Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Wines of Albeno Munari - Phoenix Rising

The Hottest New Band

Discovering a new winery - or a new region - that produces unexpected gems is akin to being the first in your circle of friends to discover the hottest new band.  This is kind of how we feel about Albeno Munari Winery in Calaveras county, California... 

Located about 80 miles southeast of Sacramento in the tiny gold mining town of Murphys, the winery is something of a phoenix rising.  After selling the famed Stevenot brand, Al Munari retained the winery's operations and spun up the Munari label in honor of his grandfather, Albeno, and opened the doors to the winery earlier this year.  And what a good thing that is.

We received a six pack of the Munari wines as samples, each of which are reviewed here.  But before getting into detail on the individual wines, some words of guidance for the consumer: If you see this label, pick it up.  In fact, if you don't see this label, it's worth contacting the winery and ordering some of these wines.  You will appreciate the awakening.

Categorically speaking, these wines are very enjoyable and represent a terrific value.  Across-the-board, these are quality products sharing a common thumbprint and an inexplicable X factor.  Though it's easy to appreciate these releases from the get-go, we found ourselves talking about these wines - somewhat passionately - days after tasting them.  Picking a favorite among these is futile, but chances are you'll find at least a couple of descriptions appealing to your preferences.  All of these wines can be ordered direct from the winery, though if your state is not listed, contact Al directly.

In response to this article, Monique Vongehr, Winemaker for Munari, said that if you like these, just wait until you taste the upcoming releases.  Well, there's plenty of great wine in the current releases to keep us happy until then.

2007 Albeno Munari Pinot Noir Calaveras County $22
Who knew quality Pinot was grown outside all the discovered places?  Like most good Pinots, this one is coy, reluctant at first to reveal much.  But as it breathes, the texture softens and the flavors develop and layer.  Sharpness on the nose is in contrast to its dense core - dark for a Pinot.  The flavor profile is true to northern California Pinot Noir style with the added bonus of warming vanillas.  A quality product that lingers in the palate - and on the mind.  Priced right, too.

2006 Albeno Munari Syrah Calaveras County $22
Left open for 6 hours before tasting, this Syrah is definitely from the same bloodline as the Pinot.  Medium bodied and with a softer texture than expected, it's got subtle green flowers and vanilla on the nose.  With strong tannins that suggest longevity, this very satisfying wine has a lingering look-over-your-shoulder aftertaste.  Wow.

2007 Albeno Munari Chardonnay Calaveras County $15
Perhaps the least compelling in this line up, the Chardonnay is pretty standard.  Medium-bodied with noticeable acids that give the finish a slight bite, it's refreshing on its own, but engineered for food.  Toast, mild oak, and there's that vanilla again.  Think richly buttered pasta with shellfish. 

2007 Albeno Munari Barbera Calaveras County $18
Fully expecting an over-treated rendition of this Piedmontese classic, the Barbera surprised with its honesty and elegance.  As with the other reds in this lineup, the texture is positively seamless - grey flannel from Savile Row.  Potent at 15.4% ABV, on first impression it seemed like a food wine somewhat muddled in its delivery.  But returning to the wine 4 days after first opening it revealed a seriously developed and irresistible song.  Extraordinary.

2006 Albeno Munari Cabernet Calaveras County $22
Sweet Jesus!  Giving this wine 4-plus hours to breathe was the right move, though according to Al, this wine's sweet spot is after 2 days open. Holy moly. Sultry, seamless, and smooth, its structure, fruit, and texture is very similar to high-end Rutherford Cabernet - but at a third of the price.  Long dusty/chalky finish and in keeping with the X factor.  Not too dense and incredibly well balanced, this wine is hard to resist now, but promises giddy pleasures post-2015.  A freaking bargain for such an experience.
2008 Albeno Munari Muscat Canelli Calaveras County $18 (375ml)
One of the undesirable things about late harvest wines is the cloying sugars that linger like that weird neighbor does after a  cocktail party.  This wine is much more polite and finishes almost clean.  Seductive aromatics and text book flavors on the light-medium bodied side.  Long, very subtle nut flavors hang on the finish.  A perfect wrap in contrast to a rich meal - or event as a palate cleanser.


  1. AnonymousMay 07, 2010

    Being new to wine myself, when you say giving it 4 plus hours or 2 plus days to breathe, is that decanted or just uncorked. I could'nt imagine leaving the wine on the counter for 2 days so could you decant and store in refrigerator ?
    Sorry alot to learn....

  2. Great question.

    Al didn't specifically say whether he decanted or not, but if I had to guess, I'd say he just uncorks the bottle. And 2+ days decanted is very different than 2+ days uncorked. Here's why:

    When people talk about a wine breathing, it just means that we're letting oxygen work its magic on the wine. So, whether you just uncork a wine or decant it, it's exposed to air. The difference is that when you decant a wine, the entire volume of the bottle gets exposed as your pour it into the decanter - and most decanters are much wider than bottles, providing greater surface area, or air contact, for the wine. That's why decanting is often seen as a way to accelerate breathing.

    As a matter of course, we decant most wines we review for practical reasons (time) and we look for signs of evolution as we taste over the course of a few hours - sometimes longer, depending on the wine.

    Refrigeration only inhibits oxidation (and exposes wine to whatever flavors are in your fridge). The only reason you should be concerned about leaving wine on the counter is if your kitchen gets very warm - or if you, like me, are easily tempted by wine sitting around in plain view.



  3. AnonymousMay 07, 2010

    I have to agree. Had the pleasure of tasting one the Pinot last week and it was SUPERB.


Please add your comment here: