I was just reading this on Facebook from an industry magazine and was disappointed in how basic the ideas were. Check it out here: Sommelier Business Article.
Importance of a Diverse Beverage Inventory
There is much more than price-point management and basic food pairing needed for a Somm to successfully manage a dining restaurant’s inventory. Here are a few other ideas to consider:
There should be a low, medium and premium price option for each major category. Train staff to upsell wines.
Inventory a few recognizable labels in each major category, but the majority of the wine should not be found at local stores – train staff to upsell these wines.
Know the local alcoholic beverage procurement laws. If possible, work with distributors, brokers/importers and winery direct to build a diverse selection at the right price-points.
If the menu is even minimally diverse, there is so much more than a wine’s geographic origin to consider:
Weight – lighter wines can be more versatile with food.
Fruity wines should be included as an aperitif and to pair with sweeter dishes.
Complex/Savory wines for specific flavor pairings.
Tannic wines to pair with red meats and red sauces.
Acidic wines to pair with dishes having cream sauces.
Can the chef build a dessert menu to pair with Ports and Sauternes?
Train staff to sell digestifs.
Experiment with variable margin strategies. Perhaps:
Reduce margin on bottles over $75 USD to improve cash-flow.
Lower prices on a few accessible mid-price labels to help your staff upsell.
A diverse cellar is useless, if the staff is not trained with a sales strategy. Remember gross profit is a mix of pricing AND total beverage revenue. Have a goal – if beverage (beer, wine, cocktails) is not contributing to at least a third of a restaurant’s revenue and half the profits, the business is not likely to succeed.
Whether you are a wine steward, sommelier, or the restaurant manager/owner… managing beverage is complex. Without training of staff and an overall beverage strategy, a successful and profitable restaurant will be difficult to achieve.
Really well-written article on sulfur inclusion and the misconceptions surrounding the discussion. It is not the sulfur that causes headaches! Wines with zero sulfur inclusion are just a fad from the so-called “natural wine” trend being marketed today! For those that have not seen a fact-based explanation on this topic, enjoy:
Chemistry Does not Support Wine Headaches being Caused by Sulfur Addition
Really well-written article on sulfur inclusion and the misconceptions surrounding the discussion. It is not the sulfur that causes headaches! Wines with zero sulfur inclusion are just a fad from the so-called “natural wine” trend being marketed today! For those that have not seen a fact-based explanation on this topic, enjoy!
I don’t normally go out of my way to write about any particular winery, but I was introduced to these wines several years ago and EVERY bottle I have tasted since has ranged from very good to spectacular. Disclosure: I have NOT been paid by any winery, broker, or distributor regarding this article.
This winery has a few different labels: Vina Alberdi, Vina Ardanza, Vina Arana and the flagship Gran Reservas – 890 & 904. The Alberdi has a street value of about $20-25 and the Ardanza and Arana are any where from $35 to $45/750ml. I have tasted the Ardanza and Arana in the past. Also beautiful wines, but different due to the varying varietal blends and the different aging profiles of Reserva and Gran Reserva. These other two wines represent outstanding value with exceptional quality too. The last two are much more expensive and represent their premium tier. If your not familiar with the Spanish aging classification system, see this link for an explanation: Spanish Wine Classification System.
I am done with over-extracted, high-alcohol fruit bombs from the Napa Valley floor and have moved up to the Napa mountain locations. I am also finding that Bordeaux is now going down that path too. In the past, I was able to find reasonably priced Bordeaux wines that were dependably lighter in body, but lately, not as much. This has led to too much wine poured down the drain. So, when I find wines like this, I want to share the info with other Old World style wine enthusiasts. This winery is no new player on the scene (established in 1890) and if any of you have explored Spanish wines, you will have run across them. I wanted to post this piece, because I feel it is my duty to amplify the word about cooler climate style wines, as they are not always easy to find in the U.S. On that topic, I usually prefer Spanish wines from the North-Western Rioja region, but especially the Rioja Alta around the Oja River Valley where the vineyards have some elevation. If you like more structure (especially acidity), keep an eye out. 2,000-3,000 ft. with a southern exposure is a good place to start. Much higher in this area and the fruit does not ripen properly.
