Tasting: 2011 Donatella Cinelli Colombini Rosso di Montalcino

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The three doves represent Donatella, Violante, and Donatella’s husband, Carlo.

One thing that’s great about wine tasting events is that, sometimes, if you’re lucky, you get to meet someone who’s actually involved in making the wine.  That happened to be the case back in October 2014 when Violante Gardini of Donatella Cinelli Colombini came to visit a local wine shop, and we were fortunate enough to get to meet with her about her family’s wines.  And what a treat it was!  Violante is an absolute delight.

Donatella Cinelli Colombini’s winemaking operation was started by Violante’s mother, Donatella Cinelli Colombini, in 2001.  The grapes are grown on land that belonged to Donatella’s ancestors back in 1592, then was lost for 300 years until Donatella’s great-grandfather bought it back up in 1919.  The estate has been passed down from generation to generation—from mother to daughter—ever since (meaning that someday, Violante will be in charge).

The 2011 Donatella Cinelli Colombini Rosso di Montalcino that we purchased at the tasting event is produced at Donatella’s Casato Prime Donne estate, which has 40 acres of vines.  At this estate, all the winemakers are women, a pretty unusual occurrence in Italy. The Rosso di Montalcino is 100% Sangiovese (as the majority of Montalcino wines are), and is aged for one year in oak.

Our Tasting Notes:  Bright, deep ruby red in color with a slight orange hue.  Nose is youthful with slight intensity, with notes of cooked cherry, blueberry, blackberry, plum, pomegranate, strawberry, dried Italian herbs, molasses, compost, wet granite, vanilla, and coconut.  Dry on the palate with medium+ body and notes of black cherry, blackberry, cranberry, pomegranate, fig, Kalamata olive, rosemary, leather, black tea, chive, menthol, and wet granite.   Medium complexity, medium+ tannin, and medium+ finish.  Tastes like a new world GSM rather than Sangiovese, but a good wine nonetheless.

Overall, this is a good wine that has been extremely popular around Denver, but there a lot of great Rosso wines out there for about half the price (this one is about $30).  However, we love the family history of this estate, and we very much enjoyed conversing with Violante about her family’s wine, and for that reason we will likely try another wine from Donatella Cinelli Colombini again.  Ah, how we wish we’d, too, had been raised at a winery.

2004 Sadie Family Columella

ColumellaIt’s not every day you find a 12-year-old wine laying in your local liquor store.  It’s really not every day that 12-year-old wine in an American wine store is from South Africa.  So when we recently came upon a 2004 Sadie Family Columella at one of our favorite wine stores, we jumped at the opportunity to snatch one up (albeit with some hesitation).  We have been wanting to branch out from our usual American, French, and Italian selections, and this wine seemed like the perfect opportunity.

The Sadie Family has been producing wines in the Swartland district of the Coastal Region of South Africa since 1999, and its winemaker, Eben Sadie, is sort of a legend in the industry.  In fact, he has been called “one of the greatest and most original winemakers in the southern hemisphere,” and a “national asset” for the South African wine industry.  With these sort of accolades, you might expect that he’d come from one of the great winemaking families of South Africa.  Nope, prior to becoming a winemaker, Eben was a surfer.

After visiting and working in the wine regions of Germany, Austria, Italy, France, and Oregon, Eden Sadie decided to return to his home country of South Africa to start making wines.  He went to work at another South African label as their winemaker for only a year or so, and then departed to start independent production of his own label, Sadie FamilySadie Family produced its first vintage of Columella in 2000, and it was a very small production, just under 417 cases.  Now, Sadie Family’s wines are some of the most highly rated wines coming out of South Africa.

The 2004 Columella is a blend of the Southern Rhone varietals of Syrah and Mourvèdre, grapes perfectly suited for growing in the Swartland district.  The Columella’s grapes are sourced from eight distinct vineyard sites with five different soil types, including granitic, red slate, alluvial, heavy clay, and limestone.  Sadie Family is careful to prevent these grapes from shriveling too much, which would lower fructose levels in the grapes and result in jammier, sweeter wines (as is often the problem with coastal wines).

