Montoliva Wine & Vineyards

Here at Montoliva Vineyard & Winery I have a fairly intense focus on Italian varietals, particularly central and southern Italian varietals. You can read more about why this is here. The varietals I work with are all Italian, my approach to winemaking approximates the central Italian winemaking style. That being said, no Italian winemaker would ever mistake my wines for wines grown and produced in Italy. While the geology and climate here is similar, they are not exactly the same, and this is reflected in my wine. So, how exactly do my wines stack up against their Italian counterparts? Most of you are familiar with the so-called Judgement of Paris that occurred in 1976, and was immortalized in the highly fictionalized movie "Bottle Shock". Well, meet The Judgement of Chicago Park. Periodically I sit down with one of my wines, and one or more of their Italian counterparts. There is no pretense of impartiality. I make wines that I like, so there is an inherent bias. It is fun, nonetheless.

3 March 2022

2019 Montoliva Vineyard & Winery Barbera vs 2018 Casali del Barone 150+1 Barbera Piemonte

In this episode of the Judgement of Chicago Park, we contrast and compare our Barbera with a Barbera from the Piedmonte region of northwestern Italy.
I purchased the 2018 Casali del Barone, I think it was at Total Wines, about a year ago. I paid $25 for the bottle, so it is comparably priced to our Barbera. I am not familiar with the producer, I was attracted to this bottle by the stickers all over the front of it indicating it had won a Gold Medal at the Berlin Intl Wine Competition, and had been rated 97 points by someone named Luca Maroni (I have a good friend named Luke Maroni…so, there you go). A little research turned up, well, not very much information about the wine, except that it quite possibly contains 10-15% Nebbiolo. It is one of those quirks of wine labeling rules that a varietally labeled wine can actually contain up to 25% of a whole different varietal and that secondary varietal is not required to be disclosed.
In the glass both wines are similar in color, deep and purple. The Piedmonte Barbera starts out with a subtle nose that gently evolves into predominately vanilla and baking spice with just a hint of dried fruit. Light to medium bodied, not a lot of mid-palate, moderate acidity (that’s refreshing), finishing with tannin that says “oak”, and a fair amount of it. Ok, so a Barbera that starts with oak (the vanilla), and finishes with oak. Time to see what the 2018 growing season looked like in the Piedmonte. Yup, sure enough, it was a short, cool, rainy summer in 2018. It is not surprising that the winemaker would, in these circumstances, throw a lot of oak at the wine to try to make up for less-than-optimal growing conditions. The only surprise here is that in really good Piedmonte growing years Barbera is on the high acid side. In a poor year, I would expect lip curling acidity. That this wine did not exhibit excessive acid could a tip to another grape being blended in to it.
I released our 2019 Barbera just a couple of weeks ago, so it got a bit more barrel aging than I typically give our Barbera. It needed it. In 2019 there was no rain throughout the summer, only two days that were above 98’f, and an average daily hi temp of 88’f. Just about as close to perfect as a vineyardist would want. Our Barbera ripened well and uniformly. Truly one of those years where all I could do in the winery is screw it up (which I try desperately not to do). As expected the nose of the Montoliva was bursting fruit, the wine was full bodied and so fruit forward it is bordering on sweet. Fortunately Barbera is naturally a fairly acidic grape. This wine has enough acidity to balance out the big fruit on the front end, creating a wine that is big, luscious, but balanced. It’s not a fruit-bomb.
As many of you know I believe that the Sierra Foothills is Barbera’s natural home. Not just in California, but in the world. Here we get just the right mix of daytime heat and nighttime cool to ripen Barbera enough so that it isn’t tart, but not so ripe that it tastes like kool-aid. With 2019 in the Sierra Foothills being just about perfect, and 2018 in the Piedmonte being…well, not, I have to give my judgement to the Montoliva Barbera. As I like to say, Mother Nature always bats last.