I am rating this wine a bit higher than others, likely due to my preference for bright, fresh fruit. I am not a big fan of red wines with candied, jammy, or stewed fruit flavors. In particular, those wines that are strong with black currant, prune, or fig type flavors.
(I have discontinued my practice of scoring wines. Now, I rate wines as: poor, barely drinkable, drinkable, superior and excellent.)
2018 Vina Alberdi Crianza (Labeled Reserva in the U.S.)
Variety: 100% Tempranillo
Region: Rioja, Sub-Region: Rioja Alta
Tasting Note: Aromatic nose of sweet, fresh red fruit, oak, vanilla and earth. The wine is medium bodied, with high acidity and med+ soft tannin. Fruit-forward palate of fresh red and black cherry, black tea and olive tapenade, but not overly extracted. Mid-palate introduces the vanilla and oak and moves to a long earthy finish. Very well made and nicely balanced. Plenty of structure to pair well with red meat and red sauces, but fruit-forward enough to handle lighter fair such as pork, or cream sauces. This is still a young wine and could handle another 3-5 years of bottle age to integrate the oak more… and will improve. If you enjoy Old World style structure in a lighter bodied wine without overwhelming alcohol, at this price… this wine could easily be your go-to.
My personal history with L’Aventure goes back to the first winery visit in 2007, when my wife and I were blown away by the amazing balance and elegance Stephen Asseo (winemaker) was able to achieve with these crazy big Southern Rhone style wines. At over 16% (sometimes 17%) alcohol fruit bombs, he was somehow able to get just the right balanced mix of fruit, structure and alcohol to make it all work… and they were fabulous. The Estate Cuvee is the winery’s flagship wine and almost always a mix of the best estate Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot in varying percentages, depending on vintage. Asseo was one of the first few in Paso to experiment with eliminating filtering/fining and the wines almost always have that opulent mouth-filling feel. This label is aged in 100% new french oak, integrating better in some vintages than others.
Scoring and Tasting Method
I am done with the attempt to achieve a fair systematic scoring method. So, I will continue to follow the WSET/UC Davis process, but I am done with both the 100 AND 20 point systems. Moving forward, I will only be rating (not scoring) wines with a simple five tier description: Poor, Barely Drinkable, Drinkable, Superior and Excellent. The basis of these ratings will be: balance, fruit character, acid/tannin and sugar/alcohol levels. I will always comment when appropriate on specific characteristics, such as harvest timing, winemaking style, cellaring potential, etc.
2013 – 2017 Vintages
I opened these bottles for a group of friends two hours in advance of the tasting, decanted and returned them to the bottle prior to serving. I poured a personal tasting to write my notes prior to the group arriving. I also opened a 2014 L’Aventure Cote-a-Cote as a comparison. All of the Estate Cuvee wines were generally similar in flavors, so I will not get too detailed with the notes. All of the wines generally tasted of blackberry and black currant fruit and had both high tannin and acid (surprising after the years of bottle age). The differences were primarily in character and balance. After developing first impressions, it became clear, these wines were NOT meant for cellaring. On release, I had thought there was plenty of structure to lay these wines down in my cellar, but I was mistaken and I will tell you why after I provide the tasting notes.
This wine had a very weak nose, with no fruit apparent. On the palate, it was slightly fruit-forward. The mid-palate was complex with savory leather, black tea and dark chocolate. The finish was medium+ in length. The alcohol was a big piece of the profile, but not completely overwhelming. The oak was well-integrated. After nine years in the bottle, the tannin and acid were still both high.
Aromatic fruity blackberry nose. On the palate, it was slightly fruit-forward. The mid-palate was a bit simpler than the 2013, but similar. The finish was medium+ in length. The alcohol was big. The oak showed a bit too much, but was reasonably integrated. The wine filled the mouth more than the 2013.
Medium fruity blackberry nose. On the palate, it was slightly fruit-forward. The mid-palate was the simpler leather and dark chocolate profile. The finish was long in length. The alcohol was overwhelming. The oak dominated the wine with very strong vanilla and brown butter flavors. The wine texture was very mouth-filling. The oak did not integrate at all in this vintage and this wine was enjoyed the least by us and our guests.
