Category Archives: 2010

Meeting the Vintners: Ezio Cerruti, Castiglione Tinella in Piemonte, Italy

A man in his element.

A man in his element.

While we’re currently in Piemonte, this winery and winemaker profile begins in August 2014 at the Mosel:

Nina and I were on our way back to Mainz from a week spent in Burgundy with my high school host family, which really is my second European family. It’s hard for us to drive so close by the Mosel and not stop, so we had made plans to see friends in Trier on the way and then head up to one of our favorite wineries along the Mittelmosel, Weingut Karl Erbes, to see our good friend Stefan, the owner and winemaker. The tasting was set for 10 am, which is the usual for us and Stefan, don’t ask…As we approached the tasting room, Stefan came outside and, after a hug, told me there were three winemakers from Piemonte in his tasting room, and none of them spoke any German or English, and since I speak some Italian, he decided I could translate. I must have been hung over or exhausted, because I immediately agreed, after having spoken French for a week, and with only a year of college Italian under my belt. Let me say it was not the easiest task I had picked: The three guys, one of whom turned out not to be a winemaker, but the other two were from Barolo and just south of Asti, peppered Stefan with technical questions and nothing in my life had prepared me for translating them: From free and not free (???) sulphur levels to soil composition and winemaking techniques I had never heard of. I was sweating after ten minutes. However, three hours, a cellar and vineyard tour as well as roughly 20 Rieslings later, and with the Italians pleading to stop the tasting (they still had to get back on their motorbikes), we’d formed a bond. One of the winemakers scribbled his name and telephone number on a scrap of paper, also the name of the other winemaker, and told me that “that guy has email”. Handing me the scrap, he told me to get in touch if we ever make it to Piemonte.

Fast forward to February 2015 and we find an Emirates flight from New York to Milan for less than USD 400 round trip and all of a sudden Piemonte is on the map. I start searching for the scrap of paper, to no avail, and a few weeks later, just before we’re about to get going, Nina finds it (one of the reasons I married her!). I googled the two names, Ezio Cerruti and Giuseppe Rinaldi, and lo and behold do find Ezio’s email address online and shoot off an email in Italian. He responds within a day, tells me he’s mostly not in Piemonte during our visit, but could make time for us our first day in the afternoon.

Once in Piemonte, we’d done our research, and from our apartment it should be about 30 minutes to Ezio’s winery. Unfortunately, since we’re in Italy, there was a closed road and we had to turn around and drive around the whole hill which cost us dearly and by the time we get to the winery we’re 25 minutes late. The German in me cringed. But all embarrassment disappeared when I saw Ezio storm out of his home, arms wide, with a big grin. He gave us hugs and it was clear we’re good old friends, and according to Italian time, we were on time anyway. I hate being so German at times… He had also asked his US importer, Summer of Indie Wineries, to join us, and man, was I glad she was there to translate (and as we got to know each other also for her insight and wonderfulness). Clearly, my Italian in Germany had not impressed Ezio, but I was more than happy for the help!

Quite the view

Quite the view

We began by sitting on his terrace, looking over vineyards, catching up over a cup of espresso, and discussed life and travel. Ezio is a character, totally and always himself, and whenever I meet people like this, I just want to stick around longer (and eventually married one of them). He is a man of many shades, and we discussed the fact that he has never flown in his life and has zero intention to, while at the same time he drives his motorcycle all over Europe, has moved from one room into another in his family home, never lived anywhere else, and yet has a sign hanging above his head that reads: “He who experiments might lose, he who doesn’t experiment has already lost.” Talk about contrasts…

Color-changing roses at Ezio Cerruti's winery

Color-changing roses at Ezio Cerruti’s winery

Eventually, we headed to the cellar, which is located under his family home. The old, steel-concrete harvesting facilities are still there, including the filters, but the rooms were renovated in a modern, understated style a couple of years ago. Behind the main room, which serves as the tasting room, lies his cellar: about 30 small barrels and five big barrels. And that’s it. I was stunned to see on what small scale he operates. Ezio wants to know exactly what is going on with every single barrel at any time, so he prides himself in small scale: 5,000 bottles of passito, the sweet wine, every year, and maybe a total of 20,000, 25,000 bottles a year. All Moscato. In 2014, he couldn’t make any passito due to weather, and made barely 4,000 bottles of his normal Moscato. And that’s about it. Can you imagine?

