Tasting day I got in an early morning run up to the Castello and to the piccolo town of Monte Melino. This is the Sanctuario Madonna de Lourdes
Is it weird this wine has gotten the Outkast song So Fresh and So Clean stuck in my head? Arcan's Albarino just smells and tastes so clean and fresh and alive and like the Atlantic that I can't help it.
Arcan is made by Adega Pombal a Lanzada: a small family winery with about 5 acres in Rias Baixas, Galicia Spain. Galicia is the rocky hilly little corner of Spain up above Portugal that sticks out into the Atlantic. The climate is cool, rainy, and rather stormy; entirely unlike the rest of Spain. Rias Baixas is an appellation right on the coast where deep inlets (Rias) make for great fishing and natural harbors. The Pombal family was actually traditionally mussel farmers, but like most families here also had some vines for making wine for themselves. At about 5 acres they actually have more land than most and so eventually made the jump to making their own wines.
The Arcan is older vine Albarino, fermented in stainless steel with natural yeast, and aged for about 6 months. 5 acres isn't much and so total production usually ranges between 1,400 to 2,000 cases per year.
Aroma: The Arcan Albarino is more aromatic than a lot of Albarinos I've had. There's lots of stone fruit: peaches and apricots, but also fresh lemon and apple blossoms. The Arcan's aroma isn't just fruit though. I feel like I can definitely smell the Atlantic in this salty oceany wet rock kind of quality the wine has.
Taste: This is fresh vivid zingy Albarino with ripe fruit (sort of white peach, lemon, green apple, and ripe cantaloupe) right off the bat. The Arcan is very "wet". What do I mean by that? I'm not sure....it's very thirst quenching and somehow the salty briney rockiness makes me think of the cold Atlantic Ocean. The Arcan is one of those wines with a juxtaposition of ripe fruit and body but also fresh acidity and dancing minerality that just pushes all my buttons! This is a fantastic wine for almost any New England seafood, ranging from salmon to mussels, oysters, or mackerel!
Noella Morantin is from Brittany originally but decided she wanted to make wine. She pursued a degree in wine making in the Loire and for three years in the early oughts she worked with Agnes and Rene Mosse. Next she spent a year working in Muscadet, and then met Junko Arai, who lived in Japan, but owned some of the former Clos Roche Blanches vineyards. Noella began working the vineyards and making the wines for Arai. Eventually the time came that Noella felt that she was ready to begin really on her own and so she bought and rented some of the former Clos Roche Blanches vineyards.
Boudinerie is 100% Gamay. I know it's not carbonic and the grapes are foot trodden, but beyond that I'm not completely sure if this is a single vineyard plot or not. It seems like it's a single vineyard wine because it has so much character and differs from normal Touraine Gamay.
Aroma: There's a surprising amount of juicy black fruit in the aroma; lots of blackberry and blackcherry. The Boudinerie smells fresh and vibrant, like you took a bunch of fresh off the vine wild blackberries and made a granita or something. I really don't smell too much of the gameyness or wild sort of spice that I associate with Touraine Gamay.
Taste: Supple dark fruit, but more pepper and some integrated tannins that dry out the finish and give the wine a more grounded serious character. The fruit up front on the palate is really lovely. It's dark, juicy, and really pretty much perfectly integrated and balanced. I'm actually sort of shocked, this is a wine with more power and structure, but also elegance. I think in a blind tasting I would take this for a lovely serious but drinkable now Bourgueil. Noella Morantin's Gamay sort of does it all: it's lovely and singingly alive but very elegant with reserve depths of flavor that will do well paired with hearty foods.
After tasting with Tenuta di Trinoro I hopped back in the Abarth and blasted over into Umbria. Halfway through the drive I was actually on roads that I recognized from running around Lake Trasimeno and to Tiberi last year! It was a funny feeling to be driving through Italy and realize I actually knew the towns and roads and didn't need GPS to get around.
In an excellent moment of serendipity I pulled up to Della Staffa just as the Danilo and the whole SelectioNaturel crew rolled in after having lunch at Collecapretta! Sleeping situations all got sorted out and we took a short break before heading over to Tiberi for dinner and to taste their new vintages. Carolyn and Jen came with me and I tried hard to drive in a calm polite manner. The back seat has decent space but it's right over the rear wheels so any one back there feels every bump!
