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WTN: Michel-Schlumberger, Felasco Vitiano, 2 Valpolicellas

by Jenise » Mon Nov 13, 2006 4:33 pm

Some weekend wines:

1997 Michel-Schlumberger Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Nice cab nose, but soy sauce hints at end-of-life and after a few sips the wine turns pruney. Another dead 97. I'm so glad I mostly avoided that vintage.

I'm buying the wines for our neighborhood wine tasting on Friday (more social than geeky), and the theme is Italian. I need one more wine in the under $15 catgegory, and so I bought a bottle of this value favorite 2004 Falesco Vitiano to try. Not impressed: too green and rather heavy, nothing here reads Italian.

Here's one that the store's wine consultant recommended highly: 2003 Cantina Custoza Valpolicella. The price made me want to want it ($8.99), even though the goofy bright blue label made me suspicious, and even though I couldn't get anything more substantial than "it's delicious!" out of the consultant. Well, delicious in what way? "We had it last night," she answered, "and I liked it a lot. It's going to sell well." I said I thought a Valpolicella might be a bit light in the company of the other wines to which it would be compared. "Well, it's not as light as pinot noir," she said. This woman is very well-meaning, and B-hammers consistently vote her the best wine consultant in the county, but she can't tell modern from traditional and, though she doesn't realize it herself, she prefers modern. Adding to my inability to trust her judgment is that she has never ever said, "No not that one, not for you," or even "I didn't care for it." They're all "lovely" or "delicious". Every single bottle one asks about. So why shop there? Well, she has the best Italian department in town--easily four times the number of labels anyone else carries, labels like Montevertine and Poggio Rosso and importers I trust like Small Vineyards. So the wine: how dare she say this isn't lighter than pinot noir! It's bright and shiny and about as serious as bubble gum. There's no sense of place here, no raisins, no Italian-ness, no varietal character, no depth, it's just simple candy flavors. It's wine for people who don't actually like wine. As has happened too many times before, I'm absolutely scratching my head over how she could reccomend this wine to me.

It was certainly a far cry from the 2003 Secco-Bertani Valpolicella Ripasso we had on Saturday. Old world, traditional, with dusty plums and violets, nice balance, better the second day. I realize there's more quality to be had than this, but this is very very acceptable. I'd buy again, I especially appreciate less boisterous wines like this with meals.
Last edited by Jenise on Mon Nov 13, 2006 6:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: WTN: Michel-Schlumberger, Felasco Vitiano, 2 Valpolicellas

by Hoke » Mon Nov 13, 2006 5:56 pm

This Valpolicella 'Open Mike' kind of thing is interesting.

You take a wine that was never intended for anything but basic accompaniment of an every day sort with basic food of an everyday sort, and showcase it on a wine geek site, trying to parse the subtle differences.

Valpolicella can undoubtedly be a pleasant little wine (as evidenced by the Secco-Bertani Val Valpantena, an old fave of mine), but the very nature of most of the Valpolicella produced pretty much defines the somewhat common nature and intent of the wine.

I just spent several days travelling with a gentleman in the wine business who comes from Verona. He went to great lengths to explain to some Canadian folks the differing concepts of wine between Italians and Americans---specifically, that Italians simply think of wines as an integral and not extraordinary part of a meal, while Americans tend to think of wine as either a cocktail, a special occasion beverage, or as an extraordinary part of a meal, something that needs to be focused upon.

Paolo, my Veronese friend, says that in the area of Valpolicella itself, most of the people drinking Valpolicella pretty much drink whatever is handy, only casually observing the differences amongst the various and sundry producers of Valpolicella, but normally accepting whatever is at hand.

The only discussion and serious differentiation comes when you move up to the various ripassi styles, or the heavy hitters, the Amaroni. The "regular" Valplicellas, even the Classici and the Superiore designations, usually don't come in for much comment, because they are simply considered everyday styled wines--vini da calice, as it were (carafe wines).

When I apprised Paolo of the discussion and various TNs generated by Valpolicella, he was quite pleased. But also just a bit amused.
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Re: WTN: Michel-Schlumberger, Felasco Vitiano, 2 Valpolicellas

by Jenise » Mon Nov 13, 2006 7:04 pm

You take a wine that was never intended for anything but basic accompaniment of an every day sort with basic food of an everyday sort, and showcase it on a wine geek site, trying to parse the subtle differences.