This wine had a weak nose. On the palate, it was slightly fruit-forward. The mid-palate was the simpler leather and dark chocolate profile. The finish was long in length. The alcohol was big. The oak showed a bit too much, but was reasonably integrated. The big mouthfeel was here too.
The nose was all alcohol, overwhelming any other character. On the palate, it was fruit-forward with blackberry, black currant and black plum. The mid-palate was all savory with leather, black tea and dark chocolate. The finish was very long. The alcohol was a big piece of the profile, but not completely overwhelming. The oak showed a bit too much, with nice sweet vanilla and was reasonably integrated.
2014 L’Aventure Cote-a-Cote
This is L’Aventure’s Grenache dominated Southern Rhone blend (GSM), with: Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah – percentages usually in that order. By the time we reached this wine, the group was a couple hours into the tasting and this wine was very welcome. It was very aromatic on the nose and the palate was fruit-forward, layered and balanced. The oak was very well integrated. The mouthfeel was wonderful: elegant and silky. This label handled the 8 years of bottle age extremely well. A very enjoyable and impressive bottling.
When we tasted these wines on release, they all seemed to have enough structure (tannin/acid) to age well, but the balance presenting on release did not last well. The big fruit flavors when bottled dissipated too quickly, changing many of these Estate Cuvee wines into a disjointed jumble after five years. The other challenging element seemed to be integrating all that new oak. In some vintages showing well, in others not so much. I would not suggest holding the Estate Cuvee wines more than five years and would guess, three years would be better. Finally, it is clear the Cote-a-Cote and Optimus bottlings respond better to bottle aging and the one we tasted on this night was excellent!
This topic has been controversial since the tasting in Judgement of Paris back in 1976 (see movie Bottleshock). A related topic would be the controversy surrounding the “Parkerization” of wine. Read about this issue here: Wikipedia Link. There have been books and movies on both topics. The discussion is certainly fun, but way more controversial in real-life than it should be.
As a wine enthusiast who usually tastes blind (having a trained/experienced palate), I don’t understand the continuing controversy on this topic. The studies done have all been ridiculously skewed. The controversy seems to rise mostly because the average person simply cannot believe some wine snob in a suit can taste a wine blind and tell you the varietal, location, vintage, vineyard name, etc. I can tell you personally, it is very real, but takes decades of training, experience and practice. Training and experience matter in any profession and yes – wine IS a profession (see Sommelier here: Wikipedia Link). Does that mean this same guy could guess at the wine I would enjoy without him evaluating my taste in wine? Definitely NO! So, why do consumers put so much credence in scores by wine writers? Well, what other measure does the average consumer have to select a wine from thousands available (there are other options)? I buy and consume large quantities of wine and enjoy it very much! Many of us think of great food and wine as a fabulous lifestyle (no denial here). All this wine I drink, training I have had… do you think my idea of a good wine qualifies me to recommend a wine to someone I don’t know? The average consumer sifting through 100’s of wine scores is just wasting time. Perhaps, if you spent the time to learn a particular wine critic’s palate… but how many would take the time?
… But, the Studies!
If you read the articles linked to this commentary above, a big piece of the discussion is price. Are expensive wines necessarily better wines? The unqualified answer is positively NO! Can you impress a guest at a fine dining restaurant by ordering an expensive bottle of wine? Likely yes, and there in lies the rub. Price is often confused with quality in many product categories, but whether you personally would enjoy any given wine has nothing to do with its cost. I have written much on the topic of how to evaluate your own palate in past articles for anyone who has an interest. Just remember an important piece to this discussion, the average consumer is likely to enjoy many average priced wines and could likely not tell the difference. I can tell you definitely, my taste in wine is very, very different from most of my friends. Just because I have wine training and experience, does that mean you should like what I like? Think about it…
Can the Topic be a Serious Discussion?
What really matters in evaluating a wine for the general public is: is it faulted? is it balanced? is it made for cellaring? will it pair well with foods? etc. A few other general measures: is it fruity/savory? is it acidic? is it sweet? is it drying in the mouth? So, why don’t critics talk about these characteristics more generally, instead of sharing a score with a flowery completely worthless description attached? It won’t sell Wine Enthusiast ™ magazines! Personally, I am so tired of pro critics scores and notes! So, spend what you can afford, drink what you like and enjoy the wine with your favorite foods! Here is to hoping the media does not trap you with all this nonsense!