26 October 2021

2018 Montoliva Estate Sangiovese vs 2016 Cantina Del Redi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

When is a Montepulciano wine not a Montepulciano wine? For this episode of the Judgement of Chicago Park I am contrasting and comparing our soon-to-be released 2018 Estate Sangiovese with a 2016 Cantina Del Redi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. I know what you are thinking, “not so fast, Mark, in your ‘Judgements’ you compare like varietals, Sangiovese and Montepulciano are two different varietals”. Boy, if you think California can be confusing with what is grown where, let me introduce you to the Italians! Montepulciano is a small hill town in Tuscany, just a bit south and east of Siena. Now, you would think that a wine from this area, and bearing the name “Nobile di Montepulciano” would be made of the Montepulciano grape, wouldn’t you. That would make sense. Which, of course, is why Nobile di Montepulciano is actually made primarily with Sangiovese. Sure, clear as an unfiltered Sauvignon Blanc.

I purchased the Cantina Del Redi wine from Total Wines a while back, paid $30 for the bottle, so it is comparably priced to my Sangiovese. Well known Italian wine critic James Suckling gave this wine 91 points and calls the 2016 “”A soft, fruity red with plum and chocolate aromas and flavors. Full body. Ripe tannins and a delicious finish. Creamy and satisfying”. Yup, that pretty much describes a good Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. I really wish that is what I was sampling. I found the 2016 Cantina Del Redi to be very reminiscent of the Chiantis of the 1960s and 70s. This wine was light in color (not necessarily a deal-killer with Sangiovese), with a slightly musty nose that often, but not always, indicates some oxidization. With a sip…sure enough, slightly oxidized, but not terribly off-putting. It has a bit of cherry in the flavor profile, and finishes with, well, not much. This is a very simple, light, I’d-probably-be-satisfied-with-it-if-I’d-paid-$14 bottle of wine. Nobile di Montepulciano will often have Canaiolo Nero (a varietal I also grow) blended into it. I found myself wishing that had been the case with this wine, it couldn’t have helped but to make it more interesting.

I am releasing our 2018 Estate Sangiovese on November 6th. This wine spent 26 months in neutral oak barrels and was bottled about 10 months ago. As is my style, it is 100% estate grown Sangiovese. 2018 was a growing year with its own unique challenges. We had two frost events in late April that year which significantly reduced the vineyard yields. While I normally expect to harvest 4-5 tons from our 1 acre of Sangiovese, that year we only got 3 tons.

In the glass my Sangiovese doesn’t look that different from the Cantina Del Redi. Sangiovese isn’t a particularly dark grape, it doesn’t produce a particularly dark wine (want to wind me up, come by some weekend and ask me why so many California Sangioveses are opaque). On the nose…hmm, baking spices. Nutmeg maybe? Not sure, but definitely in the pumpkin zone. Not much in the way of fruit on the nose, which is somewhat unusual for my Sangiovese. The mid-palate is moderately full, also some spice with just a hint of dried cherry, that then gives way to a touch of drying chalkiness. Chalk…I’ve been making Sangiovese from this vineyard for 16 years, this is the first time I’ve gotten a dryness that evokes chalk. I think I like it. Well, at least I definitely like that this is different, and works. All in all, I like this wine, I think it really evokes the Cal-Ital style I am trying to do.

Well, if you can’t tell by now, my Judgement is going to have to go to the Montoliva 2018 Estate Sangiovese. The Cantina Del Redi belongs to an era of not very good Chiantis, and the Montoliva Sangiovese is well made and very interesting. I know, you’re shocked!

