Before visiting Arianna in her native Vittoria, we spent a night in the lovely town of San Leone. Serious sunset vibes.
The main reason we stayed there was because of this legendary seafood spot that was a pure joy.
Check out this before and after jam:
This whole octopus were pretty stellar as well:
On a much stranger note, our hotel was adorned with seriously bizarre artwork, including crying clowns and this police brutality portrait:
Way to set the mood...
Ok, on to the good stuff! Occhipinti time!
The big news is that Arianna has built a beautiful new cellar on the farm she acquired two years ago (read up on that in my first recap in 2012).
Besides the obvious advantage of having way more space, it has permitted Arianna to start a new regiment of concrete fermentation and aging for both SP68's (in the past everything was done in stainless steel and fiberglass). Some of the tanks are glass lined, some aren't. They are all 2mx2m, and with the way they are set up, the juice can be worked by gravity.
"We can smell and feel the grapes from the top, which is a huge step up from the old cellar."
From concrete tank, we tried both SP68 Bianco and Rosso. The Bianco is 40% Albanello and 60% Zibibbo this year, with no skin contact. SP68 Rosso is 70% Frapatto and 30% Nero d' Avola in 2013, with 30 days skin contact and 6 months aging in cement. For both blends, Arianna usually co-fermented the wines, though some years this is not possible.
We then tasted through the 2013's barrels of Frapatto, Siccagno and Cerusuelo.
Some 2012 Il Frapatto was also being bottled.
While tasting, Jill from Domaine LA asked Arianna for insight on why her wines are so elegant and light compared to most Sicilian wine. Besides the fact that Vittoria is located amongst many mountains that provide the vines with constant wind, Arianna had this to say:
"Not irrigating, harvesting late and not using fertilizers are the secret to making more elegant wines in the area. The freshness and minerality in my wines come from the subsoils. Any wine made from young vines or chemically grown vines feeding only off of the top soil will have the cooked, hot characteristics people associate with wine from warm regions."
After a great lunch where we tasted currently bottled offerings, Arianna showed us the old farm house she is currently renovating. More precisely, she showed us the Palmento, which pretty much a staple of nearly every farm-house in Sicily.
These Palmentos are extremely common, but also extremely abandoned. The reason is less that they were made illegal for "sanitary" reasons in the 1970's and more that there are simply a lot less people making wine on the island. Today only 600 hectare of vines are planted in the Vittoria region, and Arianna estimates it was 20 times as much in early 1900's.
We then took a coffee break, which served as an excellent moment for everyone to pet Arianna's dog Paco.
I decided to join the fun:
I then began fluffing him, which got Paco frisky.
Then, out of nowhere, he snatched my notebook!
Naturally, I panicked since all of my precious notes (including the ones used to write this) were in there! My reflex was to chase Paco around trying to get my book back:
This proved unsuccessful, but after some screaming on Arianna's part, Paco dropped the book. He was a bit bummed his mom wouldn't let him play anymore:
The book was more or less unscathed, but did suffer a bit of superficial damage.
After all that excitement, we walked over Arianna's new plantation of 3.5 hectares of Frapatto on red sand over limestone.
These were all grafted in place in massale. 19 000 plants will be re-grafted on the roots starting in August. Arianna will undertake this daunting task with the help of 3 local contadinos.
The visit ended with a quick tour of the bianco parcel, which is trained in Albarello.
While there, we were informed that Ari only performed 1 copper and sulfur treatment in 2014! That's crazy!
Walking back to the house, we were surrounded by a never ending amount of bright red poppies.
It was a great visit.
This event has sold out! Thank you for the support!
Louis/Dressner Selections, Reynard at the Wythe Hotel and Indie Wines would be thrilled to see you at a pre-release screening of Natural Resistance, the new film directed by Jonathan Nossiter (here's a link to Jonathan's Film Quarterly article about the film). The screening will take place at the Wythe Hotel Screening Room & Bar on Thursday, September 11th at 8 PM.
In addition to the film, Jonathan will be there for a short talk and to take some questions directly after the film. Wines from the winemakers/protagonists (Stefano Bellotti of Cascina degli Ulivi, Elena Pantaleoni of La Stoppa, Stefano & Giovanna Tiezzi of La Pacina and, we hope, Corrado Dottori of La Distesa) will be available at the Screening Room Bar for purchase by the glass and half-glass before, during and after the screening.
The evening's proceeds will be donated to Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger and the Far Rock Farm Project.
For tickets go here at
Seats are limited, so hurry.
Yesterday afternoon I received the shocking news that Joe Dougherty is no longer of this world. I say shocked because Joe was one of those people I never imagined wouldn't be around; as both a friend to us but also to a staggering amount of the growers we work with, Joe seamlessly interweaved himself into both our personal and professional lives on such a profound level that it's impossible to envision who we are today without him.
I really wish my father was here to detail the early days of SFJoe's rise to prominence in our lives, as I don't have much insight on the matter. I have however been around Joe my whole life and have plenty to say.
I'm sure my dad met Joe Dougherty through wine. I know I met Joe Dougherty because of wine. And yes, SFJoe had an insane cellar, was the most knowledgable person about wine I've ever met and was always ready to open a bottle that most people would never dream of having the opportunity to try. But when I think about Joe, I never think about wine. Joe was one of the most fascinating human beings I've had the pleasure of knowing; I often joked that he knew everything about everything.