There are no artificial or machined wines here; all the work to make the wine is performed by handNatural yeasts ferment the juice, which spends seven to eight weeks on the skins.  The Sadie Family is so old school that the workers actually have to stomp down the grapes with their bare feet.  After fermentation, the wine then spends 24 months maturing in French oak barrels.

Our Tasting Notes:  Deep ruby red in color with slight copper hue and some rim variation.  The nose is powerful with slight brett/oxidation and notes of cooked blueberry, sweet Bing cherry, cranberry, fig, prune, plum, black currant, anise, seaweed/soy sauce, mushroom, lilac, cigar, green peppercorn, and slight compost. The palate is off-dry and full bodied, with notes of cooked blueberry, red currant, balsamic strawberry, prune, plum, seaweed, mushroom, leather, tobacco, dried sage, flowers, forest floor, and granite.  The wine has medium+ complexity and finish.  Tannins are also medium+ and should help this wine age gracefully for another 5+ years.

For a wine label only in production for four years, this wine is truly spectacular.  Somehow, despite rather limited experience, Eben Sadie knew exactly what he doing and created the perfect blend in his Columella wine. Though the wine is pricey at around $80, Sadie Family’s dedication to classic winemaking techniques and attention to detail actually make the wine a fantastic value.  And if you’re dying to step away from your usual wines like we were, there couldn’t be a better way to start exploring South Africa’s offerings.

Costco: Not Just for Bulk Toilet Paper and Free Samples

If you’re an American, or you’ve been to America, or even if you’ve been to a foreign country that appreciates Western culture, chances are you’ve been to the exciting, almost magical store that is Costco.  Known for its bulk goods and low prices, as well as its free samples, Costco is a staple and a necessity for many. (In fact, it’s so important in our society that a high school student was recently accepted into five Ivy League schools for writing her entrance essay about her childhood trips to Costco.)

But, did you know that Costco is the largest wine retailer in the country? We didn’t.


You see, Colorado is one of a handful of states that makes is such that liquor stores can each only hold one license, which, in the practical sense, means each store can only have one location.  Colorado’s particular store is located in Littleton, which for us is nearly a half hour drive away.  Consequently, we were unaware that Costco even sold alcohol in store in the Denver metro area until we just happened to stop into that store.  And, as such, we had no idea that wine being sold in Costco was even catching on.

Wine sales are so abundant at Costco that the retailer made $3.7 billion in alcohol sales in 2013.  Unlike most giant wine retailers, such as Total Wine and Wine.com, which carry thousands of wines, Costco carries a rather limited selection at a time, usually a mere 100 to 120 wines which rotate over time.  Don’t let the limited selection deter you!  Costco is also the largest importer of French wines, so you won’t just find junky “California Champagne” here.  Rather, by keeping their selection narrow, Costco tries to ensure that customers always get a quality, good value wine.

Wines range from as little as around $5 a bottle, into the thousands of dollars for something truly special (that’s right, they even carry special wines!).  To provide cheap, quality wines, Costco also produces its own Kirkland Signature-branded wines.  These wines are amongst their cheapest offerings, often under $10 a bottle (though they do have higher-end Kirkland branded wines, such as a Châteauneuf-du-Pape).  And, despite the low prices, Kirkland wines are not mass-produced, jug-type wines; they only make around 2,000 cases of each per year, and they are typically pretty highly rated.

This weekend, we decided to visit our wine-selling Costco to see their current inventory.  The alcohol section was packed, as you might expect given their value-priced Kirkland Champagne and local craft beers.  While they had a very large selection, unfortunately, most of the wines were the same wines we would find in our local liquor store (though this is because of our annoying, three-tiered distribution system).  Luckily, most of the other Costco liquor sections we’ve visited in other states have had a wider selection of unusual, harder to find wines.  The wine that stood out the most for us?  This 2013 Peter Franus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon:


Also, they had some enticing-looking Kirkland Signature wines, such as this “Signature Series” Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon:


They even had a Kirkland “Signature Series” Chablis Premier Cru, seen in this photo:

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We look forward to seeing their new selections on our next visit.

For us, it’s hard to imagine life without Costco.  But if we had one selling wine nearby?  Pretty sure we would stop by every day, large crowds or not (and enjoy some free samples, too, of course).