Emidio Pepe, Godfather of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Emidio & Granddaughter Chiara, hard at work

Emidio & Granddaughter Chiara, hard at work

There’s Montepulciano, and then there’s Emidio Pepe’s Montepulciano. Much the same as there’s Valpolicella, and then there’s Giuseppe “Bepi” Quintarelli. I know there are many out there familiar with this sentiment; Emidio Pepe’s 2007 tops wine-searcher for popularity among all Montepulciano d’Abruzzo’s for the vintage. Price? Makes absolutely no difference.

It all began for this incredibly famous family in 1899. That was the year of discovery for the “original” Emidio, grandfather to current generation Emidio. In the far northeastern reaches of Abruzzo – very near the border with Marche, within 50km of the Adriatic Sea – Emidio Pepe discovered that the Torano hills offered the perfect terroir and microclimate for Abruzzo varietals. It would seem that no other place on earth would prove as perfect for the production of such ethereal Montepulciano.

For several generations – from grandfather Emidio on down – the Pepe family farmed their famous hills, producing the most sought after grapes in the zone. Content to sell their production, estate bottling would not enter the Pepe family business until the 1960s. Enter the “new” Emidio Pepe, grandson of the “original”.

Beginning with a single hectare of land in 1964, Emidio Pepe began completely replanting, rebuilding a family legacy dating to the 19th century. Steadfastly he honored strictly traditional methods; new wood never entered his cellars, cement vats his exclusive choice – even as the locals and press of the time derided his methods. As his estate expanded – now at a healthy 15 hectares – Emidio slowly, but surely became the envy of the zone. International press lauded him; vintages from the 1970s ‘till current releases have flirted with perfect scores.

Celebrating his 50th year of independent production – his wife, daughters and granddaughter all now working at his side – Emidio Pepe has secured a legacy for the wines from his estate near Torano Nuovo. He tells of his first adventure to Manhattan, attempting to sell his Montepulciano while speaking no English. He beams, recalling that in 1970 his first placement was at Felidia, Lidia Bastianich’s beloved eatery. Today, his 2007 marks another incredible high mark for the man from Abruzzo.

2007 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo  

Nearly impenetrable inky ruby color. Deep, brooding aromas of black cherry, violet, tar, shoe polish and botanical herbs. Sweet/sour flavors of black cherry, blueberry juicy, minerals and ink are complicated by a dusting of botanical herbs. This multilayered knockout of a wine finishes very bright and long, with repeating floral lift. Very clean and precise, and devoid of any funky animal aromas or flavors, it’s one of the best red wines from Pepe in years and a testament to the potential greatness of the Montepulciano grape.

96 points – Vinous (ID)

Precious few bottles make their way to retail of this great family’s heavenly Montepulciano. I’ve found mine, I hope your search is as successful…

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Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri 2012 – Great Wines lost in a sea of Chaos

Not exactly a photo from the event - but you get the idea...

Having been in the wine business my entire professional career – approaching 30 years now – and having spent those years in many of America’s largest cities (from Dallas to Houston and beyond), one thing has quickly become very obvious to me – now that I’ve landed here in the Bay Area. In all my years as a wine professional, I have never personally experienced one single city that attracts as many high-profile wine events as San Francisco.

To illustrate my point, in February of 2012 alone, I have received invitations to the Italian Wine Master’s tasting, the Frederic Wildman 2010 Burgundy event, the Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri USA event, multiple 2010 Burgundy barrel sample events, countless 2007 Brunello events, and now – barely half way through the month – my invitation to the annual Le Paulee de San Francisco 2012 event has arrived (spare $5,000 anyone?). Like I said, San Fran can easily count itself as one of the epicenters for all things vinous.

So it was with this recognition that I loaded a few colleagues into old faithful last week and headed across the Bay Bridge for the annual Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri USA event, which was hosted here in San Fran at the Fort Mason Center on February 15th. Perhaps the locals take this for granted, but I’d like to preface this post by mentioning that the Spring-like weather was simply fabulous; the weather actually made the balance of the afternoon practically tolerable.

Upon our arrival to what is unquestionably one of THE wine tasting events of the year – every year – for those who love Italian wine, our collective enthusiasm was quickly dashed. The line outside the event resembled what you come to expect when attending a rock concert (or a ZAP tasting, as one in our group quipped); attendees standing 4-8 people wide stretched for blocks – as if awaiting their opportunity to view a famous person lying in state. What’s more, of the half dozen doors that could have been used to accommodate arriving guests, only 2 were being utilized. The disorganization at the door didn’t bode well for the day’s event.