My wife and I enjoyed our first wine trip since COVID recently. We spent a week traveling through the Central Coast AVA in California, focusing on the newer wineries with higher professional critic scores. Having completed a large sampling, I found some interesting trends.
Demand for Boomer Wine Profiles is Diminishing
I asked a couple common questions of each tasting room manager:
Are you noticing changing wine preferences recently?
What wines are younger customers preferring and why?
Surprisingly, the answers were fairly consistent. By the end of the trip, a wine strategy seemed to be emerging. The typical Baby Boomer generation red wine style was not as popular as in the past… fruity, easy drinking (low-med acid/low tannin), lots of toasted oak and 15% alcohol. What I have come to call the “Caymus Profile”. In response to changing demand, a new profile seemed to be emerging…
Wineries are Changing Wine to Match Younger Palates
Most wineries were developing a two tier offering based on generational preferences:
Regular Release wines for Millennials and Gen Z at a lower price point and Reserve Release wines for Boomers at a higher price point. The younger generations were looking for Rose and Sparkling options.
The more raucous younger customers were visiting tasting rooms on the weekends and the older customers were staying away at those times and visiting during the week.
Wines for Millennials and Gen Z were focusing on a new profile: 13-14% alcohol, high acid, low tannin and no oak. I have never seen so many red wines fermented and aged in concrete as on this trip… or so much neutral oak.
The old Boomer wine profile (defined above), was being saved for the older guests, more able to spend on the pricier option.
The younger wine profile worked for me, but would not be appropriate for bottle aging more than five years. The tasting managers laughed at me when I asked about wines for cellaring. Hard to argue, as the numbers are clear: 92-95% of all wine purchased is consumed in less than 48 hours. Any wine where the tannin level went up and seemed more ageable… I found myself wishing for oak.
Boomer Style Wines are not Going Away… Yet
We stopped in at a few of the older profile wineries: Justin, Herman Story, Beckmen. A full line-up of the wines I am used to. The Boomer profile has not been my preference, so the last 10 years my red wine purchases from Italy and France have increased. More along the lines of: high acid, med+ tannin, 25-50% new French or Hungarian oak and 13-14% alcohol. This matches my palate better. Oak barrels are expensive and are usually rotated through a max of three vintages and then discarded, while concrete containers can be re-used virtually forever. Red wines aged in concrete will change the cost calculation for wine substantially.
The Future of U.S. Wine
As Boomer generation wine consumption continues to fall, Millennials and Gen Z palates will drive the industry. Younger generations tend to drink more wine without food, than with… so, the wine industry will come under increasing pressure to compete with hard seltzers, ciders and cocktail beverage options. You would think this trend would be driving per bottle pricing down… but the data shows that Gen Z (especially) is much more adventurous in their wine consumption and is actually spending more per bottle than the current average. These are interesting times for the wine industry and some wineries are responding to these new trends – as growth in wine consumption slows in the U.S. Let me know if any of you are noticing these same trends. Happy Holidays!
In many European countries, wine is thought of as a companion to food, not typically to be drunk as a cocktail on its own. This common viewpoint in many countries places wine on the dinner table to act as a flavor enhancer, much the same way as seasonings, or sauces would be viewed. It is a cultural concept. I did not grow up thinking of wine this way. It was a learned behavior for me, after I was introduced to fine wines and cuisine TOGETHER. The question is: how could you change cultural norms to include this thinking? NOT, how does the industry convince Millennials to drink more wine…
The Answer Is a Focus on Food
This does not seem intuitive, unless you dive into the European fine dining concept a little more deeply. Many countries take pride in and raise their children to think of natural local foods and the local culinary tradition as a part of their identity. I am not suggesting this should be the goal here, but it does give you an insight into how this wine pairing tradition could begin in the U.S. Investing money in a media campaign would be critical, but not to simply advertise wine, strangely… the media content would need to be focused on how the wine enhances the FOOD experience. Currently in the U.S., younger generations view wine more as a “cocktail” to be drunk on its own. With this viewpoint, wine is a poor value compared to Beer, Cider, Hard Seltzers and Spirits/Cocktails. A perception that could have a huge affect on future demand and ultimately wine production. It is all a matter of changing perceptions…
Famous Chefs as Spokespersons for Wine?
