Spring 2003:

Fazi Battaglia: Italian For Better Wine
Canadians have enjoyed almost as much vino from Fazi Battaglia winery as all the Canadian wine they’ve ever bought! Fazi Battaglia’s the leader in central Italy’s Marche region, especially for crisp Verdicchio whites and berry-fresh Sangiovese reds -- in unique bottles familiar for decades, and they’re the most popular whites and reds in Italy. More than 1 million bottles are enjoyed in Canada every year! And they’re vastly improved, thanks to new technology.

Even better, the research- and quality-driven Sparaco family firm, based in Ancona, 300k S of Rome, is expanding, by adding Tuscan vineyards, and the expertise of top enologist Franco Bernabei.

Meticulous study of its 12 estate vineyards (350ha), rigorous clonal selection, and innovative methods have dramatically improved the wines. And the new generation is at the controls: Chiara Giannotti, 26, is the new face at the helm of the operation her great-grandfather started 50 years ago.

The steely-fresh, dry Verdicchio, the perfect aperitif, showing ripe peach-apple fragrances, comes in half-bottles, $5.35, and 750mL at $9.95, as does the fresh, berry-ripe red Sangiovese delle Marche, perfect with smoked duck, braised rabbit, and also $16.95 for 1.5L.

The top Verdicchio is San Sisto Verdicchio di Jesi Classico Riserva DOC, $22.60, an oaky, very sophisticated white (Tronçais, Nevers, Allier) good for five years, with chickpea purée, steamed codfish, on consignment, 416 364-5004, Wine Lovers Agency.

From beyond Marche, as Fazi Battaglia expands, you’ll enjoy the smooth, harmonious Fassati le Gaggiole Chianti ‘01, great with grilled liver and celeriac, Fassati Pasiteo Vino Nobile di Montepulciano ‘99, wonderful with sheep’s cheeses, and Arkezia Muffo di San Sisto IGT Marche ‘00, a rare botrytized Verdicchio, with desserts of sesame, candied fruits and caramelized sugar. Call Wine Lovers Agency.

If you’d like the fabulous recipes of Michelin-starred chef Susana Fumi, Osteria del Vecchio Castello in Montalcino, designed to accompany these wines, just call Wine Express!

Giggles of the month:
* “Santa Barbara’s producing solid wines: Appalachian Central Coast wines are on the map.” -- the California Desert Sun’s geographically challenged Jennifer Chen.
* A Chilean wine made, according to a Canadian writer, “from the seldom-seen Carneina grape". Actually, it’s the very accessible Cariñena, Carignane to the French.

I Love Napa Dot Com should be the first stop for Napa’s 5 million annual visitors. This insider’s guide has ratings, reviews and news from food and wine writers who live in Napa.

Created by the guy who produced Insider’s Report for Loblaws, ex-TorStar food writer Jim White, it’s not ad-driven and also allows visitors to review their own Napa experiences, and it spotlights under-the-radar wines that rarely make it out of Napa.

"Visitors want to know what’s the hot new restaurant, who has the best wine tour, what spa has the best massage? And we have the answers in our Best of Napa Valley section” says Jim. The info also comes with an interactive map and a directory.

White’s weekly Postcard from Napa Valley uncovers the latest restaurants, wineries and attractions. Paul Franson contributes a weekly Wine Dispatch.

"We want to help visitors make sense of all their options, to create a forum for sharing their experiences with other visitors," says co-founder Jeremy Benson.

* Eclipse: what English barbers do.

What’s Old Is New
Burgundy’s oldest negociant, Maison Champy, has been brought back to life. Founded as Champy Pere in 1720, it offers no more than 40,000 cases of stellar wines for serious collectors and fans worldwide. Purchased by wine brokers Henri and Pierre Meurgey in 1990 from an owner in his 80s, Champy is hitting full stride again, with top village and single vineyard wines.

Part of a new wave of younger negociants, with high energy and high standards, the firm carefully vinifies half of its production, buying grapes and must under contract and growing its own 12 ha of vines, and buying in the rest from the best growers.