When one of us mentioned that a cellar is full of blood, sweat, and tears, Ezio insisted not in his cellar. There it’s only sex, drugs, and rock and roll. I like that guy, I really do.

Ezio Cerruti's small cellar

Ezio Cerruti’s small cellar

We began our tasting with his 2014 dry Moscato named Fol. The wine has been moved from the barrels and is currently in a different container, settling, and getting ready for bottling sometime this month. And yes, you read that right: dry Moscato. Winemakers in the region are firm in the belief that Moscato needs sugar to cloak the bitterness they claim is inherent in the grape. When Ezio decided to make a dry Moscato, they called him crazy and he named the wine accordingly (“fol” is “crazy” in the local dialect). The wine was stunning, and I’d never had any Moscato like it before for sure: The nose full of nectarines and lots of floral aromas, mostly lavender. On the palate, the acidity was strong and fresh, I got lots of grapefruit aromas, and it was a bit yeasty in the end, a bread-kind of yeastiness. The best thing was indeed a very slight bitter note, but more the bitter of the white skin in grapefruits, not at all disturbing but enhancing this fascinating wine. The “wows”
were flying freely. I cursed him for not having bottled it yet, I would have made room for a bunch of bottles in our limited luggage space.

Fol and Sol, Cerruti's Moscato

Fol and Sol, Cerruti’s Moscato

From there, we went on to his passito-style Moscato wines named Sol, his signature wines. We tried several vintages, and began with the 2009 (which was bottled in 2013). 120 grams of residual sugar (RS) sound intimidating, but it really wasn’t too much: The wine had fresh acidity, some musty aromas, but mostly pear and honey. It was incredibly fresh for this sweetness level, and the best thing was a hint of salt that gave it a certain edge. I liked it a lot! The 2010, which we tried after, has only 100 grams of RS, and has more acidity. Ezio thought it needed a couple more warm months in the bottle to reach its full potential. I thought it was already singing: much fresher than the 2009 (which I already considered fresh), intense, intense aromas of honey, licorice, orange, and sage, again this saltiness, but also with a great and refreshing bitterness in the finish. Just a hint, again adding to the wine. This was amazing, really amazing. After the 2010, he had us try a 2007, mainly to show us how he and his winemaking style changed after both his parents died in 2007 and 2008. 2007 was a very warm year, so always a bit difficult for sweet wines, because the lack of acidity can be a problem. In this case, the wine definitely showed lower acidity, but it also felt a lot creamier. It was sweeter and more in line with other passitos I have had, which are sweet, but can lack personality. It was a good wine for sure, but doesn’t come close to the 2009 and 2010.

A wine philosopher: Ezio Cerruti

A wine philosopher: Ezio Cerruti

As a last treat, Ezio opened a 2010 Moscato Passito Botrytis, a wine he has made since 2005 with only botrytized grapes. He used 3 grams of sulphur per 100 liters (an insanely low amount), which are all gone by the time fermentation are over. Nothing is done to prop up its color or aromas. It spent 4 years in the barrel and 7 months in the bottle. And man, what a treat: An abundance of apricots, freshly cut, that were layered on whipped cream, along with some herbs….but also so much more. It was one of those wines that makes you want to stop use descriptors and just dive into and never let go. The nose enchanted and held us, and the wine itself just startled us. I have had many botrytized wines before in Germany, but nothing like it. It was a different kind of botrytis, less honey, more primary fruit. Hard to describe. Just incredible.

After a good 2 1/2 hours, and not before Ezio had arranged another tasting for us in Barolo, we parted ways, a few of his half bottles in tow. We’d come to Piemonte not for its Moscato, but Ezio proved us wrong. And what a great time we had. We cannot wait to come back.

Ciao e grazie, Ezio!! A presto!

Ciao e grazie, Ezio!! A presto!

