Ask Chuck

Location: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Born in Malta but in Canada since age 5. Has written three books and presently does several columns about wine and food for various magazines.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Great Grand Daddy Of California's Wine Industry

One Hundred And Twenty-Five Years Of Continuous Production!
It never ceases to amaze me, the great impact that German immigrants have had on the North American (and World) wine industry. In Canada, for example, there are the likes of Herbert Konzelmann and Klaus Reif who came from German winery backgrounds to start Canadian wineries. In fact, the fellow who started it all in Ontario (and possibly Canada) in the early 1800's was a retired German soldier/winemaker by the name of Johann Schiller!! Though not German, Austrian Karl Kaiser co-founder of Inniskillin Winery (along with Donald Ziraldo) has left his indelible mark on Canadian wine. It is not then surprising to find a German immigrant behind the success of the oldest continuous winery in the United States.
1883 And All That!
"He came up from Germany and had nothing in his pocket. He, like many other immigrants, came through Ellis Island and ended up in California", stated Carolyn Wente, great granddaughter (Fourth Generation Wente) of Carl H. Wente! Carl Wente was hired by Charles Krug under whose tutelage he blossomed and eventually purchased 48 acres in the Livermore Valley just East of San Francisco. He weathered the Prohibition Years by producing Sacramental Wines and by 1933 was well on his way to producing the first Sauvignon Blanc, Semilion and Chardonnay wines in the United States. His Son Herman founded the California Wine Institute!
By 1949, the winery expanded its distribution and assisted new wineries to get established.
The Wente family continued through the years experimenting, expanding and creating new projects such as becoming proactive in land use issues which balanced urban growth with that of agriculture, creation "agri-tourist" attractions and a special innovative real estate project which combined the planting of vineyards with home sites as sort of working landscapes with homes among vineyards, working wineries and "B&B" Inns.
The years between 1991 and 2008 saw much growth through partnerships (Murrieta's Well and Tamas Estate Winery) and joint ventures to expand exports and further expansion in the agri- tourism role through Golf Courses and the establishment of new vineyards.
Throughout the years the Wente business was truly a family oriented business with Five Generations of Wente's taking up the task to solidify Wente as the oldest and farsighted winery in the United States if not North America!
Wine Styles
Wente comprises of some 3000 acres in two appellations (San Francisco Bay (Livermore Valley) and Monterey (Arroyo Seco). Wente also has 7 acres of vineyards in Napa. They have several programs---the first two are extremely limited in production and not for genteral distribution.
Small Lot: These wines specific Estate Vineyard Blocks where the vines are carefully farmed, sustained and hand harvested.
Nth Degree: These wines are the best of the best and not available to the public but to wine club members and some lucky groups such as the Opimian Society in Canada. Todd McDonald is trying to get some in Vintages!
Estate Grown: These wines are made in a distinctive style to reflect the vineyard and region where they are grown. They are named to reflect the Wente area and history of where they come from.
Tasting Wente Estate Grown Wines!
Led by Carolyn Wente, the following wines were tasted:
Wente Morning Fog Chardonnay (LCBO 175430 $16.25)
Named after the morning fog pushed by Pacific on shore winds spreads inland into the San Francisco Bay and to the Livermore Valley where it cools the air and creates a great micro climate for excellent, well balanced grapes.
My Notes: On the nose: apple, citrus, floral notes with some smoke.
On the palate: apple with some mandarin and vanilla toast. Full in mouth with pleasant mouth feel and a lingering sweet almost Lychee finish.
**Incidentally, the Wente family introduced Chardonnay to California.
Wente Beyer Ranch Zinfandel (LCBO 66118 $18.05)
Named after the premier location for Zinfandel, this wine has an interesting blend of Zinfandel (80%), Petit Verdot (15%) and Sangiovese (5%). It seems to explode with flavour in the mouth and is thoroughly enjoyable!
My Notes: On the nose: Ripe red fruit such as Raspberry, Strawberry and Dark Cherry along with some pepper spice.
On the palate: Ripe red and dark fruit with a long lasting finish that had some clove nuances. I enjoyed this wine and would certainly recommend it to someone who wishes to pick out flavours and enjoy the moment!
Southern Hills Cabernet Sauvignon (LCBO 301507 $17.25)
The Southern Hills are planted with the two Cabernet Sauvignon clones that were introduced to Livermore in the 19th Century by Charles Wetmore. The Wente family farms some 400 acres using these clones (7 and 8) in these Southern Hills which are ideal for Cabernet grapes.
My Notes: On the nose: Cherry, smoke, vanilla wood with a touch of cassis
On the palate: Nice mouth feel with Cherry, raspberry and sweet spice. Lingering finish with touch of anise.
**This is another interesting blend: Cabernet Sauvignon (78%), Petit Verdot (9%), Merlot (5%),
Here's where it gets interesting: Tempranillo (3%), Sangiovese (2%), Barbara (2%) and Syrah (1%).
Crane Ridge Merlot (Not available at LCBO $29.95)
Crane Ridge is one of those special developments that I spoke about in the general introduction of the Wente Winery. This project combined the planting of vineyards with home sites to create working landscapes. It is also ideal for fully ripe Merlot grapes.
My Notes: On the nose: Plum, cassis, black fruit, vanilla smoke
On the palate: Blackberry, plum, black cherry with a wood smoke finish that lasts.
Another interesting blend of Merlot (98%) and the Portuguese Port grape: Touriga Nacional
Any business, agricultural or otherwise, that lasts 125 years is doing something right! In the case of the Wentes it's called "Passion"! This passion has been related and passed on from one generation to another resulting in not only a successful enterprise but also truly great and innovative wines. Parents! Do you want your kids to be successful and respected-----take a lesson from the Wentes---pass on your passion!
My thanks to Carolyn Wente for taking the time to pass on her wine passion on to this writer.
For more information concerning obtaining Wente producrts contact Todd McDonald at

