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Mullan Road Cellars, Columbia Valley (Washington) Red Wine Blend 2016 ($45)
 Unsurprisingly, wine webinars in the era of Covid-19 are hit or miss.  One that I highly recommend is the SommCon Geographical Digest Series, a collaboration between The Somm Journal and National Geographic, during which I tasted this wine, which was previously unknown to me.  Founded in 2012 by Dennis Cakebread of the family that started Cakebread Cellars in Napa Valley almost 50 years ago, Mullan Road Cellars makes one wine, a Bordeaux blend.  The precise components of the blend change year to year, as they do in Bordeaux, depending on how each variety fares during the growing season.  The 2016, a seamless blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (51%), Merlot (29%) and Cabernet Franc, delivers enchanting savory aromas — olives and herbs — which follow on the palate.  Fruit flavors emerge, but do not predominate.  Waves of flavor cascade on the palate as the wine opens. Simultaneously refined and powerful, it is not overdone.  There’s a delightful hint of bitterness in the finish that reminds you this is a serious wine.  It would be twice the price if it carried a Napa Valley appellation, but since wines from Washington lack Napa’s cachet, it’s a bargain for what it delivers.  Don’t miss it.     
95 Michael Apstein


Posted by Michael Apstein on November 26, 2020 at 12:27 PM

Castello di Fonterutoli, Leading the Way

With the release of a trio of 2017 Gran Selezione wines, Castello di Fonterutoli is leading the way, showing the importance of terroir—site specificity—in Chianti Classico.  Chianti Classico producers have long proclaimed that there are major differences among the wines produced in the region’s nine subzones.  And it’s true that a Chianti Classico from Radda tastes different from a Chianti Classico from neighboring Castellina in Chianti.  But heretofore it’s been almost impossible to know whether the differences were really due to the subzone or to the producer’s style.  After all, when you taste a Chianti Classico made by Cecchi, whose base is in Castellina in Chianti, side-by-side with one made by Castello di Radda, whose vineyards lie in the Radda subzone, are you tasting the difference between producers or subzones?

Castello di Fonterutoli has eliminated that dilemma.  Though situated in the south eastern corner of Castellina in Chianti, Castello di Fonterutoli has vineyards in Radda and Castelnuovo Berardenga in addition to their home base.  They produced three wines in 2017, each of which comes from one of those subzones: Badiòla, a single-vineyard wine from Radda; Vicoregio 36, a single-vineyard bottling from Castelnuovo Berardenga; and Castello Fonterutoli, their flagship, a multi-vineyard blend, from Castellina in Chianti.  Thanks to Zoom® and their importer, Taub Family Selections, Giovanni Mazzei, Fonterutoli’s export manager, commented on the wines as a group of us tasted them side-by-side.

Before getting to the wines, here’s a little background.  Chianti Classico is the heart and most important subregion of the greater Chianti area, which extends from Florence to Siena in Tuscany.  “Gran Selezione” is a recently created category that sits at the pinnacle of the Chianti Classico quality pyramid, above Riserva.  It represents about six percent of Chianti Classico’s total production.  To put that into perspective, Burgundy’s Grand and Premier Cru wines account for 11 percent of that region’s production.  No stranger to Chianti Classico, the Mazzei family has owned Castello di Fonterutoli since 1435, which means that Giovanni represents the 25th generation.

Castello di Fonterutoli, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, “Badiòla” 2017 ($99, 93 pts):  Mazzei believes that the vineyard’s southern exposure and high elevation (almost 1900 feet above sea level) combines great sunlight with large diurnal temperature variation, the combination of which results in ripeness and freshness.  This finesse-filled wine delivers bright fresh red cherry-like notes mingled with mineral nuances.  It has the racy energy of Chianti Classico combined with great elegance supported by suave tannins.  Mazzei calls it a “vertical” wine.

