The evolving stages of the Covid-19 pandemic are continuing to affect so many of us. All the hospitality industries are suffering badly especially led by tourism and restaurants. The toll around the world keeps rising presently at just over 3 million deaths from the Coronavirus and 142+ million confirmed cases in 219 countries and territories. Wineries have had to adjust to this new reality of less customer visits & personal tours, less restaurant new orders, but more direct consumer shipping and webinars. Therefore they have generally not been as exposed directly to the virus compared to the service sector businesses dealing up front with the public. However, that didn’t save Pio Boffa of Pio Cesare (founded in 1881) who just passed away from Covid complications. What an outstanding contribution he provided as a real Ambassador for Italian wine and for Piedmont in particular. Pio was constantly travelling around the globe spreading the goodwill of not only Pio Cesare but much more. He reminded me of what Jean-Michel Cazes (Lynch-Bages) & Mai de Lencquesaing (Pichon-Lalande) among others and before them Henri Martin of Chateau Gloria used to do in spreading the good word for Bordeaux (as well as their personal Pauillac & St. Julien properties). Remember so many times meeting up (sometimes unexpectedly) with Pio Boffa at wine events in America to Singapore. He would be there as always providing valuable insights. Of course it was better still to visit with him at their old fortified historic cellars under the town of Alba. Recall his friendly open warm laugh on so many occasions. What memorable times!
Your scribe has written several references about Pio Boffa over the years. Many fond memories are stimulated from the one posted here of December 7, 2015 where he told me in great detail about his insights on every Barolo vintage he made from 1996 to 2015 inclusive. Pio Boffa joined the family firm in 1972 and with an astute future vision helped pioneer both traditional classic vineyard blends but also vineyard specific ones like Il Bricco in Barbaresco (Treiso) from 1964 & Ornato in Barolo (Serralunga d’Alba) in 1970. Some wonderful tributes to Pio Boffa flowing in already from Tom Hyland on @WineSearcher & @WineSpectator. Salute a great man! A wine legend who has left a marvellous legacy behind him. RIP
Question: What are your thoughts on the frost damage this month in French vineyards?
Answer: Most concerning indeed. In this era of climate change we normally worry about higher temperatures but extremes have become a major problem too. The past decade has experienced smaller harvest crop volumes (except abundant 2018) especially in Chablis because of hail (2012, 2016) and frequent frosts of varying intensity (2012, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2019, & 2020). However the cold temperatures of last week were particularly long, severe and widespread. These Spring frosts caused extensive damage to early vine budding all over France including Champagne, Chablis, Burgundy, Rhone (Cote-Rotie) and Bordeaux (Graves) but also Italy (mainly PIedmont & Tuscany). Everyone is calling this 2021 vintage the “worst frost freeze in decades” (called worse than historic 1997 & 1991) with a crop loss “catastrophe.” Expect prices to rise and supply to be more limited for 2021 when released. Recommend you stock up on your favourite wines from current vintages now.
Recently enjoyed some delightful wine surprises by drinking up so-called inferior vintages supposedly already over-the-hill. It is most difficult to rely with full confidence on the overall general rating shown on a vintage chart or elsewhere about any specific property or wine. There will always be exceptions as we know. IMHO these are often more likely to occur from the best vineyards from conscientious producers. For example Bordeaux has a deserved reputation for always aging longer than you might expect. However in off years some properties have excelled in terrific old treasures. Château Latour in Pauillac with a unique terroir always seems to have a wine of some power yet with elegance every year. Even in a large over-crop like 1950 the resulting wine is always a delight. Similarly Château La MIssion Haut Brion in Pessac-Leognan often shows unexpected depth. Your scribe remembers well a real delightful eye opener even with a glorious 1958 from a bad year. Selection and know-how together with choice grapes from outstanding sites may overcome bad weather conditions. Today the concern is not so much cool weather with unripe grapes but rather excessive heat concerns. 2012 & 2013 may not be top vintage superstars but those current releases from Château Latour though forwardly elegant should still develop with some cellaring. All this came vividly back to my memory bank last week with two Baroli from 2003. Not an acclaimed vintage in Piedmont but quite variable due to again that dry very hot record breaking Summer temperatures prevalent throughout many wine regions – especially in Europe. At least it was better than the very weak wipe out 2002s. The wines were both Nebbiolo made in different styles from outstanding vineyards by top producers but that made all the difference for these 2003s:
2003 BAROLO SORI GINESTRA CONTERNO-FANTINO This Sori slope (south facing hill “where the snow melts first”) from the ideal great Ginestra vineyard in Monforte d’Alba is dark, deep, concentrated, rich and impressive at 14.5. Conterno-Fantino is a more “modern” producer with shorter fermentation-maceration methods using French oak in smaller barriques. The overall balance is helped by the higher natural acidity levels of Nebbiolo. A much bigger and riper wine than their Vigna del Gris. Sori Ginestra is also smooth, approachable and so delicious when paired with a dinner main course of pasta, porcini mushroom sauce and Parmigiano Reggiano. Underrated.