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

This Cognac's Is Truly A Signature!

I have always envied Louis Banyard of Signature Wines & Spirits for what seems to be his continental suave charm and poise. He seems to deal with everything that comes by him is an effortless smoothness-----not slick or overpowering as, let's say, like some articulate furniture or vehicle salesmen or politicians but clean and admirably in command. His refined accent doesn't hurt either and his personality is magnetic without being overwhelming. In other words, I like the guy!
Our first meeting was through PMA or Peter Mielzynski Agencies where he handled the Grand Marnier Account. Louis and I did a program appearance on Rogers Television where he made a lasting impression not only on me but it seems also on all the swooning females at the station. It must have been the accent and, in my case, he also had hair!
We've kept in touch even though he no longer works for PMA---though I feel that by now both PMA and Grand Marnier wish he was back! He now works for Signature which is a family business.
We met today at the Bayview Village Mall in the North East part of Toronto. Louis brought with him, Ivan de Fonclare area manager of Mounier/Polignac Cognac. Now, some individuals have areas such as: Toronto or South-Western Ontario. This guy has Scandinavia, Iceland and North America. Sounds like H. Mounier thinks only in big ways!
Ivan impressed me as being very unpretentious and straight forward in a polite and charming way. There is no evasive phoniness here. His success lies in his "take me for what I am" manner which truly is refreshing. He and Louis definitely make a great team!
H. Mounier Cognac
This company was founded in 1858 by Herbert Mounier and quickly became the sixth largest Cognac company in the world. 95% of its products are exported leaving the poor French with the 5% left. H. Mounier V.S. (available on general list LCBO 293662 $38.65) is a blend of Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne and Borderies cognacs in that order. These are zones where cognacs come from---Grande Champagne (the term "Champagne" here refers to the chalky soil of the area which is reminiscent of the area of Champagne) regarded as being the finest followed by Petite Champagne, Borderies, Fin Bois, Bons Bois and Bois Ordinaire in order of appreciation and quality. The lower one descends, the rougher and more harsh the resulting cognac will be. Incidentally, there are very strict regulations that govern the making of Cognac and any deviation from these rules will result in a demotion to general Brandy status. Like Champagne or a Bordeaux, Cognac must take care of its name. Cognac is a brandy but not all brandies are Cognac which is, after all, the town where this drink comes from.
The average age of the spirit in H. Mounier Cognac V.S. is 4.5 years far higher than the legal requirements.
How It's Made
H. Mounier takes grapes from Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne and Borderies. Grape types are Ugni Blanc (90%), Folle Blanche (5%) and Colombard (5%). The grapes are vinified to an alcohol content of 7% (normal fermentation) and then are distilled via a copper kettle or pot (called Charentais or Alembics). They are distilled to about 32% alcohol and then are distilled again. The the first distillate and the final distillate are omitted leaving only the middle portion or "eau de vie" which would be then at about 70% alcohol. The Cognac is aged in barrel (usually Limousine oak for a period of time depending on the designation to be. The alcohol is then diluted with distilled water to about 40%.
Cognac does not age in the bottle. All aging is done in the barrel. For example, a cognac which was made in 1900 and bottled in 1940 is as old as one that was made in 1940 and bottled in 1980.
Style and Taste.
H. Mounier V.S. is smooth and very easy to drink. Here are my notes: On the nose: there is some herbal spice which can be described as vegetal, a strong vanilla/wood influence is enhanced by some floral notes. On the palate: Their is initially a sweetness that greets the palate. Nuances of caramel, vanilla and burnt sugar with a very long and lingering honey sweetness on the finish.
This is indeed a very pleasant cognac---not harsh like many V.S. styles and more reminiscent of a V.S.O.P. or better. A true bargain and cheaper than (Hennesy V.S. costs $20 more) other similar brands and in most cases is as good or better!
H. Mounier also produces some very special cognacs by the name of Polignac (founded by Prince Hubert Polignac) which can reach many levels of Quality from V.S. to XO Royal ($148). The company also makes a very special 100% Grande Champagne Cognac called Blue Sun ($890). The H. Mounier V.S. seems very reasonable indeed compared to its bigger brothers.
One interesting fact about the H.Mounier company is that in 1996 Grey Goose of Vodka fame asked the company to produce a French style Vodka. It's blender at the time, Francois Thibeaunt, succeeded in producing a fine style. Grey Goose was later sold to Baccardi (Francois went to work for them) but H. Mounier still bottles the product to this day!
Reynac Pineau des Charentes
Pineau des Charentes is made by taking the unfermented grape juice (grapes that normally are used to make Cognac) and adding Cognac to them until the resulting beverage is at 17% alcohol. The result is a very sweet drink that can be used as a dessert wine or as an aperitif. In many ways it has the taste and consistency of Icewine at a much less ($17.95) price.
The number one Pineau in the world is Reynac Pineau des Charantes (LCBO 101394) of which some 10,000 cases are imported annually to Canada. Presently it is the only General List Pineau available in Ontario.
For more information go to the following: or

