Selvapiana Chianti Rufina good to the last drop

color sangiovese

MAN, I love this wine! Look at the color (no Photoshopping here, just a raw photo snapped with a white backdrop). THAT’s the color of Sangiovese.

I paired last night with a thinly cut, bone-in pork chop, slowly roasted Yukon Golds, dripping in extra-virgin olive oil, on the side. It was a beautiful thing…

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Selvapiana, the gift of Sangiovese just keeps giving (and a photo of not so little Georgia)

It’s been incredible to see the heartfelt, poignant reaction to Quintarelli’s passing on Sunday. With the loss of Quintarelli and Gambelli, January has been a “cruel month” in Italian wine, as Italy’s top wine blogger Franco Ziliani put it. With uncertainty looming over Europe and an ever shifting wine industry, this passing of the old guard seems to mark the end of an era in the wines that we know and love. I have to admit that it leaves me in a state of aporia. But it’s time to begin wine blogging again…

When you first open the Selvapiana 2009 Chianti Rufina, you are greeted by a stiff whiff of volatile acidity and a wine so tannic, dense, and chewy on the palate that your first impulse is to recork it and put it down for another few years.

But with a little aeration, the funk quickly blows off and the wine starts to reveal its gorgeous ripe red and berry fruit, its ethereal mouthfeel aligning with its bright, translucent granite color (see the photo by Tracie P above).

Tracie P’s not drinking more than a glass of wine at dinner these days because she’s nursing Georgia P and so I’m always looking for under $25 wines that will last for several days in the fridge.

I opened the 2009 Selvapiana on a Monday and drank a glass every night with dinner over the course of four days. But the last day — and the last glass — the wine appeared to me as a Platonic ideal of beauty, the quintessence of what fine (food-friendly) wine should be in my view: bright, bright acidity, balanced alcohol (around 13%), a nose reminiscent of dewy pine, and ripe plum and black cherry. Pretty nifty for a wine that costs less than $20 in most markets (mine included). It just needs a little patience. I love it…

In other news…

Georgia P’s nearly 9 lbs.! She and mamma are doing great…

Italy vintage 2008: the good, bad, and delicious

Above: Tracie P made a delicious pollo alla canzanese (with potato purée) last night for dinner. After she tasted a bit paired with the 2008 Selvapiana Chianti Rufina, she said: “wow, Chianti goes with everything!” Selvapiana is one of our favorite wines, in terms of cost, food-friendliness, general deliciousness… and of course, its old-school ethos.

It’s too early to make any general sweeping observations (and no matter what the vintage, there will always be idiosyncratic expressions of any appellation depending on the grower, growing sites, and winemaker), but 2008 — from what I have tasted so far — is sizing up not to be the greatest vintage in northern and central Italy in recent memory. The legacy of 2008 has yet to reveal itself but it would seem that rain — particularly rainfall in the latter part of the vegetative cycle when the vines need aridity to avoid mildew — made for a harvest without a lot of longevity.

But that’s not bad news. Quite the opposite, actually. It’s really more a question of when the wines will begin to show well (earlier in this case) and their approachability and food friendliness.

So far, the two standouts for me have been the 2008 Langhe Rosso Nebbiolo by Produttori del Barbaresco (which we served at our wedding, if that’s any indication of how much we like it!) and the 2008 Chianti Rufina by Selvapiana, which our friend Sarah (a publicist who reps the importer, Dalla Terra) recently sent to us to try. Of course, anyone who reads my blog knows that Tracie P and I are big fans of Selvapiana.

The wine wasn’t as tannic and did not have the structure of the 2007 (which we drink regularly at home, because of its under-$20 price tag and its wonderful versatility at the table; it was my pick for Thanksgiving 2009, as you may remember).

Instead, this time around the wine was bright and showed nice ripe fruit right outta the box. It was lighter in body and sang a cheerful tune in the glass. I probably won’t stash a bottle of the 2008 to see what it tastes like in a few years (as I did for the 2007): when it hits the Texas market, it’s sure to be a a Wednesday- or Saturday-night (or in last night’s case, a Sunday-night) wine for the dinner table at home, to be drunk as soon as it’s had time to rest after arriving from our local wine monger.

