Articles in Wine
One of my favorite bistro restaurants in New York City is Le Philosophe, which offers a delicious, reasonably-priced blanquette de veau as well as a list of wines that won’t break the bank. This gulpable 2010 Chateau du Coudray Montpensier Chinon, with its fresh ripe spiced-berry flavors and soft tannins, is one of them. Its refreshing fruity style resembles that of Beaujolais-Villages, but this red has more spice and depth. It was perfect with the creamy main course I savored at Le Philosophe.
Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week
2010 Chateau du Coudray Montpensier Chinon
Region: Loire Valley, France
Grape: 100% Cabernet Franc
Serve with: Blanquette de veau, roast pork
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Chinon is a historic town in the Loire Valley and also the name of an appellation where almost all the wine is red, made primarily from Cabernet Franc grapes. The vineyards, which cover 19 communes, span both sides of the pretty, winding Vienne River. My introduction to the area, though, was through history, when I came as a student to tour the town’s famous stone castle, the grand 11th-century Chateau de Chinon, built on a high rocky outcrop above the river. It has a complex early past: English King Henry II rebuilt it and resided there in the 12th century; later it was captured by the French, and it’s where Joan of Arc claimed divine voices told her that Charles VII, the Dauphin of France, would give her an army to fight in Orleans. Writer Francois Rabelais made Chinon’s wines famous in the 16th century.
U.S. catches up with 2010 Chateau du Coudray Montpensier Chinon
I first drank these delicious, fragrant reds in Paris bistros and wine bars 20 years ago, but they’ve become popular in the U.S. only in the past five or so years. That’s partly because wine lovers are now hunting alternatives to big, alcoholic reds. When Cabernet Franc is grown in cooler climates like the Loire Valley it makes wines that are lighter bodied and more aromatic than Cabernet Sauvignon, but have some of the same character. And the newfound popularity of Loire reds has also been helped because they are often stunning bargains.
Climate change and improved vineyard practices have helped make Chinon’s wines more appealing. When Cabernet Franc doesn’t ripen fully, the wines taste lean, green and herbaceous. In recent, warmer vintages, the wines have been richer. The 2010 vintage was one of the best of the past few decades.
Chateau du Coudray Montpensier was built in the 15th century, but was only established as a winery 10 years ago. Its 2010 Chinon is well worth seeking out.
Top photo: Chateau du Coudray Montpensier and wine label for Chateau du Coudray Montpensier Chinon. Credit: Courtesy of Chateau du Coudray Montpensier
Charles de Gaulle famously asked, “How can you govern a country that has 246 varieties of fromage?” Not only that, one might add, but how on earth can you find the right wine to bring out the best in each of them?
Most people tend to play it safe and reach for the classic reds, but for some cheeses, I’m inclined to go for a white. The richness and fat content of many cheeses is perfectly suited to more acidic, less tannic whites, and my top pick would be a nice crisp Chardonnay, ideally from Burgundy.
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The Chaource made a fine match with a chilled glass of Macon-Villages, a white Burgundy, and I was reminded of my bow-tied and aproned sommelier days. I would try to coax diners who had ordered cheese away from the port, tempting them instead with a little taste of Chablis — one of my favorite combinations.
If this is whetting your appetite, just bear in mind that Chaource can be a bit tricky to track down in stores. Brillat-Savarin would be a delicious alternative, a bit more buttery in flavor; or perhaps a tasty Camembert; or even the failsafe Brie. As a rule of thumb, the softer the cheese, the crisper the wine — to cut through the creaminess.
When you are having a hard cheese, a more full-bodied white wine will be appropriate. Something like extra-sharp Cheddar is a great match for the peachy mango flavors often associated with a Californian Viognier, whereas the creaminess in the semi-hard Gouda goes brilliantly with minerally driven and peachy dry Riesling. However, considering that Gouda is traditionally eaten at breakfast in the Netherlands, it won’t go amiss with an aged vintage Champagne, something with brioche like characteristics.
As for specific wines to try, I’ve suggested a few styles, most of which are on the medium to lighter side. Just remember: Go for crisp wines with minerality but enough weight to handle cheese’s tendency (for instance Sancerre over New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc) to overwhelm the palate. Chardonnay is ideal; however, others like Viognier and even the rare Marsanne have proven worthy.
So next time you’re preparing that cheese board, pour a soupçon of white on the side. It could thoroughly change your perspective.
Top left: 2011 Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon, Macon-Villages
A classic Chardonnay from the southern Burgundian region, with a slight appley richness in the mid-palate that gives this wine weight and makes it perfect for cheese pairing.
Around $20, widely available
Top right: 2012 Two Shepherds, Marsanne, Saralee’s Vineyard
Usually Marsanne is blended with Viognier and Rousanne; by itself, there is a remarkably rich mouthfeel, like honey, and elegant marzipan flavor.
$30, contact winery for availability: twoshepherdsvineyards.com
Center, top and bottom: Chaource cheese
Bottom left: 2012 Baker Lane, Viognier, Sonoma Coast, Estate Vineyard
Viognier in California tends to be overwhelming and flabby, but this one is as clean as they come, and quite floral as well. The vineyard is perfectly placed in a tiny cool-climate valley deep in Sonoma.
Contact winery for availability: www.bakerlanevineyards.com
Bottom right: 2011 Lioco, Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, Sonoma
A crisp and direct Chardonnay with brilliant stone fruit flavors.
$20, contact winery for availability: www.liocowine.com
Top photo: Cheese trolley. Credit: Louis Villard
With such a blizzard of flavors on offer at the Thanksgiving table and so many different tastes to cater to among family and friends, a creative approach to wine selection is required. You need wines that are not too fancy price-wise, nor too hulking taste-wise, with enough interest and originality to make them a bit of a talking point.
Here is a totally Eurocentric selection of wines that I’ve found especially convincing on my travels this year. They’re the kind that will not be too bossy or overpowering with a bland meat like turkey, but with enough character to look all those trimmings squarely in the eye. It’s a good idea to provide both white and red wines, to cover all tastes. Or you could be very brave and go for just one delicious sparkling wine that will take you seamlessly through the meal from appetizer to dessert.
Check Wine Searcher for your nearest stockists.
Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile, F. E. Trimbach, Ribeauvillé, Alsace, France
Iconic is an overworked word, but Riesling Frédéric Emile for once merits the moniker. A deep golden wine with fugitive elderflower-linden blossom aromas, always a little lean (true to the house style) but with the suggestion of gorgeous curves to come, it’s a perfect match for white meats, rich sauces and sweet-spicy pumpkin flavors.
Crémant d’Alsace Grand Millésime 2009, René Muré, Rouffach, Alsace, France
Alsace is producing some fine Crémants these days, the best of which are a far better bet than regular, non-vintage Champagne and at a fraction of the price. This vintage Crémant, from a blend of Chardonnay and Riesling, is redolent with orangey-peach aromas and would take you gracefully through the meal from start to finish.
Pouilly Fuissé En Buland, Domaine Barraud, Vergisson, France
The Mâconnais region of southern Burgundy offers some fine drinking at distinctly non-Burgundian prices. This one, from 78-year-old Chardonnay vines growing beneath the landmark Rock of Solutré, is crisp and elegant with just a suspicion of oak so as not to be overpowering.
El Quintà Garnatxa Blanca, Barbara Forés, Terra Alta, Catalonia, Spain
Seventy percent of the total world plantation of white Garnatxa is found in the Terra Alta region of Catalonia, where it performs to perfection. This elegant, lightly oaked one from 50- 60-year-old vines has a fresh, expressive minerality that would work wonders with a parade of rich dishes.
Yvorne Grand Cru, Collection Chandra Kurt, Bolle et Cie, Morges, Switzerland
In Switzerland’s canton Vaud, on the steep, sun-baked terraces that plunge down to Lake Geneva, they do wonders with Chasselas, scorned by most of the world as a rather uninteresting table grape. Zurich-based wine writer and consultant Chandra Kurt has worked with the Bolle winery to make this prize-winning wine with firm structure and citrusy-honeyed tones, fine with this seasonal menu.
