MONTCALM PORTFOLIO TASTING

It’s not altogether unusual for wine tastings in New York to take place in venues that often boast a unique atmosphere, whether one is considering aspects of ambiance, architecture, history or grandeur in a setting. Nonetheless it’s rare when an event space features a combination of all of the aforementioned elements – particularly when the history in question has been earth shaking and is yet still evolving. Such was the case on the afternoon of September 15th when Montcalm Wine Importers, Ltd [www.montcalmwines.com] had a portfolio tasting at the 7 World Trade Center address where the firm is located. The tasting floor overlooked from the north the pit of Ground Zero, where one could glance out and see the progress of the memorial and other developments there that are at long last replacing the downed towers.

The philosophy of the Montcalm team, as printed on the back cover of the tasting guide as well as being the lead quote on the first page of text within it, is “We believe there is an important story to be told behind every wine,” and in their elaboration of the concept they note that these are “stories of places and people.” Thus the specific scenic backdrop of the Ground Zero site was indeed quite apt, suffused as it is by many deeply felt memories and personal stories even as it becomes daily transformed by an ongoing rebirth. This impressive synchronicity extended to the wines, of a generally high quality and with a number of exceptional distinction and value.

Though the Montcalm portfolio includes wines from California, Argentina, Chile, France and South Africa, their primary focus is Italy; 21 of the 25 tables featured Italian wines. Of these, there were very few sparklers, but those on hand affirmed the Montcalm mandate to present “the best that Italy has to offer.” While I find that altogether too many Proseccos have to my palate a cloying quality owing to their sugar content, the Tenuta Sant’Anna Extra Dry DOC, from the Veneto, offered a light and clean balance between citrus and fruity aspects. From the same grower there was a notable Cuvé Rosé Spumante Brut, less dry than earthy, yet evened with a slightly tannic quality. The Piemonte vineyard Cantina Sociale di Castel Boglione had a 2013 Moscato d’Asti DOCG with mellowing hints of lychee to go with the sweetness, while their 2013 Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG had a rich, fruity taste with notes of strawberry and a dry finish. Also from Piemonte, Tenuta Il Fachetto produced an intensely sweet 2013 Moscato d’Asti DOCG ‘Tenuta del Fant’, while their 2013 Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG was subtler in its fruitiness, with hints of both raspberry and strawberry; their 2013 Langhe Arneis DOC was also a noteworthy wine, a medium dry white with a good balance between acidic, oaky and citrus flavors.

My original plan was to first go once around the room and taste only the whites and then thereafter repeat the circuit with the reds, but when I’d gotten to about the half-way point of the 25 tables I realized that an early evening engagement I had following the tasting would not allow me to survey as wide a selection as I’d intended if I stayed on that course, so I improvised a different tack. Fortunately, I encountered my friend Aly, who both teaches wine classes and works as a consultant, so I drew upon her insights as to which selections to prioritize among those I’d yet to get to. Her approach is like mine – whites-first-then-reds – and since she arrived after I did, she was working her way through the whites, and her recommendations rounded out those I’d already tasted.

A good selection of whites was to be had from the Marche region. The Accadia 2012 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico ‘Consono’ was a clear, even wine, which the pourer accurately noted had a “clean” quality, rendering it “easy to drink”; the Accadia 2012 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico ‘Conscio’ was bolder, containing a good balance of acidity and fruitiness. At the same table Le Caniette had whites of a more complex character – the 2012 Offida Passerina DOCG ‘Lucrezia’ presented with a vegetal play on the palate, yielding to a fruitier buildup and a lightly acidic finish; the 2013 Offida Pecorino DOCG ‘Veronica’ had an oaky quality over equally acidic and sweet citrus notes; the 2012 Offida Pecorino DOCG ‘Io Sono Gaia’ was similar to the previous two, but with a flavor of grapefruit in the citrus element here.

