Wine Blog

August 03, 2017

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The Wines of Avellino in Campania

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius (Monte Vesuvio) in AD 79 blanketed the region in volcanic ash and rock, and it also created one of the most unique viniculture regions in Italy known today as Campania. We journeyed into the province of Avellino in Campania in April in search of the "Barolo of the South"- Taurasi- crafted from the ancient varietal Aglianico. After landing at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport and pointing our rented cinquecento south on the E45 for two hours, we were navigating the country roads around Avellino and hill towns of Taurasi and Tufo. Vineyards of the ancient varietals Aglianico, Greco, and Falanghina blanket the hills at remarkable elevations—400-500 meters above sea level.  

   

The Irpinia district of Avellino has three DOCG appellations named for its respective commune- Taurasi, Fiano di Avellino, and Greco di Tufo. The unique terroir of each creates distinctly different cultivation zones for these varieties. We had our sights on two of the wines this trip—the big red Taurasi, which is crafted from 100% Aglianico, and the well-known white Greco di Tufo. There are also 14 protected designations of origin, DOCs. Two wines from these appellations were also on our wish list—the red Irpinia Agliancio and an elegant white known as Falanghina.

 We found what we were looking for in Montemiletto, a town and commune in the Avellino province named for its ancient historical significance of once being the base of a Roman army, hence its name "mountain militia". The Norman castle of Leonessa stands today on the highest point of the town center.

(Castello Leonessa in Montemiletto)

Since ancient times, families in the commune grew Irpinia vines and produced wine for personal use.  I always look to the local experts for recommendations on producers, and who best to offer an opinion on the finest producers in the commune than the town elders who can be found on park bench in the historic center of town, the Centro, just below Castello Leonessa.

(My panel of experts in the Centro of Montemiletto)

Following self-introductions and a riotous discussion about my search for the finest wines in the area, I left this meeting with a unanimous endorsement of the De Santis Family at Macchie Santa Maria. This was very fortunate since I already had a meeting arranged with the family for later that afternoon. Macchie Santa Maria is an artisan, family winery steeped in the rich traditions and history of Montemiletto, where for generations, they have cultivated the native varietal vines to produce wines for personal consumption. Today, winemaker Oreste De Santis draws from the experience of three generations to craft Irpinia wines that display the best characteristics of these local varietals.

                   

 So, what should you expect from the wines of Campania? Not surprisingly, the local winemakers consistently pointed to the unique and diverse soils of this area as a major determinant of the wine profiles. These characteristics were determined nearly two thousand years ago when Monte Vesuvio blanketed the soils rich in clay with volcanic ash (tuff) creating a type of clay-tuffa. The roots of the vines must run deep in search of water. The mediterranean climate provides for warm days and cool nights. And, at an elevation of 400-500 meters, snow commonly blankets the dormant vines in the winter months.  It is not unusual to find Aglianico vines 200 years old and still used in production.

              

("Old vines of Aglianico and clay-tufa soil in vineyards of Nativ Cantina)

Look for Greco di Tufo to show an intense straw yellow, almost gold, color in the glass, distinct almond notes, and a fresh 'minerality' on the finish. Falanghina will show high acidity giving it a crisp finish and notes of ripe fruits and wildflowers. The big red, Aglianico, expresses bold tannins, savory notes, complex layers of dark fruits, and a long finish. These are wines that when young can be tannic, brash and irreverant; however when handled and properly refined, Taurasi earns its reputation as the "Barolo of the South" and provides a uniquely rich, smooth and complex wine experience. 

           (Aglianico vineyards in the foreground, Commune of Taurasi in the background)

March 25, 2016

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Demystifying an Italian Wine Label

Great wine! What am I drinking? I often hear this from clients unfamiliar with Italian wines. They closely inspect the labels but see nothing that they recognize as the name of a grape varietal that has crossed their palate before.