Castello di Fonterutoli, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione “Castello Fonterutoli” 2017 ($74, 94 pts):  The grapes for Castello, as Mazzei calls it, come from 11 different plots around the hamlet of Fonterutoli.  Each plot is vinified separately, allowing precision in constructing the blend.  The 2017 is the first year the wine was made entirely from Sangiovese.  In the past, they included small amounts of Colorino and Malvasia Nera, but Mazzei noted that after 25 years of research with Sangiovese, they finally decided that was the way forward.  It’s slightly higher alcohol, 13.8% compared to 13.57% for the Badiòla, reflects just a touch more ripeness.  Indeed, the flavor profile tends toward darker cherry notes in this slightly weightier wine.  Suave tannins, a hallmark of all of wines from Castello di Fonterutoli, lend support.  It’s another racy and elegant wine.

Castello di Fonterutoli, Chianti Classico Gran Selezione “Vicoregio 36” 2017 ($99, 93 pts):  The Mazzei family planted 36 biotypes of Sangiovese in their Vicoregio vineyard in Castelnuovo Berardenga. Hence the name of the wine.  This one, the deepest of the trio, conveys black cherry-like flavors, bordering on plumy ones, reflecting the warmth of Castelnuovo Berardenga. Still, it retains incredible freshness and vibrancy.  Mazzei characterizes it as a “wider” wine compared to the “vertical” Badiòla.  

Though the winemaking is not identical for the three wines, with oak aging varying slightly, and the age of the vines differing in the three subzones, the wines are all made entirely from Sangiovese and at the same winery.  Most critically, the winemaking philosophy is the same.  So, the differences among the wines reflect their respective subzones of Chianti Classico.   

The wines can be purchased as a set of three.  This allows consumers to hold a tasting with a small group of friends, complying, of course, with local regulations regarding size of gatherings, to see for themselves how the wines from Chianti Classico, similar to Burgundy or Barolo, differ according to where the grapes grow.

Dr. Michael
This Issue's Reviews
Soaring Sicily, Vol. Two: Remarkable Reds
Michael Franz

As luck would have it, I'm finishing this column and posting it on the USA's Thanksgiving Day in 2020, a year that has challenged everyone's ability to maintain thankfulness on a consistent basis. However, despite a deadly global pandemic and the related shocks to economies around the world-plus the forced separation of families and friends-I have been buoyed during this year by wine's ability to provide the excitement of discovery and the appreciation of beauty on a daily basis. And during this surpassingly difficult year, my principal source of excitement and beauty has been the astonishing island of Sicily.
Great Dry White Wines from France
Ed McCarthy

A few weeks ago, I drank a magnificent white French wine that I had not tasted or known about before (more about this wine below). It got me thinking: why do most wine writers (including me) write mainly-in fact almost exclusively-about red wines? When I first started drinking wine some decades ago, Americans drank more white wine than red. But that has changed, as wine consumption boomed in the U.S. Today, consumers in the U.S. who drink wine consume about 58 to 60 percent red wines, with white wines hovering around 40 percent consumption. Nevertheless, white wines receiving such little coverage in print remains a mystery.
Wine With
WINE WITH…Pasta Niçoise

Since Salade Niçoise is probably the most popular salad in the world, and since the most popular staple in everyone's pandemic pantry is undoubtedly pasta, I recently found myself wondering what it would be like to combine these two beloved foods. First off, however, we need to define what a true Salade Niçoise is. Named for Nice, the seaside town nestled at the edge of the Mediterranean where it originated, the salad has aroused a surprising amount of controversy since it was conceived a hundred or so years ago. Even famous food writers who are generally known for their polite good humor can become snarky when they feel the salad's true nature is not being respected. What's usually at issue here is deciding on the correct ingredients that make up a true Salade Niçoise. 'Everyone seems to have a very strong opinion as to what should or should not go into a Salade Nicoise,' the English cook and author Nigella Lawson has observed.
On My Table
A Surprising Sauvignon Blanc
Mary Ewing-Mulligan

I like to think that I can blind-identify the Sauvignon Blanc grape variety and can also tell you the region of production for a wine from that grape. Sauvignon Blanc is a variety with particular aroma and flavor signatures, and although it is made differently in many wine regions of the world, most regions have signature styles for the variety. This Sauvignon hails from the Friuli region in northeastern Italy - a well-established region for this variety. I did not taste this wine blind, and in retrospect I wonder whether I could have identified it. I can find the typical grassy and herbal notes of the grape, but the richness of the wine's aroma extends well beyond those notes. I also find a delicacy and gentleness in the wine that belies the assertiveness I expect from a Friuli Sauvignon.