The War on Terroir: A New Benchmark for Brunellos

Valerie Bilgri and Ben Hammer of DC's VBH Wines.

Valerie Bilgri and Ben Hammer of DC’s VBH Wines.

We invited Ben Hammer and Valerie Bilgri, passionate wine drinkers and foodies, to contribute this guest post on how to think about wine choices. Ben and Valerie are the cofounders of VBH Wines in Washington, D.C. They offer personalized wine consulting, tastings, and events, and introduce small-lot wineries to new consumers. 


 

By Valerie Bilgri and Ben Hammer

Looking for a wine that’s drinkable now and will be even better if stored properly for several years? Look no further than the crop of 2010 Brunellos that have just come to market.

“This is the new benchmark for Brunello. It’s the vintage of a lifetime,” says Jared Prager, a Culinary Institute of America grad, and manager of Bell Wines in the Dupont Circle area of D.C.

Brunello di Montalcino is one of Tuscany’s classic wines, along with famous cohorts Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Chianti.  Brunellos are made exclusively from Sangiovese grapes grown on the slopes around Montalcino, a Tuscan hilltop village 20 miles south of Siena.

Weather-wise, 2010 was described as a near-perfect for growing conditions.  Now, after the required five-year aging period, the vintage is finally hitting the market.  Industry experts are describing the 2010 Brunellos as full of more character and finesse than in years past.  Brunellos characteristically are known for their dark fruit, tannic, and earthy characteristics. All are still present in the 2010s, but with added layerings of spice and aromatic characters.

Jared Prager, manager of Bell Wine & Spirits in DC, and Ben Hammer of VBH Wines, review some of the 2010 Brunellos that have just become available.

Jared Prager, manager of Bell Wine & Spirits in DC, and Ben Hammer of VBH Wines, review some of the 2010 Brunellos that have just become available.

Brunellos are terrific for aging, and most of the new releases are recommended for cellaring at least a few years before popping the cork.  That said, many of the 2010s are quite open and drinkable even now, eliminating the anticipatory wait to see if the vintage lives up to its reputation.

Here are a few recommendations:

 

2010 Argiano – Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – James Suckling from Wine Spectator rates the Argiano 98 points, describing it as a “powerfully structured wine with fabulous grilled-meat, granite, dried-berry and flower-petal character. Full-bodied, chewy and intense. Great structure. Extremely long and intense. Sexy austerity.”

2010 Fossacolle – Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – Wine Advocate rates the Fossacolle 93 points, noting that the wine is “bursting” with dark fruit but also displays good aging potential.  Will be even better in five years.

2010 Valdicava – Brunello di Montalcino DOCG – James Suckling awards this Valdicava 99 points, with the promise of a bright future:  “Absolutely stunning aromas of nectarine, orange peel, sweet black cherry, plum, flower, licorice and mushroom. Full body with layers of ultra-fine tannins and hints of tangy acidity. Such beautiful length and beauty to this wine. It’s powerful and structured but shows a gorgeous finesse and length. Truly wondrous. So long and refined. The texture is phenomenal. Better in 2016.”

The War on Terroir: Sharing the Holiday Cheer

1864 Blandy's Bual Madeira (Wine-Searcher.com)

1864 Blandy’s Bual Madeira (Wine-Searcher.com)

We invited Ben Hammer, a passionate wine drinker and foodie, to contribute this guest post on how to think about wine choices. Ben is a strategic communications advisor for technology, media and entertainment companies. His firm, Hammer Strategies, is based in Washington, D.C.

By Ben Hammer

The holidays often stir up memories of presents that brought excitement to young lives — a remote-controlled sports car, pint-sized toy kitchen, or a new pet. Now, as we get older, we often exchange bottles of our favorite refreshment with friends and business partners. Whether you’re catching up with old friends or attending a special holiday dinner, a top-notch bottle of wine is an excellent gift to spread cheer. So, what are some options for giving an extra special bottle of wine to tell someone they’re an important part of your life? We asked some wine experts for their views. Here’s what they told us:

Shem Hassen, Co-Owner, Arrowine in D.C. and Arlington, Va.
$150: Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, Domaine Denis Peret et Fils 2012

A lot of Corton-Charlemagne is very rich price-wise, but this is a lot more reasonable. And the minerality and acidity is so precise. It’s like drinking champagne without the bubbles.

$160: Cade Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa, CA 2011
This is the second label to PlumpJack. If you try this one compared with a second growth bordeaux, this is good, something you can drink right away – not like you have to wait 10 years. It’s something you can open right away and drink without wasting a lot of money.

$300-$600: Mommessin Clos de Tart Grand Cru Monopole, Cote de Nuits, France
If you love Burgundy, and when you get to the Grand Crus, you stop there, it’s like Clos de Tart is one of the pioneers of wine-making, from 1100 [AD]. They make only one wine, it’s not like everyone else. Once in a while they make a second if they have extra left over.