27 June 2021

2017 Montoliva Primitivo vs 2016 Tormaresca Torcicoda Primitivo

If you are confused about the relationship between Primitivo and Zinfandel, you are not alone. Are they cousins, is one an offspring of the other, are they the exact same grape? A quick cursory glance on the internet netted me all three of these as the “definitive” answer. There are some valid (and not so valid) reasons for the confusion. In the US, the TTB (the federal agency that governs wineries and wine labels) allows wineries to use the two names interchangeably, and much of the Primitivo that is produced in California is, in fact, labeled as Zinfandel. So, what’s the scoop?  Primitivo and Zinfandel are both clones of an obscure Croatian red wine grape called Crljenak Kaselanski.  This means that Primitivo and Zinfandel are essentially identical twins. They share the exact same DNA. This however, in my opinion, does not mean that they are exactly the same, any more than homo sapien identical twins are exactly the same…they tend to have very different personalities.
Where am I going with all this, and how does this relate to my Judgement of Chicago Park series of wine tastings? As most of you know I take my winemaking cues from the more rural (dare I say “rustic”) approaches of winemaking seen in the outlying regions of southern Italy. To this end, my Primitivo tends to be drier, earthier, less fruit-forward than Sierra Foothill or Lodi Zinfandels. This is more in keeping with how the Puglians traditionally approach Primitivo.
In this episode of the “Judgement of Chicago Park” I contract and compare Montoliva 2017 Primitivo with a 2016 Tormaresca Torcicoda Primitivo. I purchased the Torcicoda about six months ago through wine.com, and paid…hmmm, I think it was around $27, not including shipping. Tormaresca is a winery operation in Puglia started by the Antinori winery, best known for their Chianti wines. They are large (by Italian standards) and well respected, so I anticipate that this wine is exactly what they want it to be. And it is obvious that they want this wine to be a Lodi Zinfandel, all the way down to the high alcohol, at 14.5% (I know, that’s kinda low for Lodi, it’s pretty high for Italian wines). Lots of jammy, pruney aromas matched with a big fruit front end on the palate. In the finish, this wine is very soft. One of the big magazines that reviewed this wine described the tannins as “elegant”. I would say the tannins are non-existent.  So, prune nose? Check. Jammy fruit? Check. No structure? And check. Yup, these guys are trying to make a Lodi Zinfandel. And they have succeeded. Puglian Primitivos imitating big jammy Zinfandels is a trend that I’ve seen developing for a few years now. Can’t say that I welcome that trend.

The Montoliva 2017 Primitivo opens up with a hint of spice on the nose. Subtle fruit on the front end, and hello!, there’s that bit of spiciness again in the mid-palate. It’s not quite black pepper…the pH (3.77) of this wine is moderately high for one of my wines which probably keeps the spice from asserting itself in the way my Primitivos typically do. The finish is fairly dry, certainly drier than the Torcicoda. In relation to Zinfandel, I find my Primitivos tend to have more similarities to colder climate Zinfandels, think Upper Russian River Valley, than Sierra Foothill Zinfandels.

My Judgement has to go to the Montoliva Primitivo (I know, you are shocked! Shocked!). For my taste it is simply trying to be a really good Primitivo. And I think I have succeeded in that. Cheers, Mark Henry