I took 20 minutes or so to put myself back together after my 4 and a half hour run, but then I ran the buzzer, opened the gate and drove up to Tenuta di Trinoro. I met Enna, the office and web manager, and he filled me in on more of the background of the winery.
Andrea Franchetti had been living in southern France and knew the Bordeaux area very well but as he was traveling through southern Tuscany in the mid 1980's the climate of the the Val d'Orcia reminded him a lot of those places. It's a little winding rural river valley in southern Tuscany right near the border with Umbria. So he bought an old abandoned house up on the hills and slowly started restoring it. In the early nineties he had put down enough roots there that he decided to start planting vineyards and see what would happen. Being more familiar with Bordeaux and in an empty part of Tuscany that didn't already have a fine wine making culture, Franchetti decided to plant his favorite Bordeaux grapes: Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot.
Franchetti has three different vineyard sites: one right around the winery, another a little bit up the hill, and then a third up in the hills near where his house is. They range from about 250 meters above sea level by the winery up to about 500 meters in the hills. They are mostly Cabernet Franc and Merlot, with a little bit of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot in a couple of spots.
That's a wild boar run going under that fence there.
Just a nice shot of what the valley looks like.
Cabernet Franc vines next to the winery. They planted extremely densely and yields are very low. These are about 25 years old.
Franchetti actually brought Cabernet Franc and Merlot vines from Jean Luc Thunevin of Chateau Valandraud and planted with those varieties. The Val d'Orcia has innumerable little streams running out of all the hills and flowing into the Orcia river. Those streams and the river have been moving around and wearing away at the sedimentary hills for thousands of years so the soil down in the valley is rich and dark; a bit sandy, and full of rounded river rocks. It's a nice peaceful winding place with lots of little nooks and cranies and little streams all over. I lost count of how many I ran over.
I got up Tuesday morning not quite super early and a bit jetlagged but excited and ready to push on through and have adventures! It was bright and sunny and amazing to see old Montepulciano in the light! I collected my things, successfully found where I had left my car the night before, and ate the cold and congealed asparagus and Peccorino appetizer from the night before.
I got into Rome at about 5 in the evening. Luckily I already cleared customs in Amsterdam and could head straight out of the airport and start the process of picking up my Abarth Cinquecento.
When I finally hit the road it was grey and raining and it looked like I wouldn't make it to Montepulciano until 8: not so great. It got progressively darker and wetter as I got closer and then I discovered that the road Google Maps wanted me to take into Montepulciano had been washed out at and was closed. Rural Tuscany isn't so built up so it took a good extra half hour to sort it out. When I got to Montepulciano it was black, spitting rain, and the town seemed utterly dark and deserted.
Google Maps wanted me to drive up a staircase, so after even more driving around I finally just ended up ditching the car and walking to the hotel.
I'd just about given up hope of finding dinner but after a quick explanation to the owner of the hotel about the pazzesco run that I had planned early the next morning she told me that there might still be a restaurant open down the street.
As soon as I walked into La Pentolaccia I could tell that they were getting ready to close but I asked me if they would still feed me and I guess my broken Italian was endearing because they showed me to a table. I started to get a good feeling when I noticed that all the diners were Italian. The space was small, only maybe 30 seats, and cozy with lots of brick and terracotta. They had pictures of a little local rally team on the wall that they sponsored. The wine list was small and almost all wines from Montepulciano. All of these were positive signs! I recognized some of the wines, including Sanguineto: a fantastic traditional producer that I work with. I explained to the lone woman working the front of the house that I worked with wine, knew Sanguineto, and liked small producers working manually without chemicals. She got excited and said she had just the wine. It was from a farm owned by her friends and called Macchione.
So of course I got that and it was a perfect balanced structured Sangiovese from 2016. The menu was just as good once I turned my attention to it. I ordered a dish of Tagliatelle that they had made with a bit of coffee mixed into the pasta dough and it gave the pasta a great earthier flavor. She said it was a recipe she and her sister had come up with just playing around in the kitchen!
