Tasting Notes: Tesoro della Regina Chianti Classico Riserva

Ever since our trip to Italy, we have loved Italian wine. Oddly enough, though, we tend to not buy it. No idea why! So the last time we did a Total Wine bulk buy, I made sure at least one Italian bottle made it into the cart. This Chianti Classico Riserva was a top-selling bottle, so why not?

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The Facts

  • Producer: Tesoro della Regina
  • Region: Chianti, Tuscany, Italy
  • Vintage: 2014
  • Variety: Sangiovese
  • Where I purchased: Total Wine 
  • Price: $16.99

First, I want to talk a little about what Chianti Classico Riserva means. Chianti, as you likely know, is a region within Tuscany that makes a particular type of wine per Italian law from the Sangiovese grape. The term "classico" indicates it's from an even smaller sub-region of Chianti, and it also indicates that the wine is a step above wines just labeled as Chianti due to additional restrictions and laws. Finally, "riserva" is even one more step above, and it is largely due to additonal time required to age in barrel. So theoretically, if you want the "best of the best" from Chianti, Chianti Classico Riserva is that wine. Again, theoretically.

Now on to this specific bottle! I got this bottle because the description on the little paper at Total Wine sounded right up my alley... "intense, spice, cherry, medium-body". I like all of those things. I got black cherry and raspberry notes with a little bit of tobacco and cooked tomato. What I mean by cooked tomato is it smells similar to the start of a homemade marinara. This is very common for Sangiovese! Fruit, however, was definitely the more prominent aroma. I did not get any spice. Maybe I missed it, but I was definitely sad about that. I got a mouthful of acid, which again, is common for Italian wines, and I thought it lacked depth. I found this wine not great on its own, but very good with our spaghetti dinner. Chianti was made for tomato sauce! I think I may give this one another whirl because it's well-liked elsewhere, but for now, I'd give it two bunches.


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La Dolce Vita

First, let me say that I can't believe it's been over a month since I last posted. Second, let me say that I can't believe it's already been ALMOST a MONTH since we returned home from our glorious jaunt through the northern half of Italy. WHY DOES TIME MOVE SO FAST?! Can I hear an amen?

Not a day has gone by since we returned that I haven't reminisced and day dreamed about our Roman Holiday (...see what I did there? But really, we weren't just in Rome). It was fifteen wonderful days of sight seeing, relaxing, eating handmade pasta and gelato, and drinking all the wine we could. The biggest thing we learned from our trip? Old World wines are where it's at! Everyone's got their preferences, and I still enjoy New World, but man, has my love for Old World styles grown.

While we were in Siena, we went on two wine tours: a half day tour through Chianti and a full day Brunello tour. Both were great in their own ways, but the thing I liked best was learning about the bio-dynamic wineries in Montalcino. It was so fascinating!

As a little background, Montalcino is a picturesque hill town in Tuscany. Brunello is their super star wine (and many consider it to be king in Italy), and Montalcino was the first town to be awarded their "DOCG" designation, or Denomination of Controlled Guarantee in rough English,  by the Italian government. All this means is that there are very strict laws and regulations about the wine in regards to grape varieties, methods of production, additives, aging, etc. If you want to see the full laundry list of rules, check out this website by the Consorzio Vino Brunello di Montalcino. So needless to say, the people in Montalcino care about their wine.

Now for a little background on Brunello, the wine is made from the Sangiovese grape. Its primary flavor tends to be red fruit and cherry, but it can also have flavors of leather and tobacco. It's definitely more savory in flavor than fruity. The wine must be aged for 5 years prior to release with at least 2 of those years in oak by law, but many say that this wine should be aged in the bottle for at least 10 years after release for the flavors to develop and soften. It's a wine collector's dream! Finally, like most Italian wines, Brunello pairs best with food (hello bruschetta and pasta!) because it's high in acidity. 

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We went to two bio-dynamic wineries while on our Brunello tour, but the first, Podere le Ripi, was my favorite. I feel a little bad saying that because the owner has an "unfair" advantage over the other wineries we visited... he is the son of the man who started Illy Coffee so he has a large fortune to work with. Regardless, his wines were tasty and his cellar was spectacular.

The tour began with his vineyards. They only have a few hectares that are designated for the DOCG wines, so they grow some other varieties as well. Our guide indicated that this winery puts more vines per hectare in order to have the vines work harder for water and nutrients. They believe that vines that "suffer" produce better fruit, so they planted more than quadruple the number of vines per hectare compared to other wineries. 

Additionally, they are bio-dynamic, which is most easily described as a more intense version of organic. They do not use pesticides and chemicals in their vineyards or production, but it is also the mindset of working with the earth and the environment to help improve the winery. They plant other crops and pay attention to the position of the moon and constellations for their work in their vineyard. If this interests you, you can read more about bio-dynamic wines in this post by Wine Folly.

