Why are some wines aged in oak barrels? Wine ageing in oak can benefit certain wine styles; integrating flavours, softening tannins, and adding complexity.
What is an oaked wine? How is wine aged? What is the difference between French oak and American oak? Check out my latest wine education video below to learn all about it.
N.B. Oak is not the only type of wood used to age wine. Chestnut, Acacia, and Cherry wood are favoured in some areas. Oak for wine barrels can also originate from many other areas. This short video just covers the most common styles.
Le Ragnaie Brunello di Montalcino! The past two decades have seen a happy return to a “less is more” philosophy in so many of the world’s fine wine regions. The full throttle wines of the 1990s and early 2000s, with their extended hangtimes, long extraction, and lavish use of new oak, are slowly disappearing. This is certainly the case in Brunello di Montalcino.
Top producers today have found their stride, achieving ripe tannin structures while maintaining balanced freshness and alcohol. The wines of Riccardo and Jennifer Campinoti at Le Ragnaie are a prime example. The 23-hectare estate has some of the highest altitude vineyards in Montalcino.
In 2017, Le Ragnaie began vinifying its various terroirs individually. They were among the first Brunello producers to offer a wide range of single vineyard bottlings. Among the estate’s top terroirs are its southwest facing old vine vineyards in the central zone of Montalcino, its parcel on Montosoli, and its plots in the Castelnuovo dell’Abate sector.
The winery name and that of one of its lieux-dits, Le Ragnaie, refers to an old hunting device; a wide net used to catch birds. The word ragno means spider in Italian, hence the idea of catching prey in a net. The estate is organic and focused on the biodiversity of its habitats. Oak forests, olive groves, and a small lake surround its winery vineyards.
The winemaking style at Le Ragnaie is very restrained. After destemming and rigorous sorting, the grapes are fermented in concrete vats with natural yeasts. Riccardo Campinoti refers to this process as a “long, slow infusion on skins”. After a month or so, the wines are transferred to 25 hectolitre Slavonian oak vats and French oak barriques from the Allier.
The Rosso di Montalcino matures for nine months, while the Brunello di Montalcino tier wines age for anywhere from 36 to 48 months. Campinoti doesn’t produce any Riserva bottlings. Though several of his cuvées qualify, he prefers the flexibility of varying ageing durations from one vintage to the next, depending on the growing conditions of each site.
Sitting down to a meal and tasting of recent vintages with Riccardo Campinoti was a one of the highlights of my spring calendar. See my tasting notes below.
Le Ragnaie Troncone 2021, IGT Toscana – 90pts. VW
The Troncone cuvée is a declassified red from the Montalcino area, sourced from a site above the appellation’s previous 600 metre altitude limit. Like all of Le Ragnaie’s wines, Troncone is fermented with natural yeast. Ageing lasts less than a year, in large, neutral Slavonian casks.
Excellent value for the price, with its vibrant red currant, strawberry, and floral accents. The palate is fresh and medium in body, with a pleasantly chalky texture, and hints of bitter almond that refresh the finish. Very easy-drinking.
Where to Buy: $20.25 (SAQ code: 13432515)
Le Ragnaie Rosso di Montalcino 2019 – 89pts. PW
The 2019 Rosso di Montalcino is youthful and fragrant, with notes of red cherry, rose, and balsamic hints on the nose. The palate is lively, medium-bodied, and firm with refreshing minty nuances on the finish. Needs time to unwind or a short spell in a decanter to open up further.
Le Ragnaie Brunello di Montalcino 2017 – 93pts. LW
The Le Ragnaie Brunello di Montalcino is a blend of all the properties vineyard. Each plot is vinified separately and then blended at the end of three years’ ageing in botti and barrel. In the hot 2017 vintage, the cooler north-facing plots were primarily allocated to this wine to ensure sufficient freshness. Grapes from warmer areas were blended into the Rosso.
Attractive notes of dried orange peel, tart red fruit, and hints of tar play across the nose. The palate is firm and weighty, with a slightly warming finish despite fresh acidity throughout. Finishes with fine grained tannins and lingering savoury, earthy nuances.
Where to Buy: $90.00 (SAQ code: 15051556)
Le Ragnaie Brunello di Montalcino Vigna Vecchia 2017 – 96pts. LW
The old vine cuvée is sourced from Le Ragnaie’s oldest vineyards, planted in 1968. The plot is located in front of the cellar at the lofty heights of 600 metres altitude. Prior to 2016, this was the upper limit for the Brunello di Montalcino appellation – on the brink of being too cool for quality wine. Now, producers are increasingly planting at higher altitudes.
Initially discreet, the 2017 is hugely complex upon aeration with notes of truffle, ripe blue fruit, almond essence, talc, and Provençal herbs. The palate has a very defined, sinewy quality about it. This is a bold, fresh, elegant red wine to sip slowly savouring each glass.
