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Monthly Archives: July 2017

  • The story of Chianti

    Landscape in Chianti region, Tuscany, Italy

    First things first

    Since the Middle Ages, Florence was the most powerful of the city-states, and the epicentre of commercial winemaking. In the 14th century, the Florentine Republic identified the hills between Florence and Siena as Chianti. Chianti was the first real delimited wine zon, when in 1716 Grand Duke Cosimo III de Medici created what is believed to be the first legislation governing wine production.

    In the 1870s, following extensive research through France and Germany studying every possible way of growing vines, Baron Bettino Ricasoli narrowed down the Chianti formula to three Tuscan grape varieties: Sangioveto (Sangiovese) for its aromas; Canaiolo for its sweetness to balance the acidity of the latter; and Malvasia to give freshness. In Bordeaux terms, Canaiolo is to Sangiovese what Merlot is to Cabernet.

    In the 20th century, a series of unfortunate events occurred in Chianti. First, the original zone (now referred to as the classic zone) expanded to include huge parts of central Tuscany; then in 1967, the Ricasoli formula became doctrine allowing for up to 30% white varieties in the blend. Finally, the mass exodus that started in the 1950s from the Tuscan countryside prompted the Italian Government and EU to finance large-scale replanting of the Tuscan vineyards, with a focus on mass production.

    The mouth puckering, brown-at-the edge red in a straw-covered fiasco is the cheap image of Chianti that still haunts the industry. Piero Antinori acknowledged that “for so long, our wine culture was based on quantity, not quality”. He also concedes that “in the past, Italy produced mass quantities of wine because we were an agricultural economy and people used wine to quench thirst. After WW2, consumption dropped as we became more industrialised. But our mentality toward winemaking did not change”.

    The times they are a changin’

    Today, Chianti is not the wine it once was. It has undergone more profound changes in the past 30 years than any other wine in Italy, and now Chianti Classico is a source of world class reds. In 1984, Chianti and Chianti Classico were upgraded to DOCG, adjusting the formula with a minimum of only 2% white varieties, and allowing 105 foreign varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

    It changed again in 1996, eliminating the minimum of white grapes and allowing up to 15% foreign varieties. Yields were restricted, and new technologies were implemented in the cellar such as controlled temperature in stainless steel, and ageing in smaller barrels instead of the big chestnut botti. The Classico area was restricted to the original 7000ha, with lower yields and higher minimum Sangiovese (80%).

    In 1989, the Chianti Classico Consorzio started a research programme called Chianti Classico 2000. The main aim of the programme was to identify new clones of Sangiovese with thicker skin and sparser grape bunches. Parallel to this, some producers started their own clonal selection, replanting vineyards more densely, producing smaller quantities of fruit per vine. The mini revolution ignited by top estates prompted the change from 2000-5000 vines/ha, producing only one-two kilosper plant. The vintages from 1997 to 2000 were fantastic for Chianti Classico, due not only to the weather, but also to a refinement of the ingredients.

    Grape Harvest. Color Image

    The grape

    Although the variety is anything but easy, Sangiovese is Italy’s most abundant red variety, with over 70,000ha and 11% of all grape varieties in Italy. The origin of the name is debated, with some pointing to the mythological reference to the blood of Jupiter (Sanguis Jovis), and others to that of Saint John (di Giovanni).

    Its origins are unclear. It is thought to have originated in the Apennines between Emilia Romagna and Tuscany, with the first written reference dating back to 1590. In 2004, researchers determined through DNA testing that Sangiovese descends from Ciliegiolo.

    Sangiovese is very vigorous and has to be closely pruned. It’s sensitive to its environment and difficult to get fully ripe, which can also contribute to its high acidity. The variety tends to contain low levels of anthocyanins in its skin, giving less intense colour. For this reason, Canoiolo and especially Cororino are added to the Chianti blend. This is also the reason why Cabernet and Merlot became important in Tuscany. Clonal selection research efforts led to the development of looser bunches and less productive, early ripening and deeper hued clones of Sangiovese.

    The weather

    In Chianti the climate is overall very mild hotter in the valleys and cooler with more rainfall in the hillside areas.


    The soil

    The best soils for growing Sangiovese are not very fertile, well drained, with minimal water retention. The poor soils of Chianti galestro (friable marl with layers of sandstone/limestone) are probably the best of all. The optimal planting of vines is at a density of 5,000-7,000 plants per ha, with yields of 1.5kg per plant. In the cool Chianti Classico area the best results are in south/southwest facing slopes at 250/500m.