Traditional California wine labels prominently place the variety, e.g. Zinfandel, in a grand font where your eyes can instantly lock on. Add the winery name, vintage, perhaps the appellation, and you essentially have a complete brand label. As California winemakers have begun to embrace blending, the varietal name has been replaced with a provocative “fanciful name”, and the labels have become less recognizable.

So what makes old world wine labels so intimidating for some? Old World (France, Italy) have tightly controlled “classifications” that dictate labeling requirements. Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino di Nobile Montepulciano, Valpolicella…. all are highly recognizable terms by enthusiasts with experienced palates in Italian wines. And, the names are displayed prominently, and proudly, on the brand labels. If you’re not familiar with these wines, you won’t realize that these terms are names of the classified districts and define the wines. For example, Barolo, the King of Wines and the Wine of Kings, is the famous district in the Piemonte region where these wines originate.   Barolo wines are some of the most reknown red wines of Italy, and often most expensive. They are crafted only with 100% Nebbiolo grapes from the district; yet, nowhere on the label will you find the varietal “Nebbiolo”. You just have to know that is the varietal for Barolo wines. Similarly, Barbaresco (Nebbiolo), Brunello di Montalcino (Sangiovese), Vino di Nobile Montepulciano (Sangiovese), and Valpolicella (blend of ancient varietals) are proudly flying the designations of their famous districts and not the varietals. And that’s mostly true, but not always. For example, Barbera d’Alba is named for the varietal grape—Barbera. In this case it carries the appellation designation as well so you don’t confuse it with its neighbor Barbera d’Asti. Taste the two wines side-by-side and the differences will be permanently etched on your palate, as they have strikingly different characteristics. Classified wine labels frequently contain additional information such as the vineyard designation, or cru, and whether it has been sufficiently aged to carry the “reserve” designation. 

Let’s take a closer look at a label and we’ll translate. Corrado De Anglis Corvi produces a reserve big red, Montepulciano, from the Abuzzo region in the classified district of Colline Teramane. Corrado has also given this wine a “fanciful” name, Elévito, in memory of his parents.

Montepulicano is commonly confused with another Italian wine—Vino di Nobile Montepulciano. Why the confusion? There is beautiful medieval town in Tuscany by the same name as this varietal that is grown extensively in the Abruzzo region; however this town if famous for another big red, Vino di Nobile Montepulciano comprised with 100% Sangiovese fruit. Confused yet?

Recall that the Italian wine classification scheme has four tiers. The top two tiers of control are DOCG-Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, and DOC-Denominazione di Origine Controllata. As you experience wines from the lower tiers, IGT- IndicazioneGeografica Tipica, and VDT-Vino di Tavola (aka table wine), labeling requirements are relaxed and you will notice a great deal less information included on the labels.

American wine enthusiasts have eyes trained to the familiar --Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc. Much of the mystery in Old World wine labels comes down to a lack of familiarity with the hundreds of varietals grown outside the U.S.. It’s a big, bold wine world out there; so don’t pass up any opportunity to experience a new wine. You don’t recognize the label? Then pour a glass and get to know a new varietal. Cin!

 

November 09, 2015

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Vintage 2015

The 2015 harvest has come to an end; and while it is too early to make any judgments about the quality of the vintage, it appears to have been an excellent growing season and harvest. Nearly all districts in Northern Italy reported experiencing a cold, wet winter and moderately wet spring. As I traveled the small country roads in the Barolo and Barbaresco at the end of March, I was drenched in downpours and remarked at the amount of standing water on the saturated soils. The ample moisture prepared the vines well for the relatively high temperatures in June and July. Flavio Sobrero at Azienda Agricola Sobrero Francesco in the Barolo commune of Castiglione Falletto, reports it was an excellent growing season with outstanding fruit coming form their Pernanno, Valentino and Piantà vineyards. Fabio Corsi at Le Marognole echoed those thoughts and shared images (shown) of handpicking the robust Valpolicella fruit and placing them directly in wooden racks for their "appassimento" processing. Roberto Corsi, Fabio's father, commented to the family that he has never in his life seen a special growing season like 2015. Tuscany experienced an extremely warm, dry summer that led to an early harvest (vendemmia) but exceptional fruit. Carlo Cantalici is expecting an exceptional vintage for the Gallo Nero of the Classico district. Carlo commented, "This harvest has been one of the most beautiful in the past 10 years! 2015 will be a year to remember as a great vintage!."

