Story by Manos Angelakis
The Marchesi de Frescobaldi family is one of the best and oldest wine producers in Italy, with 7 major wineries in Tuscany (they own 11 Italian estates in total), producing exceptional wines for about 700 years, in some of the top Tuscan DOCs and DOCGs.
The first Frescobaldi estate was the Tenuta di Castiglioni in Chianti’s Val di Pesa established around 1300 CE. At the Northernmost end of Tuscany is the Castello Nipozzano in the Chianti Rufina region; at the Southern end is Ammiraglia, in the Morellino di Scansano DOCG in the heart of the region known as Maremma or Toscana Maritima. The rest of their Tuscan properties are located between those two locations.
Ammiraglia is one of the largest and most modern Italian wineries I have visited, perched on a hillside amongst spectacular verdant vineyards. A large tank farm is part of the building that also houses the offices, tasting rooms, vinification areas, labs, aging cellars etc. The tank farm area is open to allow the cool breezes that blow from the sea help control the tank temperature without using much energy. Another great wine region, the Brunello-producing region, is located on the other side of the hill where Ammiraglia is located, and if you look carefully, you will see some of the Col d’ Orcia estate buildings at the hill crest.
At a recent New York City event, Alie, a beautiful rosé wine from Ammiraglia was poured for an appreciative audience of food and wine writers. Alie, has been named after a Greek sea nymph, a mythological female figure symbolizing beauty and sensuality. I liked what I tasted; the 2017 bottling being a perfect summery well-balanced libation; a blend of Syrah, with a touch of Vermentino from grapes grown near the sea. The wine is light, citric with notes of grapefruit and wild strawberries ending with a pleasant herbal finish. At the tasting it was paired with Southeast Asian-styled appetizers but I think it would be also very good with charcoal grilled fish and seafood.
This is only one of the wines that Ammiraglia is known; another is a personal favorite and I always keep at least a bottle in my cellar. It is called Pietraregia dell’ Ammiraglia Reserva and is an unmistakable Morellino di Scansano; Pietraregia is a savory and spicy blend of Sangiovese with some Syrah and a touch of Ciliegiolo (I believe the blend percentage changes according to the harvest). Pietraregia ages very well and is very well priced for the quality it represents. It is a complex, and firmly structured wine; on the nose there are floral and fruity notes of violets and plum, cherry and raspberry. On the palate it is long at the end, with hints of coffee, liquorice and fresh hazelnuts. The 2012 Riserva that I opened had plenty of time in cellar to mellow and I rate it at 93/100 points
From Italy, we now move to California and I will talk about Cameron Hughes wines. As I mentioned in another article, Cameron Hughes is a “négociant” in other words a wine trader that acquires wines from different California and Oregon producers (as well as other wine producing areas of the world) in bulk and either blends them in proprietary blends or just bottles and sells the vintages under the Cameron Hughes label.
Previously, I was sent a 2016 Meritage which I found very young and in need of further cellaring. Following that, samples of 2017 Gruner Veltliner (Lot 635) from Clarksburg, 2016 Riesling (Lot 622) from Columbia Valley and 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve (Lot 2011) were sent to the office for tasting.
From those samples, the Gruner Veltliner was the least liked. We rated it at 75/100 points and after the tasting I use it mostly as a cooking wine in numerous risottos, as well as in cooking fish “Spetsiota Style” because of the wine’s good acidity. The price is considerably competitive ($10 MSRP) but when compared to Austrian or Hungarian wines made from the same grape, there is no comparison.
The Riesling was on the sweet side, fruity and aromatic but with a short finish and lacked enough acidity for a Riesling. I consider it a good summer afternoon libation without pretensions; chilled and paired with briny clams and oysters on the half-shell. At $12 MSRP it is considerably inexpensive. I rate it at 87/100 points, but, in my mind, I’m comparing it with German or Canadian Rieslings I recently had and it is not like any of them.
This Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve reminded me of some Chilean Cabernets from one of the Colchagua vineyards, and is eminently drinkable. It is a complex and firmly structured wine. There are ripe plums, ripe cherries and blackberries on the nose and palate with hints of saddle leather, pencil shavings and sandalwood. It has a thick, full body with a considerably long finish. Though it is a 2011 vintage, it still needs some further cellaring for a year or so to further smooth out some of the sharpness at the back of the palate. It is a meat eater’s wine and we tasted it accompanying a Hungarian-style goulash. I would currently rate it at 90/100 points.
Finally, two German Rieslings; both nice Nik Weis St. Urbans-Hof 2018 selections. They are Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Rieslings, from the most famous German viticultural region when it comes to this particular grape. The black label is estate bottled from old vines; the white label is for a “dry” wine, which is a bit of a misnomer as there is sweetness in this wine. Another difference is that the white label has an aluminum screw-thread closure while the black label has a cork closure.
The dry wine in the white-labeled bottle is light-straw colored with pale green highlights. On the nose, there were aromas of green apple and a hint of white flowers. In the palate the wine had some sweetness, but also had a crisp and clean mouthfeel that was quite refreshing. Apple, white flowers and a hint of honey started showing as the wine warmed up, balanced by acidity that kept it from becoming too sweet. Well priced, under $20 MSRP, it competes very favorably with other similar Rieslings from the region such as S. A. Prum and Dr. Loosen.I would rate it it at 88/100 points.
The black label is an unmistakable Riesling grown in slate soil (perhaps red slate?), flinty and crisp but quite aromatic with floral notes and smoky minerality. The wine is light gold hued with pale gold highlights. It reminds of a Pradikat Kabinett Riesling of exceptional delicacy. If you are a German Riesling aficionado, this is a wine that will reinforce your love for the better Mosel Valley libations. I rate it at 92/100 points. Drink it young; the younger, the better!
To your health!
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