A city in Italy I’d suggest anyone travelling there visit is Bolzano, in the Alto Adige region (where else can you make the acquaintance of a five thousand year old man?); a producer from the area, Girlan, had several interesting wines. The 2012 Muller Thurgau Alto Adige DOC was a light, mildly acidic white that had a subtly sweet aftertaste, while the 2012 Gewurztraminer ‘Aime’ Alto Adige DOC was reminiscent of an Aqua Vitae in its blend of botanical seasonings and mellow finish; the best white of all here to my taste was the Sauvignon ‘Indra’ Alto Adige DOC, which boasted a complex and balanced range of oaky, vegetal, lightly sweet and subtly acidic aspects. Girlan’s 2012 Pinot Nero ‘Patricia’ DOC was a pale red with a lightly citrus component set off by peppery notes, and likewise there was an interesting and somewhat unexpected balance of peppery and acidic hints to the 2009 Pinot Noir Riserva ‘Trattman DOC. Lastly, the Girlan 2009 Moscato Rosa Alto Adige DOC ‘Pasithea Rosa’ was a rich and flavorful wine, reminiscent of a port and containing aspects of raspberry.

Before departing I wanted to make sure to try a variety of reds, and not long after I began to I met a wine broker in from Kansas City just for this event. One of my observations is that it’s not only wines that possess the quality of terroir, but that people do too; we each of us has a specific and unique genetic inheritance, and moreover our diet further effects our molecular make-up – and each of these factors influence how various different foods and wines will taste from one person to another, no matter the innate chemical traits a substance may possess. As it so happens I am originally from the Midwest, so perhaps there’s something of a commonality to the water tables of the middle of the country, for the wines identified to me by this fellow were all among the best I sampled on the afternoon (perhaps simply another way of saying he and I come from the same kind of soil).

A special region in Tuscany is that of Montalcino, and the 2007 Ricci Brunello di Montalcino produced by Capanne Ricci – Cennatoio was a fine example of the style, light and even with peppery and tobacco notes. At the same table the 2003 Vin Santo del Chianti Rufina DOC (65% Malvasia del Chianti, 35% Trebbiano Toscano) by Fattoria di Grignano stood out, a golden hued wine with a light honey flavor, mellow and not overly sweet.

The most distinctive red wines I had on the day were from the islands – Sardinia and Sicily. Cantina Mesa, a Sardinian outfit, had a series of big bold wines with a lot of flavor and character. The 2012 Isola dei Nuraghi IGT ‘Primo Rosso’, made from Carignano grapes had aspects of blackberry and raspberry, while 2011 Cannonau di Sardegna DOC ‘Primo Scuro’ was rich and full-bodied, somewhat tannic, with a good blend of tobacco and peppery notes over a berry fruitiness. A very strong flavor, suggestive of pomegranate, was to be had in the deep and full-bodied 2011 Carignano del Sulcis DOC ‘Buio’, a wine less tannic in character than the prior two. Another Carignano wine, the 2010 Isola dei Nuraghi IGT ‘Buio Buio’ was strong and full-bodied as the previous, yet distinguished by being somewhat dryer and lighter.

Vivera, from Sicily, featured a 2010 Etna Rosso DOP ‘Martinella’ (80% Nerello Mascalese, 20% Nerello Cappuccio), an interesting light and medium dry red with aspect of coffee and berries, and which the pourer noted was from Mount Aetna, “in a very windy place.” A number of worthy reds were on display from Principi di Spadafora, another Sicilian grower. The 2013 Terre Siciliane IGP Nero d’Avola was a rose with a subtle aspect of peppercorns, while the 2012 red Alhambra Rosso IGP Nero d’Avola was an even, light, slightly spicy wine also with a peppery aspect, balanced by a fruity finish. An earthier wine was the 2012 Alhambra Rosso IGP Syrah, which had notes of tobacco, but was nonetheless light in character. The older wines poured by Spadafora had a bolder nature. The 2007 Sicilia IGP Syrah ‘Schietto’ had tannic and astringent qualities, but these were offset by a strong immediacy on the palate, which held notes of tobacco, as well as peppery and fruity flavors. The 2007 Sicilia IGP ‘Sole dei Padri’ (100% Syrah), developed at an altitude of 1200 feet, was likewise a big, full and rich-flavored wine, but much dryer than the Schietto; the tobacco notes here were coupled with peppery and coffee flavors, above a subtler base fruitiness.