6 July 2020

2016 Montoliva Teroldego


​​In this episode I am contrasting and comparing a 2016 Foradori Granato Teroldego with our 2016 Montoliva Teroldego. The Foradori was a gift (thank you Rob), if I had paid for it, it would have cost me between $65-$75, not including tax and shipping. The Montoliva Teroldego retails for $32, so not as much an apples to apples comparison as I generally prefer; we’ll make do.
The 2016 Foradori received a 98 point score from James Suckling, so he thinks this wine is just about as close to perfection as possible. Robert Parker gave it a 93. I have not yet released our 2016 Teroldego, so have not as yet submitted it to any critics or competitions.
Right out the gate, the Foradori was tighter than my Father on allowance day. If you find yourself in possession of this wine, decant it for a couple of hours. I revisited later in the evening. It opened up a bit, with the nose exhibiting hints of blackberry and spice. Reminds me a lot of a well-made Syrah (not too surprising, Teroldego is a cousin to the Syrah grape). It is quite lean in the mouthfeel, maybe another day would have rounded that out a bit more. Some drying baking spice in the mid-palate, the tannins are both very noticeable and light to the touch. This is definitely a well-made Teroldego, deserving of the reviews it has received.
Ok, now on to the 2016 Montoliva Teroldego..the nose is pretty earthy (a Montoliva hallmark) with a subtle fruit and spice on the nose. On the palate…WOW, this is a really BIG wine. A big juicy mouthful of plum and pepper spice. Waitaminute, did I make this wine?! If it was more jammy I’d swear this wine was made down in Lodi. Oh wait, the finish is slightly pungent, sort of a tobacco leaf spiciness. You’re not going to get that kind of nuance from a Lodi wine. The tannins are moderately high with a nice lingering dryness, this is one of the more tannic Teroldegos I’ve made in a while.
As I mentioned at the beginning, my preference is to contrast and compare similarly priced wines, making it a more apples to apples comparison. While I think our 2016 Teroldego is a very good wine, maybe the best Teroldego I’ve made since 2008, the Foradori Teroldego also exhibits a lot of classic Teroldego character, and in a couple more years will be absolute dynamite. Of course, for $75 a bottle, it better be! Hmmmm, I suppose I will have to declare this Judgement of Chicago Park a draw…because it’s my blog, and I can do that 😉

1 June 2019

2015 Montoliva Aglianico

In this episode of the Judgement of Chicago Park we contrast and compare a 2015 Montevetrano Core Aglianico with a 2015 Montoliva Aglianico. This is our first foray into doing our “Judgement” as a video. It is about 4 minutes long, let me know if you enjoy this format. I’m more of a writer, thought this would be fun.

Some time in 2019…I don’t remember when.

2015 Sandrone Dolcetto D’Alba


​​This almost isn’t fair! In this episode of the Judgement of Chicago Park, I am contrasting and comparing our 2016 Dolcetto with a 2015 Sandrone Dolcetto D’Alba.  Our 2015 Dolcetto won a Double Gold at the 2018 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition; the 2016 won a Silver at the same competition this year.  I purchased the Sandrone through wine.com and it cost me $29, not including tax/shipping, so it is comparably priced to Montoliva Dolcetto. This is probably one of the most difficult “Judgements” I’ve ever done, simply because I hold Sandrone in such high regard. It has always been a favorite Dolcetto of mine. So, naturally I’m interested in how it compares to my Dolcetto. The Montoliva Dolcetto has an aroma that says “Little Sweet One”, with a playful spearmint, with hint of white pepper on the nose. The pepper follows through into the mid-palate, where it gently gives way to a soft, lingering finish. Although perhaps a little more full of itself than a traditional Dolcetto, it is nonetheless a really good example of a California Dolcetto.
 
By contract, I was quite disappointed in the Sandrone. The entire wine reeks of trying to obscure the fact that it was pretty likely harvested underripe, although without the usual brightness that that would also imply (I need to do a little research and see what the Piedmonte growing season was like in 2015). The nose exhibits a bit of dull, dry fruit, the mid-palate almost borders on being vegetal, it finishes with a wood-smoke linger that is out of place. It is not uncommon for wineries to use some kind of tannin treatment to mask a vegetal character, and it can come off as giving the wine an odd oakiness kind of profile. I suspect that’s what’s going on in this wine. Whatever it is, I don’t like. No sir.
 
My Judgement has to go to the Montoliva Dolcetto. It is a very good example of a California Dolcetto. The Sandrone is a good example of what happens when a winery does a poor job of trying to address what I presume was a less than stellar growing season.