I am not an advertising exec, but it seems fairly clear. Think of it this way: a professional chef would never be trained without a wine pairing education. The wine industry must begin creating marketing content around cuisine, with the appropriate accompanying wine. Pay famous Chefs from the Food Channel to be out front, not winemakers. Have them talk about their favorite wine-food pairings and why. I am sure other creatives would have even more engaging ideas for marketing using this theme.
Could Culinary be the Savior of the Wine Industry?
I am no genius. Who knows? It might work. I would think the industry would not find it too difficult to fund a marketing board that could tackle such a large ad campaign… IF it was viewed as important enough to influence wine consumption trends in the U.S. I am curious, can anyone else out there see the merit in this idea?
This particular software branded as “Tasty” by name is similar in concept to others like “Quini” (if not in process), all have one very major flaw… Very few consumers have the trained palate and sensory awareness required to describe what they are tasting and how they perceive the wine components. I have been approached by software developers before and none had an appreciation for a trained palate and what it brings. These techno driven business models providing wine related services are all smoke and mirrors. Sounds great, until you dive a little deeper and find the missing piece. The idea that a straight chemical analysis, or even an analyzed database of wine tasting notes could provide any real insight into how wine is perceived by the human palate is misguided. Software can certainly accumulate, organize and label wine data, but how does that data have any relevance – unless it is filtered through human perception?
What Is Missing?
I have put some thought into this before and shared those ideas with other software developers in the past. The baseline in the software database must be established with trained professionals first – and not with WSET 4, MW, or CSW certified pros. The calibration has to be with Master Somms (MS) who evaluate consumer palates in restaurants on a daily basis. Once the underlying premise is established and the work is done to connect the human palate (sensory experience) to the chemical evaluation, the concept still requires a short consumer educational program to provide a shared vocabulary. That vocabulary is the vehicle for the shared human wine experience. Which words are chosen to describe each individual sensory experience? Is there a common understanding of what flavors/components they represent? I have yet to be introduced to software that attempts to address these concerns. Without that effort, the whole endeavor is a major waste of time and money.
Am I Biased?
I don’t think so. Regardless of my Somm training, I make my primary living in the technology and automation field. Perhaps that background gives me a little authority here. I most definitely believe the goal of these “AI” software products is achievable, it just requires more trade awareness to succeed.
I have seen businesses transition from results-based to task-based company structure and culture. I believe this is a growing trend and I am guessing, many of you are either dealing with this change, or will see it in the near future. If you are a senior manager considering transitioning your company based on this business theory, I respectfully ask you to consider this story and the theoretical example it sets.
COMMON CHALLENGES AND “THE PROMISE”
Worsening labor environment and the challenges associated:
Insufficient qualified labor
Popularity of job-hopping and the acceptance of 2-3 year job tenure as normal – making it difficult for companies to invest in training
Modern generations unwilling to invest time in career growth and a “work-their-way-up-the-ladder” philosophy – acquiring incremental knowledge, skills and experience along the way
Loss of respect for “knowledge as power” (driving successful outcomes)
Trend to automate business processes to achieve efficiency gains
The “everyone is a winner” popular culture
The common belief that younger generations will only accept consensus-based management as a work culture
Any manager at any level in any business will recognize these issues. Senior and executive managers from large to medium sized companies around the country are struggling to find the answers. This situation has become so challenging in recent years that there has been near desperation to find any modern business theory that can successfully address the issues. Thus “The Promise”…
If a business is willing to separate itself from a focus on RESULTS, managers can supervise successful task completion instead and achieve the same, or better outcomes.
What Does Task Oriented Management Structure Look Like?
This business theory virtually requires specialty software to achieve its goals and has created demand for a completely new category of integrated business OPERATIONS software (activity, task, inventory, sales order, payables/receivables and finance package) that is unique to each industry/trade. Once the transition is started, the concept begins to feed on itself, drawing from the common belief that software automation alone can deliver improved efficiencies. “Six Sigma” certification becomes a must-have for senior operations managers (perverting the original idea). The training is needed to create extremely detailed industry/trade specific process maps. These process maps are incorporated into new software solutions that become the basis of a frontline daily task/activity structure and management process. The next obvious conclusion is: if the software monitors activities and task completion, why would you need as many supervisors?