The best news is that in tough vintages (as 2008 is shaping up to be), winemakers will often choose not to make their flagship wine and their top vineyards will go into their second and third label.

Above: A few weeks ago, we served the 2006 Chianti Rufina Riserva [single-vineyard] Bucerchiale, the winery’s current flagship release, with roast lamb on the patio of our new home. Rich and still very young for its age, a wonderful roast and grilled meat wine, still very tannic but approachable with some aeration, one our favorite expressions of Sangiovese. Definitely a Saturday-night or Sunday-feast exclusive (the PARZEN 7-DAY RATING SYSTEM® is calculated according to a festivity-and-celebratory-worthy algorithm).

I don’t know whether or not Selvapiana intends to bottle their single-vineyard Bucerchiale from the 2008 vintage or not and it’s highly likely that the winery doesn’t know yet either: they’ll taste and re-taste the wine before they decide how they choose to age and subsequently label it. We’ll see.

Legend has it that famed Italian winemaker Piero Talenti once said, “there is no such thing as a bad vintage. There are just vintages where we make less wine.” However apochyphal, there is more than a grain of wisdom in this axiom. Vintage is just one element in the vintage-terroir-winemaker equation.

After all, Bordeaux 2009 may be the “most talked about vintage” in the last 30 years, as Alfonso pointed out on the corporate blog that he authors, but I won’t be able to afford it!

POST SCRIPTUM Here are a couple of interesting links and recipes for Chicken Canzanese: Cooks Illustrated and Amanda Hesser in The New York Times via 1969.

Tasted any good 2008s? Please share!

An East Texas Thanksgiving (a marriage of Sangiovese and down-home fixings)

jeremy parzen

Way back when, in the late 19th century, did the “Iron Baron” Bettino Ricasoli know that Sangiovese would make for such a great Thanksgiving wine?

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Uncle Tim’s brined and roasted turkey. Brining is the secret to keeping the breast and dark meat moist and flavorful when roasted. Aunt Ida Jean and Uncle Tim hosted all 31 of us!

jeremy parzen

Uncle Tim’s cornbread dressing, including chopped hard-boiled eggs.

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Aunt Gladys’s homemade biscuits.

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Aunt Ida Jean’s sweet potato pie (I was surprised at how well the Chianti Rufina paired with this dish).

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Mrs. B’s eight layer salad. (For those of ya’ll who don’t know what an eight layer salad is, have a look at this Wikipedia entry.)

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Tracie B’s green beans sautéed with onion and garlic and seasoned with nutmeg.

Thank you, Family B, for making me and Mama Judy part of your Thanksgiving celebration! :-)

Best Thanksgiving wines (or at least, what me and Tracie B will be drinking)

Above: Tracie B and I held an informal wine tasting last night with our friends CJ and Jen, who made some excellent pulled pork for dinner (photos by CJ).

It’s that time of year again and everyone’s doing their “Best Thanksgiving Wines” posts. So I figured I’d do mine. Seems like there’s more humor and a greater twang of irony this year in the otherwise traditionally Hallmark consumerist spirit. Maybe ’cause everyone is so broke (or at least I am), it feels like you’re reaching beyond the perfunctory when you compile these lists. It does occur to me that we in the U.S. of A are probably the only folks who believe in these “best” and “top” lists. I just can’t imagine Franco writing a “Top Ten Christmas” wine list. Can you?

My favorite top Thanksgiving wine post so far was authored by Saignée, “I Feel Obligated to Do a ‘Thanksgiving Wine Pairing Post’” (it’s worth checking out but it also sports a NC-17 rating).

Above: The only wine that exceeded my $20-or-under-rule for this year’s holiday was the 2007 Bucci Verdicchio dei Castelli di Iesi, which you should be able to find for under $30. Man, I love that wine.