They then took us to the owner's cellar. The owner believes that metal creates a magnetic field and damages the wine, so they built the cellar without reinforced cement. The entire building was built from clay bricks and limestone mortar all by hand. It was very impressive! The winery also does not use steel tanks to ferment, but uses cement tanks and oak barrels. The cellar is a corkscrew shape so the winery can only use gravity to move wines from phase to the next.

The tasting was great, and we ended up purchasing one of their wines that was 100% Syrah. We wish we had bought more, but we had to hedge our purchases since it was our first stop of the day! I hope you enjoyed hearing about our favorite winery stop on our trip to Italy, and if you're ever headed over there, let me know! I love sharing my itinerary. 

Tasting Notes: Da Vinci Chianti

Happy "Favorite Friday"! July went by quickly, but I am super excited to see the arrival of August. What's happening in August you may ask? Kevin and I are headed to the wonderful country of Italy to celebrate our first anniversary! We've been looking forward to this trip since our honeymoon, so we're glad it's finally (almost) here! 

The summer is over, which means the majority of my traveling for work is behind me. It's a relief to be home for more than two or three days at a time and to actually get to spend quality time with my husband and pup. I travel to small towns typically, so the wine choices are usually what I can find at a Kroger or even Walmart. It's not the best situation, but I've tried to find a wine or two that I like that I can buy even in the smallest of towns. One is the Gnarly Head Zinfandel that I reviewed previously, but this Da Vinci Chianti is another solid choice. Both are affordable and very drinkable... important when you're away for work!

The Facts

  • Producer: Da Vinci Wines
  • Region: Chianti region in Tuscany, Italy
  • Vintage: 2014
  • Variety: 90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot
  • Where I purchased: Total Wine*
  • Price: $11.29*

*Note: I was able to find this at Whole Foods and our local Harris Teeter for $12.99. That seems to be the typical price in stores other than Total Wine.

  • Eyes: This wine was a medium purpleish-red color. I've been drinking so much white wine recently, that it was nice to get back to wines that are my favorite color! The wine was also almost translucent and did not have an haziness.
  • Nose: The wine smelled of ripe raspberries and spice. According to my Wine Folly guide, clove is a popular aroma for Sangiovese grapes. I actually happened to have some dried cloves on hand from making bread-and-butter pickles, so I got up and smelled them. I was finally able to put it together that the "spice" smell I was picking up on was clove!

    As a side note, if you're looking to improve your aroma identification skills, start smelling things! I like to smell my spices when cooking, and I also am that crazy person who walks around the grocery store smelling everything. I've even started smelling the can of tennis balls when I open them to make sure I've got down the "freshly opened can of tennis ball" smell down from Somm (only sort of joking). It's the best way to learn!
  • Mouth: This wine is a bit jammy, but not overwhelmingly so. There are flavors of cherry and plum, and those fruits just taste very ripe. There is also a hint of pepper, which helps balance out the ripeness of the fruit. I think the wine has good body to it and also a decent amount of tannin. It's got a medium finish, so it doesn't linger too long. Overall, it's easy drinking, but has more complexity than some of the other inexpensive wines out there.
  • Thoughts: Well, it's a Favorite Friday post, so you know I'm a fan. Do I need it to be part of my stash all the time? I wouldn't say so, but I think it's best described as my "safe bet" when at a restaurant with a less than stellar wine list or in a town with very limited choices for wine. It's a good value at $12.99 in grocery stores, so I plan to keep this name in my back pocket for future business trips.

What are your favorite "safe bet" wines? 


Tasting Notes: Ecaana Pinot Grigio

With our trip to Italy happening later this year, I have been on an Italian wine kick. Tastings, research, looking at bottles... it was getting me very excited to travel there! The weather in Charlotte this past week or so was very warm, so I wanted to try a white. I thought this would be a good place to start since we'll be traveling there in the summer time, too. I was grocery shopping at Whole Foods, so I thought I'd just check out their Italy section to see what they offered!

The Facts

  • Producer: Ecaana
  • Region: delle Venezie IGT (Northern Italy)
  • Vintage: 2014
  • Variety: Pinot Grigio
  • Where I purchased: Whole Foods
  • Price: $10.99
  • Eyes: This wine was a very light, pale yellow color. I think I've seen this referred to as "pale platinum". The photo above almost makes it look more yellow, but next to the other white wines in the store, it was definitely very light. The color definitely gave me the impression that it would be a light bodied wine.
  • Nose: Apple. Just straight up apple. Then maybe some hint of pear, but I was overwhelmed by the scent of apple. It smelled good!
  • Mouth: As I would expect based on the nose, there was definitely some apple taste coming through. I think I told K that it tasted like apple juice, but significantly less sugary (as it should be). There was also some lemon or citrus notes that were very refreshing. 
  • Thoughts: First off, I want to be honest in that I chose this wine based on two things: (1) price point and (2) the label. It has such a cute label! I am a firm believer in that cute labels don't always result in the best wines, but I was limited on time, so it was a deciding factor for me. Ultimately, I thought this wine was very crisp and refreshing! I liked the apple flavors a lot and found it to have some good acid. This made it very easy to drink, in my opinion. I haven't had a lot of Pinot Grigio recently, but I think this is a great choice as the weather gets warmer, especially if you're looking for a less expensive choice. Plus, it's a screw top! Perfect for any picnic or outing you have where you don't want to carry a wine opener. 