    From the heights of Gaiole, Greve, Castellina, Radda and Panzano the wines show perfume and power, with sour red cherries, red berries, liquorice, violet, tea leaf, and leather and tobacco with age. Often the wines have a sheen of new oak and are sweetened with Merlot and Cabernet. They are dense, dark and age-worthy, but still angular compared to the new world styles. The best Chianti Classico has a certain grace that does not fade with age.

  • New Zealand’s Green Team: Part Two

    Sustainability is serious business for Carrick, located in Central Otago, New Zealand. Nearly 10 years ago, they completed the process of becoming certified organic across their entire vineyard and winery. However, the tendrils of their green philosophy extends well beyond their vines and the word sustainable has more meaning than simply a wine descriptor. From the cardboard they use for their wine cartons which is sourced from a mix of industrial pulp waste and NZ curb-side recycling, to  soap used in the bathrooms that is transferred onto the hand towels, the team at Carrick lives by the mantra, “you are what you eat”.

    For the second instalement in our series on New Zealand's green winemakers, we caught up with Carrick's Chief Winemaker, Francis Hutt, who shared his thoughts on the topic.

    On Carrick’s winemaking philosophy…First and foremost we seek quality fruit from healthy vines. This is our daily focus, and what led us to organic and biodynamic farming. It’s all that cover-cropping, seaweed, preparation 500, and solid hard work in the vineyard that equates to my winemaking being an exercise in understanding site expression, rather than fixing problems with chemical additives. Most of all it is the concept that the land is left in a better state from which we first  started that motivates me to produce quality wine from healthy soil. 


    On taking a vineyard into organic production…Good communication and a good support network are vital. Build a fit-for-purpose strategy that aligns with the needs of your estate, people, and economic position. Don't be afraid to reach out and ask questions, plan well, and react quickly to what you’re seeing. Going organic doesn’t mean you do nothing, and remember, what works next door might not work for you.

    On the benefits of organic production when stacked up against conventional growing methods…First off, the people working in a vineyard are not exposed to pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides that have shown to create a whole lot of health problems. A lot of the guys that come through working in the vineyards are completely unaware of the environment they’re exposed to. We want to provide healthy, long term, sustained employment for our community, that’s not having a negative impact on the environment that we share with them. In doing so, then maybe when land scarcity forces the sale of vineyards for housing developments the community might step in and object to such developments.

    In 2014, Aubert de Villaine of Domaine Romanée-Conti came down to our Pinot celebration and we signed the dossier for world UNESCO protection of the vineyards in Burgundy, for precisely the same reason. Nuits-Saint-Georges’ urban sprawl is a hot topic around town. New Zealand doesn’t have the same reputation as the vineyards of Burgundy do, but Kiwis value their environment. All eyes are on the Dairy sector in NZ at the moment, but in time hopefully the public will turn their attention towards grape growing and we will be in a good position to argue our worth to the wider community.

    On the characteristics of organic wine…Resilience, vibrancy, energy and stability. I remember attending an aromatic symposium a few years ago in Nelson; Matthew Jukes, Jamie Goode and a bunch of winemakers where there. We tasted so many wines made with extraction enzymes, with an enormous amount of aroma that did not reflect well with the palate. The wines looked artificial, and after a few years in the bottle they completely fell over.


    On lessons learnt from organic viniculture…Don’t worry so much about the laggards, they can really get you down. Focus your energy on the people who get it, and are engaged. Spend your time on developing these people’s skills as their engagement will make all the difference. Especially when you ask them to head out hand-weeding first thing in the morning, or assure them that collecting piles, and piles, and piles, and piles of leaves in autumn for compost is worth the effort.

    On the biggest barriers to organic viniculture…Personally, I think regulations are inhibiting growth of the sector. For example, we don’t label organic for Enotria&Coe because of the warehouse auditing process – organic products must be stored differently from non-organic. Plus, it costs you extra to be audited as an organic importing and distribution company. We’ve removed organic claims from all our export markets except for Sweden, Norway and Finland, which is not at all surprising. It’s all these extra little hoops you need to jump through that make it “too hard”. We spend all our time showing that our wines are organic, when non-organic winemaking is seen as straight forward. I think mandatory ingredient labelling might generate more interest from consumers. At present, there are a lot of things in wine that are not put on the bottle. Also as water pollution problems steadily increase, I think people will start asking more questions about farming practices.