The Solomon of wine writing and blogging, Eric, poked some fun (or at least, I read it that way) at the Grey Lady’s perennial Thanksgiving suggestions (marked this year by the absence of Frank Bruni) in his post “Six Years of Thanksgiving Wisdom.” I love the wine that Eric brought to the paper’s Thanksgiving tasting, a Frappato by Valle dell’Acate (Sicily). I also love the new wine descriptor, coined and used by Eric to describe it, and I love that it made it past the paper’s grammarians: “earthy chuggability.”

And lest he think that I’ve forgotten him, I got a genuine chuckle and chortle out of Strappo’s “THANKSGIVING WINE STUNNER: EXPERTS CLAIM RED OR WHITE OK!”

This year, Tracie B and I will be heading to Orange, Texas, just like last year, but this year, we’ll also be bringing Mamma Judy with us — her first visit to Texas since I moved here last year. Mrs. B and Rev. B are expecting 24 people at this year’s festivities. Since finances are tight for this fiancé (especially in view of our upcoming nuptials), I tried to keep my wines under $20 (and, for the most part, I succeeded on that part, as they say in the south).

Bucci 2007 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi
($22.99 at Jimmy’s in Dallas)

CJ and I really dug the crunchy mouthfeel of this wine and its elegant, lingering finish. The acidity was “tongue splitting,” as Tracie B likes to say.

Domaine Fontsainte 2008 Corbières Gris di Gris
(rosé, $17.50 at The Austin Wine Merchant)

We all agreed that the fruit in this wine was approachable and fun, juicy and tangy. This could go with just about anything at the Thanksgiving table.

Marchesi di Gresy 2007 Dolcetto d’Alba Monte Aribaldo
($18.75 at The Austin Wine Merchant)

I just can’t believe what a value this wine is at under-$20. It’s rich and chewy, surprisingly tannic, and has that noble rusticity that you find in the Marchesi di Gresy.

Mas Lavail 2007 Terre d’Ardoise Carignan
($11.25 at The Austin Wine Merchant)

Tracie B called this “salty” wine “the stand alone” wine of the flight we tasted with Jen and CJ. The price-quality ratio here is stellar (at $11.25? HELL YEAH!) and the wine is chewy, rich, with dark fruit and lots of savory flavors. I can’t wait to pair it with Tracie B’s Meemaw’s deviled eggs and Mrs. B’s sweet potato pie.

AND HERE IT IS, THE MOMENT YA’LL HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR… MY NUMBER 1 THANKSGIVING WINE FOR 2009!!!

Selvapiana 2007 Chianti Rufina
($16.25 at The Austin Wine Merchant)

Selvapiana is one of my all-time favorite producers (one of Franco’s favs, too) and Rufina is one of the greatest expressions of Sangiovese. This wine is tannic and will benefit from a little aeration before serving but once it opens up it’s all about bright acidity and plum fruit flavors. The price range will vary for this wine across the country but it’s always a tremendous value.

Thanks for reading ya’ll! I’m wishing you a great (and safe) holiday with your loved ones.

In other news…

I had a blast pouring and talking about wine and pairing European and domestic wines with Asian food at the Saheli “Discover Asia through Wine” event on Saturday night. The Tandoori chicken (above) was one of the hits of the evening, as was the Selvapiana Chianti Rufina, which I paired with the Chinese roast duck. Donations support battered Asian women and immigrants in the greater Austin area.

In other other news…

I’ll be pouring wines from Piedmont and Tuscany this Thursday at the Galleria Tennis and Athletic Club in Houston. Click here for details.

Who cuts Jim Clendenen’s unruly hair? (and Dr. J in the Statesman)

felice partida

Above: You wouldn’t believe it but rockstar winemaker Jim Clendenen and I have the same hair stylist, the rockin’ Felice Partida. The only difference? Jim has hair…

BrooklynGuy is not the only guy who gets to go to cool tastings this week, during our industry’s fall preview season (although I have to confess I wish I had had a chance to check out the Jenny and François portfolio in New York with him).