Tschuppen Spätburgunder, Hanspeter Ziereisen, Efringen-Kirchen, Baden, Germany
A self-taught winemaker, Hanspeter Ziereisen swept the board at a recent international Pinot Noir taste-off in London, with two of his wines in the top 10. Tschuppen, the lightest of his three Pinots, captures all the magic of the grape and is just the right weight for a Thanksgiving menu.
Gamay de Chamoson, Cave du Vidomne, Saint-Pierre-de-Clages, Valais, Switzerland
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The Swiss are about the only people to do anything interesting with the Gamay grape outside of Beaujolais. This one, which took away first prize in this year’s Grand Prix du Vin Suisse in the Gamay category, is full of raspberry fruit flavors with nicely balanced acidity to cut the richness of the meal.
Beaujolais Villages, Domaine des Terres Dorées, Charnay, Beaujolais, France
Jean-Paul Brun makes highly prized, exciting, long-lived wines down at the southern end of Beaujolais. His Beaujolais Villages is an especial pleasure, bright, lively and keenly priced — serve it slightly chilled to bring out its zesty best.
Barbera d’Alba, Cascina Fontana, Perno, Piedmont, Italy
Barbera ticks all the right boxes for a turkey feast: bright, fresh, not too alcoholic and loaded with red fruit flavors. If you can track down a bottle of Mario Fontana’s (produced in tiny quantities and dismayingly quick to sell out), it may just make your day.
Tocat de l’Ala, Coca i Fitó and Roig Parals, Empordà, Catalonia,Spain
A crunchy, crazy blend (the name means “daft in the head”) of old-vine Garnatxa and Carinyena, made in a joint venture between two Catalan wineries. Big but not over weighty and bursting with cranberry flavors — what could be more appropriate?
Top photo: Barrels of wine at Domaine Barraud, Maconnais, Burgundy, France. Credit: Sue Style
Among the 60 or so Austrian wines I’ve tasted in the past couple of weeks I found my Thanksgiving red for this year. The 2011 Paul Achs Zweigelt from Austria has cherry aromas, soft fruit and spice flavors, and the fresh acidity that will keep palates alive during an hours-long dinner heavy on rich foods.
Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week
2011 Paul Achs Zweigelt
Region: Burgenland, Austria
Grape: 100% Zweigelt
Serve: With turkey and all the side dishes
More of Elin's wine picks:
Everyone worries about what wine can possibly go with the many contrasting flavors on a Thanksgiving table, from sweet potatoes to creamy onions to rich sausage stuffing to tart cranberry sauce to turkey roasted with a rosemary rub. I used to be a purist, offering only two American wines, a white and a red, to match the nationality of the holiday. But this year I’m branching out. My white pick last week was from Italy. Selecting a California Pinot Noir for the red seemed like taking the easy route. And this Austrian red is wonderfully versatile with all kinds of foods.
Zweigelt (pronounced Tsvy-gelt) , a cross between two other Austrian red grapes, St. Laurent and Blaufrankisch, the country’s best red, was developed in 1922 by viticulturalist Dr. Friedrich (Fritz) Zweigelt, for whom it is named. The popular varietal isn’t hard to grow, like finicky Pinot Noir, but the wines from both have a lot in common. Zweigelt doesn’t share the complexity and ageability of fine Burgundies or expensive California examples, though some producers make mouth-filling single vineyard versions.
Zweigelt also reminds me of Gamay or even a light-bodied Zinfandel. The most planted red grape in Austria, it’s a fruit-forward, easy-drinking crowd-pleaser. Most, like this one, are medium-bodied, with silky tannins, juicy acidity and no new oak flavors, all reasons why they’re so food-friendly.
2011 Paul Achs Zweigelt aged in older barrels
The winery, named after owner and winemaker Paul Achs, is in Burgenland, south of Vienna, in the village of Gols. He owns 58 acres of vineyards, all cultivated biodynamically since 2007. This Zweigelt comes from vines planted on gravel in an area between the village and Lake Neusiedl known as the Heideboden, the source of all his young, fresh wines. This one is aged in older oak barrels, which allows it to retain its bright fruit.
This 2011 Paul Achs Zweigelt also fulfills another of my Thanksgiving wine criteria: affordability. When different generations of a family, all with very strong opinions, gather at a table for hours, the key to party success is plenty of wine to smooth over heated discussions and keep everyone mellow. Happy Thanksgiving!