Where to Buy: $139.50 (sadly sold out)
Le Ragnaie Brunello di Montalcino 2018 – 92pt. LW
The 2018 growing season was a challenge for many estates, with spells of cool, rainy weather. Bookended by hot, powerful years, the best wines of the 2018 vintage are prized for their very pretty, lifted aromatics and overall elegance. This is an earlier drinking vintage overall.
Vivid notes of cassis, red plum, wild herbs, and almond essence feature on the nose. The palate is brisk and full-bodied, with good depth of flavour, and fine, powdery tannins. Vibrant red and blue fruit mingles with refreshing herbal notes on the finish.
Where to Buy: $97.00 (100 cs/6 coming soon to LA SAQ)
Le Ragnaie Brunello di Montalcino Vigna Vecchia 2018 – 94pts. LW
The Vigna Vecchia 2018 has a lovely, perfumed nose of ripe red cherry, strawberry, and plum with underlying layers of violets and hints of marzipan. Tangy red fruit flavours give a really lively character to the palate. Initially satiny in texture, with a highly glossy, polished feel; tapers to ripe yet dense, muscular tannins. Needs two to three years to soften and unfurl.
Where to Buy: $150.50 (40cs/6 coming soon to La SAQ)
Le Ragnaie Brunello di Montalcino “Casanovina Montosoli” 2018 – 96pts. LW
Montosoli is a hill in the northern part of the Brunello di Montalcino appellation. It is considered one of the region’s best “cru” growing areas. The vineyard is located at 300 metre altitude on mainly galestro soils (aka a rocky soil composed of silt and clay-marl with layers of limestone; excellent drainage).
This is a hugely expressive and complex red, brimming with ripe and dried red fruit. Upon aeration, layer upon layer of sour cherry, floral nuances, blood orange, eucalyptus, and barnyard hints emerge. The palate is powerful and very fresh, with hugely concentrated mid-palate, and firm tannins that frame the long finish nicely. Lots of staying power. Age for 10 years +.
Le Ragnaie Brunello di Montalcino “Petroso” 2016 – 97pts. LW
This northwest facing one-hectare plot sits at 380 metres altitude, on shallow, rocky soils. These elements give a lot of lift and mineral tension to the Petroso wines. The vineyard is situated near the town of Montalcino and is one of the area’s oldest vineyard sites.
From the incredible 2016 vintage, the Le Ragnaie Petroso does not disappoint. The nose is incredibly complex, with heady aromas of rose, peony, dried orange peel, cherry, talc, and underlying savoury notes. The palate is weighty yet beautifully balanced, with a lifted freshness, and fine-grained tannins. Long, multi-layered finish. Drinking well now, but with the power to age another 10 years or more.
Where to Buy: Sold out
This Le Ragnaie Brunello di Montalcino piece is re-printed (with permission) from my article written for Good Food Revolution. If you want to learn more about artisanal food, wine, beer and spirits, check out their excellent website.
From excellent villages cuvées to top crus, the best Beaujolais wines are worth every penny. The Beaujolais Nouveau era may be over but the region has risen from its ashes in spectacular fashion. Scroll down for some fantastic Beaujolais wines to ring in Nouveau night.
There will be no whimsical displays of Beaujolais Nouveau this year. Freight and fuel costs continue to skyrocket. Global wine bottle shortages persist. As a result, this once cheap and oh-so-cheerful red has become an expensive proposition.
And let’s face it, consumer interest has been waning for years. Sommeliers turned their backs long ago. Even in Japan, Beaujolais Nouveau’s most ardent overseas imbibers, support has been steadily falling away for a decade. An estimated doubling of prices in the market may be the final nail in its coffin.
Though Beaujolais Nouveau may be gone from our store shelves in 2022, that doesn’t mean we can’t raise our glasses on Thursday to salute how far the region has come.
New Wines, Ancient Traditions
The idea of imbibing a freshly fermented wine is neither a new concept, nor specific to Beaujolais wines. In ancient Greece, the Athenian festival Anthesteria, in honour of Dionysus, was celebrated with the wine of the recently completed harvest.
This idea of harvest celebrations lingers in France, with nouveau wine releases throughout the country, from Gaillac, to Touraine, to the southern Rhône Valley – though Beaujolais remains the most well-known and widely exported example.
In the 1800s, wine merchants were already buying just fermented Beaujolais to showcase the new vintage to their brasserie and restaurant clients in major surrounding cities. However, it wasn’t until the 1950s that official legislation was past that mandated the third Thursday of November as the official release date for the wines of the vintage.
DuBoeuf worked tirelessly with chefs, sommeliers, and other wine gatekeepers in major markets around the world to extend this tradition. By the 1980s, industrial quantities were being produced. Television ads heralded the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau in the US, great towers of the stuff appeared in liquor stores across Canada, throughout Europe and beyond.
Perhaps no other export market took to Beaujolais Nouveau, or hung on so long, as Japan. Photos of Japanese merry-makers, bathing in spas overflowing with the wine are popular media images every November.
From Beaujolais Nouveau to Nouvelle… Génération
For a time, as appreciation for the soft, banana-scented Beaujolais fell away, it seemed that region was headed for disaster. Who could take a wine region seriously, who’s major claim to fame was a cheap, quaffing red with zero shelf life? But change was afoot.
