About this Blog

The blog focuses on the essence of wine and food, not how many points or stars it receives. The opinions are mine and should be taken only as that, an opinion not gospel.

Like many collectors, initially I was very much influenced by wine ratings. I purchased wines based on points, even if I had never tasted the wine. And it was much worse than that. I would drink a wine with a high rating, not like it, yet since it was highly rated I’d rationalize that I did not yet appreciate the wine, or that my palate was not sophisticated enough to understand the wine. How’s that for lunacy? As a result my cellar grew in all directions while my palate narrowed. By the time I realized the style of wine that I enjoyed, my cellar abounded with wines whose styles I did not enjoy. All of these wines were very highly rated, just not my cup of tea, or glass of wine to be more accurate. Fortunately I was able to sell many of these wines to those who either enjoyed them or wanted highly rated wines. Don’t misunderstand, I am not against wines with high ratings, in fact I own many. It is just that I now purchase wines based on the producer, the style and my palate, not the rating. Nor do I shun reading reviews. I very much respect Antonio Galloni, Alan Meadows, Eric Asimov and John Gilman and read their reviews routinely. I pay attention to what they write, not the points they award.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Campi di Fonterenza

On the first of April I hosted my annual Hemophilia Association of New Jersey Gourmet Wine Dinner fundraiser.  The event was once again held at Il Tulipano Ristorante, Cedar Grove, NJ. This year I featured the wines of Campi di Fonterenza from Montalcino, in the Poggio San Polo area in the southeastern part of Montalcino (Tuscany), Italy.  Twin sisters Francesca and Margherita Padovani started the vineyard in 1997 and its reputation for making traditional Brunello di Montalcino continues to grow, a fact that is not surprising as Gianfranco Soldera, considered to be the greatest winemaker of Brunello in the region, mentored the sisters.  One taste of their Brunello di Montalcino will demonstrate that they have learned very well from their mentor. I had the pleasure, along with my family and a couple of good friends to visit with the Padovani sisters last year at their estate.  My good friend Gino Urban of David Bowler Wines (importer for Fonterenza wines), provided the wines and also arranged for Margherita to be in attendance to discuss their wines.

Margherita Padovani
Once again we began with a magnificent cocktail hour before sitting down to dinner.  Each of the wines we drank showed beautifully tonight.  While the italicized comments are from the Padovani sisters, Margherita’s passion for making truly great wine was evident as she spoke about each wine.  The attendees loved her and her wines.  The comment, “this was the best Hemophilia dinner of all” was heard numerous times around the room.

During the cocktail hour we drank Fonterenza 2017 Petit Rosso Vino Rosso 
“The first vintage of this wine was 2011, replacing the production of our SANGIOVESE I.G.T. TOSCANA. The bottle shape already declares our intention to make a different kind of Sangiovese than what is most commonly associated with Montalcino. Inspired by our friendship with French vignerons and their culture of thirst-quenching wines, conceived to satisfy the needs of everyday drinking and convivial sharing, our idea was to make an Italian vin de soif. It is made from a selection of grapes from our vineyards in San Polo and some Sangiovese from the old vineyards on Monte Amiata. In some vintages we also use autochthonous grapes (ciliegoiolo, canaiolo, colorino, malvasia nera). We hope to plant a mountain vineyard specifically for the production of this wine in the near future.”

This is the estate’s entry-level red wine, medium-bodied wine with a translucent red hue, fruity palate and soft, but short finish.  A terrific every day wine for under $25.00

Our first course was paired with the estate's two "Orange" wines served side by side.

Goat Cheese Medallions over baby Greens with candied fruits and dried walnuts

2016 Biancospino Vino Bianco
“This wine is inspired by our love of white wines and of Monte Amiata, a place that abounds with small old vineyards planted with unrenowned grapes. It is an old-style peasant blend of 70% Trebbiano 30% Malvasia made by macerating the varietals with their skins for one month. The wine is aged in barrel for 6 months.  The first vintage produced was 2010. We have an ongoing project to replant a new mountain vineyard next to the Vigna Matta, an old vineyard in Montegiovi dating from 1920 that we currently rent for the production of this wine.”

