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01.28.2006

2003 Bacio Divino " Pazzo" Red Wine, Napa

Pazzo_Bottle.jpgI'll just get this off my chest right away. Most California Sangiovese is crap. I'm convinced that this is a really difficult climate to grow it in -- while California may be a Mediterranean climate we just don't really cut it when it comes to Tuscan varietals. The few places that I think it might be reasonably to grow Sangiovese -- Amador County or Lodi -- have a history with other Italian varietals such as Barbera, but very few people, it seems, have tried to grow Sangiovese. All of this by way of saying that anyone who tries to do it well in Northern California has got a long hard road ahead of them, and they've got to be very good to make something worthwhile.

Despite its lousy track record in my neighborhood, I always jump at the chance to try California Sangiovese, and sometimes I end up with decent wines. None that are truly amazing yet, but some that I'd be happy to drink with dinner without a second thought.

This brightly colored bottle is a good example of that category of wine, and its winemaker is a good example of the stubborn perseverance that is required to make something of Sangiovese in this climate.

Claus Janzen started his venture into the world of Sangiovese nearly on accident. The first time he knew the grape was grown in Napa was when it showed up in crates at the winery where he was working at the time. The grapes had come from Showket vineyard, and were mysterious and compelling. A little investigation over the next few years and along came 1993 and a contract for a few tons of Sangiovese, but not much of a plan beyond that. Taking inspiration from the then renegade French and Italian winemakers who were blending all sorts of non-standard grapes with Cabernet Sauvignon, Janzen set out to see what he could do with Cabernet and Sangiovese. The result was Bacio Divino ('the divine kiss' in Italian) one of California's first "Super Tuscan" styled wines which has proved to be a striking commercial success, to the point of near cult status.

Of course, that initial wine was (and still is) mostly Cabernet (around 85%). Over the years, Janzen hasn't lost the hankering to see what he could do with the finicky, tannic Sangiovese grape that can work so much magic when treated right. So in what he might describe as a fit of madness, and with a little help from winemakers Nils and Kirk Venge (of Robert Keenan winery, among others), Janzen created Pazzo, which literally means "crazy."

Janzen's winemaking orientation and process centers around blending in the classical old world style, and Pazzo is perhaps a better example of this than his Bacio Divino. Janzen practices what the French call "assemblage" -- where each of the lots of grapes are fermented and aged for a time separately by varietal, each with their own tailored oak regimen and treatment. After some time, these lots which can remain separate for more than a year, are tasted individually and then blended together in what can only be described as mad scientist fashion: a little bit of this, a drop of that, a dash of the other.

Janzen says this wine was borne primarily out of experimentation, and it's not hard to believe, especially when you learn that in addition to Sangiovese (60%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (23%), the wine also has 7% Petite Sirah and 4% Viognier in it.

Viognier ???? What is this, some sort of twisted Australian/French/Italian Frankenstein? Actually it's just a very nice medium bodied dry red that has a unique character and is an excellent food wine. I won't go so far as to call it genius -- Janzen may have to do a bit more meddling with his chemistry set before it gets there, but it can't be considered anything other than an unqualified success.

The wine stayed in various types and ages of French oak barrels for about 2 years before bottling. 3000 cases were made.

Tasting Notes:
Medium ruby in the glass with hints of bronze, this wine has a soft nose of dried cherries, vanilla, cedar and the barest hint of dried strawberries. In the mouth it is medium-bodied, with dusty dry tannins which envelop flavors of cherry, raspberry, cranberry, and redcurrants threaded with a slight hint of sweet oak and bittersweet chocolate which fades nicely in the moderate finish.

Food Pairing:
This wine would be a great match for short ribs braised in coffee and ancho chile sauce.

Overall score: 8.5/9

How much?: $25

This wine is available for purchase online.

Comments (17)

chris wrote:
01.29.06 at 10:36 AM

Give Windwalker's "Sierra Sunset" blend a taste. Best $10 bottle I've had in a very long time. Mostly Cabernet, again, but it utilizes the muscle inherent in Sangiovese to good effect. Italian varietals from Amador and the Fairplay areas are always a good bet.

jon o wrote:
01.29.06 at 11:20 AM

Orfila here in San Diego does a good Sangiovese; I also like Bonny Doon's way-fruity version though I can't remember off the top of my head if those are California or Italian grapes in there. Generally though I agree with you - Sangiovese doesn't quite work right in California. Cheers,

01.29.06 at 2:01 PM

Alder, I don't think the climate is the problem. Sangiovese is innately quite vigorous, and tends to ripen very unevenly, unless you're merciless about thinning, which, of course, changes the economics completely. Then, too, the best grapes in Tuscany (Chianti at least) grow in limestone, and it's California's Central Coast that has any limestone. It also doesn't swallow new oak well, so the finest fruit character tends to get easily overridden by the taste of wood. Not that any of the wines mentioned aren't pleasing to lots of folks, but probably for different reasons. So much of the wine being made, even in Chianti these days seems to be showing way more new oak than the fruit seems to want to handle. Guess I'm just an old-fashioned guy.