There’s no shortage of wineries in Piedmont, Italy. Some, especially those that make blockbuster Barolos and Barbarescos, are grand and world-famous. Their wines feature on top restaurant wine lists and take pride of place in the cellars of wine collectors the world over. Securing an appointment to visit requires a personal introduction and/or a certain chutzpah, with fluent Italian a distinct advantage.
On the other hand, for every grand and famous estate, there are a half-dozen pocket-sized domaines, known only to a few cognoscenti. They specialize in gem-like wines made in tiny quantities, which they nurse to maturity with tender loving care. Many of these smaller, lesser-known wineries welcome visitors — including English-speaking ones — by appointment, receiving them with simplicity and rare generosity of spirit.
Cascina Fontana in the village of Perno, perched on a ridge in the misty Langhe hills just south of Alba, falls neatly into this gem-like category. It is headed by Mario Fontana, the sixth generation of his family to make wine here, together with his wife, Luisa, with help from mamma Elda and occasional aid from sons Edoardo and Vasco. With just 4 hectares (9.8 acres), Mario makes the four classic red wines of the Langhe region: Barolo and Langhe Nebbiolo, both from the Nebbiolo grape, as well as Barbera d’Alba and Dolcetto d’Alba. He describes his wines as “genuine, natural, true expressions of nostro territorio — our land and our culture.”
Weather makes or breaks Italian winery owner’s spirits
I visited in May this year and found the usually cheerful Mario looking uncharacteristically glum. “It was a long winter, followed by a miserably cold, wet spring,” he admitted.
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They finished harvesting at the end of October and a delighted Mario was able to report by mail that after all those anxious moments earlier in the year, he was overall quite satisfied with the vintage. But it’s early, he admitted. “I always remember what my nonno (grandfather) Saverio, my greatest teacher, used to say to me: ‘The grapes are harvested in fall, but the race is not over till the final lap is completed.’ ”
On that May visit, gathered around the huge oak table in Mario’s newly converted tasting room with a group of wine-loving friends, we tasted the results of earlier vintages that had completed their final lap.
First came Dolcetto, bright, pretty, thirst-quenching and (at 12.5% alcohol by volume) relatively low in alcohol — perfect with a simple salad of vine-ripened tomatoes and local mozzarella with home-made grissini. Next came Barbera d’Alba, a blooming delight, deliciously fruit-driven and just right with slivers of air-dried sausage from the local butcher.
Mario’s Langhe Nebbiolo, which (like his Barbera) spends a year in small oak barrels, some of them new, is a proper wine, not just (as is too often the case) a poor relation of Barolo that didn’t quite make the cut. Finally, with a steaming plate of manzo brasato al Barolo (beef braised in Barolo) made with love by Mario’s mamma, we worked our way around several vintages of the eponymous wine, each one elegantly structured, beautifully balanced, understated and oozing with class.
Cascina Fontana wines are imported into the United Kingdom by Berry Bros. and Rudd, wine merchants by appointment of the Queen and the Prince of Wales. Check Wine Searcher for stockists in the U.S.
Top photo: Grapes growing at Cascina Fontana. Credit: Kim Millon
I usually pour American wines on Thanksgiving, but after recently tasting this northern Italian white at New York’s Nougatine restaurant, I changed my mind. I’ll be serving this fragrant 2012 Abbazia di Novacella Kerner from the Alto Adige region that’s crisp and generous, balancing bright fruit with notes of flowers and fennel. It’s also amazingly food-friendly.
The combination of tart, savory and sweet tastes in the typical Thanksgiving feast is one reason selecting wines for this all-American holiday is so difficult. At Nougatine, the café section of the more famous restaurant Jean-Georges, the wine not only made a fine aperitif, but also went well with everything from a gently sweet butternut squash soup to a rich tuna tartare to a savory organic roast chicken. I have no doubt the Abbazia di Novacella Kerner will enhance my turkey as well as my rich oyster stuffing.
Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week
2012 Abbazia di Novacella Kerner
Region: Alto Adige, Italy
Grape: 100% Kerner
Serve: As an aperitif, with turkey and rich oyster stuffing
More of Elin McCoy's wine picks:
This exuberant white also answers another of my problems: finding a wine that will appeal to the wine novices as well as the geeks who’ll be gracing my table. A family holiday dinner, I’ve discovered, is not the time to serve some controversial, unusual tasting cuvée you’ve been dying to try, nor that super-expensive collectible you’ve been saving for a special occasion. Instead, I look for easy-drinking, reasonably-priced reds and whites that can please everyone from my aunt who loves Chardonnay to wine-knowledgeable friends who would be disappointed if I didn’t come up with something unexpected.
The Kerner grape is a fascinating cross between Riesling and Schiava, a light red. Named after a German doctor and composer of drinking songs, it originated in Germany in 1929, but wasn’t released for planting until 1969. Now widely grown in Germany as well as in Austria and parts of northern Italy, it shares Riesling’s tangy acidity and apple and citrus character, but has a rounder, softer, more opulent texture.
Abbazia di Novacella Kerner thrives in the Isarco valley
The Isarco valley, in the shadow of the southern Alps, is one of the places this grape seems to excel, especially in the high vineyards planted on granitic schist around the Abbey in the quiet town of Novacella. (Italian and German are spoken in the valley, also known as Eisacktal.) The historic monastery, founded in 1142 by monks in the Augustinian Canons Regular, is one of the oldest wineries in the world, noted for its exuberant whites.
I always savor Thanksgiving leftovers, so I’ve ordered a case of the 2012 Abbazia di Novacella Kerner, and am hoping my guests don’t drink it all. Naturally, I’ll serve a red, too. Look for that pick next week.
Top composite photo: 2012 Abbazia di Novacella Kerner label, with its vineyard in the shadow of the southern Alps. Credit: Courtesy of Abbazia di Novacella
You’ve heard of Positano, of course; Amalfi and Ravello, too, no doubt. How about Furore? Maybe not. Don’t worry; you’re not alone. Furore, Italy, is a just a little bit of a place, a random collection of houses, vineyards and lemon groves strung out across a series of near-vertical terraced slopes perched precariously above the shimmering Amalfi Coast.
Even residents describe it as “un paese che non c’è” — a village that’s not really a village. So why mention it? Because Furore is home to the Marisa Cuomo boutique winery, which, as Carla Capalbo observes in her vade mecum “Food and Wine Guide to Naples and Campania,” has become “synonymous with the rise in quality of — and interest in — the Costa d’Amalfi DOC wines.”
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Wine has been made for centuries up in this rugged hinterland of the Amalfi Coast, but it was of inferior quality, sold in bulk and never destined to stray far from its homeland. Marisa Cuomo and her husband, Andrea Ferraioli, both from local winegrowing families, recognized the potential of the terroir and also of the indigenous grape varieties planted here, some of them unique to the area. About 20 years ago they resolved to take the village’s winegrowing in a new direction. “They put Furore on the map,” confirms their daughter Dorotea Ferraioli, who is responsible for marketing and also for tours and tastings. “They wanted our little paese to be known worldwide.”
Why it works in Furore
Realizing that the only way to go was up, they decided to focus relentlessly on quality. They improved practices in the vineyard, invested steadily in the winery, carved a breathtaking cellar straight out of the rock face behind the house and hired an enologist to oversee winemaking. They began to bottle all their own wines and to age some of them in small oak barrels and proceeded to market them with flair to an eager public — Italians first, swiftly followed by an international audience thirsty for wines from the much-loved, much-visited Amalfi Coast.
Today the winery works with 20 hectares (50 acres) of vines, planted on vertiginous slopes all the way from Furore round to Vietri. The vineyards in and around Furore are wholly owned; the rest are worked by the winery in a cooperative arrangement.
You need to see the vineyards above Furore to understand the extreme challenges involved in working this terrain. The vines, almost all pre-phylloxera and ungrafted, are planted at the foot of the walls that prop up the steeply stacked terraces, at altitudes ranging from 100 to 750 meters (328 to 2,460 feet) above sea level. Their branches sprawl out horizontally along pergolas made from long, tapering poles, which are cut from the chestnut trees that proliferate high in the Monte Lattari way above the village.
