Lovers of Amarone, Blogger/Sommelier Marina Betto Has Something Worth Reading!

There are some really talented wine bloggers out there, often somewhere half a world away and you need to use the translator (if your French or Italian isn’t up to snuff.)  Here is an example of one such blog by Italian blogger Marina Betto, sommelier and writer for Italian Sommelier Association and on-line publications about gastronomy, botany and gardening. She collaborates on Glocal Vini & Terroir with Sommelier Massimo Sacco, from the Fairmont Monte Carlo.

Italian Wine Writer Marina Betto

Italian Wine Writer Marina Betto

 Vini & Terroir : Pianeta Amarone

Amarone, today, begins to have a certain appeal, especially on some Asian markets and in some areas of the U.S. market. Abroad is often associated with Barolo, Barbaresco and Brunello.It ‘a modern wine that has ancient roots, produced in the Veneto region in the area of ​​Verona to Lake Garda to the west and north to Soave. This territory has always cultivated the vine and wine product, chasing quality; these valleys ancient heart (Valis Polis Cells) are, for centuries, an area of ​​wineries. We are located on the territories of high, medium and low hills, if not plain. The hillside vineyards are most suitable because without fog, which do not facilitate the quality of the grapes, the richest of the skeleton, calcareous, give more minerals, texture and fragrance. read more

 

My comments to Massimo’s post are below (with a little editing:)

“Marina, I really liked your post.  Even through the computer translation, it has a wonderful rhythm and great verbal illustration. You have terrific knowledge of the region and it really shows in your writing and discriptors.  Here are a couple of thoughts I have on the wines you write about; three of which I know fairly well. imgres

Masi is probably the most “wine-like” of all the Amarone’s I’ve had, generally being dryer and slightly less alcoholic, and no aldehydic or acetic qualities, being very clean and elegant. I sold Masi for nine years for a distributor, and I find it to be a very unique voice in the field of Amarone. They rarely get the scores they deserve because they are not as opulent as wine tasted next to them. They are however very beautiful with a tapestry of complex flavors and silky textures. This style trans

imagesBrigaldara is a wonderful producer, and he seems to be on his own path stylistically (at least from what is brought into the United States.) I get a tremendous breadth of flavors from him, from green tobacco notes through ripe blackberry and into raisin and prunes. His are a kaleidoscope of flavors, and the alcohol I never though was much of an issue. At least I don’t remember it being hot. I got the impression that he had clones that ripened unevenly, or he picked certain lots at different ripeness levels intentionally. The effect is brilliant whatever the reason. His are intellectual wines with an ungainly, nontraditional beauty.

image_1141755_full Bertani is a house I written up in one of my first blog posts (which you may have seen). Until I was able to experience a depth of Bertani Amarones in a flight together, I didn’t have a fair impression of them. Bertani is a big house, with lots of traditionally commercial wines, but their Amarone is traditional in the best way – it stands the test of time. Here Bertani stands out. Although their Amarone doesn’t have the body and density, and as the French say “gras” of other houses, they have a purity and complexity that won’t fade over time. Because they don’t grow and pick their grapes for extraction, and then bottle their Amarone after seven years in botte, which allows the wines an excess dry extract falls out before bottling, the wine that goes into the bottle will remain complex and stable in the bottle. But while this robs the wine in the near term of its mid-palate and makes a more acidic wine, it also allows the wine to age virtually unchanged for decades.  Beautiful stuff.

Accordini,which I’ve had a few times (and briefly sold them when they were imported by one of the suppliers we represented) I never could really wrap my head around them, stylistically.  They tended to be denser and blacker, with blackberry fruit and some earth, a bit more port-like (or even somewhat Priorat-like) is my recollection, than Amarone-like. They’ve been getting top notes from American critics recently, but although the quality is good, I’ve never really been drawn to them.” 