Indeed, it is early to come to any conclusions about the 2015 wines, but it is not too early to start building anticipation for what appears to be an exceptional vintage. In the meantime, the 2010 vintages are showing exceptional qualities, and many of our favorites have already been arriving. The 2010 Le Marognole Amarone is showing to be a very big vintage that will only continue to improve with a few more years of age. The 2010 Cantalici Chianti Classico Baruffo Riserva is one of the finest Chianti Classico wines available. Internationally known wine journalist Dan Berger rated Carlo’s Classico wine as “exceptional”.   The 2010 Poggio Apricale Brunello di Montalcino from Luca Brunelli just arrived this past week. Luca earned a 93 point rating from Wine Spectator for his 2010 Brunello's from his Marotoccia farm. Fabio Sobrero’s 2010 Barolo “Ciabot Tanasio” (WS 92, WE 93) recently arrived and is already showing outstanding complexity and a structure that make it a wine for aging as well. Fabio’s 2010 Barolo Pernanno Riserva is still bottle aging and will not be released until December 2016.  I barrel tasted with Flavio in March, and it was already showing qualities similar to the great vintage of 2006.

 

So we will have to wait to sample the first wines of the 2015 vintage. The 2015 Chianti Classico should be released this time next year, and the riserva six months later. In the meantime, there are fabulous 2010 vintages waiting to find a place on your table and in your wine glass.

Fall in the Langhe, Piemonte

Photo shared from Ristorante Le Torri, Castiglione Falletto

October 01, 2015

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A Time For Old World White Wines

I always considered myself a “red” drinker. You know the type. I drank only reds because whites didn’t offer my palate the depth of character, body, and complexity offered by the reds. You may be a member of the same club. I was a member for decades, that is, until I met some old world Italians. The chance meeting happened in the Langhe in 2013. If you are not familiar with the “Langhe”, it is an area in Italy’s Piemonte region, in the province of Cuneo, and considered as the area south and east of the Tanaro River. The area is known for its spectacular beauty, and famous for its cuisine, especially its cheeses, white truffles, and, of course, its wine. This is the area world renown for great reds—Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera d’Alba, Dolcetto d’Alba. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) opened its arms to the Langhe in 2014 by designating it a World Heritage site. You get the picture. It’s incredibly beautiful and culturally rich region! This “red” guy was visiting the area to find a Barbaresco when this chance meeting occurred, and shortly after, I surrendered my membership card from the red-only club.

I have to thank Luisella Chiola at Azienda Agricola Fontanabianca for introducing me to old world whites with their 2012 Langhe Arneis. I was immediately drawn to its pale yellow hues in the glass. Its floral nose was inviting, and its soft, smooth mouthfeel left a richly complex finish of fresh fruit on the palate. This was like no other white I had ever tasted! And, so it began, my awakening to old world whites.

Arneis is grown primarily in the Piemonte region. It was called Arnesio at the beginning of the 20th century. The name eventually changed to Arneis. In the Piemontese dialect, the word arneis is also used to describe a “rascally” individual, someone with whom it is difficult to get along.

The following year I was introduced to Trebbiano, while exploring the Abruzzo hills near Ascoli Piceno. Corrado De Angelis Corvi poured a 2012 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo “Fonte Ravillino” into my glass and my palate was bathed in this liquid gold nectar that stimulated all the senses. Again, it was a beautiful expression of the unique terroir of its birthplace, the Colline Teramane district of the Abruzzo.

Trebbiano is a large family of whites that frequently takes the name of its region of origin. It is the “most planted” white varietal in Italy (source: Italian Wine Central, 2010 data). 