Friday, November 7, 2008

Wines Of Argentina: The Marriage of Power and Elegance

The Emergence Of A Giant!
While on my way to the Design Exchange at 234 Bay Street yesterday I couldn't help complain to myself that this was the seventh wine tasting in a row that I was going to attend in Toronto. The voice inside of me said "Stop whining! Remember when you would have killed to be invited to just one tasting. So what if you've had to travel again from Whitby (just 60 kls east of the city), just think of what you will be tasting today. Maybe a new discovery!"
Indeed, my self disclosure was prophetic since I tasted some excellent Malbec (red) and a truly fine Torrontes (white).
A Bit Of History!
Vinifera grapevines were introduced to Argentina some 400 years ago (1542) by Spanish missionaries that were responsible for spreading the Catholic faith and also caring for the "souls" of the soldiers and explorers who came to very large country. As with most other countries which were of the Catholic faith, the missionaries planted grapes around their monasteries in order to make wine needed for the celebration of Mass. The grapes grew very well in the climate and soil.
European settlers provided much needed technical knowledge when they arrived in the early 19th Century and brought with them more vines and specialized knowledge. Wineries were founded and in 1993, "Argentine Top Wines", consisting of a small group of exporting wineries and wine producers, was developed within the Argentine Vititcultural Association. Later in 1995, an agreement was signed between the Argentine government and wineries to promote Argentine wines. Then in 1998, "Wines of Argentina" was founded to further promote its wines and educate the public of other countries. Later that year, the first annual tasting was held in London, England.
The result of all of this is that the wines of Argentina have taken their time to develop their own identity, with characteristics different from but yet comparable in quality to countries such as Chile and even France.
Argentina, is the second largest country after South America with just over 1 million square miles. It lies between the Andes Mountain Chain in the West and the Atlantic in the South and East. Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia,Paraguay and Chile are its political borders.
Argentina can be divided into four geographical parts: Pampas (agriculture), Patagonia (oil), Gran Chaco (Sub Tropical Flatland) and Andes Mountains. There are many micro climates within these areas and many types of flora and fauna exist. Argentina produces many products for export among which is wine!
Wine Regions
There are 15 wine producing provinces spanning some 200 km North to South. Almost 355,400,000 litres were exported to all markets in 2007. Canada ranks third in it imports of Argentinian wine. In all there are 950 wineries the majority of which (685) are in the Mendoza wine region!
The wine regions (with their wine producing provinces in brackets) from largest to smallest are as follows: Cuyo (Mendoza [North, Central, South] , San Juan, La Rioja) North (Salta, Catamarca) Patagonia (Rio Negro, Neuquen La Pampa).
The climates of these regions are indeed variable. Usually the weather is dry, with alluvial soil deposits. Patagonia has very strong winds which may help the area avoid frost. The Neuguen area of Patagonia is the largest growing viticultural centre of Argentina with four first class wineries already there and three more in the works.