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A little place of serenity outside of Napa: Ladera Vineyards

End of January, Nina and I spent a week in California. I’ll readily admit it was a nice break from the Michigan winter. We’d both never been to either Napa or Sonoma, so we decided it was time. Me being the complete newbie to wines from that region, I relied on friends and fellow bloggers to give me some direction on which wines to try. We decided to limit it to four wineries, two in Napa and two in Sonoma. We only had the weekend, and we have by now learned that tastings usually take a while and there is nothing worse than rushing away from a tasting to make the next on time.

The first thing that struck me visiting the two regions is really how much they look like other wine regions: a long, winding road in a center of a valley, with hills rising, sometimes steeper, sometimes gentler, but always surrounded by vines. There really is nothing like it, and I was not prepared for how much at home I felt immediately. And the light and slight warmth certainly helped.

Ladera Vineyards was suggested by Anatoli of Talk-a-vino. He insisted one had to try their wines, and he helped us in setting up a tasting there. The first thing I had to do was google the winery (I know, shame on me). So what did I learn? Ladera is located on Howell Mountain, one of the top spots in Napa, and its roots go back to 1886, when the first winery building was erected in that same spot it now is, with vineyards dating back to 1877 (not the vines, mind you). The winery building is still standing in all its glory, but has been completely modernized inside and a large cellar has been constructed underneath. Ladera has been owned by its current owners Pat and Anne Stotesbery since 2000 and has built an impressive reputation for Cabernet Sauvignon.

So on Sunday, around noon, we curved our way up the valley onto Howell Mountain, pretty steep at times, and then finally turned into the property of Ladera Vineyards. From the website, Nina and I were not prepared what was awaiting us at the winery. The place is an absolutely breathtaking stunner: The old winery building with its gorgeous sandstone facade, the sky was of a deep, satisfying blue, and the vineyards are gently sloping around it. It was just a wonderful piece of quiet and calm, way above the fray that can be Napa. We were really speechless for a bit. I mean, look at this:

Ladera Winery Building

Ladera Winery Building (and yes, that is Nina sitting in the sun)

Everything was just so peaceful, you almost wanted to speak in a hush not disturb it. The tasting room manager during our visit, Julie, was friendly and knowledgeable and was happy to share with us the story and wines of Ladera. And we were ready to have both shared with us.

Get what I mean about the sky?

Get what I mean about the sky?

We started with a 2013 Ladera Sauvignon blanc, from what I can tell the winery’s only white wine ($30). And it was a great start: The nose was full and lush, with kiwi and gooseberry aromas, some flint, slight green pepper and bitter almonds, as well as beautiful hints of cassis (yes, I am a white wine person). It was bone dry, crisp and fresh, and oh so flavorful: grapefruit and other citrus in the forefront, cassis and blackberry, but also nicely creamy and almost doughy (in a good sense – it spent 7 months on lees!). I loved the balance of it, it was the right opening for a sunny day. I could drink that any time.

On we went to the 2010 Ladera High Plateau, a mix of 98% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petit Verdot ($65). The wine poured in a dark ruby red, and the nose was amazingly powerful, with what felt like many layers of blackberry, plums, cacao, and, to my surprise, what I can only describe as watermelon. I guess a hint of sweetness combined with freshness. Definitely unexpected. The wine was dry with medium tannins and body, and nicely crisp acidity. On the palate it was aromatic, with sage and brush (Julie mentioned later the vineyard is surrounded by evergreens), raspberry, mocha and bitter chocolate with a long finish. Count me as impressed: This was a Cabernet Sauvignon that made me understand why people can love that grape, which I am often ambivalent about: It had the right mix of fruit and spice, and presented itself very well.

In between, we took a tour of the facility and state of the art cellar, probably one of the most beautiful modern cellars I have ever visited. And they have a great tasting room down there as well. The press and fermenting tanks are modern and lots of steel, it was quite pretty. In general, wines are fermented in open top vats with a cold soak for two to three days.

