90
The Chianti region of Tuscany in central Italy is so large that it has several subzones. A couple of weeks ago, we Featured a wine from the heart of the region - Chianti Classico - the Lamole de Lamole. And we’ve sold quite a bit of Classico’s somewhat lighter-bodied neighbor to the north - Chianti Fiorentini - from the region around Fiorenza (Florence). Here we’ve got the same blend of mostly Sangiovese with a couple of other local native grapes from the more southern area around the city of Siena - Chianti Colli Senesi (sin-AY-zee). This part of Tuscany also includes the well known DOCG region of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Montalcino (see the Sesti Monteleccio below) home to the extraordinary Sangiovese wines of Brunello . OK, that’s a lot of Italian words (but aren’t they fun to say...with a lot of hand gestures?) for a wine that’s really rather straightforward and unassuming.
It’s been a while since we stocked this wine, but I’m looking forward to cadging a few bottles for my own wine rack. It’s the kind of Italian red that’s great with sturdy everyday foods like pizza, pasta (especially homemade) or a hunk of great cheese. Heck, it’ll pair nicely with a sausage or salami sandwich. It’s very friendly and approachable.
Chateau Tour du Moulin “Les Terres Rouges” 2006 (Fronsac, Bordeaux, France) - Regular $21.95/ Feature $18.66
We can never have too many Bordeaux that come in at below $25.00. We sold out our stock of this one some time ago, and now I’m glad to have it back.
I last wrote about this one in “Lovely Wines for Holiday Feasts” in October of 2009:
Fronsac is an appellation of Bordeaux, along the Dordogne River, just west of Saint-Émilion. The famous “Terres Rouges” or red soils of Fronsac allow excellent drainage that maintains the optimum health of the root stock with the clay holding in just enough water to feed the vine during dry periods.

Chateau La Tour du Moulin “Les Terres Rouges” consists of 7 hectares (17.29 acres) of vineyards on a high plateau on the limit of the Pomerol appellation. The acreage is split into no less than 28 parcels of vines spread over 6 kilometers which allows winemaker Josette Dupuch to exploit the strengths of each diverse plot. The type of soil remains relatively constant – the same clay/chalk mix that has made Pomerol so legendary. What changes is the lay of the land – in parts so steep it is practically terraced vines and in parts the vines reach into the underground caves and tunnels of the Saint-Émilion region. The Dupuch family uses the biodynamic approach to the work in their vineyard, controlling pests naturally and respecting the life of the land at every stage of winemaking.

2006 was a tricky year in Bordeaux, with a great start almost spoiled by too much rain in the fall. The Dupuch’s, with the extra attention to the vines that is required in the biodynamic system, seem to have been able to pull it off. The wine is a blend of 81% Merlot, 12.5% Cabernet Franc and 6.5% Cabernet Sauvignon. It is the predominance of the Merlot, that was able to ripen in the warmth of the early summer, that gives this wine its power and finesse. This is a classic red Bordeaux that would grace any fine dining table, at a price that means it will go fast.
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
 
Sesti Monteleccio 2005 (Montalcino, Italy) - Regular $26.55/ Feature $22.57
We introduced this one with the “Wines for Holiday Feasts” Feature of 2008. As you can see from what I wrote then, it replaced the 2004 vintage, which we had been feasting on for a couple of years.
Sesti MonteleccioSesti MonteleccioThis has long been one of our favorite Italian reds, but we drank the last bottle of the 2004 vintage some weeks ago. The new vintage is now in (well, at press time it’s not quite here yet but on its way) and we’re excited to be able to feature it for your feasting table. This wine has a habit of overshadowing (even outclassing) much more expensive competition. In fact, when English wine writer Jancis Robinson did a tasting of 11 top Italian estates (including Gaja, Sassicaia and Ornellaia), the standout for her (and the only one she wrote up in her newsletter), was Sesti's Monteleccio. But this shouldn't surprise, really. What's in the bottle here is not only pure Brunello di Montalcino material, but actually Brunello from one of the best and most historic vineyards in the zone. It's just bottled early (after a year in large oak botti, versus four years for the Brunello) to be more approachable.
I wanted to add something to the review this time around, and I found this fascinating description of the winemaker, Signore Sesti:
Giuseppe Maria Sesti (Giugi) is a true Renaissance man. He grew up in Venice where he studied art at the Accademia. Fascinated by astronomy, he also studied Lunisolar Calendar Systems and the way these have been used from primordial time to the present day. He published four books on this subject before moving to further research on ancient culture and mythology of the constellations. In 1975 he moved his family to Montalcino to find a quiet place to write and explore another of his passions, opera. Giugi also bought the deserted hamlet of Castello di Argiano on a hilltop south of Montalcino and set about restoring it to its former glory. He quickly realized that his accumulated knowledge of ancient astronomy and classical culture had practical relevance to agriculture and winemaking. One of his ideas was to re-evaluate the moon's influence on wine and vines. Consequently, he developed a philosophy that marries vineyard interventions with phases of the moon. Likewise, many of his winemaking processes follow the cycles of the moon. This may sound pretty unorthodox, but the results speak for themselves.
Call it lunacy, but the results do speak for themselves. This is an exquisite wine that is just reaching its maturity. Set the table with your best tablecloth, some nice big wine glasses, a couple of candles...then open this beauty and let it breathe a while. Now that’s amore!
 