The largest and most important area in Argentina is Mendoza producing about 80% of the wine made in Argentina. Salta has some of the highest vines planted anywhere in the world.
Malbec is still king in Argentina representing 33% of all sales. Cabernet Sauvignon is certainly coming up (12.5%) with Chardonnay (8.1%), Syrah (4.3%), Merlot (3.2%), Torrontes (2.1%) and Pinot Noir (up and coming in Patagonia), Bonarda and Sauvignon Blanc bringing up the rear.
An interesting fact about Pinot Noir in Patagonia is that because of the high winds and sunshine, the grapes have grown an exceedingly thick skin which allows for less damage and higher concentration thus making a Pinot that is different from other Pinots in its concentration.
The Tasting
I arrived in time for the 1:30 pm tutored tasting. My friend Alex Eberspaecher was there (as were Barbara Ritchie and Patricia Dinsmore) though some of the other familiar wine writers were not. Michael Vaughan was having lunch with Miguel Torres and Tony Aspler was coming later. There were a substantial group though that were comprised of exhibitors, agents, sommeliers and writers).
Six wines were tasted: Torrontes 2008 from Salta's Cafayate area, Malbec 2007 from Mendoza's Barrancas area, Malbec 2006 from Mendoza's Valle de Uco area, Malbec 2006 from Mendoza's Maipu area, and Malbec 2005 from Neuquen's San Patricia del Chanar area.
The Wines (These wines range from a price of $10 (Torrontes) to $20 (Malbec). They are of excellent value and can be obtained by contacting the individual email address beside them.
Echart Torrontes 2008
This was one of my of my favourite wines of the whole tasting.
Nose: Fresh and lively with herbal/grassy spice, apple fruit Highly perfumed.
Palate: Citrus mandarin, kiwi, fruit based apple flavours, fresh acidity and excellent length.
Pascual Tosso Malbec 2007 (Eurovintage, Tom Noitsis email:
Nose: Blackberry, black cherry with earth tones.
Palate: Blackberry, blueberry with some bitter cherry flavours. supple with nice mouthfeel. Good length.
Familia Zuccardi Malbec 2006 (Dionysus Wines, A.Patinos email:
Nose: Red and black fruit notes like raspberry, blackberry, plums black cherries.
Palate: Ripe red fruit and sweet tannins, some coffee and cedar (wood)
Trapiche Malbec 2006 (Philippe Dandurand, A. Babak email:
Nose: Somewhat closed, some vanilla, tobacco, earth, plum, cherry
Palate: Plum, cherry, somewhat jammy, tannic, long finish
Don Cristobal La Nina Malbec 2007 (Ruby Wines, T. Gibb email:
Nose: Still somewhat closed with cherry and plum with some blueberry
Palate: Plum land dark fruit, earth and medium to strong tannins. Excellent length.
Alta Umbres, Malbec 2007(Case For Wine, Lloyd Evans
Nose: Forward, ripe red fruit and vanilla
Palate:Immediately pleasing, generous fruit on palate. Soft, supple. Nice length.
Lagarde DOC Malbec 2006 (The Case For Wine, email:
Nose: Somewhat closed but red and dark fruit evident such as strawberry, plum and nuances other black and red fruit.
Palate: Nicely layered with similar fruit as nose. Foreward tannins and nice length.
Bodegas Norton Malbec Reserva (PMA, Doris Anest, email:
Nose: Cedar, vanilla, black cherry, some cocoa.
Palate: red fruit, taut tannins and nice length.
Final Opinion
The wine tasting was an excellent experience with much to be seen and tasted. Argentina is certainly a country that will be heard from in the future and one that will offer excellent prices on wines---some of which are already at ultra premium levels in quality. Congratulations Argentina!!!!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Springtime In November Means Visiting Niagara Vineyards