Those highfalutin New Yorkers might be surprised by the caliber of wine folk who come out to visit with us down here in central Texas. ;-)

Yesterday, I tasted a lot of great wines, including current releases from some of my favorite Italians from importer Dalla Terra — Selvapiana (07 Chianti Rufina was KILLER), Marchesi di Grésy (05 Barbaresco was stunning), Tenuta Sant’Antonio (05 was great, always one of my favorite expressions of Amarone).

I also enjoyed tasting with Jim Clendenen, whose wines — especially the high-end bottlings — are always fresh, elegant well-balanced expressions of California Pinot Noir. And I couldn’t resist the above photo op moment: Jim and I share the same hair stylist, Felice Partida! She and I met simply because I booked an appointment last year with the first stylist available at Tracie B’s salon, James Allan, in the Rosedale neighborhood of Austin where we both live. Felice is simply the coolest and as it turns out, her big sis’ Susana is also one of the coolest wine brokers in Texas, AND Felice’s boyfriend Ronnie James is one of the town’s hottest bass players (who plays and tours with the likes of Booker T, Gary Clark Jr., and Jimmy Vaughn — not bad eh?). I highly recommend Felice: being her client comes with “fringe” benefits! ;-)

bin 36

Above: Restaurateur and winemaker Brian Duncan is one of our country’s most dynamic food and wine experts. He’s also one of the coolest guys in the biz.

I also got to catch up with rockstar restaurateur and winemaker Brian Duncan from Chicago. I thought his Pinot Noir show beautifully and the packaging alone made it worth the price of admission. The back label reads: Sexy Pinot Noir seeks short term relationship with recipes that include mushrroms, pork, beef, or poultry (No strings attached).

In other news…

Check out Mike Sutter’s excellent article in yesterday’s Austin American-Statesman, “Messages in a bottle: The mystique of the restaurant wine list.” I was thrilled that Mike interviewed me for the piece and was glad to make the point that you shouldn’t “go into a restaurant with the presumption that people are going to try and take advantage of you… When you pay for a glass of wine in a restaurant, you’re not just paying for the wine. You’re paying for the restaurant’s cellaring of the wine. You’re paying for the service of the wine, and you’re also paying for the expertise.” The other wine professionals interviewed for the piece give some great advice about how to decipher a wine list. The bottom line: go out and enjoy restaurants and their wines. That’s what they’re there for! :-)

In other other news…

Above: Tracie B and I tasted 1988 Bertani Amarone with our friends Charles and Michele Scicolone and Frank Butler earlier this year when we were on tour with Nous Non Plus.

Today, Franco published this great interview with our mutual friend (and one of my mentors) Charles Scicolone. It’s in Italian so if you’re not Italophone, check out Charles’s blog. Charles started drinking and collecting fine Italian wine in the late 70s and early 80s, long before the current renaissance of Italian food and wine. His insights into how the Italian wine industry has evolved over the last 40 years are invaluable.

In an unrelated story…

Is Berlusconi’s number finally up? The Italian courts have revoked his immunity.

Buona lettura!

Keeping the world safe for Italian wine

Above: Franco Ziliani and I tasted some fantastic Franciacorta together last September in Erbusco (before Tracie B convinced me to shave my mustache). Franco has been a great friend, a mentor, and an inspiration. I am proud to be his partner at VinoWire. Photo by Ben Shapiro.

Just keeping the world safe for Italian wine… that’s what we do around here.

It was one helluva way to wake up this morning in sleepy La Jolla — where Botox trumps micro ox — to find that the editors at Decanter.com had decided to publish our post on recent developments in Montalcino and subsequent reports by the Italian media.

I’m glad we got a chance to set the record straight and that I can drink my Vino Nobile tonight with Tracie B at Jaynes knowing that the world is safe for Sangiovese (or maybe we’ll drink the 2007 Selvapiana Chianti Rufina, which is showing gorgeously right now).