    On the rising popularity of these wines with consumers…They’re definitely gaining traction in New Zealand, and also in places where pollution’s in your face. Like with the Palm Oil peat fires in Malaysia, selling organic wine in Singapore is easy, they get it straight away. China is the same. However organic certification in America means something different to Canada, to Japan to Europe, so it can be confusing. Organic in America is effectively “Natural Wine”, so we keep away from talking about it over there also.

    Carrick sells most of its wine through restaurants in New Zealand. Single vineyard, certified organic works in this context, but in the supermarket, not so much. Buyers just want to know quickly and easily without too much trouble. That’s why we’re certified, to back up our claims. We just need to get comfortable with advertising that fact.

  • New Zealand’s Green Team: Part One

    Angus&Cows CMYK

    In the first instalment in our series uncovering the green winemaking scene in New Zealand, we chat to Angus Thomson, owner of Urlar Estate, a family-owned winery producing outstanding single-vineyard wines following organic and biodynamic principles. Meaning ‘The Earth’ in Gaelic, the team’s desire is to bring an abundance of life back to their ancient soils so they can discover the purity of flavour inherent in the land.

    On Urlar’s winemaking philosophy…Our wine making philosophy is to let the Earth talk naturally. With minimal intervention in the vineyard and winery you will in every glass smell and taste our unique land.

    On taking a vineyard into organic production…The steps to go organic are simple. Firstly, get yourself certified. Anyone can say they are organic but the certification proves it. The next stage is to remove ALL synthetic fertilisers, weed sprays, fungicides and insecticides from use on the vineyard.  After three long years, you then remove all synthetic yeasts and winemaking aids from the winemaking process.

    Biodynamics is exactly the same as organics, but the process has more of a holistic approach. The use of the biodynamic calendar and making the compost preps is essential – biodynamics really tests who wants to do it and who doesn’t.


    On how the outcomes of organic production stack up against conventional growing methods…For me personally, the outcomes are massive and it goes far beyond what we’re just trying to do here at Urlar. This to me shows that you understand that there’s change in the world’s weather, and we need to look after the land for the next generation. Forget about now and the outcomes (OF course we want them to be better) but for me this is our small way of looking after the planet for the generations to come.

    On the characteristics of organic wine…I think that organically made wines have a far greater balance to them for a start. Biodynamic agriculture is about balancing your soil and from there everything that grows in it should be balanced. I also think you get more flavour in the grapes with lower sugar levels at picking, which means the alcohols are generally lower. Organic wines are more moody around the change of the seasons – they have really big highs but close up more when they go into a quiet patch. It is difficult to explain but I think organic/biodynamic wines have a certain soul to them and more energy when they’re drunk.


    On lessons learnt from organic viniculture…The most interesting thing we’ve learnt is that you do not need all these crappy sprays to grow great grapes. We have no more powdery Mildew or Botrytis problems that conventional people have; in fact, a lot of the time we have far less.

    On the biggest barriers to organic viniculture… At the end of the day you have to want to be organic. If you want to just do it for marketing or money then you will give up. Cost wise it’s pretty similar – what we have found out is that we spend miles less on fancy sprays and fungicides, but we spend a lot more on weed control. So by the time you add the two together they balance each other out. Apart from that there are no real barriers to organic grape growing. Volume wise, because we’re aiming for premium wines, the crops are naturally lower anyway so we don’t see the drop in crop level that you may see if you are a big commercial grower.

    On the rising popularity of sustainable wines with consumers…Sustainable wine growing is just conventional grape growing, dressed up with a fancy name. In New Zealand, we have the Sustainable Wine Growing body that all wineries must belong to in order to export. However, in this group sustainable winegrowers are still allowed to use Roundup, fertilizers, insecticides and fungicides – is this really sustainable? The answer is yes it is because there are controls around when and how much.  But really sustainable viticulture is just a myth. However, if you truly want to be green and talk about organic and biodynamic winegrowing, then yes we’re definitely seeing growth in this category.

    Wild Flowers2

    On why they’re gaining in popularity…People really want to know that what they’re eating and drinking is good for them. It doesn’t seem to matter if you are a young hipster or an older person, it’s all about health and doing something good for the environment.

    On the future of organic wine…The more the planet goes backwards, the we’re going to see a demand for this type of wine; the future is huge and will only keep growing. In NZ, we have an immediate head start as the world sees this country as being clean and green. Organic and biodynamic winemaking is certainly growing. The reason being I believe is multifold, but includes the benefits for the environment, better taste, that it’s nicer to work with in the vineyard, and that our confidence is growing in terms of what can be achieved without the use of nasty chemicals.

