Quarantine Reading: Spring Releases 2020 from Napa Valley, Bordeaux, and Italy
During the continued self-quarantine due to COVID-19, many U.S. citizens are doing puzzles and watching Netflix. However, wine lovers are drinking their favorite wines.
Pour a glass and check out a few recent and upcoming releases from Napa Valley, Italy, and Bordeaux that will get the attention of any wine aficionado.
Artémis Domaine owns wineries in both Napa Valley and Bordeaux. The wealthy Pinault family owns this luxury wine subsidiary of French investment company Groupe Artémis.
In Napa Valley, the company purchased the historic Aruajo Estate and Eisele Vineyard in 2013. Vines were first planted here in the 1880s and the vineyard is now planted mostly to Cabernet Sauvignon. With the initial release in 1971, the vineyard has been organic since 1998 and biodynamic since 2000.
After the nearly perfect 2016 season, 2017 brought early rain, mild spring temperatures, and a warmer than usual summer. September experienced an on and off heat pattern. Wildfires started around October 8, but most of the Napa harvest was complete by then.
These long-lived wines display exceptional concentration and elegance with textbook Cabernet Sauvignon herbal notes, and flavors of blackberry, black cherry, and chocolate. The wines finish with balanced acidity and a subtle minerality.
The 2017 Eisele Altagracia consists of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Petit Verdot. The wine exhibits a muted floral nose, but the body is full, with fine tannins.
Lower yields at harvest contributed to an earthiness that permeates this concentrated wine. With a chocolate and graphite character and dark berry fruit, the wine needs to be decanted to appreciate its depth and finesse.
Another iconic Napa Valley winery, Dominus Estate, is home of the historic Napanook vineyard. Planted with vines as early as 1838, the vineyard was later owned by Napa pioneer John Daniel.
Christian Moueix took over farming the property in 1982, releasing the first Dominus vintage in 1983. Moueix, the legendary winemaker of Château Pétrus fame, remains at Dominus today.
Yields almost 50% lower characterized the 2017 vintage at Dominus. The harvest was finished before the fires began.
Cabernet Sauvignon comprises 88% of the blend, with 7% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot rounding out the wine. Very dark, concentrated, nuanced, and intense, the palate reveals licorice, black plum, and a gravelly character with an earthy herbal nature.
This wine will be a highly-rated critic favorite and will cellar immensely well due to its firm structure.
Because of the coronavirus, the French government-imposed strict orders for its citizens to stop traveling and stay home, except for essential activities such as grocery shopping.
This was not a problem for the first growth, Artémis Domaine owned, Château Latour in Pauillac.Latour stopped participating in theen primeur processafter the 2011 vintage.
With no vintage of the grand vin in eight years, the recently released 2012 vintage is sold entirely through négociants. Of a total of 10,000 cases, 70% was released.
The wine includes 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9.5% Merlot, and 0.5% Petit Verdot. Growing conditions included rain during spring and fall and drought in the summer.
Displaying a lovely fragrance, the wine delivers complex flavors and refined tannins. It is just beginning to drink well but has an excellent ability to age.
Other recent releases include the 2014 vintage of the second label, Les Forts de Latour, and the 2015 vintage of the third label, Pauillac de Latour.
Variability characterized the soon to be released 2017 vintage, reflecting the weather in Bordeaux. After little winter rain, April frost resulted in few or no grapes at some estates. Rainstorms just before harvest impacted other producers, especially in Saint-Estephe.
On the left bank, Saint-Julien produced a fine vintage, with the top estates from Pauillac and Margaux not far behind.
On the right bank, all the top estates produced beautiful first and second wines, with only those estates at lower elevations suffering from frost issues.
In general, 2017 produced fresher and more energetic wines than in warmer years. Atypical for Bordeaux, the wines are more approachable and aromatic, with medium body, lower alcohol, and fine tannins.
The 2017 Chateau Figeac St-Émilion consists of 43% Merlot, 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc. Yields were only half the average harvest due to heavy frost.
The wine’s deep ruby-purple color complements the intensely aromatic nose. Medium-bodied and dark fruited, the wine is structured, with velvety tannins and vivid acidity. Meticulous vineyard management and winemaking are evident.