Training the vines along pergolas in this way, explains Dorotea, is not just a picturesque regional tradition; it’s also the most convenient solution, perfectly suited to the rigors of the terrain while making the most of the limited space available. The branches provide a dense canopy of leaves beneath which the grapes dangle, protected from the relentless sun. On the ground below, zucchini, pumpkins and other vegetables flourish gratefully in the shade. Two crops are thus grown in one tiny, precious, precarious space.
The winery makes white, rosé and red wine from a whole bunch of little-known, indigenous vine varieties that are still part of Italy’s precious heritage. Top of the white range is the barrel-fermented Fiorduva (“flower of the grape”), a fragrant blend of Fenile, Ginestra and Ripoli, three varieties unique to the Amalfi Coast. Furore Bianco, described by the sommelier at the Casa Angelina restaurant in nearby Praiano as “semplice ma non banale” (“simple but by no means ordinary”), comes from Falanghina and Biancolella grapes, both typical of Campania. Rosé and reds are made from Piedirosso (“red-foot”) and Aglianico in varying proportions.
Next time you’re on vacation in Positano or Amalfi, look out for Marisa Cuomo wines. They’re are widely available in restaurants, bars and shops along the coast. Best of all, find your way up the winding road to Furore and pay the winery a visit (from January to August only). Then look out for the wines when you get back home. (Wines are exported to the U.S., Canada, Japan and Switzerland). When you’ve tracked down a bottle of Fiorduva or Furore Rosso Riserva, uncork it, close your eyes, picture those dizzying slopes and sun-baked terraces, take a gentle sniff, breathe in the scents of the Amalfi Coast and remember the sheer back-breaking labor of love that has gone into the bottle.
Top photo: Grapes growing at the Marisa Cuomo winery in Furore, Italy. Credit: Cantine Marisa Cuomo
Italy’s less well-known wine appellations provide a continuing supply of truly interesting wines at very reasonable prices, like the fresh, juicy 2012 Salcheto Obvius Rosso di Montepulciano. It’s the first vintage of this dark, intense red with a taste of pure fruit from an organic winery in the district of Montepulciano, southeast of Siena in Tuscany. It was a perfect partner to rich pasta Bolognese at a weeknight dinner.
Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week
Region: Tuscany, Italy
Grape: 100% Prugnolo Gentile Sangiovese
Serve with: Pasta Bolognese, roasted turkey
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Salcheto is the brainchild of winemaker Michele Manelli, who purchased the property in 1997 and added two partners about a decade ago. Together they began exploring ways to improve wine quality while creating a more sustainable, energy-efficient cellar with a low environmental impact.
In 2011, they built what they call Italy’s first “off-grid” winery, which uses no traditional power sources and generates its own energy with solar photovoltaic panels. And it gets by on less than half the energy conventional wineries require, thanks to using only natural lighting, recycled water and gravity. The cellar is built into the side of a hill, with plants on the exposed wall to absorb the sun and help keep the interior cool, and an automated system of opening and closing windows to circulate cooler night air.
The trio also commissioned a research study to document the carbon footprint of a bottle of wine. Including the carbon emissions from vineyard to packaging, it “costs” the equivalent of three and a half pounds of CO2 to produce a bottle of this wine. Last summer they completed the first certification of a water footprint and are working on establishing a biodiversity footprint.
Montepulciano developing its red wines
In Tuscany, wines like Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino get most of the attention, but the Montepulciano zone is working hard to catch up by reinventing itself. Over the past 25 years, the wines have gone from a blend of several varieties to reds based almost totally on a local clone of Sangiovese, as this Salcheto is.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is the grand wine of the region, aged longer and in wood. The Rosso is fresher, brighter and easy-drinking. The Salcheto Obvius, released in September, uses grapes from young vines and Manelli ferments and ages the wine in stainless steel, without any cultured yeast or added sulfur. He calls this a “from grapes only” wine.
The Latin name of the wine, Obvius, doesn’t mean obvious, as you might think. It has many meanings, including open and accessible, which the 2012 Salcheto Obvius certainly is.
Top composite image: 2012 Salcheto Obvius Rosso di Montepulciano label and vineyards. Credit: Courtesy of Salcheto Winery