A tasting of M&M Importers’ latest imports – Feb 2023
It has been almost a year since my last “A tasting of M&M Importers’ latest imports – release post” and a week or so from the post about the three gorgeous Burgundies from Honest Grapes and M&M Importers. So, I was really excited to write this post about even more wonderful wines from Ralph Madeb, president and CEO of M&M Importers. These are almost all the Italian options; some can be found in Europe from Honest Grapes while all of them are here in the USA from some stores in and around NY and NJ. Sadly, I missed the new 2016 Brunello Riserva and the other 2 Sicilian wines. I hope to get a chance to taste those soon. There is also a Chianti Classico Riserva but that is still not here in the USA yet.
Just take a quick look at the wine notes below and you will find 6 QPR (Quality to Price Ratio) WINNER scores. That is incredible for such a small number of wines. Six out of ten WINNERS is just an incredible value-based lineup. Still, the prices are on the upper end of the QPR scale but the wines themselves are quite impressive.
I had tasted the Barbera before last year and the Mevushal Arneis in January of this year. Both of these wines were solid though I really want to taste the non-mevushal version of the 2021 Pescaja Solei’ Arneis. A QPR score of WINNER and a GOOD is impressive.
The Barbera is a fun, refreshing, and enjoyable wine that will probably not become something more than it is right now but one never knows!
The biggest name on this list and the most expensive was the 2017 Tassi Brunello di Montalcino, Bettina Cuvee, Brunello di Montalcino. I was ready for an over-the-top, bombastic beast of a wine, a trait that seems to be the calling card of the 2017 Brunello vintage. I was shocked when I opened the wine, first, the color threw me, and then the nose. The color of the wine, a characteristic I rarely talk about, was already bricking, but that seems to be par for the course with Brunello wines. Next, the nose was shocking, it smelled like a flower shop, filled with violets, geraniums, and very floral. Over the next two weeks I let this wine talk to me, yes, I wrote two weeks! The wine never went over the hill, it was rock solid, and it improved all the way to the finish line. Even two weeks later, the wine was not running out of steam, this is a wine that is built to go for a decade-plus, easily. Over time, the wine lost some of the floral notes and became more of what I expect from a Brunello, though it never went too ripe and never lost its precision, the only real issue I had was it felt more like a very nice Chianti than a Brunello. The tannin structure told you this was no Chianti, but the weight was clearly affected by whatever the winemaker did to counteract the screaming hot 2017 climate.
The star of these four wines, to me, is the stunning 2018 Tassi Aqua Bona, Bettina Cuvee, Montalcino. The wine went up in price but it still is on the upper edge of WINNER, by a hair, and while the price is high the wine is incredible! It has this umami and cedar notes that just blow you away! The wine’s complexity, and structure. control and elegance show well and the wine is equally built to last.
I had the Super Tuscan, the 2019 Rocca di Frassinello Le Sughere di Frassinello, Maremma Toscana twice and it showed far better this time. From the time of opening till it was done some 5 days later the wine never lost a step and shined throughout. The Sangiovese fruit shows more at the start while the Merlot makes its presence felt more later in the glass. I found the wine overall to be very nice and balanced with good acidity but overall lacked a step on the Aqua Bona.
Finally, the Pinot Noir was nice enough, it showed varietally correct, but there was not enough there to interest me.
I regret not getting the 2019 Castellare di Castellina Chianti Classico when it was out and available. That wine is lovely, and ethereal while being so Chianti, in all the right ways! The 2020 vintage is no slouch and it shows beautifully! A clear WINNER!
The pricing of this wine is higher than a Chianti Classico from Terra di Seta, but it is distinctly different! TDS is a wine that is sinuous, ripe, rich, and layered. The two Castellare di Castellina Chianti Classico, both 2019 and 2020, is more ethereal. They are clearly built to last and while I gave them a drinking window of 9 years or so, I am sure they can last longer, but I do not yet have enough history with the wine to go farther.
I was not expecting a lot after having tasted some other 2020 Chianti wines but this wine shined beautifully! This is a wine to lie down for a bit but if you must enjoy one now, I would decant this two hours in advance. Bravo!
There are two Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines and I liked one of them and it scored a QPR score of WINNER while the other’s style was not my cup of tea.