The wine was delicious.  A white wine, made like a red wine and drunk at red wine temperature, it has a slightly oxidized palate, with considerable depth.  $30.00

2017 La Ragazze Vino Bianco 
“Like the Biancospino it is an old-style peasant blend made by macerating indigenous varietals, in this case they are 50% Vermintino, with Trebbiano, Malvasia and Grechetto making up the rest. Skin contact is limited to one week. The wine is aged in barrel for 6 months.  The first vintage produced was 2010. We have an ongoing project to replant a new mountain vineyard next to the Vigna Matta, an old vineyard in Montegiovi dating from 1920 that we currently rent for the production of this wine.”

This was even more delicious than the Biancospino and was clearly the favorite of the crowd.  Gorgeous yellow hue, medium-bodied and a lengthy and elegant finish.  $35.00

For the pasta course featured the estate's two Rosso di Montalcino poured side by side.

Spinach Lasagna Classic Bolognese Style

2016 Rosso di Montalcino 
“We do not consider this wine as a second tier wine or a lesser Brunello di Montalcino D.O.C.G. Our vineyards are all in an area historically renowned for the production of Brunello and are ideal for the production of structured wines. Our Rosso di Montalcino is merely a different interpretation of Sangiovese, characterized by a great potential for cellar evolution but aged for a shorter period in wood (22 months in oak barrels), preserving characteristics of rustic youth, fruity exuberance and a distinctive saline and earthy profile that is typical of all our Sangiovese. It is mostly from our three plots; Bosco, Alberello and Strada, vinified separately before a final blending. The first vintage produced was 2003.”

Young and like the whites, simply delicious.  The wine showed great complexity and depth even at this early point in its life.  This will add on depth and elegance over the next 3 to 5 years.  As it sat in the glass throughout the dinner, it continued to evolve and display more fruit and elegance.  $40.00

2015 Rosso di Montalcino Alberello 
“100% Sangiovese Grosso. 2015 is the first vintage in which the Padovanis bottled this single-parcel Rosso di Montalcino. Normally, it is part of the "regular" Rosso di Montalcino bottling. But since having grafted new Sangiovese vines in this particular plot in 2005 and trained them alberello style, the Fonterenza sisters have felt that it is a unique expression of Sangiovese from the same clay-limestone galestro soils and same northern exposure. Like the other Rosso plots, it is farmed organically and worked and harvested by hand; the fruit is fermented with native yeasts in steel tank with a 15-20-day maceration. Like the Rosso, the Alberello was aged for about 20 months in steel and Slavonian oak botti but spent a longer portion of its elevage in steel. It was bottled without filtration in September 2017. Only 4000 bottles made.”  $45.00

This single vineyard Rosso showed more structure and complexity than it's counterpart.   It was also a bit tighter, but as it evolved in the glass over the next 90 minutes the pedigree began to shine through.  This, like the Rosso, will age gracefully for  decade or more.  $45.00

With our main course we enjoyed two vintages, once again side by side, of their flagship wine, Brunello di Montalcino.  To say it was the coup de grâce to a magnificent tasting would be a bit of a understatement.

Sliced Medallions of Filet; Mushroom Gravy; Potato Croquette

2010 & 2012 Brunello di Montalcino 
“Ten long years passed between planting our vineyard and releasing the first bottles of this wine. We think of Brunello as a paean to Montalcino, a synthesis of everything that makes this part of the world so special; its unique combination of soils, sea breezes and woodlands. These elements find their expression in our Brunello; sun-baked saline notes, meaty aromas, heady Mediterranean herbs and fresh minerality. 