Blind Tasting Dinner with Laura Maniec

Happy New Year to everyone! It's been a crazy few weeks with lots of travel and time with family, and it was great to take a break from "real life". Unfortunately, my day job picks up 1,000% once the new year starts, so it'll be a hectic two months, but I'm trying not to think about it too much!

The greatest thing that happened over the break? I watched the series Uncorked on the Esquire channel. If you haven't heard of this series and are a wine enthusiast, I definitely recommend checking it out. It is similar to the documentary Somm where it follows a group of candidates for the Master Sommelier (MS) exam.  I found it very entertaining and enlightening to see the process these people go through. One of the Master Sommeliers on the show that was training, mentoring, as well as judging the candidates was Laura Maniec, co-owner and founder of Corkbuzz restaurants. They have two locations in NYC and one in Charlotte, so I was thrilled to see the woman behind one of my favorite restaurants! She is one of 32 women to have earned the MS certification, so she's definitely someone to look up to in the industry. K and I went to eat dinner at Corkbuzz last week and they mentioned that Laura was coming in town to host a blind wine tasting dinner. That sounded awesome and I really wanted to meet her, so I jumped at the opportunity!

The dinner was great. As Laura mentioned, she was just "hosting a dinner party" for some of the Charlotte patrons, and it definitely felt that way! The dinner was three courses and five wines were selected for blind tasting... two with our first course, two with the main course, and one with dessert.  She poured both wines at the same time and then we went through the descriptors just as sommeliers do during the MS or other certification exams. At the end, we had to guess the grape varietal, region, and vintage! I was nervous at first, but in no time, I was having fun. My tasting skills definitely need to improve if I ever wanted to join the sommelier world, but it was a great starting point and fun experience! Laura was a fabulous host and graciously answered everyone's questions. I will definitely be back to Corkbuzz for more events in the future!

Wines We Had

Course: Crab Bisque with cauliflower, celery root, and nutmeg

Wine 1: Domaine des Baummard Savennieres, 2011, Loire Valley, France, $26

This wine was a Chenin Blanc and confused everyone! It was very crisp and refreshing with higher acid, so we deduced it was Old World. It had flavors of bruised apple, pear, tree fruit, and had little evidence of oak. Grapes guessed were Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Wine 2: LIOCO Chardonnay, 2014, Sonoma County, California, $24

I found this one to be easy to identify having had several Chardonnays from the area. I also think the Chardonnay grape, especially if there is a hint of oak, has a very distinctive nose to it, so I called this one. Others also suggested Sauvignon Blanc, but I found the color to scream Chardonnay, and there was no citrus or tropical fruit to it.

Course: Pork tenderloin with pumpkin puree, spaghetti squash, and onion jam

Wine 1: Albert Bichot Santenay 1er cru "Clos Rousseau', 2012, Burgundy, France, $30

This wine had a big nose, so I was surprised when the flavor didn't really come through for me. It had more earthy notes, which indicates Old World. Other aromas were some red and black fruits. It was lighter in body, so I immediately thought Pinot Noir. I know Pinot Noir is most well known from Burgundy in the Old World, so that was my guess. I wrote down a random year (I had heard 2012 was a great year for Pinot Noir in the US, but there was really no reason other than that), and I got it right! I was proud. Might as well give me my MS pin now...

Wine 2: Le Macchiole Bolgheri Rosso, 2012, Tuscany, Italy, $34

This wine was my favorite. It smelled amazing and definitely was more full-bodied than the previous wine. I had absolutely NO clue what it was, but I did note hints of spice in the nose, which I love. It ended up being a blend from Tuscany which included Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah. The Syrah is what brings out the spice/pepper notes, while the Merlot kept it smooth with chocolate flavors. It was delicious and we ended up purchasing a bottle at the end of the dinner.

Course: Maple Panna Cotta with graham cookies

Wine: Elderton Shiraz, 2012, Barossa Valley, Australia, $30

This wine was the most full bodied and had the darkest color. It had the spice notes again, so I should have wondered about Syrah. Other wine varietals that provide spice are Granache, Petite Sirah, Malbec, and ZInfandel. I'm not sure how you would distinguish Old World versus New World on this one, but hey, I'm not an MS. I enjoyed this wine, so I think I should try more of this varietal.