2002 Blason “Venc” Friuli Isonzo Bianco ($14.99) Venc is the Friulian name for a branch of a willow used to hand-tie the grape vines. The Venc bianco is a blend of pinot bianco, tocai friulano and 5% sauvignon blanc, tank fermented and aged “sur lie” with some of the pinot bianco being barrel-fermented. This is one of those wonderful wines that work well as a cocktail white or with food. Love the floral aromatics on this baby and the palate of pear, hazelnut and a dash of vanilla. 2002 Blason “Vencjar” ($19.99) Bordeaux from Italy? Even better, Vencjar is a blend of cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon and merlot in equal parts. This is a big full-bodied red with soft tannins. Very user friendly with dark red fruit blended with walnut, leather, spice and a long richly textured finish. 2003 Baricci Rosso di Montalcino ($18.99) Great value is the first thing I think with regard to this wine 100% sangiovese. This is one of those Rossos that is a little more rustic. Lots of terroir from the “Montosoli.” Sweet earth mingles with rich and ripe fruit. It will take about an hour to let this vino to open up, and then watch how quickly this bottle empties. I’m thinking baked rigatoni with this. 2000 Baricci “Colombaio di Montosoli” Brunello di Montalcino ($36.99) Like its little sister up above this also has the classic “Montosoli” nose with lots of spice, cinnamon, cardamom and anise with a touch of leather, and brings that to the palate as well. This will need at least a couple hours of decanting and will drink over the next couple of years. Your next Sunday night dinner featuring a pork roast or even corn beef. Happy St. Paddy’s day. —Mike Parres
By the time this missive reaches you Mike Parres and I will have been sloshing through Italy for a couple of weeks. We will have tasted more than 170 of the new 2001 Brunello di Montalcino—the sacrifices we make for you! If you haven’t heard before, this 2001 is The Vintage of the Millennium! Sure, it is only the second year of the millennium, true. All the levity aside, this will be a truly great vintage. This 2001 vintage will be a hybrid of the 1997 vintage’s ripeness, proclaimed by many to be the best, and the balance, length and focus of 1999, proclaimed by most Italian wine insiders as the classic vintage. A freeze hit Tuscany Easter Sunday, 2001, after a balmy early spring. Many vines had budded out, and the initial prognosis looked bad. But nature’s pruning actually made the wines more concentrated. A long growing season (without any global warming, month-long heat spells) allowed the wines to be balanced, showing incredible length and aromatic—sangiovese’s classic characteristics. For me 2001 is the single best vintage I have tasted. I loved many of the 1997s, but there were many overripe wines. I loved almost all of the ’99s, yet my palate leans toward the more balanced, and I balk at super ripe fruit without acidic balance. The 2001 vintage has everything: concentration, size, color (harder in sangiovese), classic aromatics, balance, length, aging ability and immediate appeal. You will see amongst the critics a more universal acclaim. Daniel Thomases who writes for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and whose palate generally leans toward the more classic style, wrote about “many flabby and characterless 1997s produced in Montalcino.” He will most assuredly give the 2001 wines high praise. James Suckling who writes for the Wine Spectator and whose palate leans toward the riper has already said this about the 2001 vintage: “They are rich and powerful yet show wonderful balance and length. They are a combination of the structured and tannic 1999s and the refined and fresh 1997s.” He has also thrown out a couple of handfuls of 95+ point scores to whip up the initial press frenzy. The Wine Enthusiast will be doing a big issue on this vintage as well, so be forewarned. The scores will be flying high! I don’t give scores but try and write about character and style. In the upcoming weeks I will be tasting almost the entire DOC. I will be writing my vintage report that will be available to you. I think it is important for most everyone to understand that while scores offer you some insight to the writer’s preference, it may not be yours. Best to talk with someone who knows! The initial offerings are just coming out now as I write this (February 3, incurring the ire of our crack newsletter staff by being a day late!), and we will have our first offering available in the middle of March. Anyone who is interested in receiving the first offerings and the vintage report that Mike and I will prepare please send an email to email@example.com, and I will get you our first offering. —Greg St.Clair
The extremely ripe 2003 vintage lead to lot of variability in the wines. However, there were a few domaines whose wine struck me as outstanding. One of these was Patrice Rion, in Nuits-St.-Georges. Somehow, Patrice’s wines, both domaine bottles and negociant, retained a clear sense of place as well as grace and balance, which only a handful of producers managed, in my opinion. This is so extraordinary a range that I visited Patrice directly to be certain I could get the wines! The 2003 Patrice Rion Gevrey Chambertin ($34.99) is meaty and rich, while the 2003 Patrice Rion Chambolle Musigny ($34.99) shows delicate red fruits and transparency of fruit. The 2003 Patrice Rion Nuits-St-Georges , V.V. ($34.99) is so poised that Allen Meadows writes: “It’s rare to find a Nuits villages with this degree of style and grace.” The 2003 Domaine Patrice Rion Chambolle Musigny, Les Cras ($36.99) is from Patrice’s own vineyard and is a complete standout for its Chambolle charm and lovely red fruits. The 2003 Patrice Rion Nuits-St.-Georges 1er Cru “Les Cailles” ($49.99) is another Burghound Key Buy, with punch and muscularity. The 2003 Domaine Patrice Rion Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru “Clos des Argillieres” ($51.99) is muscular and taut with power, minerality and elegance. Finally, the piéce de resistance, his 2003 Patrice Rion Chambolle Musigny, 1er Cru “Les Charmes” ($59.99) is so full of sweet, pure pinot fruit that it is just irresistible. Á Santé. —Keith Wollenberg
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