Tuesday November 4th: A Fun Day Begins At The Evanshens!!
One of the perks of being involved in the wine business is the extremely varied type of work that one gets to do---if you call it work! Tuesday saw me heading up to the home of former CFL football great and Hall Of Fame member, Terry Evanshen and his wife Lorraine.
Terry and I met at the gymnasium (Whitby Recreation Centre) that we mutually patronize. I got to know him and his family even better when the magazine I write for "East of the City", which is a Metroland publication, assigned me the writing of the story about the tragic accident that robbed him of his memory and almost his life! A book, "The Man Who Lost Himself", was written by June Callwood and a movie of the same name was made starring David James Elliott (Jag, Close To Home) as Terry and Wendy Crewson (Air Force One) as Lorraine!
The reason I went over to the Evanshens' was that during the assignment, I learned that they both had a penchant for Konzelmann Riesling---so much so that they actually took a case with them to Aruba during their yearly vacation there. Since I knew Herbert Konzelmann, I organized a visit so they could meet!
We're Off
We left their home shortly after 8 am and within an hour and a half were driving in Niagara Wine Country. The weather could not have been any more perfect. The temperature was hovering around 13 Celsius on its way to about 20 and the Sun could not have shone any better. After a brief break in Beamsville, we followed the Queen Elizabeth Highway to the Highway 55 cutoff though we veered to the right and followed Highway 81 to St. David's. This was the scenic route.
St. David's is truly a unique area where the Niagara Escarpment, in parts, draws so close to the road that you think you will touch it by just sticking you hand out the window. Being mid Autumn, the leaves on the trees where still colourful enough to be influenced by the golden sunshine---reflecting the light---almost shimmering. The many homes within the confines of the wooded areas attracted Terry's attention though I reminded him that the best was yet to come. Terry also marvelled at the meticulously kept vineyards and estates such as those of Chateau des Charmes which we passed on our way.
We reached Queenston Heights and turned left onto the Niagara Parkway. Here, Terry asked me to slow down so he could savour the view of the stately mansions to the left and the picturesque Niagara River on the right. I knew then that he was enjoying the trip!
On the way down, Lorraine had mentioned that her daughter had bought a great wine at a place called Riverview Winery. Owned by Sam & Lina Pillitteri, this winery is right on the Niagara Parkway and offers a wide range of fine wines for purchase. The wines can only be purchased at the winery which also offers tours and sells fresh fruit. They do deliver right to clients' homes via courier though there is a delivery charge. The one major thing that impressed this writer is that if you visit the winery and buy a case, they only charge for eleven bottles out of every 12 bottle case. The reason being to counter the delivery charge. I thought that was an excellent way to treat customers fairly (If only the gas companies could be so generous and fair!). We resumed our trip shortly and made our way to Inniskillin where I had to pick up a parcel and also used that as an excuse to show Terry and Lorraine the impeccably kept winery, boutique vineyards and grounds.
Inniskillin Rules
At Inniskillin, we were met by Debi Pratt, Public Relations Manager. Del Rollo, the Director of Hospitality for Vincor International---the parent company of Inniskillin and a Constellation Company----also happened to be there to welcome us.
A tour of the grounds and winery was given and, of course, a historical perspective from the relationship of the buildings reputed to have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright to the founding of this winery by co-founders Donald Ziraldo and Karl Kaiser, was described. What impressed most was the absolutely meticulous cleanliness of the entire winery. Lorraine, forehead creased, stated, "I can't believe how absolutely clean this beautiful winery is!"
While there, I called ahead to make sure that we were still expected at Konzelmann. Jansin Ozkur, Director Of Marketing, informed me that Herbert would be coming a bit later that day but to come down anyway and get a tour and tasting.
Konzelmann Winery
We arrived at the winery around noon! Plans were made to have the tour/tasting and then have lunch in Niagara-on-the-Lake after which we would pay a brief visit to Jackson Triggs and then move on to visit with Herbert Konzelmann before heading for home.
Gatehouse Hotel/Giardino Restaurant
Jansin Ozkur gave our couple an impressive tour which kept both Terry and Lorraine talking while we drove to our next destination---lunch. I had prearranged lunch with Tullio, the hotel and restaurant manager. When I used to do bus tours to this area, I used (and only used) this fine establishment to bring my guests.
The Hotel/Restaurant is situated at the west end of Niagara-on-the-Lake just prior to the turn that takes you to Highway 55/Stone Road. It is, again, exceptional in its decor (Italian Deco Modern) being very spacious and airy with huge picture windows which gives the guest a great view of the grand old trees surrounding it and also lining the streets of Niagara -on-the-Lake! The food was always exceptional and this case was no different. We ate light but were satisfied. The price was as usual very reasonable. I would heartily recommend this place not only as a restaurant but also a a place to visit and spend some time in!
Herbert Konselmann
Around three o'clock we found ourselves at the Konzelmann Winery---this time with Herbert there. Herbert and I go back many years to the early 1990's when I started my first program about wine called "The Wine Companions". Rubin Benmergui (brother of comedian and talk show host Ralph) was my co-host in this innovative venture. Herbert and I became close friends though, I must admit, we did not see each other that often. Herbert however is the type of person who you feel close to even though he is not always around. There is not much that I can say about Herbert's skill as a winemaker and a human being that has not already been said. His wines are almost legendary and his personality has infected many well wishers from around the globe. He is a well loved and thought of man. His wines reflect his passion and infinite detail.
I had forgotten how this man's smiling face could lift one's spirits and----when you add Terry's personality and Lorraine's strength----complemented the Evanshens' enthusiasm. If there was to be a crowning moment, this was it. The lovers of Konzelmann wine met the winemaker himself.
After a brief but intensive visit/tasting with Herbert we were on our way back home. The day went well and as we drove up the Evanshen driveway around 6 pm, we all reflected that the day could not have gone any smoother or any better!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Italian Wine Flows Sagrantino

Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto, Ontario was the site of the 13th Annual Italian Wine and Grappa Tasting. Italian wine flowed freely with over 110 of Italy's top wine producers showing their wares to an admiring public.
Italy is Ontario's number one foreign wine supplier. This isn't surprising when one considers that 15 percent of Italy's exports is wine---59 percent being in the DOC category. In Ontario, the gross sales of Italian wines represent some some 19.9 million litres at $253.5 million dollars. The country that produces over one fifth of the worlds wine is well represented here!
Italian wine has been going through something like an evolution or maybe some would say de-evolution since there is a trend to going back to the classical grapes.
We are hearing more of varieties such as Aglianco, Arnesis, Pigato, Nuragus, Pignolo, Nero d'Avola, Negroamaro, Primitivo, Grechetto, Cortese, Corvina, Gaglioppo, Refosco and also more about the making of more traditional Nebbiolo, Sangiovese and Montepulciano. Now, a variety that was almost extinct at the beginning of the Twentieth Century is getting a new and powerful lease on life in the Twenty First.
Sagrantino di Montefalco
The Sagrantino grape is reputed to have been brought to its present site by Franciscan Monks returning from Spain. The grape however does not seem to have any DNA relationship to any other variety.
The name of the town which the grape is associated with goes back to the Holy Roman Emperor, Fredrick the Second of Sevevia who had a penchant for Falconry among many other things such as exotic animals (Cheetahs and Giraffes to name a few). It is said that he kept a large number of Falconers handy and imported Falcons from around the globe! His love of Falconry (He wrote a book about it) is now present in the name of the town. Fredrick was baptised in Assisi which was the main habitat of St. Francis.
Sagrantino, was made in a sweet "Passito" style whereby the grapes are dried on straw tiers prior to vinification. For many years though the wine has been vinified dry producing a very dark and tannic wine (though the Passito is still made). Ancient two to three hundred year old vines are still found in the area. This grape became seriously neglected in the 20th Century and nearly became extinct but was "brought back" through the tremendous efforts of local producers who labeled and classified them as well as obtained the DOC (1972) and DOCG (1992).
Montefalco produces a wine "Montefalco Rosso" which is a blend of Sangiovese (70%), Sagrantino (15%) and other grapes (15%). The Sagrantino Dry and Passito wines are 100% of that variety.
Tasting Sagrantino!
The wine tasting held at the Roy Thompson Hall was directed by Mr. Paolo Ponti, Commissioner of Trade for the Italian Trade Commission, Mr. Luigi Bonifazi, Director of the Cosortium of Mentefalco wines, Mr. Attilio Scienza, Professor of Viniviticulture in Siena and Mr. David Lawrason, Wine Educator and Writer. Together, they produced a first class and informative tasting of six Sagrantino wines.
The Wines!
Sagrantino di Montefalco 2004 Az. Agr. Tiburzi Gustuvo
This wine was found to be immediately pleasing with a good tannin structure. On the nose it initially had a medicinal quality that I associated with minerality with some black fruit and cherry with a touch of anise. On the palate there seemed to be ripe cherry with a smooth acidity and tannin. Pleasant long finish. This wine proved to be the lightest of the six wines tasted.
S.d. M. Madonna Alta
Heavier in both nose and taste, this wine did have ripe red fruit on the nose though I kept on getting a whiff of "straw'---the kind of whiff one gets when sitting on a bale of straw that has been drying quite awhile. I asked Alex Eberspaecher who was next to me and he commented that the smell was probably Cocoa and Eucalyptus which was confirmed later by Professor Scienza. I kept on smelling the straw.
On the palate the tannins were prominent with plum and red fruit and a great mouth feel. Again, long finish.
S.d.M. Azienda Agraria Fratelli Tocchi
Richer still than the previous with good berry and spice nuances. The palate had a wealth of red and black fruit with the usual high tannins that were prevalent prior. Reminded me of a Mourvedre.
S.dM. Villa Mongalli
This wine was spicier than the previous. Vanilla wood on the nose with some anise. On the palate was a mixture of ripe berry and plum with anise on a lengthy finish.
S.d.M. Azienda Agraria Perticaia
Cinnamon intertwined with ripe red fruit (cherry, raspberry)---again some straw but not as predominant as the second wine. The wine was very tannic and had a slight bitter almond finish. Again, good length.
S.d.M. Colpetrone
Very fruity wine with "in your face" ripe red cherry with a smattering of vanilla and pepper spice. The wine was the most powerful of the six with very powerful tannins. Black cherry flavours with a huge, mouth feel and concentration. It had a taste that would not go away.
In general, the wines tasted were indicative of the power that this Sagrantino grape has and the amazing capability it seems to have in cellaring over a long period of time.

