HOT TIP - Printable Version

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- Jerry D Mead - 04-09-1999 02:58 PM

First off, save me the debate re the origin of the grape...I know it's questionable...maybe Italian...maybe Rhone...who knows.

But trust me on this one without a review...without a score (I'll be giving it both in near future) check out 1994 Via Firenze "Napa Valley Charbono...about $14...maybe less if you can find at a discounter. And don't hold against it that it's a Canandaigua brand.

Love to hear your thoughts on it.

P.S. (It's from an old Inglenook vineyard near Calistoga.)

- Randy Caparoso - 04-16-1999 03:00 AM

Back in town, Curmudgeon.

I actually had the '94 Via Firenze Charbono in Florida this past Feb., and thoroughly enjoyed it. My notes had it as rich in color, with slightly meaty, fleshy cherry fruit aromas; medium full, rounded, lightly tart (great for fresh cut tomato & herb sauces) with easy tannins. Exceptional drinking, and exceptional for Italianate foods, however shrouded its origin may be (Jancis Robinson cites a French ampelographer who theorizes -- without conclusive confirmation -- a connection between Italy's Dolcetto and the near extict Douce Noire or Charbonneau of France's Savoie).

By the way -- I rated the Via Firenze a VG-, and ended up putting it on our wine list in Bonita Springs, Florida.

- Jerry D Mead - 04-16-1999 09:55 AM

//I said I'd review it soon...//

Via Firenze 1994 "Napa" Charbono ($14) Another California mystery grape, one theory being that it's a particular clone of Dolcetto from Italy, or a nearly extinct French variety called Charbonneau (also believed to be related to Dolcetto). Inglenook Napa Valley was the most famous producer of the wine, and in fact the grapes for this one come from an old Inglenook vineyard. Most other producers have given up on it and many of the vineyards have been replanted to more popular varieties. This is a wonderful example. Big, bold, very serious red wine. Plum and blackberry flavors with lots of earthy complexity. Intense and concentrated, it's structured for cellaring for 10-20 years, but you can enjoy it now with strongly flavored foods. Case purchases highly recommended. Rating: 94/96.
Wines are scored using a unique 100 point system. First number rates quality\; second number rates value. For help finding wines reviewed, contact Mead's office at (800) 845-9463.

- Randy Caparoso - 04-16-1999 10:08 PM

Wow, Curm! I liked the wine, but I guess I'm a stingy scorer. My VG- translates to about an 86. But I'd give it an 89 for drinkability.

While I don't think it's a world beater, I agree with you on its cellaring potential. I remember about ten years ago, a connoisseur/friend of mind brought me a bottle of Franciscan Burgundy from the late '70s (can't recall exactly, except the wine was about 11-12 years old at the time). It had a beautiful fragrance -- woodsy, dried flowers and fruit -- and gentle, velvety, layered, almost neverending flavors. Since he was a business acquaintance of Justin Meyer's, he told me that he'd been cellaring and drinking cases of the stuff over the years because he knew that it was 100% Charbono.

But I wasn't really that surprised. In fact, during the earliest years that I worked as a sommelier (from '79), I just loved selling the Inglenook Charbonos. I also remember reading an old Esquire article (from around '72) by Roy Andries de Groot (a strong, early inspiration) recalling the finest California wine he ever drank -- a '48 Inglenook Charbono. I think he rated it something like a 98 (although his standards were different, you have to remember that de Groot was absolutely the first to have used the 100 point rating system).

At any rate, I've always had a weakness for the grape, which is why I've embraced the Via Firenze so readily.

- Jerry D Mead - 04-17-1999 10:05 AM

Re my scoring...I score for the variety I'm tasting. I'm the kind of guy who might give a 98 to a White Zin, if it's a really great White Zin with forward strawberry-cherry fruit, non-cloying sweetness and a bit of acidity.

Some folks have absolute scales, holding every wine up to some kind of "best wine I ever tasted" kind of standard.

Since this was the best young Charbono I've had in years...a very big score.

I even gave 100 to a rose, once upon a time.


- Randy Caparoso - 04-17-1999 07:58 PM

Fair enough. I'll buy it. In fact, I did!

- misterjive - 04-26-1999 01:01 AM

Yet anopther interesting thing about mysterious charbono is that some in Argentina believe Southern Hemisphere Bonarda to actually be Charbono (this info also comes from J. Robinson). I agree with Robinson and others that Charbono can "read" like Barbera grown under the same conditions. (Which reminds me, the Fife Barbera is NIIICE, with boldness and big fruit I was not under $13 at my local enoteca, I rate it at least 84, and 90 for value (thank you, JDM, your royalty check is in the mail).

While we are on Italian varieties from California, how about Refosco? I had the Bonny Doon recently, and liked the ripe plum/blueberry jammyness of it.

