Wine for november 2011 - Under $25
Tormaresca, “Neprica” 2009 (about $12)
Produced in the southern Italy region of Puglia, Tormaresca’s “Neprica” is a blend of Negoamaro, Primitivo and Cabernet Sauvignon, hence its name, which is a combination of the first few letters of each of the three grape names. While Negroamaro and Primitivo grapes are ubiquitous throughout Puglia and much of southern mainland Italy, the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon, which is not indigenous to the area, makes for an unusual and non-traditional blend. However, the net result is a very pleasing - a wine with generous fruit flavors balanced with mild acidity and soft tannins.
The Tormaresca winery is part of the Marchesi Antinori wine consortium, which is headed by Piero Antinori, one of the most historic and famous names in Italian viticulture. Antinori started investing in Puglia in the late 1990’s as part of a broad-based initiative to expand both nationally and internationally beyond his Tuscan home base. Antinori’s multi-million euro investment in what had heretofore been an undistinguished part of the Italian wine scene instantly marked Puglia as an up-and-coming, quality wine region. With the infusion of his substantial financial resources and Tuscan winemaking skills and expertise, his vineyard acquisitions generated a lot of attention and immediately raised the profile of Puglian wines.
With his substantial financial resources, Antinori infused modern techniques and technologies along with his Tuscan wine-making know-how into Tormaresca’s operations. As with his other acquisitions throughout Italy, he blended his innovations with traditional methods and indigenous varieties. The Tormaresca estate today produces about a dozen different red, white and dessert wines.
Tormaresca is a proprietary name that translates as “tower by the sea” in the local Puglian dialect and named after the many ancient stone towers that dot Puglia’s Adriatic coastline. The Tormaresca estate’s vineyard holdings are comprised of two parts: a 320-acre vineyard in the Castel del Monte DOC area in central Puglia and a 620 acre vineyard along the Adriatic coast in southern Puglia’s Salento DOC. Both vineyards grow a mix of traditional, native grape varieties as well as “international” varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
The ’09 Neprica consists of 40 percent Negroamaro, 30 percent Primitivo and 30 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. This innovative blend of local, indigenous varieties with Cabernet Sauvignon, a non-native, international variety, is both unusual and innovative. However, its immediate success must have had other Puglian producers pondering, “Why didn’t I think of that?” The wine is unusual in another respect – it does not spend any time in wooden barrels. Rather, after fermentation it is aged for 8 months in stainless steel tanks and spends an additional 4 months in the bottle prior to release for sale.
The 2009 Neprica is a passionate wine, from its dark prune color to its intense, fruity aromas and flavors. The taste is nicely balanced with a medium-to-full-body with bright acidity, a generous helping of berries and spices balanced by soft tannins. This wine is made in a plush, easy to drink style with a cashmere texture and nice length of finish. Wines from Antinori’s impressive wine portfolio seldom disappoint and this one’s no exception. It is a substantial wine with a very modest price tag that is hard to beat on a quality-to-price basis.
Castello dei Rampolla, “Sammarco” Toscana 2006 (about $65)
Castello dei Rampolla is located near the small town of Panzano in the heart of the Chianti Classico zone. Although it has been owned and operated by the di Napoli family since the early 1700’s, it was not until the mid-1960’s that the estate began growing grapes for sale and the early 1970s’ before they began producing and bottling wines for sale. Today, Maurizia and her brother Luca di Napoli Rampolla manage the estate with the world-famous winemaker, Giacomo Tachis, providing input as consulting winemaker.
Sammarco was first introduced in 1980 as a Cabernet Sauvignon blend with small percentage of Sangiovese. It was one of the earliest super-Tuscan wines. The wine’s composition has changed slightly over time and the 2006 Sammarco is a Cabernet Sauvignon blend that includes small amounts of Merlot and Sangiovese.
Its initial release garnered wide critical acclaim and is today widely recognized as a wine of character and distinction, one of Tuscany’s signature wines. While the status of Sammarco has to some extent been eclipsed by the critical acclaim achieved by the Rampolla estate’s other super-Tuscan wine, Vigna d’Alceo, first introduced in 1996, Sammarco’s star still shines bright in the super-Tuscan wine firmament and it is still regarded as a valued addition to any serious collector’s wine cellar.
Despite the stunning market success of Castello dei Rampolla’s super-Tuscan and Chianti wines, the estate continues to follow its original quality-oriented, artisanal approach to winemaking. This includes emphasis on considerations such as low yields, hand harvesting of grapes, inspired winemaking and acceptance of the protocol that their long-lived wines require patient drinkers.
Castello dei Rampolla also follows a strict biodynamic approach to winemaking. Starting in the early 1990’s, it was one of the first Tuscan wineries to go organic and biodynamic. There are no chemical treatments of any kind and every operation in the field and cellar follows the lunar phases and the biodynamic calendar. It’s not easy but it is simply part of their quality-oriented, patient approach to winemaking.
The 2006 Sammarco is 90 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 5 percent each of Merlot and Sangiovese. After initial and secondary fermentation, the Sangiovese is aged in large oak barrels for 18 months while the Cabernet and Merlot are aged in barriques. The wine is then blended and bottled where it rests for an additional 8 months prior to release for sale.
The wine has a deep purple color with elevated plum and ripe black fruit aromas that segue into waves of flavor in the mouth. While it is full-bodied, rich and intense, it doesn’t overwhelm and lose its sense of style and subtlety. There is a judicious touch of oak and a subtle sweetness to the thick, ripe tannins that leads into a long, lingering finish. As impressive as it is now, this wine should continue to improve with additional ageing. An impressive offering from one of Tuscany’s most respected producers.
This is a formidable wine to be shared with good friends at those special occasion dinners involving a pot roast, crown roast of pork, game or any mushroom dish as well as aged cheeses.
For reviews of other super-Tuscan wines, see top super-tuscan wines
Note – as a service to readers, previous Wines of the Month selections indicated stores in the Washington, DC metro area that carry the selected wines . However, the policy of listing local wine stores has outlived its usefulness. The vast majority of visitors to this site today reside outside the Washington, DC metro area so this information is not useful and may actually be confusing for readers.
Therefore, future Wine of the Month selections will no longer include listings of local wine stores . Readers interested in knowing where they can purchase particular wines in the Washington DC metro area can let me know by email and I will try to respond promptly.
November 15, 2011
To view other wines of the month selections see Monthly Wine Reviews