The 2018 Valle Reale San Calisto, Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, Montepulciano D’Abruzzo is a beautiful wine and for the price, it is an obvious QPR WINNER. The balance, elegance, and structure all hit me while the acidity brings all that fruit and mouthfeel to bear. It is one of those wines that is uniquely Italian. The fruit, tertiary notes, leather, and smoke, were all unique in a single bottle but the telling characteristic was the bracing acidity, cherry notes, and ripeness. The bottle just screams Italian and is one that can be enjoyed now but only with a few hours of decanting. This would benefit a few years of bottle aging before diving in.
The 2018 Valle Reale Vigneto Sant’Eusanio, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo was a wine that was just too ripe for me. Eventually, the ripeness did calm but there was nothing there to find at that point. This is a wine that the new-world crowd would like and one that can maybe be a gateway wine to helping them appreciate old-world wines.
Finally, I tasted the kosher Sicilian Merlot. This was a lovely wine that does start a bit ripe but with time it really shows its colors and shows balance with bold fruit and lovely minerality and acidity. This is a wine that you cannot judge at the opening! If you MUST open this now, I would say to decant this for some 5 hours and then pour it back into the bottle. Double decanting and 5 hours of air may shake the true colors loose but I am not promising anything. Time will let this wine be free!
This tasting was not done in a day or a week, it took over three weeks to taste through the lineup and throughout it all, I kept to the same approach. Write the initial notes at the opening, then a few hours later write any changes, and then finally over the days I would add thoughts. The wines did evolve, other than a few, and when/if they did, the notes reflect those thoughts and concerns.
My sincerest thanks to Ralph and his partner at M&M Importers for sharing their wonderful wines with us all! The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here and the explanation for QPR scores can be found here:
2018 Tassi Aqua Bona, Bettina Cuvee, Montalcino – Score: 93+ (QPR: WINNER)
The nose of this wine is lovely, bright, tart, and very expressive, with notes of bramble, dirt, loam, graphite, bright red sour cherry, dark red berry, rosehip, rose petals, rich and very expressive toasted cedar, sandalwood, mushroom, and more minerality. Lovely!! The nose is so expressive from the opening and only gets better with time, impressive! The umami-centric nose is incredible with soy sauce, mushroom, and cedar notes that really take your breath away.
The mouth of this medium-plus-bodied wine is lovely, dirty, earthy, smoky, and precise, with good fruit focus, nice dark cherry, raspberry, tart plum, scraping minerality, loam, dirt, rose petals, and lovely mushroom. With time it opens to a rich toasted cedar expression and it overtakes the mouth with beautiful fruit, intense mushroom, forest floor, plush body, and intense dirt and minerality. Lovely! With even more time the lovely cedar calms down and the ripe fruit, intense acidity, mushroom, and smoke linger long on this full-bodied wine.
The finish is long, tart, bright, and layered, with rich minerality, intense graphite, lovely soy sauce, umami notes, loam, lovely truffle, and mushroom, loam, and dirt linger long. BRAVO! Drink from 2025 until 2033. (tasted February 2023) (in San Jose, CA) (ABV = 13.5%)
2017 Tassi Brunello di Montalcino, Bettina Cuvee, Brunello di Montalcino – Score: 93 (QPR: EVEN)
I rarely talk about color but this wine is brick red. The nose of this wine is a flower pot, with screaming and intense violets, rosehip, dirt, loam, tar, mint, and underbrush, with little to no red fruit on the nose, crazy! With time, the nose evolves to show lovely French oak, rich loam, dark red cherry, licorice, roasted herb, mint, garrigue, and sweet spice, lovely!
The mouth of this medium-bodied wine is lovely, with more rose, violet, and green notes, dirt, loam, and smoke, the mouth is precise and velvety, with tart plum. The real fun is the tart red berry profile, and dark sour cherry, backed by intense acidity, mineral notes, and smoke. The texture, mouthfeel, and puckering tannin structure keep getting more and more complex with time, it is still not 2016, but it has the potential to still be quite lovely, however, this needs loads of time. With even more time, the floral notes move to the background, and the puckering acidity and tannin take over, the plushness of the mouthfeel emerges and this wine is lovely!