Thanks for a great post,

Dean

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Bordeaux and Burgundy’s Relevance on the American Wine Scene

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P7141848 (Photo credit: cumi&ciki)

Bordeaux and Burgundy have been in something of the doldrums in terms of relevance on the American wine scene since the recession began in 2008. It was at this time that, while the near collapse of financial markets in the west, there was an influx of new wealth in China.  The Chinese nouveau riche with their insatiable appetite for the best Bordeaux had to offer, drove prices up at a time when budgets were shrinking here. Also at the very, most wealthy, in America and Europe and Russia just continued to gain wealth – snapping up blue chip wines for their cellars. The result the rarest of Burgundies and the most highly celebrated Bordeaux climbed, and climbed in price

The resulting wine trends in the United States was a combination of a rejection of Bordeaux’s pricing, and focus on wines from other places. For the generally stayed Bordeaux drinker, Brunello di Montalcino was an easy retreat.  Comparatively, Brunellos were cheap, delicious, and some of the very best producers weren’t much more than $60. With their excellent international reputation, softer tannins, Brunello was a socially acceptable down-sizing for the Bordeaux drinker.  For a more adventurous Burgundy drinker, there was a lot of thrilling options to choose from, most notably the remarkable Barolos and Barbarescos coming from Piemonte, and Aglianicos from Campagna and Basilicata.  Although for inexperienced tasters these wines have more challenges of in terms of structure and bitterness, their aromatics and texture are a huge draw with those wines, surpassing Burgundy in quality and complexity at each price point.

“The wines from the more traditional producers, really resonated, because they are flavors that cannot be produced anywhere else in the world.”

This economic dynamic created a scarcity of the top wines, while most of the lower and middle tiered wines sat, lingering in distributor warehouses and retailers shelves.  Of course this has always been the problem. The top 1% of wines has an eager market, the rest are more difficult to sell. Only now, this disparity is much more acute.  Now, as the stock market soars and the housing market moves back toward record highs, we can predict that this trend will continue.  The difference I think, is the wine in the next tiers down will be forced to lower their prices because the most of the middle class is not gaining wealth in the recovery.  There will not be an increased market for middle tier wines, rather these wines will need to retreat some in price.

In the past, the first growth and second growth Bordeaux were not so expensive that the middle class wine buyer could buy them occasionally, and the same went with Grand Cru Burgundy.  But I have always felt the soul of those appellations are those below those haut crus.  In Burgundy, I have always felt, that if you don’t know the premier cru’s you don’t know Burgundy.  Sure the Grand Cru tasted great.  They were ripe and succulent – anybody could like those.  The true soul, the heart and character of Burgundy is in the terroir, and if the wines got too ripe, this would be covered up, and the aromatics would be buried. For that reason I have always been a fan of the ”off years.”  To me, they seemed to retain more aromatics and just seemed to age better. The ripeness of the Grand Crus, at least to me, often masked the vineyard’s terrior.  As for Bordeaux, I have always been a fan of the 3rd through 5th growth Bordeaux and Cru Bourgeois. I know, it’s an underdog thing, but they were really good then, and today they are much better even now which in many cases justifies their price increases.  Besides, what hasn’t gone up in price?

Having just started to go out into the marketplace this week with some of these Bordeaux and Burgundy wines, it is fun to watch the light bulbs go off as the wines are tasted.  In many cases, the reactions I got are as if these buyers had suddenly remembered that Bordeaux and Burgundy even existed.  That’s how far removed the wine industry in many places has become from these two regions.  The wines from the more traditional producers, really resonated, because they are flavors that can not be produced anywhere else in the world. It makes you wonder if part of the problem with the relevance of Bordeaux is not only the prices, but the extreme modernization of the wine making, and the resultant fruit-driven styles that have taken hold there.

Givry vineyards 3

Givry vineyards 3 (Photo credit: Max xx)

Tasting the wines from these two classic French appellations is like a re-awakening. They are beautiful, full of personality and character. Sure, because of my new job I have a vested interest in the success of Burgundy and Bordeaux in the market place.  But I left my buyer’s position at The Wine Club precisely so I could immerse myself in the amazing portfolio at Atherton Wine Imports. While there certainly is a lot more competition for their attention, but I think Burgundy and Bordeaux are, and will again gain in relevance in the American wine consciousness.     Dean 

CORONERS REPORT: Death of high-end Australian wine in the America.

 To this day, you hear it repeated over and over by people in the wine industry. Critter wines like Yellow Tail, killed the high-end Australian market.  The idea that low-priced wines, (with cartoon-like labels or not) killed a previously robust market segment, has been laziness on the industry’s part. The success of lower-end wine brings new drinkers into the market, not the other way around.