I will not go into the details of a world with a long list of supervised To-Do items for every employee, but I will provide a glimpse into what comes with this task-oriented focus. As you might guess, this structure affects company culture, employee attitudes, business administration and goal-setting in unexpected ways.
Does the Medicine Cure the Disease, or Just Mask the Symptoms?
If employees and companies are no longer willing/able to spend 3-5 years to train an employee, doesn’t it make sense to implement a system where the only knowledge needed is to complete a few highly detailed repetitive tasks? With this change, you now have employees whose only performance metric is task completion. What happens when no one understands how their assigned tasks affect the success of the company? If this is the result, the company Mission Statement becomes meaningless. What happens to quality control (original idea behind “Six Sigma”)? The new software is not managing the quality of the work, only completion of task – and all those frontline supervisors were just let go. This is when the company begins to realize they need more problem resolution staff to make decisions regarding loss tolerance and then of course early risk management assessment becomes much more real and requires staffing too.
As this theory is implemented, business process becomes the software and vice-versa. The resulting task automated culture drives employees to focus internally. As completion of tasks is how employees are now measured, it becomes more important than commitments to clients, customer satisfaction… essentially everything else. There is no room for customization to individual customer requests, or even incorporating frontline internal ideas for improvement.
Even if employees are encouraged to move between roles and learn different tasks, the old expectation that experienced personnel will deliver improved business performance is lost. Think of what happens to the perception of trade and industry knowledge. It becomes viewed as a liability and an impediment to the process-based task structure. As success by remaining on-mission is no longer the focus, only senior management is left to incorporate broader business concepts. It becomes difficult for middle management and frontline personnel to translate task activities into achieving important outcomes, such as profitability, cost control and customer retention.
A focus away from results literally institutionalizes the acknowledgement that companies cannot find enough talented and/or career oriented individuals to deliver on established goals. This idea becomes a part of the company culture. Any effort by middle management to develop top-performing talent is not needed to train for task completion and is therefore a waste of time. This thinking fits well with our current popular culture famous for teaching our kids everyone gets a trophy for participating. This celebration of mediocrity has infiltrated business theory in the last decade and task-based business theory is strangely a perfect fit.
Coaching is Confrontation?
Social skills have been diminishing in the workforce and with it the ability to manage conflict constructively. Without the skills to communicate through it, conflict is now to be avoided. At one time, conflict was defined by interactions with an angry client, or upset supervisor. Generational changes have HR managers beginning to view decision-making and coaching as conflict, i.e. a supervisor explaining a resolution to a problem is now a co-worker imposing their will. I have worked for companies where HR has required consensus-based management style (explained as facilitating employee retention), sometimes requiring lengthy discussions and days to get anything done. Task based structure can help to mitigate these issues. In this environment, coaching is limited to proper completion of process and decision-making is more about capacity and deadlines. As task orientation now aligns with the latest hot HR issues, we find another reason to find it appealing.
I am sure it is clear on which side of this question I fall. Just because this business philosophy has numerous challenges, doesn’t mean a consultant, or management team might not be able to overcome them. One thing I do know, once employees are trained to believe that results are less important than task completion, any idea of quality control goes out the window. I do miss the days of the great business influencers of the 80s/90s Peter Drucker and Tom Peters. These consultants espoused philosophies that at their core were about results: (paraphrasing here) “business activities are useless if they can’t be measured” and “employees with entrepreneurial spirit are most likely to influence customer retention”. Business ideas lost in time…
New Communes (sub-regions) Established by Statute in Italy
The trend in Italy the last two years has been to establish new wine sub-regions in existing wine areas. Historic Sangiovese wine growing regions are being significantly impacted. I have not explored Sangiovese in this kind of depth before, outside of Montalcino (Brunello, Sangiovese clone). Certainly, nothing like the effort I have put into Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. These recent changes in Italian wine laws had me wondering: could there be enough unique wine character from Sangiovese to justify this many new sub-regions in Central Italy?