2. 2003 BAROLO MONPRIVATO GIUSEPPE e FIGLIO MASCARELLO This prestigious Monprivato southwest facing vineyard of Giuseppe e Figlio Mascarello in Catiglione Falletto is one of the very best of all the Barolo sites. The amazing depth of fruit balance with complex fragrances that can be achieved from this site is enviable. Situated at about 240-320 metres elevation the soils there retain moisture which helped in 2003 plus the green harvesting did as well. A more “classic” producer that was most successful in this difficult year. Brown tinged lighter colour than usual but pure delight of perfumed bouquet & balanced flavours. Surprising structure. A superb dish of Tajarin pasta with fresh shaved black truffle (instead of preferred white) with new EVOO Argiano Biologico Italiano IGT worked like a charm in showing this underrated beauty to the best advantage!
Question: What is the hot wine trend so far in 2021?
Answer: Your scribe is not a big follower of wine trends. They may be interesting but too often are just PR marketing moves to try and sell more commercial wine. Still there seems to be a growing interest this year by consumers from a big fruit driven beverage to a drier, less sweet, fresh, lower alcohol style of wines with a better acidity balance. I think this is a good thing or an encouraging trend. Yesterday VinePair featured: “Pucker Up: With Sour Flavors Trending in Beer and Cocktails, What’s Next For Wine?“. They suggested wines with higher acidity like Albarino & Chablis plus lower dosage bubbles and even mead will be the ticket. Also something that is a bit “funky” stands out as well. Perhaps this is a trend to watch out for!
As we all know one of the few good things to develop out of this continuing pandemic are webinars. What a plethora of information now is out there for everyone on wines from around the world. For the blossoming Canadian wine industry this is good news. They reached a much wider audience on March 23 @HarpersWine in the UK with an interesting overview on Canadian wine that can be seen above.
The panel included Janet Dorozynski @WineTrackMind & Dr. Jamie Goode @jamiegoode plus other wine trade from the UK of Andrew Catchpole Harper’s editor, Sarah Knowles MW The Wine Society, David Gleave MW Liberty Wines, Nik Darlington Grat Wine Co, and Ben Franks Novel Wines. They tasted a variety of Canadian wines listed there from Niagara and the Okanagan. The historical start was Icewine but the current focus was riesling but mainly chardonnay, pinot noir and increasingly popular #GoGamayGo. There was general agreement that “Brand Canada” has goodwill in the UK with a “trust currency” and “emotional attachment” for their overall high quality standards of “remarkable wine” for taking that leap of faith. Lots of admiration for the “clean purity of fruit”, “brightness” with “good acidity” and “freshness”. However the main question seemed to be can they sell? Certainly are doing well in the domestic market of BC & Ontario. However, presently with so many good wines from around the world competing for space on international wine lists it has become a most difficult export wine market. Many great wines are universal at 50+ pounds a bottle but must find customers at around 19.99. At that level there are strong rivals for Canadian chardonnay with French Chablis and Kumeu River from New Zealand. They like the excellent Le Grand Clos Chardonnay 2017 from Le Clos Jordanne but 38 (2016 Checkmate Queen Taken 75) while classy 2018 Charles Baker Riesling PIcone Vineyards retails at a better 22 (2018 Henry of Pelham Reserve competitive 15.95). Similarly for the Canadian reds competing against Chianti Classico and Oregon among others for Pinot Noirs like MIssion Hill Reserve 25-28 pounds. Support for Le Vieux Pin Syrah but 35+ yet Haywire Gamay Noir draws interest. Still early days but most encouraging to see the reputation for Canadian wines continuing to grow with “UK impressed” and “Canada moving in the right direction”. Obviously it takes time to establish an export wine market for Canadian wines but it is at least starting. Well done. Good luck!