The house style is to have no “house style”: instead, Champy tries to let each tiny parcel show its own unique typicity. Organic viticulture (low yields, little or no fertilizer/pesticide) and hands-on winemaking (gravity handling, no filtering) at the 15thC cellar in Beaune underscore this pursuit of terroir.

The barrels are Allier and Vosges oak, open-air dried for two years, medium-toasted for reds, medium-heavy for whites.

The wines available in Ontario, all 2000s, are imported by HHD Imports (519/884-7600):

At Vintages, the white Saint-Aubin 1er Cru Murger des Dents de Chien, $39.95 (90) elegant, steely, with smoky mineral notes, subtle pear-melon fruit. The red Beaune Vieilles Vignes $30.85 (91) bright, lush, vibrant red fruit, cassis, a smooch of oak.

Available through HHD:
Whites: Puligny Montrachet Les Enseignères $74 (91) racy, nervous, as the French say, clean crisp, vibrant. Chassagne Montrachet Morgeot $95 (94) Richer, fuller, more lush, with smoky, toasty vanilla notes. Corton Charlemagne $125 (93) Slightly more oak evident, rich fruit, elegant, stony mineral aftertaste.

Reds: Savigny-Lès-Beaune Bas Liards $36 (90) bright, breezy blast of raspberry-cassis fruit, razor-balanced acidity. Beaune 1er Cru Aux Cras $50 (91) more closed, blackberry, briar notes, racy acidity. Nuits Saint-Georges $52 (93) plush, ripe black and red berries, silky acidity, a keeper.

Vintage forecast: the Burgundy 2001s suffered hail and rot and will be slow to develop, the 2002s will be full, rich, ripe and could be great

German Classics
Tired of those traditional Gothic, impossible to read/understand German labels? Then you’ll love Germany’s new Classic wines. They even taste dry.

Behind its concise labels, this new category is above-average quality, dry enough to enjoy with food, from any region, and made from that region’s grapes.

Forget Trocken and Halbtrocken, Dry and Half-Dry, Classics are between bone-dry and off-dry. They’ve been made since the 2000 vintage Minimum alcohol is higher than QBA at 12% (11.5% in the Mosel) so they’re full-bodied with decent flavor.

Examples: Deinhard Pinot Blanc Classic and Kendermann Riesling Classic both from the Pfalz, Geil Riesling Classic from Rheinhessen, and Kruger-Rumpf Riesling Classic from Nahe.

Imagine growing grapevines 700k north of Toronto, at James Bay! That resembles the challenge every year in Germany, says Rainer Lingenfelder of Weingut Lingenfelder in the Pfalz. And it’s only the Taunus and Hunsruck mountains and Saar-Mosel gorges that make it possible.

The weather’s crucial, says Rainer. “We’re in a cool climate, always on the edge, but when it’s right it can be great.” As in 2001, and the 2002 is just as good, though more labor intensive in the vineyard. Good estates made good wines.

A fine example of ‘01 is Jean-Baptiste Riesling Kabinett Weingut Gunderloch from Rheinhessen. Gunderloch is a top vineyard, facing SE over the Rhine, rich in red soil and slate, and winemaker Fritz Hasselbach recalls the long 2001 hang-time for the grapes and the cool nights for great acidity and aromas.

Another would be the Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir) Trocken Deutsche Tafelwein from Lingenfelder. “Reds are not top of mind when it comes to German wines,” says Rainer. But there is an ancient tradition of reds in the Ahr in the very cool north, the Rheingau at Assmanshausen, Ingelheim, Hessen, the Kaiserstuhl and the Pfalz. Success with the whites cause neglect or undervaluing of our reds. In the ‘60s my own father ripped out 100-year-old Pinot Noir vines to ‘concentrate on the whites’!” Rainer, who has traveled and studied internationally, replanted Pinot and took his own, more Burgundian approach to making the wine. “Reds are very fashionable in Germany now. Over 20% of production is red and people are worrying that it might tip the balance of whites.”

Lingenfelder’s own Pinot is rich, ripe and elegant in a Volnay Burgundian style given just a little time in new small barriques. Ganymede, his top cuvée, gets 50% new oak treatment.