  • Henschke reaches new heights

    Last week, Liv-ex published its fifth Classification of Bordeaux where it places fine wines into five classes solely based on price. On the basis of average trade prices per case, the classification looks at which wine labels would be considered first to fifth growths today.

    For the first time, this year’s classification has been extended to include regions beyond Bordeaux, and we're delighted to see Henschke as just one of the three Australian producers to make the cut. It should come as no surprise that the wine in question which saw Henschke included in the line-up was their iconic Hill of Grace Shiraz.

    Not only is the inclusion an important recognition of the high calibre wine Henschke is crafting, but it also shows that Australia is capable of producing wines that can stand their ground and compete with the very best of Bordeaux.

    To be considered for the list, all wines must be traded broadly with at least five vintages being traded on the platform in the last year, and all wines must be over £250 a case.

    The famous Burgundian estate Domaine de la Romanée-Conti topped the charts this year.

  • Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Poliziano

    Words: Leo Bassano

    Montepulciano’s history has always been linked to the fame of its wine. Legend says that the own was founded by the Etruscan King Lars Porsenna and the people of Chiusi, who changed its name from Mons Mercurius to Mont Politicus. In 1868 many bronze items produced in Chiusi were discovered in an Etruscan tomb near Montepulciano. These included a cylix (wine cup) depicting the image of Fufluns, the Etruscan version of Bacchus (the god of wine), playing with a maenad at cottabus, a game in which wine plays a leading role. The fame of the vineyards of Mons Pulitianus has been documented since the late Middle Ages. In the 16th Century, the cellar man to Pope Paolo III Farnese defined Montepulciano as “vino da Signori”, a wine suitable for noble tables.


    Vino Nobile’s industry developed in the 1920s and 1930s, and Fantini and Cantucci are two estates from that time still producing wines. In 1933 Cantina Fanetti, presented a prestigious, highly-praised red wine at the first exhibition of typical local wines held in Siena. Other wineries followed this example, and in 1937 a cooperative winery was founded with the aim of creating a sales structure for wine produced by small-scale growers. Most of the wine produced was Chianti, with small quantities of Nobile. However, today the cooperative mainly produces and bottles Vino Nobile. In the sixties, there was a dramatic increase in vineyard planting, as it happened in Chianti and Montalcino. Thanks to Avignonesi and Poliziano Vino Nobile gained momentum in the 80s. Avignonesi’s introduced his Vino Nobile in 1978 and also planted international varieties like Cabernet and Merlot. Recognition of DOCG status came in 1980 and Vino Nobile began a new life.

    The style of Vino Nobile remains difficult to pinpoint. Depending on the producers, you can find resiny, spicy and herbal wines, or fruity and rich ones. Generally speaking, Vino Nobiles have softer tannins than Brunello, and broader less acidic profiles than Chianti Classicos. The slopes of Montepulciano are generally more open, allowing more sunlight and gently rolling than the tight, steep ones of Chianti Classico and Montalcino. The altitudes are similar, but the soils are generally sandier and more alluvial, allowing for an earlier ripening of the grapes. Vino Nobile strikes a balance between Chianti Classico and Brunello.

    The story of Poliziano started in 1961 when Dino Carletti bought 22 hectares of land in Montepulciano and planted specialised vineyards. In 1980 Federico Carletti took charge of the estate, with a more contemporary approach and production philosophy. Over the years the vineyards increased outside the Montepulciano denomination, in Magliano and Cortona.


    The vineyards in Montepulciano are mostly in the south, sloping towards the east, and grown at an altitude of 280-450 metres above sea level. The soil here is mainly clay and volcanic tufo with a moderate presence of stones. The vineyards in the Cortona DOC denomination produce the label In Violas and are divided into two parcels: Farrata, at an altitude of 350m with sand and clay-rich soil with some skeletal stones, and Cignano, where vines are planted on clay soil with southwest exposure and at an altitude of 300m. The Losha label is produced in the Maremma, where the vineyards near Magliano are planted on rich sandy, clay and limestone soils.

    The vineyards are cultivated organically and each plot is taken care of by hand, from choosing the buds, to pruning or tying back the trellis. They do not use fertilisers or pesticides, instead implementing a rigorous agronomic management, a terroir driven by biodiversity and sustainability.


