Monday, June 7, 2010

Poggio Antico…and a Word about Terroir

We spent a superb Sunday evening at DiVino Wine Studio, meeting up with an old “winery friend”.

First, some background. Back in '93, while living in Germany, Michèle and I spent 2 weeks on vacation in Tuscany. One of our primary goals on the trip was to buy up lots of Chianti and Brunello. Tuscany was coming off two stunning vintages: 1990 and 1988. We had a “hit list” of wineries to visit and wines to buy.

A couple of years earlier, we had heard about a small new winery in Montalcino that was making some great Brunello. Its name was Poggio Antico. So one day we drove the 2 hours to Montalcino. Oh, so worth the drive! We arrived at Poggio Antico a little before lunch and, as luck would have it, the winery had a restaurant, which was a new idea in those days. After a fabulous lunch, with a bottle of Poggio Antico’s Brunello Riserva (1985, I think), we made our way to the shop and bought up some 1990 Brunello, 1990 Rosso, and 1988 Riserva. Sadly, all those wines are long gone but we had many wonderful meals with them. Ever since, we’ve had a soft spot in our hearts for Poggio Antico and its wines.

So when I got an e-mail from DiVino Wine Studio about a Meet the Winemaker Dinner with…Poggio Antico (!)…we didn’t need to think twice about grabbing a couple of spots.

Antonio Mauriello, owner of DiVino Wine Studio (and one of my instructors in the Sommelier program), hosted the dinner. As always, the atmosphere at DiVino was warm and relaxed. Paola Gloder, owner and winemaker of Poggio Antico, talked about her personal history at Poggio Antico, their approach to making wine, and running a business (which is what winemaking is). As luck would have it, we ended up sitting with Paola throughout dinner, sharing memories of our visit to Poggio Antico and learning more about the winery and her winemaking.

After we started our evening with Crostini and a glass of Prosecco, the wonderful (and affordable) dry sparkling wine from Veneto, we sat down to taste the wines of Poggio Antico, matched with dishes prepared by the talented kitchen staff of DiVino.

We started with Madre 2007 IGT, 13.5% ABV. Madre is 50% Sangiovese Grosso and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s Poggio Antico’s entry in the “Super Tuscan” category. The two wines in this blend are fermented and aged separately; aging is in 500-litre new French oak barrels. After blending and bottling, the wine is aged another 8 months before release. Although the wine is still a bit closed, the Sangiovese characteristics dominate this blend. Aromas of blackberries, black cherry, cassis, dried herbs, liquorice, clove, and coffee. Black fruits on the palate, with medium acidity. The tannins were quite chalky, even drying. I think a couple of more years of aging will soften these tannins. Impressive length and a good match with Pici pasta with a savoury Mariposa duck ragu.

Next up were Poggio Antico’s two Brunellos, served side-by-side:  Brunello di Montalcino 2005 DOCG, 13.5% ABV and Altero Brunello di Montalcino 2005 DOCG, 13.5% ABV. They’re both Brunello, both 100% Sangiovese Grosso but they’re aged differently, although both meet the DOCG requirements for Brunello. I’ll call the first one, Classic Brunello and the second one, Altero Brunello.

The Classic Brunello is aged 3 years in large Slovenian oak barrels, followed by 12 months in bottle before release. Black cherry, blackberry, tobacco, coffee, and leather all show up on the nose. The black fruits and a hint of coffee on the taste, with medium acidity and soft, well-integrated tannins. Wonderful length and balance. Indeed, a classic Brunello. I love it.

The Altero Brunello (Altero means self-confident) is aged for 2 years in 500-litre French oak barrels, followed by a minimum of 2 years in bottle before release. Aromas of black cherry, dried herbs, liquorice, and minerality. The fruit is front and centre on the palate. More acidity than the Classic Brunello and some heat at the back end. Good length.

I found that the Altero Brunello worked well on its own but the Classic Brunello (my preference) was better with the accompanying food: rabbit and chicken braised in Sangiovese, orange, and olives, with duck fat rosemary roasted potatoes, market fresh garlic kale and spinach, and grilled asparagus.

Our dinner concluded with Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2004 DOCG, 13.5% ABV. Poggio Antico makes its Riserva in only the better vintages from 100% Sangiovese Grosso that comes from its oldest and lowest-altitude vineyard. It's aged 1 year in new French oak, then 2 ½ years in Slovenian oak, then 18 months in bottle before release. A powerful nose of black cherry, roasted coffee, tobacco, and chocolate. Good acidity and tannins that have not quite softened enough. But when they get there with a bit more aging, this will be a fantastic wine. Accompanied by Pecorino wines and honey, but this is what Antonio Mauriello calls a “meditation wine”: wonderful on its own.

Some good news for the future: 2009 was a wonderful vintage in Montalcino and the wines show great promise. Also, look for wines from 2007, another great vintage in Montalcino.

Just before Paola left Ottawa to drive to Toronto, I asked her if there’s a word in Italian for terroir. She said they use the same word. “Terroir is everything to us in Brunello. Each piece of land has its own characteristics that produce a unique wine. Of course, the winemaker has a role to play. We make decisions about where to plant, when to harvest, controlling fermentation, what oak to age the wine in and for how long, but it’s the terroir that makes the wine.”

To me, it’s very symbiotic, as demonstrated by the difference in the two Brunello wines that we tasted. Similar in character, each was unmistakably Brunello and, probably, unmistakably Poggio Antico. But the “intervention” of Paola, in the different ways that she aged the two wines, created twins with dissimilar personalities. By nature, they’re twins; by nurture, they’re unique.

Get in touch with Halpern to order Poggio Antico wines in Ontario.

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