- Randy Caparoso - 04-28-1999 09:42 PM

I find the acidity of Charbono to be similar, although not quite as sharp, as a typical Barbera. Charbono also has a darker berry aroma -- with slightly "animal" like, gamey qualities -- whereas Barbera is more typically towards red fruits (cherry, raspberry, etc.). These qualities tend to give Charbono a broader, rounder feel, and Barbera a steelier, sharper edged, more dileneated profile.

I agree with you, Misterjive, that Refosco is another highly underrated varietal. While decidedly softer in acidity, its gentle tannins make it exceptionally food versatile. If you liked the Ca' del Solo Refosco, I'm sure you'll also enjoy the one under the Il Podere dell' Olivos label, made by Jim Clendenen at Au Bon climat. The fruit in this one is even brighter and fresher.

If you read your Jancis Robinson, you'll also find speculation that the Refosco is possibly related to the Mondeuse Noire of France's Savoie region. The French deny this, and judging from the taste of wines sold under the A.C. known as Arbin -- dense, juicy, but slightly bitter edged reds -- I would tend to agree with the French. Arbins resemble Refoscos in flavor, but not in structure.

Speaking of underappreciated Italian red varietals, here's another that we're seeing more of from both Italy and California: Teroldego. Check out the full, thick yet soft and lush Teroldego made by Il Podere dell' Olivos, and compare it to the rich, earthy, wonderfully soulful bottlings by Foradori in Trentino. Fascinating! Might even make you forget Charbono!

- Thomas - 04-29-1999 07:24 AM


Re Arbin-Refosco. The structure difference could have something to do with different growing and/or winemaking conditions. The only way to know is through DNA matching, and even then questions remain, but fewer.

What is the price of California Refosco? Haven't seen them in this market. Friuli Refosco I can get here start at about $12/bottle and go up.

- Randy Caparoso - 04-29-1999 06:50 PM

I agree, foodie. But keep in mind that even the most casual observer could not help but notice the big difference in pheonolic content (i.e. tannin and pigments) between a typical Refosco and typical Arbin. Granted, some varietals (such as Grenache and Pinot Noir) manifest themselves in astounding ranges. But in the case of Refosco and Mondeuse, the structural differences are almost as marked as that of, say, Gamay and Cabernet varieties; making the relationship seem unlikely (at least to us armchair ampelographers).

I can't say for sure, but it seems to me that Ca' del Solo label wines generally retail between $10 and $18, and Il Podere dell' Olivos between $12 and $20.

Incidentally, anyone remember the Refosco varietal bottlings put out by Fred Weibel in the '80s? I was quite fond of those pinkish-red, easy, cherry/cranberryish wines, which I drank with ice cubes. I always thought their transfer-process Blanc de Blancs were underrated, too. Invitingly round, engaging, almost jovial wines -- just like the family!

- Jerry D Mead - 04-30-1999 02:54 AM

Re the Weibel Refosco...a wine ahead of its time. We didn't have the interest in offbeat/orphan varieties that we do now.

Weibel is still making bubbly, you know, and with a chain of restaurants your size they'll make up a lot to suit you and give you your own label.

Also, have you seen their wine called "FORTUNE"? It's a threshold sweetness Colombard/Symphony blend aimed at spicy cuisine. The gimmick for Asian restaurants is that your "fortune" is branded on the cork!!!!

Hey! Before you was my idea .


- Thomas - 04-30-1999 07:45 AM

It might have been your idea, curm, but I knew my fortune was written on the first cork I popped, or was that the first cap I twisted?

- Thomas - 04-30-1999 07:46 AM

By the way, Randy, with those California Refosco prices, I'll stick to Friuli, priced in the same slot. Might as well go for the original when you can get it.

- Randy Caparoso - 04-30-1999 07:19 PM

I don't know, foodie. Nowadays, the revisions are often better than the originals. We're talking crack winemaking, now (Jim Clendenen is no slouch). One taste of his Refosco and/or Teroldego could make you change your mind. In fact, I'd bet on it!

Curmudgeon... no comment.

- Randy Caparoso - 05-01-1999 12:08 AM

That is, no comment on the fortune bottles. I do like Weibel for transfer process. But the fact is, we have a good 700 cases or so a year of Roy's Late Disgorged Brut produced for us at Iron Horse (for our "chain," we go for the best we can get). I go for the creamier, gentler, yet still fresh-in-fruit cuvees, and then help tool with the dosage (rounding out the edges and playing up the yeastiness). Our current vintage is a '92.

For the Y2K celebrations, we also designed our own dosage for a '91 Blanc de Blancs, which will be disgorged and bottled (3 liters and 750s) with our own label this summer.

The aforementioned has nothing to do with the original subject, but did you hear why the late Sonny Bono failed in his attempt to purchase the original plantings between the old Inglenook winery and Hwy. 29?

Because he wanted to rename it Sonny & Charbono.

I'll stick to wine commentary.