Some have suggested that wine drinkers simply tired of Australia’s over-ripe, over-extracted wines, and stopped buying them.  I fervently believe however, that there are two factors that worked in conjunction, to kill the Australian wine market in the United States.  First, it was actually the  Aussie winemakers who tired of making uber-ripe, extracted wines, (not the wine drinkers), and began to scale back on the ripeness, in order to make long-lived, “classic” wines.  The second reason, and this is the stake in the heart, is the long-held Australian tradition of using high levels of tartaric acid additions. These additions increase titratable acidity (T/A) and lower the pH, in order to preserve the wine.  To explain the relationship of these two factors, I should start from the beginning.

Acidification in the new world has been accepted as necessary for the past century, because the grapes in our warmer climates tend to lose so much more acidity as they ripen, compared to wines from the classic regions of Europe. By adding acid, the thought is the wine becomes more stable, and less susceptible to spoilage.  Australian winemakers have used acidification, not only to stabilize the wines, but to preserve their wines for as many decades as possible.

“But then, Australian winemakers killed the goose that laid the golden eggs.”

The Goose That Laid The Golden Eggs

The Goose That Laid The Golden Eggs (Photo credit: pareeerica)

In the late eighties through the late nineties, the rage among Australian winemakers was to push the ripeness and concentration to exaggerated proportions.  With Barossa leading the charge, these wines were immense, sweetly fruited, densely concentrated, and very, very ripe. They had a overt sweetness on the palate from their high alcohol and fruit, that overshadowed the tartness from the high levels of tartaric acid being added to the vats.  It was a matter of balance. These wines had enough Gras (fat) as the French say, to pull off the wine’s high acid.  These were the wines that became wildly popular in the United States. These huge wines were the entire, explosive, upper-end, Australian market.

But then, Australian winemakers killed the goose golden eggs. Australian winemakers became self-critical of this style of wines, calling the excessive ripeness, a fad.   They wanted to create great wine; and They knew these super-ripe monsters were not, and would never be, great wines for the ages. Starting around the 2000 vintage, the winemakers there, began scaling back the ripeness, looking for more elegant, complex flavors. What they did not scale back was how much tartaric they were adding to their fermentation tanks. As the levels of sweet fruit receded  the acidity beneath it was revealed. The result were tight, tough, tart, and seemingly fruitless wines. And without ever realizing why, the American public slowly stopped buying high-end Australian wines.

“This is the story of two ships passing in the night.  The American palate, and the Australian winemaker.”

Conversely, for the past twenty years in California, winemakers have sought to minimize their intervention in winemaking, and have greatly reduced the amount of tartaric acid to the fermentation vats, and some have completely eliminated acid additions altogether.  The net result is California wines have gotten softer, and more lush.  With this shift toward softer wines (particularly in reds), the American palate has become acclimated to wines with softer, more natural acidity. This is the story of two ships passing in the night. The American palate, and the Australian winemaker. Why has Chilean wine stopped its exponential growth?  Pretty much the same story.

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In Australia, especially among the older generation, how long a wine lives seems to be a source of pride. I have had more old Australian wines in the past 10 years, than old wines from California. All of them have been flown in for dinners where the winemakers were the guest speakers. At a recent dinner featuring Chester Osborn, and his father D’Arry, we tasted two wines from the sixties, and a wine from the mid-seventies. Another dinner with Chester close to ten years ago, wines from the sixties and seventies were poured also. At a sales meeting, the winemaker from Wynn’s showed a wine from the sixties, two from the seventies, and one from the eighties. Stuart Blackwell, the winery manager, and guiding light from St. Hallett winery came into my store on a ‘ride-with’ / sales call.  Uniformly, the St. Hallett reds were very tart, and unpleasant to drink. At the top end of the range, the Blackwell Shiraz, there was almost enough stuffing to pull-off the wines searingly high acid, but I feared that it would close up very hard in the next year, if not sooner.   I asked, knowing the answer, if they were acidifying the wines.   “Yes, of course,” he replied. “Otherwise they won’t last.”  These wines were his legacy.  

 

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OR004168 (Photo credit: LetsGoIran.com)