Once finally inside, the chaos reached an entirely new level. The Fort Mason Center is a massive location – a place where events the size of rock concerts can be held. Visitors to this enormous mini-city know full well what to expect – as did I – but the sheer mass of people encountered at the Tre Bicchieri event was nonetheless overwhelming.

There were literally hundreds of tables erected, which were each adorned with dozens of wines. Spit buckets were conspicuously placed to aid the professionals, but with the mass of humanity it was very often necessary to hold a mouthful of jammy Corvina until you could elbow your way to an overflowing spittoon. And the note-books? To say that note-taking was an afterthought for the organizers of this event is the understatement of the year. I literally had to borrow hot pink note paper from the media booth to facilitate note-taking for this report.

I will say however that once I settled in at a couple of the more famous importer’s tables (flatly refusing to budge once I found a square foot to secure myself to) that I did discover about 30 fairly serious wines worth seeking. And while I’m quite certain that there were far more than merely 3 dozen great wines to be discovered – especially considering the hundreds of wines being liberally poured for seemingly thousands of eager “tasters” – at some point during the chaos I simply had had enough.

After all, considering how many great wine events are scheduled for San Fran this quarter alone, I’m certain I’ll discover plenty more wine worth writing about – as well as buying.

Tasting notes:

Organized according to the importers who presented these wines, I hope you’ll find something new to explore and seek out from the 2012 Tre Bicchieri event that I’m reporting on (as attended this year in San Fran) –

 

Winebow

 

2010 Mastroberardino Greco di Tufo

A fresh, fruity, bright, white-grape, clean, crisp, and very focused aromatic profile gives way to similar palate nuances that are tightly wound and supported by crisp acidity. The flavors include lemon zest and the finish is persistent. This is quite good.

89 points

 

2007 Mastroberardino Taurasi Radici

An intense aromatic profile offers up nuances of spicy white and black pepper combined with copious dark fruits, which lead to a robust palate that is tightly wound and focused by gripping acidity. Overall, this balanced, while being quite structured and powerful.

91 points

 

2009 Librandi Ciro Rosso Duca Sanfelice Riserva

Pale rose in color. Quite fragrant. Interesting aromatic profile recalls morello cherry and cherry skins. Quite floral as well. On the palate there are the cherry notes, combined with stone fruits, a touch of cocoa and a delicious flavor profile that recalls northern Italian Pinot Noirs from producers such as Terlano. This finishes with clove, brown spice and a deliciousness that is a joy to discover.

90 points

 

2009 Librandi Gravello

Similar, pale rose color here as with the Duca Sanfelice (the color in the Librandi wines is attributable to the Gaglioppo grape these are based on). The aromas here are more intense and offer nuances of cranberry, sweet spices and pomegranate. The palate too is a bit more intense and offers full red fruits, and a warm, delicious finish. Nice discoveries here.

90 points

 

2009 Di Majo Norante Molise Aglianico Contado Riserva

Nearly opaque in color. Wonderfully sappy aromatic profile. Quite jammy on the nose. Here we have a serious palate presence: buckets of red fruits are proportionately buffered by the grippy tannins, and a spicy, powerhouse finish wraps around the palate to suggest some cellar time might be warranted.

90 points

 

2007 Tasca D’Almerita Contea di Sclafani Rosso del Conte

Approaching opaque in color. Aromatically, this is quite complex, offering tar, tobacco leaf and buckets of assorted fruits. The palate is jammy and packed with fruits, offering a delicious combination of New and Old World where the jammy fruit notes and nuances of expensive saddle leather are well balanced against each other.

92 points

 

2008 Zenato Lugana Sergio Zenato

Pale gold in color. Very intense, exotic, tropical fruit aromatics give way to a full bodied, wonderfully spice-filled, toasted, slightly oaky palate. The oak influence on this Trebbiano-based wine is persistent yet well integrated. This is a serious, toasted, world class effort and would impress most White Burgundy enthusiasts.

91 points

 

2008 Valle Reale Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Medium opaque in color with a pronounced dark cherry fruit aromatic profile. Expensive saddle leather nuance to the aromatics, as well. On the palate, there is good sweetness to the fruit, adequate acidity, and a good purity to the ripe fruit. Quite good.

89 points

 

2008 Valle Reale Montepulciano d’Abruzzo San Calisto

Opaque, black-purple in color. There is extreme concentration here. The aromatics are extremely dark fruited and packed with cocoa, dark chocolate and espresso – this is an intense aroma. On the palate, the intensity continues and includes sweet, lush black cherry, that cocoa/chocolate nuance from the nose, and a roasted component to the dark and very serious fruits. What a wine.