It is a wine that requires time and patience. We have learned to take care of it during its aging period, coaxing youthful characteristics to full maturity and nursing the potential for complexity. In present times, where everything is based on the concept of right here, right now, this is an old-fashioned wine. It is made exclusively from the estate Cru, Vigna del Bosco.  Our first vintage of Brunello was 2004.”

Both wines were beautiful examples of how good Brunello di Montalcino can be. The 2010 ($125.00) was without question the WOTN, while the 2012 ($100.00) was on its own a stunning wine.  2010 was a magnificent year in Brunello, and as Margherita commented it was an “easy” wine to make, as Mother Nature gave them perfection in the vineyard, while the warm, dry growing season of 2012 gave winemakers more of a challenge.  A challenge, in my opinion, that Fonterenza sisters met with great success.

Desserts are always special at Il Tulipano and are left up to the creation of the chef.  They never disappoint as you can see below.

Fonterenza does not make any dessert wines, so I turned to the La Stoppa estate for their 2009 La Stoppa Vigna Della Volta Passito (Malvasia). The wine, a blend of 95% Malvasia di Candia Aromatica and 5% Moscato, is made from sun-dried grapes that are pressed in a vertical press, fermented naturally, and put into old French oak barrique for 10 months. After bottling, the wine is held for an additional two years before release.  It was the perfect ending to a perfect evening.

La Stoppa is an historic estate in the province of Piacenza in the Emilia region of Italy. There are 32 hectares of vines, along with almost as much forest, plus the ruins of a medieval tower. The property was founded and planted first in the late 19th century by a lawyer named Giancarlo Ageno, whose main interest was Bordeaux varieties. In 1973, current owner Elena Pantaleoni's printer father, with no winegrowing experience, purchased the property; Elena joined him to work at the winery full-time in 1991. By 1996, a decision was made to let the non-native varietals like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Tokay, Pinot Gris, Grechetto and Pinot Noir go, as they were not suited for the warm climate and clay soils of the area. They were replaced with local grapes Barbera, Bonarda and Malvasia (with Bordeaux varieties remaining until 2005, when those too were replaced).

The farming has been organic since the early 1990's; certification came in 2008.  Elena Pantaleoni, a dedicated, intelligent and passionate grower, works closely with her enologist Giulio Armani to craft wines expressive of place and grape. Work in the cellar is minimal. Fermentation is entirely with native yeasts; maceration with skins is lengthy; little to no sulfur is used; wines are aged in a range of  Slavonian oak botti and used French barriques; reds are not filtered before bottling; and bottle aging is extended. Elena eschews any DOC classifications, choosing the IGT path instead; she feels that the DOC regulations are too broad in terms of permitted varieties, geographical bounds and production techniques, and not conducive to thoughtul, artisanal winegrowing and winemaking, the priority at the La Stoppa estate.

I mentioned in the second paragraph above the comment, “this was the best Hemophilia dinner of all” was heard numerous times around the room.  Having done 25 or more of these events over the years I have to concur with the comment, and that is saying a lot as many of the great wines of Italy and France have been featured at this dinner in the past.  None however had the completeness and electricity of this tasting, beginning with the presence, charisma and passion of Margherita Padovani.  A gifted and natural speaker, who simply lets her passions and wines speak for her and her sister.  She wowed the crowd as much as her wines did.  And speaking of the wines, each one showed beautifully from the first sip to the last.  In fact experiencing the evolution of each wine in the glass really made the tasting special.  

Fonternza wines are not in the well know...currently that is.  But I think serious wine drinkers will be hearing about them and drinking them in the years to come.

Thank you so much Margherita and Francesca for the passion you bring to wine and thank you Margherita for making this fund raiser such a success.  We raised $28,000+ from the event for the Hemophilia Association of NJ.

My thanks also to my dear friend Gino Urban of David Bowler wines who brought Margherita and her wines to the event.  To my dear friend Gene Urban, owner of Impressive Impressions, who took all the photos in this blog, and to Gregorio Polimeni, Jr. and the staff at Il Tulipano for another outstanding job.