    With more than 50 years of experience, Poliziano has perfected the handling process in the cellar, with the objective of producing wines that are not uniform but expressive of their territory, with nuances and personality. In the cellar the grapes are sorted with a new state-of-the-art fibre optic camera destemming machine, the first of its kind in Italy. Poliziano is the perfect combination of new technological approach, and traditional values and wisdom.

    The fermentation cellar was built in 1988, positioned directly beneath the area where the grapes are destemmed, therefore using gravity to move the must into the tanks instead of pumps. The stainless-steel tanks allow for controlled temperature and micro-oxygenation and the techniques used are punching down, delestage, and pumping-over with the different varieties fermented separately. The main aim of the maceration is to extract the pest polyphenols from the skins, the most noble of the tannins. The wines mature in a dedicated aging cellar, completed in 2005, with around 4000 barrels between barriques and tonneaux, including an automated system of controlling the humidity and washing and cleaning the barrels.


    I was hosted by Jennifer, a lovely American lady who is also a writer and knows her wine very well. We tasted the Rosso di Montepulciano 2015, the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2014, the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Asinone 2013 and the Mandrone di Lohsa 2012. The Rosso is a blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Merlot and part of the wine spends around six months in big botte. It’s a wine produced to be fresh, young, with intense fruits such as raspberries, red cherries and hints of pepper. A great combination with an everyday meal like pizza.

    Next, we had the Vino Nobile 2014, a wine made with 80% Sangiovese plus Colorino and Canaiolo, aging in wood for 15 months, two thirds in French barrique and tonneaux and a third in traditional botte. Medium intensity on the nose, with notes of red and black fruit, cherries, forest fruit and some aromatics; soft, smooth tannins with a crisp character. Though it was a difficult vintage, the wine was very elegant and balanced.

    Then it was the time for the top one, the Asinone 2013; the grapes for this wine come from a 12-ha single vineyard, where years of experimentation with Sangiovese identified the best potential for this variety. The wine spends around 18 months in French barrique and tonneaux. It’s intense, perfumed, wild berries, spices and cedar on the nose; the tannins are tight as it feels it would benefit from some more years in bottle; lots of red and black fruit on the palate, such as dark cherries and ripe plums, but perfectly balanced by a vibrant acidity; very long length. The more you drink, the more you think it’s a “meditation wine”. After a few minutes, Jennifer said I had to try it with 8 months aged pecorino Pienza DOP, claiming it was the best match with Asinone and she was right!


    Last but not least, we tasted the Mandrone di Losha, a Maremma Toscana DOC blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot and 10% Alicante. The wines spends 18 months in new French barriques and 6 months in bottle. It’s peppery, with tobacco notes, sweet spices and blackcurrant. Even though it’s a big wine, it’s surprisingly easy to drink; hints of smoke with dark plums and refreshing acidity. A wine I would definitely have with barbeque.

    A big thank you to Poliziano’s hospitality, the place is unbelievable and the wine even better.

  • National Mojito Day

    Depending on who you believe, the mojito either came from the Spanish word ‘mojar’, which means to wet, or the African word ‘mojo’, which means to cast a spell. Anybody who’s ever tasted one will agree that it’s thirst quenching and spellbinding in equal measures.

    To celebrate this year’s National Mojito Day, we’ve mixed it up a little with a recipe for a Mojito Popsicle – the perfect  cold treat for these hot summer days. These easy-to-make popsicles have everything you love about mojitos – vibrant mint flavor, tart lime, and of course a punch of rum.

    Mojito Popsicles / Lime Popsicles overhead view



    • 3/4 cup water
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
    • 2/3 cup lime juice
    • 3 tbsp Bacardi Carta Blanca Rum
    • 2/3 cup soda water
    • 1 small lime, thinly sliced (optional)


    Boil the water and sugar together in a small saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Purée in a blender with mint, lime juice and rum. Stir in club soda. Pour into the popsicle moulds, add a lime slice and fresh mint leaf to each mould. Freeze until firm, 6 to 8 hours.

    Alternatively, if you want to stick closer to the real deal, Bacardi's signature serve is just as delicious.


    • 50ml Bacardí Carta Blanca
    • 25ml fresh lime juice
    • 15ml Sugar syrup (1 : 1 ratio) or 2 teaspoons white caster sugar
    • 6 - 8 mint leaves
    • Splash of soda (max 25ml)

    Method - Build

    Glass - Highball

    Garnish - Mint sprig

    Ice - Crushed

6 Item(s)