I followed that with a traditional Tuscan beef stew that was super hearty and full of peppercorns which had been cooked with the beef. The long cooking had taken some of the spice from the peppercorns but they were still spicy and gave the dish more warmth and fire.
They also gave me an appetizer to eat the next morning once I explained that I would be running back and forth around Montepulciano and would be up too early to get food anywhere. I headed back to my hotel a little later than I had wanted to go to, but so happy, so grateful, and with a completely different feeling about Montepulciano. La Pentolaccia saved the day!
Grapes: 60% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 20% Merlot.
This is great. I really like these wines and the Petroro 4 has been out of stock for a bit with the vintage changing over. The 2016 is exactly what i'd hoped it would be. '16 was a great year in central Italy. The weather was just right and many people made excellent well balanced and integrated wines. This is a great vintage to both find value wines and to find wines that are capable of long aging.
I visited Peppucci in Autumn of '17 and had a great time talking to Filippo, the son who's taken over running the winery that his parents began the process of starting. It's not just that Filippo took over responsibility for the winery, it seemed like he had really grown it and stepped up the wine making to a more serious level. Here's a video of him in the winery.
Aroma: the 2016 Peppucci Petroro 4 smells like black berry and black cherry. It smells dark and kind of woodsey and rich. It's substantial and grounded like the Umbrian countryside.
Taste: Juicy, but brighter than it smells. The Petroro Quatro tastes more of cherries and black raspberries. It's....almost chocolately even. The balance of acid and ripe fruit is great. There's just the right amount of tannin to make it a serious wine that would be excellent with some kind of hearty food with some fat to it. There's a tiny bit of smoke to it as well. Somehow this reminds me of an Italian Bordeaux in terms of it's focus and structure and linear character.
It's officially Spring! Now we get as much sun as we do in late September...just not as much heat. But the days are longer and before long the weather may even be pleasant outside! That's worth celebrating. I love celebrating with food and wine and Easter's coming so I put together a list of the wines I'm excited about!
Frank Cornelissen Contadino 2016
The 2016 Contadino is here and it's excellent. It's fruit driven, ripe jammy black cherry and raspberry, but smoky and charry like a smoldering campfire. It pulls off being fun and vivacious and friendly but also brooding and powerful at the same time. Basically it tastes exactly like Mount Etna: amazing and beautiful but it might erupt and destroy everything and anyone. This is riper than the 2015 but not as heavy as the 2014. It's great but extremely limited. Contadino is just north of $30 and available at Maine and Loire, RSVP, Rosemont, Bow St Portland, Maine Street Meats, The Clown Lois's Natural Foods, The Farm Stand, and Meridians.
Grand Rouviere Cotes de Provence Rose 2017
Rouviere is a perennial favorite rose of mine. It's a 5th generation family winery way down in Provence on the border with Bandol. This is the best vintage I've ever tasted! I didn't expect that because it was a hot year, but somehow the Leydier family made a really gorgeous dry elegant rose with lovely giving flowery aromas that just somehow smell like the Mediterranean summer. The acidity and salinity that underpin the wine's ripe fruit are brilliant and really make the wine notable. Rouviere is around $17 and available at RSVP, Whole Foods, Farm Stand, Bow St Portland, Oak Hill Beverage, LeRoux, Browne Trading, Store Ampersand, and the Lighthouse in Augusta.
Podere Saliceto Albone Lambrusco
Saliceto is a little tiny operation outside Modena. This is Lambrusco Salamino naturally fermented by a pair of brothers in law. It's so juicy and fun and frothy! This is real full on dry red wine with juicy fresh black raspberry fruit but not really tannins to speak of. The effervescence (it's fizzy sort of like a beer) gives the wine a whole different dimension though and makes it fantastic with all kinds of food because the fizz primes and cleans your palate. This will be great with roast pork! The Albone is around $17 and at RSVP, Sheepscot General Store, the Farm Stand, Bow St Portland, Bootlegger's in Topsham, Maine St Meats, Friendly Discount Beverage, and Tess Market in Brunswick.