In other news…

If you’re planning on attending the San Diego Natural Wine Summit this Sunday at Jaynes, please email the restaurant to reserve. We’re almost at capacity and we’ll have to turn people away if they don’t have tickets. Click here for details and to reserve.

La Jolla High Homecoming 2009: Billecart-Salmon Rosé

billecart salmon

It’s that time of year for graduations, commencements, and homecomings and Tracie B and I felt like homecoming queen and king Friday night at Jaynes Gastropub in San Diego where our friends lined up a pretty spectacular flight of wines to welcome us back. It’s only been a few months since our last visit but it was just a thrill to see everyone and catch up. Jaynes has always been great and chef Daniel Manrique has really taken the menu up a notch. The food was excellent: I had my favorite, the Jaynes Burger, rare, topped with brined red onions, and Tracie B had the shepherd’s pie (it warmed our bodies on a mild evening during San Diego’s “June gloom,” which generally sees cooler-than-summertime temperatures).

jaynes gastropub

Above, from left: John and Megan Yelenosky, Jayne Battle and Jon Erickson, and Tracie B and me.

My highschool bud John Yelenosky (top San Diego wine professional) and his wife Megan (one of the city’s leading sommeliers) treated us to a stunning bottle of Billecart-Salmon rosé (on the list at Jaynes). The nose on this wine was so thrilling you almost didn’t want to drink it.

Cerbaiona 2002

Above: I was surprised at how well the 2002 Cerbaiona showed. Not a lot of Brunello producers bottled their wine as such in the rainy 2002 vintage but the “Pilot’s Brunello” tasted like Sangiovese through and through.

One of the surprising wines was a 2002 Cerbaiona Brunello di Montalcino. I used to sell those wines back in the day in NYC. They’re one of my “guilty-pleasure” wines: they’re expensive, they lean toward the modern in style, but they can also be lip-smacking delicious. The wines showed nicely with my Jaynes Burger.

Selvapiana

Above: The Selvapiana Chianti Rufina 2007 by the glass at Jaynes is awesome.

But the wine that really impressed me that night was the Selvapiana 2007 Chianti Rufina: still a little green around the edges but so powerfully tannic and rich. Similarly to the 2007 bottling of Langhe Nebbiolo by Produttori del Barbaresco, Selvapiana’s “entry-level” or “gateway” wine nearly transcends its designation. I haven’t tasted a lot of 2007 from Tuscan yet but anecdotal reports indicate it’s going to be a great vintage for the region, a harvest in which a lot of winemakers were able to make larger quantities of great Sangiovese. It will be interesting to see what this baby does in the bottle.

On deck for tomorrow: CEVICHE PORN!!! Stay tuned…

A favorite Chianti at Bahia

Above: Dora was in the kitchen the other night at Bahia and the food was just smoking good! The best chile relleno I’ve ever had there.

Last Sunday, Tracie B and Jayne and Jon and I headed over to Bahia Don Bravo in Bird Rock (La Jolla) for some corkage a la acapulqueña. (Tracie B was in town for a lil’ Southern California weekend.)

Jon brought an obligatory bottle of López de Heridia 1989 Tondonia white, always so good at Bahia, and I brought a bottle of one of my favorite wines to pair with Mexican food, with any food really, Selvapiana 2006 Chianti Rufina. Franco is a big fan of Selvapiana as well: the wine is traditional in style, 100% Sangiovese, very fresh and bright in the mouth. I love the way its acidity and natural fruit flavor marry with the intense flavors of Dora’s cooking. And it costs around $22 at the La Jolla BevMo.

Dora’s camaronillas were excellent that night, a classic in her acapulqueño repertoire.

The vineyards of Chianti Rufina (pronounced ROO-fee-nah, btw, with the ictus on the first syllable) lie above 400 meters (perfect for growing Sangiovese) and the wines have a distinctive freshness thanks to the temperature variation (warm summer days but cool nights). Check it out…