2018

2015 Barbera

In this episode of the Judgement of Chicago Park we contrast and compare our 2015 Barbera with a Riva Leone 2014 Barbera from Piedmonte. This wine was gifted to me, so I don’t know what the actual retail was (thank you Charles & Mellisa!). Some on-line sites list it for around $15, and it seems to get pretty good reviews. It appears to be imported by The Bronco Wine Co. (I’m going to try really hard not to let that effect my judging. I’ll probably fail at that). I am a fan of Barbera grown in the Sierra Foothills. But don’t take my word for it, here’s noted 19th century Italian enology professor Guido Rossati, Barbera “is the Italian varietal that best reproduces it’s Italian characteristics in California”. I would go further, to say that of all the Italian varietals I work with, Barbera is the one that frankly expresses itself better in the California Sierra Foothills than it does in the Piedmonte. On to the review…the Riva Leone is lighter in color than the Montoliva Barbera, more of a garnet than the nearly opaque Montoliva. The nose does not exhibit the bright fruit that I would expect of a good Barbera (the Barbera grape is moderately high in acid, which means the nose typically really pops). It’s  a little…almost musty. On the tongue the fruit of the Riva is also duller than I would expect. A well-made Barbera should be lively and bright, kind of like the 2015 Montoliva Barbera is. Don’t get me wrong, the Riva Leone isn’t a “bad” wine. No glaring faults (besides the slightly musty nose, which actually blew off after about 10 minutes in the glass). It just doesn’t taste like a Barbera. I suppose coming from Bronco Wine Co. (the fine folks who brought us “Two Buck Chuck”) that is not all that surprising. Since it was gift, I really wanted to like this Piedmonte Barbera…alas, my judgement must go to the 2015 Montoliva Barbera.  I know…Shocking!

30 November 2017

2015 Taburno Falanghina Del Sannio

In this episode of The Judgement of Chicago Park, I contrast and compare my 2015 Falanghina with a 2015 Taburno Falanghina Del Sannio, which I purchased at Total Wines. This white wine from Campania retails for $19 (a dollar more than mine).  Ok, right out the gate…twist off?! Really? (Yeah, I know, there go my proletarian credentials right out the window). I pour each into a glass and can see straight away that the Taburno shows the crystal clarity that shouts “sterile filtered”. The nose initially exhibits some mustiness that thankfully blew off quickly, leaving hints of pear and pineapple that carried over into the mouth. It also showed some nice lingering acidity. The Montoliva Falanghina is a bit darker, perhaps reflecting the few hours of skin contact I gave it. It also showed hints of pear and pineapple (without the initial mustiness). It was longer in the finish, which I attribute to my Falanghina not being sterile filtered. 
Both of these wines would pair nicely with a Cabrese Salad skewer, or turkey. Julianne and I have tried our Falanghina with Thai food. That can be hit or miss, but when it hits, it really hits!  Boy, howdy…this is a close one. These wines have far more in common than not. Ultimately though, I think that unless you are bottling a dessert wine, sterile filtering is an abomination. Therefore, my judgement has to go to the Montoliva Falanghina. I know..I’m Shocked! Shocked to find bias in this review!

6 April 2017

2013 Aglianico

When I do my “Judgements” I like to contract and compare one of my wines with one of its Italian cousins,  typically a much more expensive cousin. In this episode, I change that up and compare my $28 a bottle 2013 Aglianico with a  Cantina di Solopaca Aglianico, which I purchased for about $7 at Grocery Outlet. Let’s get something out of the way straight  away, the Montoliva Aglianico is heads and tails a better wine. But, duh, right? It better be for $21 more dollars. However,  viewing from a different perspective, is it four times better? This is where we get into a discussion about what we should expect  from a very inexpensive wine. The Cantina di Solopaca had no obvious, glaring flaws. It wasn’t over-the-top bretty. It didn’t    exhibit that mean edge that really cheap chiantis used to. It was a little on the thin side, but not underwhelmingly so. Here’s the  thing, though, it also didn’t exhibit any varietal character. For all the flavor it provided, it could have been a cheap Merlot, or a    “hearty burgundy” (whatever it is in that wine). Call me crazy, but I want my Aglianico to taste like Aglianico. Otherwise, all  I’m getting is a cheap alcohol delivery system. I generally find this to be true of wines priced below $10. They may not be “bad”,  but they also aren’t enjoyable to drink. If it’s not enjoyable, what’s the point?  My Judgement is for the Montoliva Aglianico, by  default.