Don't think I don't understand your point, I do, but I also have to stress that the difference between the two Valpos I've described is anything but subtle. One is real wine, the other tastes of Artificial Fruit Flavors. :)

Valpolicella can undoubtedly be a pleasant little wine (as evidenced by the Secco-Bertani Val Valpantena, an old fave of mine), but the very nature of most of the Valpolicella produced pretty much defines the somewhat common nature and intent of the wine.


Understood, which is why I didn't want to use Valpolicella in Friday's tasting: this isn't progressive, it's five bottles plonked down on a ten-top, left to the devices of the people seated therein to serve themselves while they eat and kibbutz. It would be unfair to serve even the Bertani under those circumstances--and I certainly wouldn't serve a wine like the Custoza. As the wine buyer, each wine served has my implied endorsement, and even though I make allowances for palate preferences other than my own in order to make sure that everyone finds something to love, I would not want anyone to think I actually recommend this wine.

As for the everdayness of wines like the Bertani, isn't that sometimes just what you want? I sipped on a little before dinner and moved on to a big red with my pepper steak salad, but I found myself hungering for the lighter, less intrusive Bertani and was relieved to dump the MS and go back to it. Increasingly, these so-called "little wines" are a welcome relief.
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Re: WTN: Michel-Schlumberger, Felasco Vitiano, 2 Valpolicellas

by Hoke » Mon Nov 13, 2006 7:29 pm

As for the everdayness of wines like the Bertani, isn't that sometimes just what you want? I sipped on a little before dinner and moved on to a big red with my pepper steak salad, but I found myself hungering for the lighter, less intrusive Bertani and was relieved to dump the MS and go back to it. Increasingly, these so-called "little wines" are a welcome relief.


Oh, yes. Absolutely.

That was also one of the points Paolo made: when the goal is to have wine as an essential part of the meal, you don't really want the wine contesting the meal, or getting in the way, or 'taking the spotlight'. You simply want it to be harmonious with the meal, reliable, even predictable.

So in a way, Valpolicella is something which should exist within a fairly standard range of expectations and go with a certain type of food (as differentiated from Bardolino, a wine essentially made from the same grapes but from the shores of Lago di Garda, and destined to go with lighter fish dishes and such, so is similar to but lighter than Valpolicella).

And since that is largely the case, the winemakers and wine lovers of the area save most of their time and attention for the bigger, more distinctive wines, the ones that have more character and are encouraged to develop more personality.

To use perhaps a better example, but of a different variety: at one point Paolo spoke very wistfully of the many different sangiovesi wines you can experience as you travel through the Emilia-Romagna. He likes the Sangiovese of the Romagna very much, but primarily as a food accompaniment, a companion; the only Sangiovese, though, that he will wax poetic about (and he can be very poetic indeed), is the wines of Tuscany. He can go on and on about the different wines of Brunello and Chianti (and all the different sub-zones of Chianti) and the Morellino and others. Of the Romagna though, he simply says they are all pleasant with food.

And re your confectionary Custoza: I would imagine Paolo would be as repelled by it as you were. To him good Valpolicella should have a light leanness, no candy, and a definite touch of bitterness at the finish.
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Re: WTN: Michel-Schlumberger, Felasco Vitiano, 2 Valpolicellas

by JC (NC) » Mon Nov 13, 2006 9:11 pm

I have no idea who the producer was, but my first experience with Valpolicella was the summer I graduated from college and traveled with a small group in Europe. I tried single malt Scotch in Scotland, French wines (don't even remember which regions) in Paris, and Valpolicella, in a carafe, at outdoor cafes in Italy (along with some Chianti and Lambrusco). Also Guinness Stout in Ireland, etc. The carafe Valpolicella was great with the Italian pasta dishes though nowadays I might select a Chianti.
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Re: WTN: Michel-Schlumberger, Felasco Vitiano, 2 Valpolicellas

by Clinton Macsherry » Tue Nov 14, 2006 1:05 pm

Hoke wrote:. . . . You take a wine that was never intended for anything but basic accompaniment of an every day sort with basic food of an everyday sort, and showcase it on a wine geek site, trying to parse the subtle differences. . . .

Paolo, my Veronese friend, says that in the area of Valpolicella itself, most of the people drinking Valpolicella pretty much drink whatever is handy, only casually observing the differences amongst the various and sundry producers of Valpolicella, but normally accepting whatever is at hand. . . .


Hoke, I don't really disagree with anything you've said (Heaven forfend!). But:

1) Parsing differences, even among basic, everyday wines, seems to occupy a fair amount of our time here. Witness all the posts over the years on the Vitiano Jenise mentioned. (BTW, her assessment of the 2004 is too generous, IMO.)

