On the Road with the Grape Guy

On the Road with the Grape Guy is a on-going feature that follows me from event to event ... I post my thoughts, feelings and reviews of what happened and what I tasted ... basically it is here that I review the events I attend and the things that thrilled me.

Visit to Cantina Ninni (Umbria, Italy)

24 Nov 2020

(February 23, 2020) … Here a small group of writers gather to get a firsthand look at Trebbiano Spoletino (or Trebbiano Spoleto) vines and a winemaker that has created something “new” from historical roots. Gianluca and the writers

First, there is quite a bit of confusion around this grape variety – “Trebbiano” is a catch all term for some loosely related (or even undefined) white grapes from Italy – it’s as if you don’t know what to call the grape you call it “Trebbiano” … what makes Spoletino unique are the characteristics it brings to the wine … It’s interesting to note that while Trebbiano Spoletino and Trebbiano Spoleto seem to be interchangeable when discussing the grape / wine the easiest way to remember is Spoleto is the DOC governing the wines and Spoletino is the grape variety – clear as mud right?

Gianluca and the tree-vineNow, back to Ninni … Owner Gianluca Piernera has 70-year-old, un-grafted vines on the property and is also creating an experimental / clonal Spoletino vineyard propagated from a 150-year-old vine that has trained itself to a tree – which, according to him (and legend), is the way the vines grew back in the olden days before we learned to train them in rows.

The winery produces 1200 bottles per year, while the winery itself was established in 2012 (though it was purchased in 2006); it is unclear to me if Gianluca bought it with the notion of starting a winery, or if the idea to open a winery came afterward - my inability to speak fluent Italian and/or ask the question properly prevented me from getting the final answer – even my translator was unclear about the answer.


The Wines …

Our tasting consisted of a flight of Trebbiano Spoletino (2018 back to 2015) and then a random selection of other wines.

Poggio del Vescovo DOC Spoleto
Gianluca always makes the same number of bottles annually: 4000
2018 - nice and fresh with great minerality (eg: saltiness), lovely acidity along with citrus notes of pith and zest.
2017 - very oxidative nose and palate – not very palatable.
2016 - better than the 17 but still not showing off a great potential to age – very disappointing.
2015 - this one surprised the heck out of me, I was about ready to give up on the age-ability of Spoletino, but this one turned my thinking around; citrus notes with lively acidity freshness and mac apple … does the wine need a few years to return back to its initial freshness, or is this vintage dependent? More research is needed … perhaps an annual visit to the region (one can only hope)?

Ninni Sparkling2019 L'Edoardo Frizzante (method ancestral)
Made from a blend of “bianca locale autoctona” (local autochthonous white grapes) so says the literature we are given … fresh and lively with citrus, apple and pear – this simple fizzy wine is made of 90% Spoletini and 10% Malvasia (the mystery of the literature revealed) – or that is what is admitted to.

2015 DiavolacciuNinni Red
A six grape blend highlighted by Montepulciano (40%), Barbera (20%) and Ciliegiolo (15%) – with some Sangiovese, Aleatico and a little Merlot. It spends 6 months in barrel, 2 months in steel and 18 months in bottle. The red fruit notes peak through at the beginning and then on the mid-palate turn black … The interesting mix of grapes here creates a wine that’s rich and robust with nicely layered tannins on the finish where cassis, bittersweet cocoa, cedar and smoke also show up. This is a delicious, complex wine – one of the best in the portfolio.

2019 Pilurusciu Frizzante (method ancestral)
100% Sangiovese with a little bit of fizz, taken from 50-year-old vines, it seems a funny thing to do with such “regal” (read: old vines), but Gianluca seems to be one of those guys who’s willing to take a chance and try something different. Lively strawberry from the outset with lemon drop and a slight mineral finish.

 

El Esteco Wines with Alejandro Pepa

20 Nov 2020

(August 27, 2020) ... High up in a secondary Valley of the Andes mountains, at about 1600 metres above sea level, is where you’ll find the vineyards of El Esteco in the Calchaqui Valleys region of Argentina … one of the highest valleys in the world. The valley is located in the north, close to the equator; yes it’s hot, but the altitude more than makes up for it. The Calchaqui only makes up about 2% of Argentine vineyards (3800 hectares) where dry winds, low humidity and even lower rainfall (200 mm / year) exist. With poor, yet mineral rich soils, grow the grapes that go into the bottles of El Esteco wines. While many assume Malbec to be the main grape, for El Esteco it’s all about Cabernet Sauvignon as the grape is king in their vineyards and of the Valley, making up 26% of total plantings.

Interesting historical note: Cabernet Sauvignon appeared for the first time in Mendoza in 1853 and Argentina ranks seventh in the world for area devoted to the grape; China is number one with 60,000 hectares followed by France, Chile, the United States and Australia just to round out the top five.

The Wines … El Esteco Wines

2018 Don David Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
70% of this wine spends 12 months in both French and American oak, while 30% sees stainless steel to retain freshness. 100% of the wine is Cabernet Sauvignon: 89% grown in sandy soil, 9% in Limestone and 2% in clay. The palate is dominated by red and dark fruit with lots of spice and acidity to keep things fresh. There’s a nice peppercorn note on the mid-palate with some chalky-minerality and a finish that shows off cassis and spiced-plum.  Rating: *** ½

2016 Cabernet Sauvignon ($22.95 - #568907)
This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon spends 12 months in used French oak, with 20% receiving “other aging means” to retain freshness. Juicy red fruit like red currants and spiced-cherry with notes of cinnamon, pepper and a rich minerality. The acidity is on-point with tannins that provide power, but there’s also a purity of fruit, especially mid-palate to the finish, with notes of cassis and bittersweet cocoa lingering there.  Rating: ****

Altimus2015 Altimus Gran Vino ($50.00 - #11974)
An exciting wine that’s rich in flavour and intensity. A blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Malbec, 10% Cabernet Franc and 5% Merlot spending 18 months in 6000L French oak barrels. It starts off with minty, blueberry, spice and intense dark fruits that grab the tongue and hold on along with tobacco and fine tannins … With a little time in glass there’s a smoothness and silkiness that makes this wine easy to drink – and although it comes in at a pretty high 14.5% alcohol there is still a fresh feel to the wine thanks to that acid backbone. Beautiful texture with hints of dark chocolate on the finish.  Rating: **** ½

2018 Old Vines Cabernet Sauvignon 1947 ($24.95 - #15082)
This was a much lighter and leaner Cabernet than I would have thought from an old vines wine. The most recognizable note from sniff to taste was an herbal or grassy note along with some tobacco leaf (something more associated with Cabernet Franc). There were also hints of cassis, mocha and blackberry which appear after being open awhile, but always with that smoky-herbal-tobacco tone.  Rating: ***+

 

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