Italy - Barolo
In Piemonte, recent releases include 2016 Barolo and 2014 Riserva. The 2016 Barolo excited the wine trade with its perfection. This generous vintage, excellent across the board, allowed individual terroir to shine through.
A dry winter gave way to a moderate summer allowing for slow ripening. Warmth in the fall allowed for optimal ripeness. With enough rain at the right times throughout the spring and summer, the vines achieved perfect health.
Excellent acidity and a bit lower alcohol give these wines a beautiful balance. Wines of great depth, they will age well, and will drink best with at least another five years in the cellar.
The 2014 vintage was inconsistent with a rainy summer, giving way to a warm fall. While most communes had excellent results, some suffered from hail. As a result, some producers released blended wines instead of single-vineyard ones because of the less than perfect crop.
These wines can be enjoyed young and will likely not age quite as long. Rely on a wine expert before purchasing.
Barolo – A New Energy
New energy pervades much of Barolo today. Increased tourism and interaction with winemakers throughout the country have brought fresh ideas. The adoption of new techniques has resulted in wines reflecting tradition, but more modern in style, clean and fresh.
The well-respected estate of Domenico Clerico has long made wines of pure terroir expression. Located in Monforte d’Alba, the estate owns some of the best sites in the most celebrated vineyards.
Domenico Clerico led Barolo in the creation of single-vineyard wines. Current winemaker Oscar Arrivabene energized the company with new ideas from his work outside the region, raising the quality even further.
These wines are classic and future Barolo married in perfect harmony. A blend from three vineyards, the 2016 Domenico Clerico Barolo DOCG, shows a deep garnet color.
With a palate of lush red fruits, herbal, and mineral notes, this elegant wine is harmonious refined. It will age for 20 years or more.
Italy – Chianti
For Chianti Classico Riserva,after a perfect vintage in 2016, 2017 started cold and wet. April brought frost followed by unseasonably hot weather through the end of June and in August. September was very cold, and yields decreased significantly.
Producers needed to be meticulous in the vineyards and with grape selection. The cooler sites had more success, especially in determining the timing of the picking.
Wines tend to be lower in alcohol, and the tannins less refined.Many wines lacked the proper acid balance, but the best wines from 2017 are ready to drink with a compelling acidity and generous flavors.
The 2017 Montevertine wine is exceedingly concentrated, especially given the difficulty of the weather. Lower yields resulted in a complex and intense wine, velvety with a very long finish.
The wine is a blend of Sangiovese 90% with Canaiolo and Colorino making up the balance. The alcohol settled at 13.5%.
Consult a wine expert before purchasing any 2017 vintage wines from Chianti.
The 2016 vintage will sound a lot like 2016 Barolo: perfect conditions yielded outstanding wines. The summer experienced a heatwave interspersed with some cooler days and rain before the harvest began.
A consistent vintage throughout the region, the wines are vibrant, showcasing concentrated dark fruit.
The 2016 wines drink much better at a younger age, a hallmark of this vintage, though they will age beautifully long into the future.
A favorable development in recent years, winemakers have chosen more local grape varieties and are even making 100% Sangiovese, moving away from the super-Tuscan model of the past. Chianti Classico requires a minimum of 85% Sangiovese.
Italy – Montalcino
Brunello di Montalcino released the perfect vintage in 2015. Growing conditions and the health of the vines were exceptional throughout the region. The wines are consistently fresh, abundant, and profound.
These wines drink well now but will age for up to 20 years. Enjoy them with another five years aging for a richer experience.
Try the 2015 Marchesi Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello di Montalcino. Beautifully balanced, this wine releases distinctive aromatics with deep, complex flavors and liveliness on the palate.
The 2014 vintage for Brunello di Montalcino Riserva wines was inferior, so no wines were released. Instead, some producers released versions of Brunello di Montalcino Selezione.
Gran Selezione, a small category, requires an additional six months of bottle aging (30 months in total) before release. Only grapes grown, fermented, and bottled 100% by the producer can use the designation. Purchased grapes are not allowed. These are single-vineyard or specially selected bottlings are a newer trend that bears watching.
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