2) This is indeed a geek site, as most of us readily and happily recognize. Paolo's observation that "most of the people drinking" Valpo drink what's handy and only casually note distinctions applies to most people drinking any wine, anywhere. That doesn't mean there aren't serious producers trying to produce high-quality wines within their genre.
IIRC, Bastianich and Lynch, in "Vino Italiano," express a higher opinion of what some contemporary non-rispasso Valpos achieve than you and Paolo seem to hold. Not that they'd be right and you'd be wrong, of course--I deeply respect your knowledge of Italian wine--but I find their viewpoint interesting.

I take your point that most "serious" attention in the region is probably paid to Amarone and the ripassi, but I'm not sure comparing Valpo's status to Sangiovese di Romagna is the best parallel (if that's what you were trying to do). I'd be more inclined to think of Piemonte, where the two big B's rock and rule, but Barbera and Dolcetto play respected supporting roles.

Most people probably never have a life-changing Valpo. But very early in my exploration of wine, probably 25 years ago, I tried both Bolla Bardolino and Bolla Valpolicella and concluded that while the Bardo was nice to drink, the Valpo was probably the best wine I could think of to go with "Italian food." I guess I've been parsing ever since.[/i]
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Re: WTN: Michel-Schlumberger, Felasco Vitiano, 2 Valpolicellas

by Hoke » Tue Nov 14, 2006 2:13 pm

Oh, I believe we're pretty much in agreement, Clinton.

I was just pointing out my slight amusement that we were parsing the Val, when the people that make the Val and drink the Val on an everyday basis think it unusual that anyone would spend that much time on it.

But then, that's why they call us winegeeks, eh? :)

You're absolutely right, of course, that there are folks striving to lift the standards of even basic Val. Among the other things that Paolo reported was that there are some significant changes occuring in the Valpolicella region. Specifically, he said that the viticultural techniques were changing----albeit very, very slowly. The pergola trellising is starting to shift over to wire trellising, which is resulting in less over-cropping and more intensity of flavor. Also, the Corvinone clone of Corvina is getting more prominent in certain areas, which also adds more intense flavor components.

Other varieties are creeping in as well, but I hope that slows down, because I don't want the dilution of what makes Val distinctive to me (I can get as much Chardonnay as I want elsewhere, along with Merlot).

With the increased attention over the last few years on the wines of the Veneto, Val has seen quite a change occur. But the fact is that most of the attention has been focused on the Amarone. And therein lies both the problem and the opportunity for the region.

The problem is that Amarone has gotten damned expensive, both because it requires time and attention to produce and because it has achieved celebrity status. The opportunity is that then it becomes profitable for the wineries to consider experimenting with more ripassato wines, the 'Baby Amaroni', that give something of the taste experience at a lower cost of production and a lower price point. (I love Ripassi because they taste good---they hit my sweet spot for wine---but also because they make use of the Amarone passito grapes twice, which makes for an elegant efficiency that appeals to me.)

The winemakers of the Val have a pragmatic appreciation of their local wines. They understand that culture and nature have given them a tradtional light to medium bodied red wine (that also happens to be a kick-ass food wine, yes), and that if they want more than that they have to intervene: hence the passito and ripasso techniques.

I admire that attitude, and definitely admire the results. But it also means that, while there will definitely be changes and improvements in the basic Val, the focus for now will be more on the Ripasso and Amarone versions.

And, hey, I'm cool with that. :wink:
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Re: WTN: Michel-Schlumberger, Felasco Vitiano, 2 Valpolicellas

by Jenise » Sat Nov 18, 2006 2:14 pm

Hey Hoke,

Last night I attended an Italian wine tasting in which an 02 Umberto Cesari Sangiovese di Romagna was poured along with an 01 Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva. Also in the mix were a Vietti Barbera, a cab/mer/syr blend called Maestro Sanguinetti imported by Small Vineyards, and a massively stacked new world style Primitivo from Ossignole (it was to Primitivo as Harlan is to cabernet). My favorite? The Romagna. It was lighter than the others but not dilute (as some might suspect from an 02), just a delicate little force of a thing. Perfectly balanced, refreshing, and the only wine that was actually good with the food. I write this just to mention how much context this conversation with you gave me when tasting that wine--although I understand why Chianti is the more famous, I did not know how Romagna was viewed by Italians. Anyway, thanks.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov

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