The finish is long, tart, green, and smokey, with more flowers, nice mouth-draping tannin, licorice, and lovely acidity. Drink from 2024 until 2032. (tasted February 2023) (in San Jose, CA) (ABV = 14%)
Kosher Mid-Range aging red wines may well be the sweet spot for the kosher wine market – lots of WINNERS.
We are working our way through the QPR 2.1 and 2.0 wine categories and so far, outside of simple white wines, there has not been a lot of love or WINNERS to talk about. However, things start to change with the 2nd red wine category.
These wines are drinkable now but will improve a bit with time. They are not the undrinkable wine category, which will be next, but rather these wines are good now and may garner some of those tertiary notes we all love so much, with a bit of time in the bottle. These kinds of wines are normally more expensive, but this is where the QPR (Quality to Price ratio) sweet spot exists, IMHO.
As explained in my last post, the wine categorization is impacted by what I think the wine will last. Meaning that a poor wine will not be more enjoyable in 5 years if it is a painful date juice now. Nor will the wine be more ageable depending on the price of the wine. The length of time wine can live in the bottle is not scientific in any manner, it is subjective, much like the wine’s score, still, it is based upon this that the wines are judged for their QPR.
Mid-range aging Reds (4 to 11 years) – cellar saviors
As I have stated enough times now, the fact that a wine can “live” for 10 or so years, tells you that the wine is good to start with, or at least professionally made. Still, the next level up, High-end Red wines (11 and more years), come at a much higher price range. Yes, there are sweet spot wines there as well, but there are more here in the mid-range options. Also, these are the wines that will save your cellar. Look, I like wines like the 2019 Chateau Les Riganes, or the 2017 Chateau Mayne Guyon just fine! But when you want something with a bit more polish or elegance and you do not want to raid your high-end wines early, THIS IS the category to go to!
If you want that next level is quality but not the next level in price, per se, this is the category to hit. Here you will find wines like the 2017 Chateau Greysac, Medoc, the 2015 Louis Blanc Crozes-Hermitage, and the 2018 Terra di Seta Chianti Classico, which all scored 92 or higher and are all priced at 30 dollars or lower. While I would say these wines will improve with more time, they can at least be enjoyed now, without robbing the cradle of wine like 2015, 2017, or 2018 Chateau Fourcas Dupre.
On a Facebook post, I and many others were asked over and over about this wine or that wine, wines that were still far too young to be appreciated now. My response was the same over and over, stop opening bottles so early! I opened a bottle of 2007 Four Gates Cabernet Franc, 2 weeks ago, it was an absolute joy but also, a wine that was so young it was truly a crime! STOP opening wines early folks. Let the wines come to you! This wine category is where you will find the richer, more complex options, for a higher price than the Simple reds, but still at a lower price point overall than the higher-end reds. There are 20+ WINNERS here, between USA and France, BUY them and SAVE YOUR CELLAR!!!
Shirah Wines Post
If one takes even a cursory look at this post and the wine notes below, the predominant winery/producer you will find is Shirah Wines. I got all the current wines in May of this year. It took me a bit of time to finally post them. As I stated last year, in my year in review, California had indeed turned its direction towards riper fruit and wines. Shirah contacted me and I bought the current wines to make 100% sure that my notes were in line with my comments, you can make your mind up from the notes.
I will stress THREE points here AGAIN, as I have done over a long time already:
- I crave the 2010 (AKA NV) /2012/2013/2014 Bro.Deux and the 2013 Syrah, and I FONDLY remember the old days of the One-Two Punch. Those were and still are VERY different wines than what is being sold now. I have had all of them recently and still have some bottles. They are wonderful, but they are not what the 2016 or 2017 Bro.Deux is like today.
- I strongly believe in Shirah Wines, I think the wines they produce are professionally made and are perfect for the bigger/flashier/riper palate that is the cornerstone of today’s kosher wine-buying public. They are just not the wines I want.
- Finally, there has been a clear and very big shift in the palate of the wines being made in California, today. Even Four Gates wines are getting riper. The issue here is all about balance. If I feel fruit is overripe and sticking out, to a point where I do not enjoy the wine, but rather think about the ripe fruit, I will move on. I understand this is a subjective way of seeing wine. I get that, and that is what makes wine so fascinating. Like all of art, it is not what is true or false as much as it is what one likes or dislikes.