My journey continued with the whites of Friuli-Venezia Giulia; and, each time, I was met with luscious varietals that delivered complex aromas and tastes that I had not found in new world whites. Pinot Grigio is perhaps the most widely imported Italian white to the states. Arguably, you will find the most interesting Pinot Grigio from the small, artisan producers of Friuli and Alto Adige regions. Here is a great example of a varietal that will deliver a tremendous range of aromas and flavors depending on the local terroir. Igor Erzetic at Azienda Agricola Branko in the Collio district introduced me to a classic 2013 Pinot Grigio from this small valley that neighbors the Slovenian border. This is a fruit forward white with subtle aromas of sundried hay, walnut, and stone fruits. It delivers a warm plush mouthfeel with discreet acidity to provide a clean, pleasing finish. And, just a few kilometers south in the neighboring Colli Orientali, Stefano Traverso’s 2013 Vigna Traverso Pinot Grigio delivered an equally fabulous but very different tasting experience. This is a complex, well-balanced white that delivers a classical, old world Pinot Grigio experience to your palate—floral aromas, slightly bitter but refreshing and pleasing earthy finish.

Pinot Grigio: The variety was originally imported from the Burgundy region of France where it is known as Pinot Gris. It is widely found in Northern Italy in Lombardy, Veneto, Friuli, Trentino, and Aldo Adige regions. The color of the clusters can vary from bluish-gray to yellow. 

The northern most wine regions of Italy—Trentino Aldo Adige, Friuli-Venezia Giulia—are world renown for the quality and variety of white wines. One of the most well known and widely available in these regions is Friulano (also known as Tocai Friulano). Indeed, I found it offered in every trattoria I visited in the Friuli. Igor’s 2013 Collio Friulano delivers all the unique characteristics this varietal has to offer—vegetal aromas with hints of bitter almonds and refreshing acidity on the finish. I dare anyone to find a similar varietal in the new world.

The diversity and number of Italian whites is remarkable and possibly overwhelming. Ian D’Agata lists over 80 white varietals in his book titled Native Wine Grapes of Italy (University of California Press). For those wine enthusiasts who are developing their bucket list, consider adding the tasting of all 80 native Italians to your list. You will need to plan extensive travel through the Italian wine regions to find them; but, in the meantime, there is a great tasting experience to be found with the few that are available here. You will find depth of character, body (yes, even in whites), and complexity that are frequently missing from new world whites. Don’t misunderstand me. I still love the reds as well; and there is always be a place for reds in my cellar. Nothing goes better with roasted red meats or a bolognese sauce than a red. So with all due respect to the reds, I have come to appreciate the diversity and complexity that the old world whites offer.   To all of the members of the “only red” club, there is a time for old world white wines.

April 11, 2015

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Italy’s Prestigious Collio

Located in the far northeastern corner of Italy, in the region known as Friuli-Venezia Giulia, you find one of Italy’s most prestigious Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) districts—the Collio. While it only covers approximately 1500 hectares (3700 acres), the Collio district produces great whites that are world renown for their quality and characteristics. All of those elements that go into defining a terroir—soil, topography, and climate—have come together beautifully to create a perfect stage for Pinot Grigio, Malvasia, Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon, Ribolla Gialla, and Chardonnay to show their finest qualities.

The rolling hills of the DOC Collio are protected by the Julian Alps to the north and bathed in mild Adriatic winds from the south. This half-moon shaped area of land marks Italy’s farthest outlier before entering the neighboring Slovenia. The soil of stratified marls and sandstones of Eocene orgin (ponca), along with the climate, create wines of distinctive minerality and character. The majority of this area is planted in white varietals, although a small quantity of reds can be found.

Wine connects us! And, that was certainly the case for our search for a great white from the Collio. An Italian winemaker living in Santa Rosa, Massimiliano Buiani, suggested I meet a colleague, a friend, his best man from his wedding, who is an artisan winemaker in the Collio. And so, on a warm October afternoon, we made the short 15-minute drive from the medieval village of Cormons, through the narrow, twisting roads that trail the lush rolling hills and vineyards, to Azienda Agricola Branko, near Zegla, where we met owner and winemaker Igor Erzetic. Igor’s vineyards are literally a stones throw from the Slovenian border. Igor’s small production facility, although small, shows all the signs of an artisan who is obsessed with perfection. After a tour of his vineyards and cellar, it was time to sit down and taste. Igor makes four single varietal whites—Pinot Grigio, Friulano, Chardonnay, and Sauvginon- a white blend, and a red blend.