True German Riesling classics come in the form of jewels from the Rheingau, like Hattenheimer Nussbrunnen 2001 Auslese from Balthasar Ress, here in October at $50ish, from a top site, gorgeous, subtle and spicy mineral notes with the requisite petrol and vivid tropical fruits (93). The 2001 Beerenauslese Weingut Schloss Vollrads, a noble dessert wine dripping with honeyed, vanilla, floral and citrus flavors (95) $150 a half-bottle! And Hochheimer Holle ’97 Eiswein Weingut Franz Kunstler, all beeswax, pears, tropical compote, citrus, spices in a drier style than the typical Canadian Icewine (96) $125.

* Anal retentive: does that take a hyphen?

Cuvée 2003 Awards
As judged by Ontario’s winemakers: Top Reds: Reif Meritage 2000. Kacaba Meritage 2000. Maleta Meritage 1999. Top Whites: Lakeview Chardonnay Reserve Vinc Vyd 2000. Harvest Estates Riesling 1999. Cilento Chardonnay Reserve 2001.

* Relief: what trees do in spring.

A Great 2002 In Washington
It’s a high-quality 2002 Washington vintage, up 9% from 2001 at 100,000 tons. "We thinned the crop through late summer and fall for lower yields and richer flavors," says Rick Small, winemaker at Woodward Canyon in Walla Walla. “It’s spectacular.”

Juicy News
Vinotherapy was born at Caudalie Spa in Bordeaux, offering body scrubs with crushed Cabernet seeds and soaks in barrels of spring water and grape extract.

At Napa’s Fairmont Sonoma, couples sip wine in a brass tub of grape-seed bubble bath and rose petals before emerging for a grape-seed body lotion massage.

Now, New York City's Just Calm Down spa offers the Grape Gatsby, giving your feet a 30-minute exfoliating soak in red wine and a moisturizing rub with crushed red grapes. Do-it-yourselfers can just stomp a few grapes instead.

* Eyedropper: clumsy ophthalmologist.

Light & White
Weight watchers should skip diet drinks and turn to wine.

The Forum of Wine and Health and German Wine Academy gave volunteers 200mL of fruit juice a day or 200mL of white wine.

Average weight loss was 10 pounds vs 8.3 for the juice drinkers.

* Parasites: views from the Eiffel Tower.

Food for Thought
Near A Thousand Tables, A History of Food, by Felipe Fernández-Armesto, $34.95, Key Porter, is a scholarly treatise on food as history, culture, commodity and connector, the defining characteristic of a culture. It’s a sampler of civilization, and, after all, it’s only cooking that separates us from the things we cook.

* Sudafed: litigate against a bureaucrat.

No Threat To Chardonnay!
As of the 2001 vintage, the Sauvignon Blanc growing zone of Saint-Bris -- formerly Sauvignon de Saint-Bris VDQS -- is Burgundy's 100th appellation.

Winery to Home
About 70% of Ontario wines, especially their best wines, highly prized limited editions, are regularly available only at the wineries own stores. You can still your sticky fingers on them through the Web: Shop 24/7 and select your delivery time Mon-Sat, for yourself or as a gift. Helpful hints and tasting notes are there, too.

Time Machine
Don’t ask me how it works, it just does! Wine Cellar Express coaster, softens and mellows tannic, astringent young wines, especially reds, through some weird magnetic action! This simple coaster really seems to help, and it’s ideal if you don’t have the time to decant and aerate a big young red for supper. Takes about 30 minutes.

Playing Tag
Drink no wine before its time! Reusable VinoTag neck tags are a good way to index the bottles in your cellar. With the producer, variety, vintage and drink-by date. Should last forever and easy to use. 905 876-4229.

The Doc Is In...
Dispensing a friendly 296-page consultation on a useful range of FAQs from wine fans, in sippable Q & A format: the prognosis is a healthier insight into the where’s, why’s and how’s of the grape, courtesy of Edward Finstein, Dr. Wineknow, in his new Ask The Wine Doctor, $24.99, McClelland & Stewart, 416/598-1114.

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