Can Italian Terroir Produce Sangiovese Wines Different Enough to Justify The Changes?
I decided to investigate this idea with a group of wine collector friends I meet with regularly. In the beginning of the year, I began looking through all the U.S. wine auctions trying to find 10 year old Sangiovese wines from various Italian regions outside of Montalcino (Brunello). To give this a fair evaluation, 10 years of bottle age seemed as if it might be close to the optimum drinking window for these wines. I wanted to taste the best potential versions of these wines for the comparison. While doing the research, I found a couple of U.S. made Sangiovese wines from respected producers and thought it would be fun to add these to the comparison. The tasting was held in my home just this last weekend and produced interesting results. There were a few disagreements across the group, but generally our impressions were similar enough. Here are my notes and scoring in the order of my best score first. I did not take detailed tasting notes, but did record my overall impressions.
Nobile di Montepulciano – Montepulciano Region, Italy
#1) 2012 Avignonesi Grandi Annate – 94/100 pts
This region is just east of Montalcino. Don’t get it confused with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. That is a completely different region and grape variety. Through history, this area has been well-known for the quality of its wine production, often just called “Nobile”. Thomas Jefferson mentioned this area as his favorite wine region.
This was very near a great wine, quality on the order of the bordeaux style wines produced nearby in Bolgheri. It was nicely balanced, with fruit, acidity and tannin in roughly equal measure. Just enough fruit to enjoy on its own and just enough acid/tannin to work paired with foods. It was not big and structured like many of the Chianti area wines I have tasted. It had a lighter feel with a perceived finesse. The flavor profile was typical Sangiovese red cherry, but only slightly tart. This was an impressive effort for a 100% Sangiovese. This wine could make you believe Sangiovese deserves a place as one of the world’s great varietals.
Radda – Chianti Classico Region, Italy
#2) 2011 San Giusto a Rentennano Percarlo – 93/100
This is one of the better-known Sangiovese labels, from one of the most respected Chianti Classico wineries. 100% Sangiovese from the selected best fruit of the Tuscany region. This is not your typical Chianti Classico wine. 30+ day maceration, 30+ day ferment in concrete tanks, 20+ months in French oak barrels and 18+ months in bottle in the producer’s cellar. 3.5+ years before release… That attention to detail built an excellent wine, if not a wine that could carry the DOCG label. This wine is a definite example of why Italian IGT does NOT mean an inferior wine. Not sure the value was as special, but the wine was excellent and another great example of what Sangiovese wine can be in the right hands.
This was a very similar wine to #1 above, but not quite as refined. The finesse was evident here too, but not quite the same mouth-feel and therefore one point less.
This was the surprise of the evening for me. Over 60% Sangio, 20% Merlot and a few percent of these: Canaiolo, Colorino, Petit Verdot. This area is viewed as “up and coming” and is just Southwest of Montalcino. Maremma is the younger brother of the Bolgheri region and the area has been making great value IGT bordeaux style blends for some time now.
This was nothing like the first two wines, complex and layered with high acidity. Fruit-forward but not extracted, this hit the sweet spot for an Old World wine that could appeal to a New World palate. Of course, they had the luxury of blending varieties here and that can make a difference with the right winemaker. With reasonable value, I will be keeping an eye out for this producer in the future.
Napa Region, USA
#4) 2011 Biale SangioveseNonna Vineyard – 91/100
The two most well-known Sangiovese wines in Napa are this and the Del Dotto bottlings. The winery was kind enough to sell us a bottle from their library specifically for this tasting! This winery operated through prohibition and this particular wine has a family history, the vineyard was planted by the current owner’s grandmother.
This was the softest of the wines tasted. The mouth-feel was excellent and was definitely still fruit-forward after 11 years in the bottle. It was light on acidity at medium-minus and had medium tannin. This was an enjoyable wine. It had just enough Old World character to identify as such. This is another of those wines that may have been better a few years ago. Not past its drinking window, but perhaps nearing it.