 

All of the characteristics we had heard used to describe the whites of the Collio—floral aromas, discreet acidity, flavorful, crisp finishes—we found in Igor’s wines, and we are excited to share them with out clients. Enjoy! 

2013 Branko Collio Pinot Grigio
Region: Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Zone: Collio
Varietal: Pinot Grigio
Style: Dry White, Medium Body

Handcrafted from 100% estate grown fruit, this classic white appears pale yellow in the glass and delivers intense aromas of green apples and peach, and a crisp, clean mineral finish to the palate.

 

 


2013 Branko Collio Friulano
Region: Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Zone: Collio
Varietal: Friulano (Tocai)
Style: Dry White, Medium Body

Igor brings out the best unique expressions of this native varietal with its characteristic aromas of bitter almonds, melon and stone fruits. The wine delivers a fine balance of fresh fruit, crisp acidity and slightly mineral finish.

 

 

November 16, 2014

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COMING IN DECEMBER: New Wines From Tuscany and Friuli Venezia Giulia Regions!

We are very proud to welcome 4 new producers (Poggio Apricale, Cantalici, Ornella Molon, and Vigna Traverso) to our family along with their exceptional wines. These new wines represent classic native Italian varietals from their home regions of Tuscany (Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti Classico) and Friuli Venezia Giulia (Pinot Grigio, Friulano, and Schioppettino).

We drove and even walked the backroads of these beautiful regions in our search for these wines; and these were selected because they are exceptional representatives of the native varietals from their districts.  The wines will be available for order mid-December, so look for an announcement!

 

 

 

2011 Chianti Classico “Baruffo” DOCG
Region: Tuscany           Zone: Chianti Classico
Varietal: Sangiovese     Style: Dry Red, Full Body

Aged 12 months in French oak, this classic Chianti shows intense ruby and violet colors in the glass with aromas of cherries and fresh fruit with hints of vanilla and chocolate. The wine delivers generous fruity mouth feel with well-balanced tannins and acidity.  $27.99

 

 

 

2010 Chianti Classico “Baruffo” Riserva DOCG
Region: Tuscany           Zone: Chianti Classico
Varietal: Sangiovese     Style: Dry Red, Full Body

Aged 18 months in French oak, this “reserve” shows a deep ruby and garnet color in the glass. The nose delivers hints of berries, ripe plums, spices, tobacco and chocolate then lands on the palate with soft tannins, generous fruit and a persistent finish.  $35.99

 

 

2011 Super Tuscan “Tangano” IGT
Region: Tuscany
Zone: Chianti Classico
Varietal: Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet
Style: Dry Red, Full Body

Aged 18 months in French oak, this Tuscan blend shows deep ruby and garnet color in the glass. The nose delivers intense aromas of ripe plum and black fruits then lands on the palate with rich, spicy fruits and a long finish.  $40.99

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012 Rosso Di Montalcino DOC
Region: Tuscany             Zone: Montalcino
Varietal: Sangiovese       Style: Dry Red, Full Body

This little brother of Brunello is a distinctive full-bodied red the delivers intense black cherry fruit on the palate with hints of vanilla and spice.  $27.99

 

 

 

 

2009 Brunello di Montalcino DOCG
Region: Tuscany             Zone: Montalcino
Varietal: Sangiovese       Style: Dry Red, Full Body

Aged 36 months in Slovenian botte and French barriques, this classic Brunello di Montalcino is simply elegant. The wine delivers aromas of black cherries, wild berries, and vanilla to the nose and concentrated, complex black preserves in the mouth. The tannins are soft and balanced.  $49.99

 

 

 

2004 & 2006 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG
Region: Tuscany             Zone: Montalcino
Varietal: Sangiovese       Style: Dry Red, Full Body

Aged 42 months in Slovenian botte and French bariques, these “reserves” are extraordinary. The long aging process give birth to a classic and elegant Brunello that is full of intense aromas on the nose, a huge, soft mouth-feel of concentrated fruit, and an intensely complex finish. This is a wine with long aging potential.  