93 points

 

Dalla Terra

 

2010 Chiarli Lambrusco di Sorbara Vecchia Modena Premium

Pale pink in color. Along with the effervescence in this utterly fascinating semi-sparkler, one will experience a gorgeously fragrant aroma of crushed fruits and wild flowers. This is frothy on the palate, yet remains serious in its off-dry character with flavors of strawberry kept bracing by bright acidity. Whether as an aperitif of with appetizers, this is one of the best discoveries of the year. Wonderful.

90 points

 

Chiarli Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro Vigna Enrico Cialdini Secco Rosso

Deep red in color. As intriguing as the Modena is from Chiarli, this is in another class altogether. A nose of blackberry offers a serious aromatic profile to a semi-sparkling wine that recalls Barbaresco more than Lambrusco. On the palate, this is equally serious, offering ripe, lush, juicy blackberry and red currant fruit flavors inside the semi-frothy, effervescent personality of this individual offering. A serious food wine that stands on its own just as easily, this too is one of the “finds” of the year.

91 points

 

2007 La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Spelt”

Opaque, black-purple in color. Positively penetrating aromatics of black fruits of every description, expensive leather, pipe tobacco and blood orange. Rich, decadent, palate coating flavors are dense and include cocoa, dark chocolate, chicory and multiple other torrefaction nuances. An amazing texture grips the palate and this wine is very sweetly fruited; it all combines for great clarity, focus and power. Fantastic wine.

93 points


2007 Tenuta Sant’ Antonio Amarone della Valpolicella Campo dei Gigli

Beautiful in so many ways. A sexy, alluring, perfumed bouquet sets this up as the “anti-Amarone”; offering no sense of over-blown or cooked fruits, this is not the typical “over the top” Amarone – and it’s all the better for it. Offering a gorgeous mouth-feel and amazingly balanced yet penetrating fruit, this is a real one-of-kind Amarone. Buckets of fruit are evident, yet this steers clear of the pruney category. This is lush, packed and balanced. An Amarone for grown-ups.

94 points

 

Banville & Jones


2008 Cantina Terlano Nova Domus Riserva

Pale straw yellow in color. Striking aromas combine white peach, apricot and an almost Gewurztraminer-like zestiness. On the palate, this is ripe and exotic and that spiciness from the nose carries through to offer a complex and unique flavor profile. There’s a creamy texture and even a Viognier-like nuance on the finish. Very unique.

91 points

 

2007 Cottanera Etna Rosso

Medium deep in color. Aromas of crushed bing cherries. This has a fresh, fragrant, ripe, sun-kissed fruity nose. On the palate, this is lush, jam packed with fruit and sweetly powerful. Just delicious. While softly tannic – just enough to grip the palate – this is really all about the fruit. A delicious effort.

91 points

 

2008 Tolaini Valdisanti

Medium opaque in color. A tightly wound aromatic profile takes time to unwind, eventually (with coaxing) opening up to reveal Bordeaux-like nuances of cassis, truffle and barrique. On the palate, this has a sweet attack, with a broad mid-palate of sweet oak, vanillin and a sense of caramel. This is a serious, world-class, modern effort that resembles (in all the best ways) the finest wines of Bordeaux. But the tannic structure demands time in the cellar.

92+ points

 

2008 Tolaini Picconero

Also deeply colored (as is the Valdisanti), this is more forward than its stable mate. Notes of ripe dates, prunes and plums are immediately discernible in this forward wine’s aromatics. Good tannins on the palate support otherwise jammy fruit nuances, as this wine is powerful and already fully drinkable. Quite palate staining with the acidity to keep it all focused, this is overall quite good if not just a bit 1-dimentional.

90 points

 

Bedford International


2009 Umani Ronchi Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore “Vecchie Vigne”

Very pale in color. Serious minerality in the nose. Loaded with stones, flint, sea shells, and richness from the lees that carries over to the palate. The flavors mirror the aromatic profile and include richness on the round, pure, focused, almost creamy palate that is very well textured and quite serious. This has buckets of style and loads of flavor that keep on coming. Focused, crystal clear acidity and a finish brimming with flowers, stones, and that leesy character throughout. Serious stuff.

91 points

 

2007 Umani Ronchi Conero Cumaro Riserva

Medium ruby in color. Subdued aromatics offer red fruits of various descriptions that are more laid-back when compared to others today. On the palate, this is sweet, subtle, juicy, red fruited and held together well by a nice zip of grippy acidity. A lush, juicy, warm and friendly wine. There’s a nice fruit to acid balance here and the finish is delicious.

90 points

— Christopher Massie