The General Tasting
Over 110 producers gathered to show their wines. The wines were cornucopia of all varieties and blends though as I said before, there seems to be a strong trend in the return to traditional wine making in Italy.
I visited just a few of the producers and was impressed with the following.

Stroppiana Oreste di Strippian a Dario:
(Represented by Hobbs & Co. email
Barolo DOCG Vigna San Giacomo
On the nose, a very pleasant tobacco and wood with an elegant and harmonious integrated flavour of black fruit and plum.
Barolo DOCG Gabutti Bussia
Old style Barolo with a big mouth feel and intense bouquet. Complex notes of tobacco and spice with very powerful tannins that impress that this is a wine to develop over the next fifteen years and last well into its "thirties". Remarkable.

Fazio Wines from Sicilia:
(Charton Hobbs email
I am amazed that these wines are not available in Vintages yet!
Made with mostly traditional varieties such as Catarratto, Asonica, Nero D'Avola and Grillo, they offer great value and interest in traditional grapes of Italy.

(Charton Hobbs email
Ruffino Fonte Al Sole IGT
A very pleasant every day wine with a stelvin cap. Fresh acidity and pleasant fruity aftertaste.
Ruffino Lodola Nuova 2005
A Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG with pleasant black fruit and spice. Cherry flavours and coffee notes complete a long finish on the palate.
Ruffino Reserva Ducale, Oro
Big Chianti Classico, with complex notes of cherry, violets and plums. Cherry and raspberry give way to varous spice nuances with forward tannins. Very long smoky, pronounced nutty finish.
The whole Italian experience was one that could have lasted two to three days and not the two to four hours that I had allotted that event. Next year I will make sure that I regulate more time to it!