Alder wrote:
01.29.06 at 2:06 PM

Interesting. Do you know of anyone down in Paso that is making Sangiovese? I'd love to try it.

Alder

eric wrote:
01.29.06 at 4:52 PM

They may not be classic examples but Unti in Dry Creek Valley makes some wonderful sangiovese wines. I especially love their Sergomigno which is blended with 20% barbera. I'd love to know what others think of Unti wines. They're one of my current favorite wineries.

Alder wrote:
01.29.06 at 9:44 PM

Eric,

Thanks for the comments. Unti is a solid winery that makes some decent wines. I haven't had their italian varietals, only their Zinfandel and perhaps their Cabernet (? -- my memory is foggy).

01.30.06 at 8:49 AM

Alder, Steve Edmunds is very much on track about Sangiovese in limestone soils and the crop levels needed for fine concentrated fruit. There are so many more bad examples of it from sandy soils in Chianti, Italy. Another big factor is that no matter what kind of cooperage you are aging in the winemaker (owner) has to be patient (take some risk even) with most vintages and give it at the very least 24 months in barrel, again changing the economics. A year or two of bottle aging before release? And as the rebel winemakers of the great “Super Tuscans” have found a little Cabernet Sauvignon and a splash of Syrah or Petite never hurts.

Alder wrote:
01.30.06 at 9:20 AM

Loren,

Thanks for the comment. I'd even go so far as to say that there are more bad wines from Chianti than good -- at least that's been my experience.

Lindsay McKinley wrote:
01.30.06 at 11:36 AM

Alder,

IMO, an example of good California Sangiovese can be found from Altamura, somewhat NE of Napa. I had a waiter at Cole's in Napa recommend it with their Beef Wellington, and it was fabulous. I believe it was the 2001 vintage.

Gary Favero wrote:
01.30.06 at 1:01 PM

I've had Atlas Peak that wasn't bad and one from Filippi Winery in Rancho Cucamonga that was actually pretty good for something red and different. The Filippi sangiovese was very light in color (think Pinot)and full of bright flavors with little oak if any that could be noticed on the palate or nose. For around $11 from the winery it's good for something that isn't Cab, Merlot, or a bad/cheap Pinot.
Thanks for the not on the Pazzo...In fact sometimes I feel a little Pazzo!

Alder wrote:
01.30.06 at 6:52 PM

Lindsay,

Thanks for the recommendation. I like their Cabernet a lot, so I look forward to trying their Sangiovese.

Randy wrote:
02.01.06 at 7:28 AM

Alder,
I had to contemplate your words last night, over a glass of Felsina Chianti Classico. I've tasted every sangiovese that Fair Play and Amodor county has to offer. None come close. One prominant Fairplay winery has a very talented and experienced Italian vintner. Atlas Peak is drinkable but it too has a long way to go. In an interview with Ed Beltami, Marizio Marmugi, Banfi's (an American Company)head agronimist said, "Only 25% of the variability of sangiovese is within the control of the vineyard manager" Sangiovese is extremely site sensitive. You can't tell me all those UC Davis grads are incompetant! Ive visited at legnth with several of them and they are the first to admit you can only do so much. Most of it is soil and climate. Even in Italy, this is evident. The best Sangiovese come from very specific places like Beradenga or Montalcino. You can clone the grape but it's pretty hard to clone the location.

Tom wrote:
02.01.06 at 9:30 PM

Regarding a Paso Sangiovese, I had one from Opolo that was quite good. I have not tasted the current release, but I'd give the 03 a shot based on past performance.

slaton wrote:
03.16.06 at 11:13 AM

I like Pazzo. The 2002 (which included a bit of Zinfandel in the blend) was very easy-drinking whereas the 2003 is intriguing but a little tannic right now. A few weeks ago I tasted the '88 Tignanello at an Italian wine dinner, which was remarkably sweet and vibrant despite its age. Last night I found some of the same notes that were so striking in the Tig -- plummy, sweet/sour cherry, dried strawberries -- in the '03 Pazzo. Comparing the assemblages, in the Tig we have 85% Sangiovese: 10% Cabernet and 5% Cab Franc. In the '03 Pazzo: 66% Sangiovese, 23% Cab, 7% Petite and 4$ Viognier. I wonder if Claus Janzen is a fan of Tig?

Cameron Purdy wrote:
03.17.08 at 11:20 AM

I just opened my first bottle of '03 Pazzo last night .. you are spot on!

Ale wrote:
10.11.09 at 7:03 AM

This is a bottle of pork piss, I had a bottle last night...........NEVER AGAIN!!!!! You have to be CRAZY PAZZO to drink that piss and actually enjoy it!!!

Irvin wrote:
04.15.14 at 5:56 PM

You should be a part of a contest for one of the highest quality websites online.
I most certainly will highly recommend this blog!

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