Now for the new wines - a couple of summer whites I think you'll enjoy.
 
Crème de Lys Chardonnay 2009 (California) - Regular $14.65/ Feature 12.65
The first step in my bringing a new wine to Wine & Words is that Mary and I taste it. Well, we did that and we agreed that this wine was mighty tasty. The second step for an introduction is for me to write something about the wine. I then look at a lot of websites and refer to some of my reference books. Sometimes I find useful information on the winery website, but a lot of the time the website stuff is fluff, along the lines of “we make this wine from the finest grapes and handle them with finesse and care to make a wine of elegance and distinction” - pure, meaningless marketing hype. That’s what I expected to find for this Crème de Lys, because to get to its information I had to enter the portal of its parent company, Diageo. Now, Diageo is a global corporate powerhouse headquartered in London, with 20,000 employees worldwide, 37 “brand assets” and gross revenue in 2009 of £12.283 million. Hardly a mom and pop operation. So I expected the Crème de Lys description to be some fluff generated by the Communications Department. I was wrong. The website did such an exceptionally clear and straightforward job of stating how this wine was made, that I’ve decided to quote it here verbatim:
We sourced 75 percent of the grapes from outstanding vineyards in California’s North Coast and 25 percent from its Central Coast American Viticultural Areas (AVAs). We focused on the coolest regions, especially the Monterey County and Los Carneros AVAs, which are well known for yielding exceptional Chardonnay. In both these regions, the vines are caressed by cool, marine winds and fog, fostering grapes with vibrant apple and citrus character and crisp acidity. To complement this fruit, we chose Chardonnay vineyards in slightly warmer areas to add more tropical fruit character to our wine’s complex flavor profile.
Winemaking
After gentle pressing, we fermented 75 percent of the juice in small oak barrels for complexity and 25 percent in stainless steel tanks to retain fresh fruit character. Following the primary fermentation, when the sugar is fermented into alcohol, all of the wine underwent malolactic fermentation. This second fermentation converts the malic (apple-type) acid into softer malic (milk-type) acid to give the wine its creaminess and richness on the palate. Then we aged the wine on the yeast lees (called sur lie aging) to develop its silky texture. Finally, we blended the Chardonnay vineyard lots together and added splashes of Malvasia Bianca and Pinot Blanc to enhance the aromatics.

Well done! This is a lot of winemaking for the price. I guess it’s one of the advantages of corporate clout. So come in and give this wine a try. If oaky and creamy Chardonnay is your style, this could be your new favorite wine.
 
(Louis Mel Sauvignon Blanc not available until 4/1.  Temporarily replaced by Newton Johnson Sauvignon Blanc, see below)
Louis Mel Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (Livermore Valley, San Francisco Bay) - Regular $14.65/ Feature $12.45
This is a new one from the Wente family vineyards. It was madeWente VineyardsWente Vineyards by 5th generation winemaker Karl D. Wente. You’ll be familiar with that name from the Wente “Morning Fog,” our best-selling California Chardonnay. I should say that this wine is “new for us.” It’s not new to the Wente family. They introduced the first varietally labeled Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Chardonnay from California in the 1930s.
That long history of winemaking is why this modern wine is named after Louis Mel. He was a French emigrant, who traveled the western United States in the 1870’s seeking a place to make wines to rival the great French Crus. He found the ideal home in the Livermore Valley. Acquiring Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grape vine cuttings from the Marquis de Lur-Saluces, owner of the famed Chateau d’ Yquem in Bordeaux, he planted them in his California vineyards. The Wente family acquired the Louis Mel estate in the 1930’s, where the descendants of these vines, located in the southern Livermore Valley, live in gravel and loam soils similar to the terroir of their native Bordeaux.
Another thing I like about the Wente family is their development of the Farming for the Future program. Created with the health and well-being of its employees, the local community and the planet in mind, Farming for the Future is a system of practices that enhances the vitality of the soils, creates a balanced, sustainable ecology, minimizes water use and reduces non-organic wastes.
This is 100% Sauvignon Blanc, cold fermented in stainless steel tanks to bring out the freshness of the fruit. My tasting notes say, “Very nice, light, clean. Not much grassiness. A very pleasing summer white.” And a very nice addition to our shelves.
 
Newton Johnson Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (Upper Hemel en AArde Valley, South Africa) - Regular $19.50/ Feature $16.58
Newton Johnson vineyardsNewton Johnson vineyardsI plan to introduce a number of wines from this stellar South African family producer, but this one can be a teaser until the Louis Mel Sauvignon Blanc comes in.  
We tasted the whole range of wines at a Trade Show in Raleigh this week.  The samples at the Newton Johnson table were poured and explicated by Bevan Newton Johnson, Managing Director of the company and one of the sons of the estate founders, Dave and Felicity (née Newton) Johnson.  More on the family and the estate later (you can get a jump on it by visiting their beautiful website).  In the meantime, let's cut to the wine.
We've had some stunning Sauvignon Blancs from South Africa before, but this one is right there at the top of the list.  It's very different from the New Zealand Sauv Blancs we've become used to.  The wine gets some of its rich lusciousness from the fact that the grapes grow in sandstone and clay soils.  Sandstone provides the mineral and citrus fruit characteristics, while the clay gives texture, depth and passionfruit flavors.  They've also added 7% Semillon and fermented the wine in oak barrels.  Rich and complex, the wine has a bright, clean finish.  This is truly a great wine!

adjustments