Inside Ladera's modern cellar

Inside Ladera’s modern cellar

From there, we went to the 2011 Ladera Howell Mountain Reserve Cab, a just released 100% Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from the winery’s best lots in Howell Mountain ($85). It poured in a similar dark ruby that the 2010 High Plateau poured in, but the nose was a lot more powerful: plums, but then a bunch of green peppercorns, tobacco, and some smoke with definitely more prominent wood aromas in the nose. To my surprise, the palate was definitely more fruity than the nose gave away: There was a bunch of black berries and cassis, but paired with a certain rubberiness that can be expected in such a young wine of this intensity. What I loved most about this wine was its texture, which was just beautifully chewy. The acidity and the tannins were in good balance, and the wine showed a lot of promise, although I want to try it in five years when it has calmed down a bit (as most of you know, I like my reds with some age on them).

Finally, we got to try some of the 2011 Ladera Howell Mountain “S” Cabernet, another 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, but this one stemming from the one block in Howell Mountain with the oldest vines, and only the four best barrels of that. So just a teeny little amount available ($175). The wine poured in a very dark ruby, almost black. The nose was intriguing, but also a bit mystifying: some brush, some licorice, some red berries, but also a bit musty at this stage. On the palate, you could tell this is way too young right now, but it provided a nice little window into its development: It felt a bit all over the place and very intense right now. What I liked about it was its fruit and acidity with powerful tannins that need settling down. But that’s a great structure for development. The finish was great: dark chocolate for days with no end in sight. Want to try this again in seven to ten years.

For me, this visit has the potential of being transformative. I never quite got why people could be so obsessed with Cabernet Sauvignon, which to me is often just powerful with no finesse. Ladera showed me that there is a different route for that grape, and it’s definitely worth exploring more. Needless to say, Nina knew that all along and had a great time as well. So, thanks to Ladera and thanks to Anatoli for opening my mind!

And thanks to the sun, for making these wines possible and that day gorgeous. I paid it my respects:

In the sun at Ladera

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Meeting the Vintners: Warwick Estate, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Warwick's logo is a wedding cup from which two persons can drink at the same time

Warwick’s logo is a wedding cup from which two persons can drink at the same time

One of the first wines I picked up when I lived in Botswana six years ago was Warwick’s Three Cape Ladies, mainly because of the fabulous label, but also because it is a Cape Blend, which by law has to include 30% of Pinotage, that is usually blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and then Shiraz or any other of the French usual suspects. I like Pinotage, and I wanted to try something unique. I liked the wine a lot back then, so when it was time to go to Stellenbosch, I put it high on my list.

Warwick Estate is a family-owned winery that was bought in 1964 by Stan Ratcliff, but the winery dates back to the 1700s. His wife Norma decided to learn how to make wines from other winemakers in the region, and initially produced only wines for friends and family. Norma became one of the first female winemakers in South Africa. Since 1981, winemaking has become more commercial and today the estate maintains about 60 ha under vine and about 110 ha in total, and produces a wide range of wines from whites to Pinotage to a flagship Bordeaux blend. The current managing director is the third generation of the Ratcliff family managing the estate. The grounds boast wide lawns around a water basin, and you can have picnics there while you taste their wines. One curio as you enter the gardens is a larger than life Nelson Mandela statue made completely from beads…

Paying our respects to Nelson Mandela

Paying our respects to Nelson Mandela

We met Warwick’s winemaker Nic van Aarde over lunch in the winery’s garden. We were about two hours late because we had had such a grand time with Dirk Coetzee at L’Avenir. Luckily, the chef had prepared tapas food, with most of the ingredients coming from the region. There was chicken liver pate that was to die for, and the pulled pork sandwiches were delicious as well. Even local olives were served.

Very tasty tapas

Very tasty tapas

Nic is an easy going, very likable guy. He’s quick, full of stories, loves to laugh and keeps any taster on his toes with what seemed like constant questions about how I would describe the wines. He has consulted for a while with a Mumbai-region based winery in India…I didn’t know there was winemaking in India, and his tales were amusing but also horrifying at times. Talk about an interesting fellow.