Montefalco – Umbria Region, Italy
#5) 2012 Adanti Montefalco Rosso Riserva – 91/100
This area is in Umbria and while the area is known for its Sagrantino DOC, it has its own denomination for its Rosso DOC that must be no more than 25% Sagrantino and no less than 60% Sangiovese. This bottling also had 20% Merlot. This was a powerhouse wine, even after 10 years in the bottle. The Sangiovese dominates, but the Sagrantino pulled it towards a Southern Rhone type feel. I really enjoy Sagrantino wines and if you haven’t tried one, you should track down a good example to enjoy for yourself.
This was a bold, fruity wine, with medium plus acidity and tannin. Old World wine drinkers may find this a bit too extracted for their palate, but this was balanced enough not to feel hit over the head with too much oak, or too much fruit like many modern day Napa Cab Sauv’s.
Colli Fiorentini – Chianti Region, Italy
#6) 2013 Torre a Cona Badia a Corte Riserva – 89/100
This is a highly regarded sub-region of Chianti that now has its own denomination. This bottling is typically 100% Sangiovese. The area is North of Chianti Classico and attempts to focus on lighter, aromatic versions of Sangiovese.
This is another wine that may have been better had we opened it a few years ago. Lighter styles of wine can sometimes be limited in their capacity for bottle aging. This wine was a reasonable representative of a typical Chianti, but was too disjointed. It showed too much tannin and acid for its age and the fruit and mouth-feel weren’t there to round out the package. Would have been great with a tomato based pasta dish, but was lacking on its own.
Walla Walla Region, USA
#7) 2011 Leonetti Sangiovese – 89/100
This is a well-known premium bordeaux style producer in Washington state. Their Sangiovese label is grown and produced every year in Walla Walla and this was the most expensive bottle of wine in the group. The wine is 87% Sangiovese and 13% Syrah.
This reminded me of a better than average typical Italian Chianti. Very “one-note”, but definitely varietally-correct. Not as soft as the other U.S. wine we tasted. Would have been a good food wine, but certainly nothing special to mention.
Greve – Chianti Classico Region, Italy
#8) 2010 Podere Poggio Scalette Il Carbonaione – 88/100 This winery is well-respected for its Tuscany styled IGT blended wines. This bottling was 100% Sangiovese from several vineyards located in Greve. Not sure why this needed an IGT designation, instead of DOCG. This area now has their own regional denomination.
This was an uninspiring average Italian Chianti. With age, it had lost its fruit and was thin with nothing to balance out the acid and tannin. Not undrinkable, but given the choice, would prefer a different wine.
Observations & Conclusions
The differences between these wines had more to do with winemaking style and blending varieties, than the Sangiovese fruit itself. Although, there was enough diversity to claim we experienced various different styles of Sangiovese dominated wines. There is more to “terroir” than just soil and climate. If other contributing factors define these regions as unique, so be it. There is a clear marketing advantage to differentiating these wine “communes” and promoting a specific regional style. It will remain to be seen whether all these new sub-regions will be justified in the long-run, or the average wine enthusiast will just find it too confusing to care. I have mentioned DOC, DOCG and IGT classifications several times in this article. If you would like a quick explanation, here is a link: Wine-Searcher – Wine Labels Italy
Here are a few conclusions I drew from the tasting:
Sangiovese fruit alone may not show enough diversity at the premium level to support this many different style designations. Although, the Brunello clone grown in Montalcino is certainly a cut above the others.
Sangiovese is a fabulous blending grape. It carries structure with it, high acidity and tannin, if the winemaking style allows it.
In the U.S., we do produce Old World style Sangiovese wine that compares well with the Italian labels.
Finally, generally Sangiovese wine can be made with finesse. Not sure what I was expecting, but I did not anticipate the subtler wines we found in this tasting.
Trained, certified Advanced Sommelier. AZ Art Institute Wine/Chef program focusing on wine pairing and beverage/culinary program development. Wine writer/blogger. Wine collector with extensive wine travel. Previously, consulting to the restaurant trade. Offering cellar management and procurement strategies, wine training & education, beverage business planning and marketing to the trade. Enjoy my blog at - www.coolclimatewine.net, my professional profile at: www.linkedin.com/in/douglasjlevin, my Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/TheDOCG, my Twitter feed at @douglasjlevin, or my tasting notes at https://rb.gy/r4xpom.
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