WINNERS and other demarcations
As stated above, some wines will be winners in France/Europe and others will be WINNERS in the USA. I do not know the pricing in Israel or the wines or really anything about Israel for the last year+. Maybe Avi Davidowitz of Kosher Wine Unfiltered can make a post or two on this subject! HINT HINT!
Also, there are strange prices, distributions, and edge cases throughout Europe, and as such what is a good price in Paris may not be in London. Worse is wine in Belgium may be a better price than in Paris or London. The idea of “Europe” being a single country for commerce is a MASSIVE sham in the kosher wine market, in Europe anyway. In the USA it is equally messy, in regards to pricing throughout the states, L.A.’s wine prices are either non-existent (because there is no wine) or it is sky-high. I have seen better prices for California wines in NYC than in California! Like what now??? So, yeah, pricing is not as crisp, all the time, as I make it out to be here with my QPR posts, but I do the very best I can.
So, WINNER means USA (sorry this is a USA dominant blog), WINNER (F) means a WINNER in France. I will denote as well, in the wine post if the wine is only available in France or Europe, which is the same for me here, as London is the main outlier and it is not part of Europe anymore – sorry London! Enjoy the train!!! On a total aside, I did love taking the train from London to Paris, a few days AFTER they left the union! Moving on now.
So, without too much more delay – let’s get to it! Here is the list of cellar saviors and mid-level red wines. There are many WINNERS for buyers here in the USA and those in France! The wine notes follow below – the explanation of my “scores” can be found here:
2018 Terra di Seta Chianti Classico – Score: 92 to 93 (QPR: WINNER)
This is a fantastic wine, and with my new QPR scoring it is still is not as expensive as the median and its score is also above the median, so it is a GREAT QPR. This is a no brainer GREAT QPR wine and will sell out quickly BUY NOW!
This wine is incredible, it is better than the 2016 vintage and much better than 2017. It is even a bit better than the massively epic 2015 vintage. Bravo Daniella and Maria!!!
The nose on this wine is ripe, but the balance on it is incredible, the fruitiness exists but it hides behind a redolent garden of fresh mushroom, grass, dirt, loam, and lovely earth, with hints of barnyard, forest floor, and dark fruit, with balsamic vinegar, and roasted herbs galore. The mouth on this medium to full-bodied wine is incredible, layered, rich, extracted, and so balanced, with incredible acidity, intense saline, dark sour cherry, coffee, all balanced and plush, with rich blackberry, cherry, strawberry, salami, with lovely mouth draping tannin, with minerality, graphite galore, and a lovely tannin structure. The finish is long, green, and ripe but perfectly balanced, with lovely acidity, roasted coffee, graphite, scarping mineral, loads of smoke, and sweet tobacco on the long finish. Bravo!! Drink until 2027 maybe longer.
2017 Tassi Aqua Bona Toscana Rosso, Bettina Cuvee – Score: 92 (QPR: BAD)
This wine is meant to be bottled under the D.O.C.G. Rosso di Montepulciano, but because of some strange requirements that were not met to meet the body’s requirements it only has the I.G.T. Toscano Rosso moniker.
This wine producer/winery is quite famous in the non-kosher world. The wine is made from 100% Sangiovese.
The nose on this wine starts with a crazy cedar box, followed by a mound of fresh Cuban Cigar tobacco, followed by loads of anise, licorice, smoked meat, followed by black and red fruit, foliage, forest floor, and more sweet cedar/oak. The mouth on this medium-bodied to full-bodied wine is not as extracted as I expected though this wine is richly expressive with loads of smoke, earth, rich tannin, nice green notes from what I can imagine is what I would get from whole-cluster and stems fermentation, with loads of rich spice, heady roasted herbs, and lovely blackberry, dark cherry, rich umami notes of balsamic and mushroom, with loads of mineral, graphite, and rich fruit-structure and focus with lovely elegance and control. The finish is long, rich, layered, and smoky, with nice control, lovely acidity, and smoke, roasted herbs, smoked meats, and soy sauce followed by more cigar smoke, and freshly tilled earth. Nice!!! Drink from 2021 until 2026.