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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine

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Winemakers

All Good Things

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You know the rest of that line, right? Well, it's with some small amount of sadness that I am saying that about this blog: It must come to an end. I've had a terrific time writing it, but we've decided that in the end it's a bit strange, for a magazine that's all about bringing together food and wine, to have separate blogs on those topics.

So, from here on out, any wine blogging that I (and Megan Krigbaum, Kristin Donnelly, and various other stalwart folks) do will instead appear in F&W's primary blog, Mouthing Off. No less wine coverage, just a different venue. See you there.

Ray Isle

Wines Above $40

Revisiting a Classic Chianti

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In my October column on 50 of the classic wines of the world, I singled out Castello di Monsanto's renowned Il Poggio bottling as a defining example of Chianti. So it was good fortune, or weird coincidence, or something, that Monsanto's Laura Bianchi happened to swing through town today to do a short retrospective tasting of three decades of Il Poggio.

I'll give her the prefatory remark: "What's important is that the style of the wine does not change. We believe in what my father started forty years ago, and we always try to improve the quality but not change the style."

That seems to me a good approach, if you've got a wine in your portfolio that is as exemplary as Il Poggio. It comes from a single five-and-a-half hectare vineyard on the Monsanto property, and is a blend of 90% Sangiovese with roughly equal parts Colorino and Canaiolo, aged for 18 months in new and one-year-old French oak. And, as this tasting proved (yet again; I've tasted this wine a lot over the years) it ages beautifully.

We tasted five vintages—2004, 2003, 1997, 1982, and 1977—and all of them were in admirable shape, with the '04 and the '82 the standouts of the group. 1997 and 2003 were both hot years, and that showed in both wines' black cherry fruit (more dried black cherries in the '97, and shading to plum paste in the '03) and a dark-roast coffee character in the '97 as well. Yet, even in vintages like these, it's worth noting that superripe for Chianti would still be considered somewhat astringent and austere in, say, Napa or Barossa. That's one lovely thing about good Chianti—even from a hot year it retains a cracked-twig crispness to its tannins and general character that makes it a fantastic partner for food.

The '82 was vividly aromatic, full of floral, leather and black tea. In the mouth it showed game and truffle along with sweet dried raspberry and cherry, and, as it opened up, distinctly fresh mint notes. If you can find this anywhere, and it's been stored carefully, buy it. It's drinking beautifully, and should continue to do so for some time.

The '04 is the current release (it's the one I wrote up for my column) and it's a great vintage of this wine. Dark cherry and raspberry aromas with a slight caramel hint from oak, lightly gamy and intense, loads of black cherry fruit, tea leaf suggested both in the taste and in the tactile tannins, an alluring note of violets... It's young, but after about two hours open it was terrific, and if you're hunting for a top-notch Chianti to cellar for—well, pretty much as long as you'd want to cellar it—this is a great choice.

 

 

Wines Above $40

Sojourn Cellars: Impressive Pinots & Cabernets

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Ziggy, the Wine Wonder Dog!

© Ray Isle
Ziggy, the Wine Wonder Dog!

If you've read through our just-released June issue you may know that I spent some time a little while back engaged in a cork-taint sniff-off with a Labrador named Ziggy. A fun story to write—but I didn't get to run a picture of Ziggy along with it, so I'm rectifying that now. Cute, isn't she? And don't ever try to get a TCA-tainted barrel stave past her.

The other thing I didn't have room to write about in the story were the wines of Sojourn Cellars, a partnership between Craig Haserot, Ziggy's owner, and winemaker Erich Bradley. That's a shame, because they're well worth writing about. Sojourn makes a number of Pinot Noirs and Cabernets from various Sonoma vineyards, and is open for salon-style tastings (by appointment) in the small white house off the main square in Sonoma where I had my showdown with Ziggy.

The 2007 Sojourn Cellars Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($36) is a blend from four different vineyards, pale ruby in hue, with appealing sweet strawberry and cherry cola notes and a hint of rhubarb. It has an impressively silky mouthfeel, which jibes with Haserot's comment as I was tasting: "From a philosophical standpoint, we are hyper-focused on mouthfeel. It has to feel good before it tastes good. So we focus a lot on tannin management."

The 2007 Sojourn Cellars Windsor Oaks Vineyard Pinot Noir ($48) offered cooler fennel-herbal notes with dense, sweet berry fruit, a touch of candied raspberry, and smoky tannins on the end; lots of saturated flavor here.

My favorite of the Pinots, the 2007 Sojourn Cellars Sangiacomo Vineyard Pinot Noir ($48) has impressively sustained flavors of ripe wild raspberries and spice, a note of grapefruit peel in its acidity, and, overall, just exceptional balance and poise. The section of Sangiacomo that Haserot sources grapes from is, he says, "a nice cool spot right at the base of Sonoma Mountain, with a lot of marine influence; essentially the northern end of the Petaluma Gap."

Of the Cabernets, I thought the 2006 Home Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon ($39) was a steal for the quality it offers. The vineyard's called Home Ranch because it's essentially Haserot's backyard; the wine itself is luscious and rich, with mocha and black currant flavors and a touch of minty eucalyptus—a big, robust, embraceable Cabernet. Thinking about it makes me want to go out and grill a bunch of steaks right now.

On a different note, the 2005 Sojourn Cellars Mountain Terraces Cabernet Sauvignon ($75) is powerful and dark—much more a classic mountain-fruit Cabernet—with blackberry and black-currant fruit that's wrapped up in gripping but ripe tannins. The wine comes from the best seven barrels off Sojourn's Mountain Terraces vineyard; it's drinking very well now, and it should be drinking even better after four or five years in the cellar.

Sojourn's wines are available in some shops and at restaurants, but the production is fairly small, so they're easiest to find by getting in touch with the winery directly.

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