Hand Work Tempranillo 2017
Organic Tempranillo from the fantastic Bodegas Ponce in Manchuela. And it's in a Litre bottle! This is fresh young energetic Tempranillo that has just the right amount of rusticness. The fruit is that classic juicy bright cherry and blueberry that young Tempranillo often has but it's offset with this touch of spice and wildness. It's medium bodied, thirst quenching and easy to drink but interesting at the same time. This is a great medium bodied red to cut through the fat of pork or the saltiness of ham. Hand Work Tempranillo is around $14 and available at Good Tern Coop, Maine and Loire, Bow St in Freeport, Mane Street Meats, and Morning Glory in Brunswick.
Furlani Antico Frizzante
Matteo Furlani is really really good at making clean focused intense wines that are totally natural. The naturalness comes out in his wines as a vivid energetic precision; not as any kind of funky or earthy character. Some credit for that has to go to his location way up above Trentino in the foot hills of the Alps. It's cold there. That's an understatement, but he really uses it to his advantage by doing natural cold stabilizations in the winter. The cold temperatures help him to control and naturally slow things down resulting in spectacularly balanced crisp vividly aromatic wines. This fizzy bottle fermented wine is 100% Nosiola, a famously aromatic and respected grape from the high Dolomites. The Furlani Antico is avalable at Mane and Loire.
Poco a Poco Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2015
Poco a Poco is the second label of Porter Bass. Luke Bass grew up here in the vineyard as his parents reinvigorated the vineyard and transitioned to biodynamics. Somehow he pulls of this Pinot Noir that is seamlessly integrated and polished but still has the ripe fruit and friendly warmth that make the best CA wines delicious. This is classic perfect Sonoma Pinot. Poco a Poco is around $28 and available at Local Market Brunswick, Sawyer's Market in SW Harbor, The Rosemont Market's, and the Farm Stand.
Alpamanta Natal Malbec
Andrej Razomovsky came from eastern Europe originally as a journalist to AR but fell in love with wine making and put down roots, as he tells it, where the road literally ends in far south Mendoza. His Malbec is concentrated and ripe, but it has more acid and tannin to it. It tastes like it comes from a slightly cooler place in that in that it's more harmonious in how it's balanced and has a bit of a cool angular structure. The Alpamanta good be mistaken for a very good ripe Bordeaux I think, and that's why it's such a good spring Easter wine. This would shine with lamb! The Natal is around $16 and is available at Now You're Cooking, the Rosemont Markets, Oak Hill Beverage, RSVP, Good Tern Coop, and John Edwards Market in Ellsworth.
Conca de Barbera is a lesser known DO down in southern Catalonia. Or at least it's lesser known here in the States because most wine people think Americans just want Spanish wines that are big high alcohol rootin tootin red blooded wines you can chase your Wild Turkey with. Conca de Barbera is not that. Trepat is a lighter red grape sort of akin to Gamay, but I would say lighter, at least in Fredi Torres' hands. Some people actually call this wine a rose. I don't think it is. But I would recommend drinking it with a chill. It pairs great with lamb, ham, hot dogs, and yard games.
Aroma: Raspberry, strawberry, cranberry, lots of fresh red fruit. Fredi's Pomagrana is a pretty and cool smelling wine. Fruity but dark and berry smelling; also not super ripe candy or cooked or dried fruit. The Pomagrana is driven by fresh tart just barely ripe berry fruit aromas. Also, it's a tiny bit woodsey smelling.
Taste: Fresh juicy thirst quenching! It's only 11% alcohol. More fresh strawberry and raspberry and cherry on the palate. This Conca de Barbera is all rather tart berry fruit, which is great in this context. The Trepat is bright and fresh and fun and has a sort of an edgy cut to the personality of the flavors. It's all fresh lively fruit, not heavy sweet candied or anything like that. This is fun party wine. The flavors are all balanced and integrated too, it's not unbalanced like some natural wines in this price range.
Approximately $16. But almost no one even knows I have this yet. We'll be rolling it out for Fredi's visit to Maine on Friday. We'll be doing a tasting at Maine and Loire from 3-5 and then a tasting at Vessel and Vine in Brunswick from 5:30-7