Dean Myers, Sommelier, Brasserie Beck, Washington, DC

$65: A great gift idea for a client would be a bottle of Justin Vineyards & Winery Isosceles, Paso Robles. This is the wine that put the Paso Robles powerhouse on the map, and a wine I continually come back to. Cabernet Sauvignon blended with a touch of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, it’s Bordeaux-inspired but with California drinkability both now and later. I found 2010 on shelves the other day, but 2011 is the current release.

$600-$750 (magnum): If you’re like me, opening a bottle of wine is about sharing it with those who are close to me and who will appreciate what’s on the inside of the bottle. So when buying for a special meal, I go big or go home (literally). Buy a magnum and be that more popular. In this case, something that goes with a holiday meal and will warm you up from the temperatures outside, I’d go with 1.5 Liters of Chapoutier Hermitage Le Pavillion. 2011 is out now and got 100 points from ol’ Bobby Parker. But for drinking now, the older you can find, the better.

Tami Hatridge, Landini’s, Old Town Alexandria, VA:

$1,000-$1,500: Domaine Armand Rousseau Pere et Fils Chambertin Grand Cru, Cote de Nuits, France
“A very complete wine even at this young stage. Dark fruits, blackberries, herbs, minerals and spicy flavours. Generous mid-palate with velvety tannins and long finish. Love the silky texture of this wine,” says Jeannie Cho Lee, Master of Wine at Asian Palate.

$4,000: Magnum of same (Domaine Armand)

Christianna Sargent, Sommelier, Coppi’s organic, Cleveland Park, DC; and rep. with Monsieur Touton Selections:

$89: Errazuriz Don Maximiano Founders Reserve, Chile
“The 2007 Don Maximiano Founder’s Reserve is composed of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, 6% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Syrah that spent 20 months in new French oak. A glass-coating opaque purple color, it surrenders an enticing nose of toasty new oak, graphite, scorched earth, cinnamon, clove, violets, blueberry, and blackberry. On the palate, it reveals a suave personality that combines elegance and power. Impeccably balanced, it has the structure to evolve for 4-6 years and should provide pleasure through 2027,” writes Robert Parker in The Wine Advocate, scoring it a 93.

$140: Quintessa Red, Rutherford, Calif.
“Attractive wine to drink young – green herbs and capsicum notes with dark berry fruit. Wine offers fresh acidity and firm tannins with mid-palate that is slightly hollow. Most blocks were picked before the big rain. There was an optical sorter used during harvest in this wet vintage. Tasted in: Napa Valley, USA,” says Asian Palate’s Jeannie Cho Lee.

$100-$250: Rene Bouvier Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru, Cote de Nuits, France, 2005-2012

$221 (half bottle): 1983 Avignonesi Vin Santo di Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy

Any wine that’s high-end from them. “Indicative blend: Grechetto, Malvasia Toscana, Trebbiano. This is the second most highly rated Vin Santo wine (based on critic scores): the 1997 vintage was given a score of 97 out of 100 by The Wine Advocate; and the 1999 vintage was given a score of 97 out of 100 by Wine Spectator. Ranked second for number of awards won among wines from this region: the Vinibuoni d’Italia awarded the 1999 vintage Golden Star and the 1998 vintage Corone,” says Wine-Searcher.com.

$400 (half bottle): 2001 Chateau d’Yquem, Sauternes, France
“This beautiful Sauternes offers intense aromatics packed with overripe pineapple drenched in honey, roasted nuts, apricots, nectarines, white peach, flowers, orange rind and honey in the complex perfume. Thick, rich and intense, with the viscosity of motor oil, along with tropical fruit dripping with honey and the perfect amount acidity to give this elixir life, 2011 Chateau d’Yquem is majestic,” says the Wine Cellar Insider.

$185-$750 and $1,000-$10,000: Blandy’s Bual Madeira 1905, 1863 or 1864
“Critics have rated this as the best available among Madeira wines… Ranked second for number of awards won among wines from this region: the International Wine & Spirit Competition awarded the 1969 vintage Gold Outstanding; the Decanter World Wine Awards awarded the 1969 vintage Gold; and the Decanter World Wine Awards awarded the 1968 vintage Gold,” says Wine-Searcher.com.

The War on Terroir: On The Urge to Splurge

Vietti Barolo Castiglione

We invited Ben Hammer, a passionate wine drinker and foodie, to contribute this guest post on how to think about wine choices. Ben is a strategic communications advisor for technology, media and entertainment companies. His firm, Hammer Strategies, is based in Washington, D.C.

 

By Ben Hammer

There’s always a reason to go beyond your comfort zone and buy a lot more wine for that special occasion. Old friend in town? Promotion? Milestone? Closing that big business deal? Or asking your future spouse’s parents for their blessing? Wine has been used as a sacrament for millenia to separate the holy and monumental from the mundane. So we asked a handful of our favorite oenophiles about their favorite picks for a splurge selection.