 

 

 

 

 

2013 Pinot Grigio Venezia DOC
Region: Friuli                 Zone: Venezia
Varietal: Pinot Grigio     Style: Dry White

This balanced, well-structured white delivers aromas of clean, fresh fruit on the nose, then crisp, citrus notes on the palate with a clean finish.  $16.99

  

2013 Pinot Grigio Colli Orientali DOC
Region: Friuli                 Zone: Colli Orientali
Varietal: Pinot Grigio     Style: Dry White

This golden yellow Pinot Grigio is from the famed Colli Orientali zone world renown for Pinot Grigio. The wine delivers aromas of pear and apple on the nose, a crisp and clean mouth feel with hints of citrus, pear and golden apples.  $21.99

 

2010 Schioppettino DOC
Region: Friuli                    Zone: Colli Orientali
Varietal: Schioppettino     Style: Dry Red, Full Body

This unique, native red delivers spicy aromas of black berries on the nose, and intensely complex hints of black currants and black pepper on the palate—distinctively unique.  $26.99

November 16, 2014

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Buona Festa - Invite The Italians To Your Holiday Table

The Old World Italian wines are perfectly structured to enhance traditional holiday dishes. So whether you are hosting the celebration or you are in charge of bringing the wine, invite the Italians to the celebration. The crisp acidity of the whites and the smooth, rich complexity of the reds are perfect accompaniments to your feast. Our wine travels took us back to some familiar families in the Veneto, Piemonte, and Abruzzo regions and introduced us to new families in Tuscany and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions. We brought back some of their favorite food and wine pairings to share.

Contact me if you need a recommendation for a specific pairing. On behalf of our family, and our Italian family producers…Buona Festa and Cin Cin!

If you are serving…We recommend pairing with…

 

Aperitifs and Appetizers (Aperitivi, Antipasti)

Dry cheeses (pecorino, fontina, romano), Shrimp, or Fish

2012 Zucchetto Prosecco Brut Puro-Fol DOCG

2012 De Angelis Corvi Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC

2013 Fontanabianca Arneis DOC

2013 Vigna Traverso Pinot Grigio DOC 

Fruit Cocktail or Ambrosia

2012 Sobrero Moscato d’Asti DOCG

 

First Course (Primo)

Soups or Green Salads

2013 Fontanabianca Langhe Arneis DOC

 

2012 De Angelis Corvi Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC

2013 Vigna Traverso Pinot Grigio DOC 

Pasta Dishes

2012 Le Marognole Valpolicella Classico DOC

2010 Fontanabianca Barbera d’Alba DOC

2012 Sobrero Dolcetto d’Alba DOC

 

Second Course (Secondo)

Roast Turkey or Duck

2009 Fontanabianca Barbaresco “Bordini” DOCG

 

Lamb, Pork, or Veal

2010 Fontanabianca Barbera d’Alba DOC, or

2007 Sobrero Barolo “Pernanno” DOCG

 

Roast Beef, or Prime Rib Roast

2008 Le Marognole Amarone “CampoRocco” DOC, or

2008 De Angelis Corvi Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Elèvito” DOCG, or

2006 Sobrero Barolo “Pernanno” DOCG

2011 Vigna Traverso Schioppettino DOC

 

Fruit & Cheese (Formaggi e Frutta)

2012 Zucchetto Prosecco Brut “Puro-Fol” DOCG, or

2012 Zucchetto Prosecco Extra Dry DOCG

  

Dessert (Dolce)

Chocolate anything!

2009 Le Marognole Valpolicella Recioto DOC

 

Pumpkin, Fruit Pies, or Cakes

2012 Sobrero Moscato d’Asti DOCG

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