The work of Beaujolais’ natural wine pioneers had already begun in the 1980s, under the mentorship of local scientist and winemaker, Jules Chauvet. It would take a further decade for these radical new wines – made without carefully selected yeast strains or protective doses of sulphur – to gain the first timid signs of international interest.
The natural wine movement allowed Beaujolais to re-focus attention on its terroirs and traditional winemaking practices. The merits and distinctions of its ten cru villages were increasingly highlighted with areas like Morgon, Fleurie, and Moulin-à-Vent gaining recognition around the world.
In 2008, the region began an ambitious soil mapping project that would span nine years. Over 15 000 soil surveys, 1000 soil pits, and 50 field visits were completed. The study led to detailed maps of each Beaujolais appellation, detailing 300 different soil types across the area.
The in-depth knowledge gained from this work has given Beaujolais’ grape growers an incredible tool – informing their decisions on planting, pruning, inter-row, and canopy management in each sector of their vineyards. It is also a great way to communicate terroir – to highlight how different Gamay can taste from one lieu-dit to another.
One Grape, Multiple Expressions
Between its impressive image makeover and the dual trends for natural wines and – more generally – for fresher, lighter, less oak-driven reds, Beaujolais is back in business. The volumes are a far cry from the dizzying heights of the Nouveau days, but a more sustainable quality reputation has been established.
It is a region that is simple for newcomers to get behind. Red wines made exclusively from the Gamay grape makes up 95% of production. Beaujolais can be simplistically summed up as Gamay + granite + temperate climate = light, fresh, low tannin reds with vibrant red fruit and violet notes.
However, for those looking to explore more deeply, the varied topography of gentle hills to vertiginous slopes, myriad soil compositions, numerous meso-climates, and wide variety of winemaking practices yield huge stylistic diversity from one Beaujolais to another.
Here is a mere handful of the best Beaujolais wine producers (in this author’s opinion) for your Beaujolais Nouveau night celebrations: Mee Godard, Famille Dutraive, Antoine Sunier, Julien Sunier, Richard Rottiers, Château Thivin, Marcel Lapierre, Jean Foillard, Domaine des Marrans, Domaine des Chers, Christophe Pacalet.
Favourites from a recent tasting include:
Famille Dutraive Fleurie Les Déduits 2019 – 95pts. PW
Pitch perfect, ready-to-drink Fleurie in a bold yet satiny smooth style ably matched by lively acidity and vivid red berry, cherry, violet, spice aromas. A truly joyous wine with impressive breadth and length. Dangerously easy to drink. Easily one of my coup de coeur Beaujolais for 2022.
Reminiscent of Northern Rhône Syrah with its peppery spice and subtly smoky, meaty undertones, this Morgon is medium in body with complex red and dark fruit flavours. Bright, balanced acidity, sinewy tannins, and lots of finesse. Carafe 30 minutes before serving.
A very pretty, fragrant wine (in typical Régnié fashion) with wafts of ripe strawberry, peonies, baked red cherry, and subtly earthy undertones. The palate is light, silky and lifted, with a crisp freshness that lingers through the finish. A very approachable, easy-drinking Beaujolais.
Domaine Mee Godard Beaujolais Villages 2020 – 91pts. PW
Mee Godard is a Morgon producer that I have greatly admired since visiting her domaine in 2018. Her wines are often taut and firmly structured in their youth ageing gracefully over time. This Villages cuvée is not exception; definitely drinking above its origin. Medium in body with attractive blackberry, red cherry, savoury notes, and a velvety mouthfeel tapering to taut yet fine-grained tannins.
From the challenging 2021 vintage, this “humble” Beaujolais is easy to dismiss as overly lean, tart, or vegetal…which was my first impression. However, over a span of four days I re-tasted regularly and the wine transformed. Still light and crisp, this red revealed layered aromas of cranberry, rhubarb, forest floor, beets, and green peppercorn over time. The palate is taut with finely chiselled tannins. Decant up to an hour before serving.
Domaine des Marrans Chiroubles Aux Côtes 2020 – 90pts. PW
The Beaujolais cru of Chiroubles boasts the highest elevation and steepest slopes of the region. This south-west facing vineyard is perched at 400 metres altitude, giving a very ripe yet refreshing style of Beaujolais. The 2020 vintage features aromas of baked red berries, hints of pomegranate, and tar. The palate is medium weight, with a rounded structure, and slightly grippy tannins. Great value for the price.
Rosé is a rarity in Beaujolais, making up just 3% of production so it is fun to see this on our shelves. This ample, deeper hued rosé is hugely enticing, with lovely florality on the nose and pure, tangy rhubarb flavours, underscored by earthy and subtly savoury notes. Lipsmackingly good and very food friendly.
This “Best Beaujolais Wines…” piece is re-printed (with permission) from my article written for Good Food Revolution. If you want to learn more about artisanal food, wine, beer and spirits, check out their excellent website.