29 November 2016

2014 Negroamaro

In this episode of the Judgement of Chicago Park we contrast and compare our 2014 Negroamaro with a Vini Menhir 2012 Numero Zero Negroamaro from Puglia, Italy. The 2012 Numero Zero won a Gold Medal at the Los Angeles International Wine Competition.  Good quality Puglian Negroamaros are hard to find in the US. I purchased this one through wine.com and it cost $20, not including shipping.  Right off the bat, this is the most challenging “Judgement” I’ve ever done. The Vini Menhir Negroamaro is a really good wine, exhibiting the black tea spiciness that I look for in a Negroamaro and has some really nice structure with a lingering finish. In these “Judgements” I’m always looking for ways that my wine is superior (as I mention in the lead-in, there is no pretense to impartiality here), and it was hard to do tonight. The Numero Zero is a bit darker and richer than the Montoliva Negroamaro, although my wine shows more of a delicate balance that allows the spiciness to show through a bit more.  The Puglian’s tannins are more pronounced, but well enough integrated to (just barely) pull back from being overbearing. With its more aggressive tannins, the Numero Zero may very well hold up long term better than the Montoliva Negroamaro, but at this moment in time, I have to give the edge to the Montoliva delivering on the balance. And besides…zero isn’t a number.

11 March 2016

2012 Aglianico

In this episode of the Judgement of Chicago Park we contrast and compare our Montoliva 2012 Aglianico with a Cantine Antonio Caggiano 2009 Taurasi (retail $35) and a Tenuta Del Portale 2010 Aglianico del Vulture (retail $27). The two Italian wines were purchased a few days ago, all three opened Friday evening. Let’s get the easy part out of the way first…the Aglianico del Vulture was disappointing, the brettanomyces so strong it overwhelmed the wine. Both the Taurasi and the Montoliva Aglianico had similar aromas of dark cherries and musk. The Taurasi has the kind of brooding, lingering finish that caused me to fall in love with southern Italian wines in the first place. The Montoliva Aglianico is brighter in fruit throughout, with noticeable tannic structure, but not quite lingering as the Caggiano. Just for fun I did a 50/50 blend of the two…now we’re getting somewhere! My final judgement, well, first it is obvious I need to visit Vulture in the Basilicata region. I know there are some amazing wines made there, I just need to find them. Finally…boy, that Taurasi hits a sweet spot on my palate, but the Montoliva Aglianico is a really good wine and only $22 (for members of the Chicago Park Wine Society). So, my final judgement has to go to (surprise!) the 2012 Montoliva Aglianico

16 February 2016

2012 Nebbiolo

Today on the Judgement of Chicago Park, we pit a 2007 Ghisolfi Bussia Barolo (retail $85) against the 2012 Montoliva Nebbiolo (retail $28) we are releasing tomorrow. The Ghisolfi is a bit darker than I would expect of a Nebbiolo-based wine (one of those things that makes you go ‘hmmm’), noticeably darker than the Montoliva. The nose has the distinct tar character of a Barolo, ours is a bit more subtle, not surprising as it is a much younger wine. On the tongue, the Barolo is a little brett-y, but not distractingly so. The tannins on both are pronounced, perhaps a bit more gripping on the Montoliva, again not surprising given the Barolo is much older. Our Nebbiolo isn’t quite as brilliant in color, probably because it was not filtered prior to bottling. Both good wines, but sorry Italy, I’ve got to give the nod to the Montoliva Nebbiolo. (I’m shocked! Shocked to find bias in this review!)

14 August 2015

2012 Montoliva Estate Sangiovese

You’ve heard of the “Judgement of Paris”. This week we hosted “Judgement of Donner Lake”! A 1999 Tiezzi Brunello di Montalcino, side-by-side with a 2012 Montoliva Estate Sangiovese. The results….why, Montoliva in a landslide (of course). The Tiezzi was good, had some serious depth to the mid-palate. The Montoliva was cleaner and brighter.

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