Here’s one of my own picks:

Vietti Barolo di Castiglione Falletto 2010, Nebbiolo from Piedmont, Italy. One of the grand-daddies of Italian barolos, Vietti is hands-down always a top pick for a moderately priced wine. This bottle goes for about $50 and is an unfiltered treat from a label that makes about 5,000-6,500 cases a year. Give it some time to breathe and open up. Decanting could be a good idea. Would go very well with a lamb ragu. And the bottle and label is beautiful, a work of art.

 

Warren Leonard, Weygandt Wines, DC:

Grower Champagne hands down. They know their terroir, grow their own grapes and many are in the extra brut and brut nature level so relying on the grapes, not dosage.

 

Erik Hope, former professional chef at Gerard’s and Cashion’s in DC:

d’Arenberg The Dead Arm Shiraz. Apart from sentimental value, I think it embodies what a great Australian Shiraz should be. Earthy, lots of dark fruit, great structure. And consistent from vintage to vintage.

 

Na Lee, Director of Special Events, Bordeau LLC, Table Restaurant, 42 Degree Catering, DC:

’94 Dalla Valle Maya or most any Harlan Estates. Closest you can come to meeting a God figure in a bottle of grape juice.

 

Jon-Christopher Bua, former Clinton Administration communications official:

Cote Rotie La Mordoree via ‘Chapoutier’ 95, 98, 2005 or 2006. Enjoy.

 

Chris Wilson, Oya restaurant, Penn Quarter in DC:

For something interesting and unusual, a rock-star splurge – Caduceus Cellars “Judith” a red blend. From Arizona. Super-small production. Made by Maynard James Keenan of the band Tool.

 

John Lonergan, Managing Director, Mercury in DC:

Pommard region in Burgundy. Or Cote Rotie in the Rhone Valley. Chapoutier. Or “Brune et Blonde” from Guigal in Pommard. Jean Perrin.

 

What’s your favorite pick for a splurge, and where is the best store or restaurant to do it? Email me at benhammer@zoho.com to let me know.

 

In Vino Veritas: The War on Terroir

Drink what you like, not what you're told.

Drink what you like, not what you’re told.

We invited Ben Hammer, a passionate wine drinker and foodie, to contribute this guest post on how to think about wine choices. Ben is a strategic communications advisor for technology, media and entertainment companies. His firm, Hammer Strategies, is based in Washington, D.C.


By Ben Hammer

In Vino Veritas: In wine there is truth. They say alcohol is a form of social lubrication. Behind closed doors or in a front of a bar, with a trusted confidante, a nice glass of our favorite elixir poured by a friendly bartender can help us ease into our personal time and space. The one we own, not the one most of us rent out for the day when we work for someone else.

To see, smell and taste is to believe. Reading a description of a wine is a bit like reading a greeting card. It’s either funny (and it should not be if received as intended), or it’s too flowery to understand. No, the only way to really know what a wine tastes like is to try it. Ideally, try it with another human being with whom you have a real live connection. One never truly experiences something unless with another human being.

For me, wine is about opening up a time capsule that encompasses soil, dirty fingernails, hard work, families, reputation, and the new discovery of a particular vintage, grape and combination of wine, food, palate and conversation.

Some wine snobs will pontificate what you should and should not drink when it comes to wine. I’m not one of those people. If you ask, I’ll tell you what I’ve heard about what to pair with duck (Pinot Noir, preferably from Willamette, OR, for my taste Patricia Green Ribbon Ridge; or if you like yours with a bit of spice, from France); or shellfish or fresh fish (something white, not too sweet, possibly a Riesling or Gruner Veltiner).

But I would rather arm you with the tools to make your own decisions.

Want to buy a serviceable $5 pinot noir from Trader Joe’s? Look for the blue bottle with the fish on the front [Blue Fin Pinot Noir]. Want a case of a white blend for a party?  Go with the Eichinger Gruner Veltiner for about $12-15 per bottle or the Edmund St. John Hearts of Gold blend for about $22 a bottle if for a special occasion.

Don’t let anyone tell you what you should or should not do. That said, here are a few things you might enjoy.

The 5: Tips for sure bets.

  1. Decoy red blend, Duckhorn Vineyards, Napa, CA ~$20 bottle
  2. Heart of Gold white blend, Edmunds St. John, El Dorado, CA ~$20 bottle
  3. Birgit Eichinger, Hasel Gruner Veltiner, Kamptal, Austria ~$13 bottle
  4. Schramsberg, blanc de blancs, Brut, CA (Champagne style) $~40 bottle
  5. Anything from Willamette, OR; Mallorca, Spain; or Stellenbosch, S. Africa.

Send questions or a picture of your favorite wine to benhammer@zoho.com. Best email of the month will receive a free bottle of wine.  Subject to local and federal laws.