Nic’s winemaking “philosophy”, if you want to call it that, is to try to avoid overly herbaceous wines, a flavor characteristic that one can find in many South African reds. He doesn’t like softening his wines, and prefers to present them the way they come, with some edges and character. The wine he considers most in line with that philosophy is his Cabernet Franc which comes in a small batch and is only available at the winery.

Us with Nic

Us with Nic

We tried a host of Warwick’s wines and started with the 2013 Prof. Black Sauvignon blanc. The wine is named after Prof. Black, who planted a peach orchard on the premises in the 20th century, but that didn’t work out so well. Now, the area that used to be the orchard hosts Warwick’s Sauvignon blanc vines. They are among the oldest vines on the property. For this vintage, 14% Semillon joined the Sauvignon blanc, and it worked out well. The wine showed a very light yellow color, with a restrained nose of grass and citrus aromas. The palate was surprisingly expressive given the nose, with minerality, low acidity and great citrus fruits. I was very partial to this wine!

Next up were the 2013 First Lady Unoaked Chardonnay and the 2013 White Lady Chardonnay (which is oaked). The first one is made in the Chablis-style with partial spontaneous fermentation. The color was slightly golden, and the nose showed grapefruit, lees and grass aromas. The mouthfeel was as full as one would expect from an oaked Chardonnay, but it had very clean and light flavors. The oaked Chardonnay is fully spontaneously fermented and after fermentation, the barrels are being rolled to stir the wine. Nic called it great exercise. The vines for this wine are 32 years old, and combined with the wood they clearly produced a more intense nose which also was dominated by citrus aromas. The mouthfeel was fuller than the unoaked (surprise, surprise), and while the wood was noticeable, it still showed good freshness, mainly driven by good acidity. I still preferred the unoaked version though.

We then tried the 2012 First Lady Cabernet Sauvignon, which sometimes gets blended with Shiraz, but not in 2012. The grapes come from younger vineyards and the wine spends 18 months in older barrels. The wine poured in a purplish red color and smelled of ripe red fruit, tobacco and leather. It was an interesting mix of very expressive fruit and tartness, which reminded more of a Cabernet Franc rather than a Cabernet Sauvignon. It confused me a bit too much, I am afraid to say.

The reds lined up

The reds lined up

Up next was the 2012 Pinotage, which hails from old bush vines (vines that are not tied to posts and wire). It is produced in old barrels with a soft approach that does not try to extract too much from the grapes (in order to not get too many tannins). It poured in a dark purple, and the nose was very expressive with cassis, sandalwood and cake batter. We loved it! On the palate, it was light and refined in texture, with cassis being the dominant aroma in this fruit driven version of a Pinotage. Great to drink, very easily accessible. Would recommend this to fall in love with the fruitier side of Pinotage.

After that, it was time for the 2011 Three Cape Ladies, which is a third each of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Pinotage. The wine smelled of red berries, sour cherry and tobacco leaves, a combo I like a lot. In the mouth, it felt silky and had good tannins. The most wonderful thing though was the combination of raspberries and dark chocolate with a whiff of sweetness, and then a bitter chocolate finish. Love, love, love it!

The final wine was the 2010 Trilogy, Warwick’s flagship Bordeaux blend, which sells as Barrique Estate in the U.S. due to copyright problems. The grapes come from two Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards (60%), two Cabernet Franc vineyards (30%) and one Merlot vineyard (10%) and spend 24 months in 60% new oak barrels. The color is dark and brooding, and the nose very complex: There is ripe cherry, definite coffee aromas, and hints of cooked meat. The texture is wonderfully silky, and the flavors are carried by just enough acidity. I found the wine to be very balanced in its play between red fruit and leather aromas. It leans towards the Cabernet Franc side in taste more than in the nose. Very good length on the finish. I was quite impressed with this wine.

All in all we were quite happy with the line-up, which is marked by wines that are ready for consumption, but should also do well in the longer run. The food was great and just what we needed and dealt with Nina’s food allergies very well. Nic is a great guy, and I hope for anyone that they can run into him either at the estate or at an event!

Warwick's iconic and easy to recognize labels, Three Cape Ladies in the center

Warwick’s iconic and easy to recognize labels, Three Cape Ladies in the center

 

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