But unlike a smartphone or Google search, Joe wasn't just a scripted fact-sheet; he knew how to pull you in with the details. This could range from casual observations to humorous anecdotes and sometimes get as precise as the molecular composition or chemical reactions in food, wine or anything with molecular composition or chemical reactions, which is basically everything. No matter what you were talking about, you would learn something while laughing about another, all while drinking some Vouvray.
What was great was that you never felt intimidated by his intelligence or knowledge. Instead you felt welcome, invited to a world you had no idea was as interesting as it is, a world of details you constantly overlooked until Joe brought them to your attention. For example, I once opened a bottle of (surprise!) old Huet that Joe had brought to Terroir in San Francisco. I was convinced it was corked, but Joe busted out some empirical research he'd done because he'd often noticed that old Chenin Blanc tends to get get fungal aromas and flavors with age that many associate with cork taint, and that it blows off after about an hour or so. He also went into some next-level chemical reasons behind this that went way over my head, but that I appreciated anyway. As the hour passed, my skepticism subsided when lo and behold, a wine I found undrinkable was now showing beautifully!
For years, there has been a running joke of introducing Joe to growers as the "Average American Consumer". This gag has its origins in Joe joining us annually on our trip to the Loire valley every winter. Because Joe never had a professional stake in in wine industry, he was always the only consumer on the trip, so Joe (Dressner) and Kevin settled on "Average American Consumer" when introducing him. It was of course tongue-in-cheek, since most average consumers didn't have libraries of back vintage Huet or could guess blind that the moelleux François Pinon just poured us was a 1954 just off one sniff (a truly remarkable moment I'll never forget, especially François' face lighting up in surprise and delight). The "Average American Consumer" also didn't have to step out for 2 hour international phone meetings in his car out in the dead of winter and wasn't able to understand the chemical structure of a wine more than the person who had made it. But hey...
But in so many ways, Joe was the embodiment of all my favorite wine lovers and affianados. I think Joe's profound love of wine, besides the geeky scientist stuff, was that he had a firm grasp of how important it is in this world. Wine was an excuse to bring people together, to share stories, to excite the senses, to laugh, eat, drink and be merry. To live and to celebrate life. It's no surprise that his love for lively wines led him to lively people, be it my father, Eric Texier or David Lillie. Everything intertwined so perfectly.
Joe, you'll always be family. You will be sorely missed and I'll be drinking some Vouvray tonight for ya!
On our first day in Sicily, we got a day off to hang out in the incredibly photogenic town of Trapani.
While walking around, I kept noticing locals hanging outside burning huge candles. At first I thought little of it; after all I'm not from there and maybe that's how people hang. But then I started hearing marching band music!
And along with the marching band, a huge group of people where following a statue of this guy!
Our group was a bit stumped as to what this ritual pertained to, but with some googling we were able to figure out it was a celebration for Santo Padre, who, amongst other accolades, was the 2nd Pope. Ever!
As an aside, the best painting of all time was on proud display at the restaurant we ate at that night:
The following morning we drove over to Marsala to see the de Bartoli family. Their hamlet still looks like a cross of Miami Vice and a Spaghetti Western.
Here is their adorable dog Picasso, who many felt was the cutest canine of the trip:
Here I am angering Picasso by trying to do "extreme" maneuvers on a tiny, tiny skateboard not much bigger than my foot:
This video truly gives you all an inside glimpse in the sheer professionalism we here at Louis/Dressner profess with every visit.
Right on the outskirts of the de Bartoli cellar, a limestone quarry provides a good look into what the soils/subsoils of the area look like.
Interestingly, the limestone from Western Sicily is not only great for growing white grapes, but also for building houses.
"Half of Sicily was built from our area's stones."
I couldn't help but notice this everywhere we went for our remainder of the time on the island.
To the side of the quarry, 9 hectares are planted in Grillo.
These 9 hectares produce all of the de Bartoli Grillo based cuvées: Vigna Verde, Grappoli di Grillo, Integer Grillo and of course the beautiful line-up of Marsalas the estate is famous for. The Cataratto that produces Lucido are a short 4 kilometers away and the Pignatello that produces Rosso di Marco are 10km away.
From the vines, we set off to the de Bartolis' beautiful and elaborate cellar. Before I jump into the technical stuff, I highly recommend re-reading my visit re-cap from two years ago. There will certainly be some overlap (as well as a past Miami Vice reference), but many of the details I delve into below will complement the information from our past visit that I didn't catch the first time around.
The Marsala process begins in the ground level part of the cellar:
To understand how the solera process works, the first concept to grasp is that alcohol molecules are bigger than water molecules, and therefore water molecules disappear first with evaporation, leaving a more concentrated alcoholic liquid to be topped off with new wine each year.
The top floor cellar is where the Solera process takes place, going from top to bottom barrel, which if you scroll up will notice go from smallest at the top to biggest at the bottom. The new wine added each vintage is vinified like the Integer Grillo: barrel fermentation and aging without any added sulfur. Every year, Marsala is bottled from the small aging barrels in the underground cellar (we'll get to that shortly), and wine from the huge bottom barrels is racked back into the small barrels, where they will continue aging until they are bottled. In practice, this is a never-ending process that can continue endlessly:
"Marsala can age for hundreds of years."
The average mix in a big bottom barrel is 20 vintages.
From the ground level cellar, we walked two flights down into the aging cellar.
As explained earlier, these little barrels are where the wine that has already gone through the solera process age. It is at this point that the wine is either left to age on its own before bottling or fortified with mistella to produce the Superiore line.
"Traditional Marsala was never fortified, but my father wanted to look forward while also honoring tradition, and this is how the Superiore line came to be. Still, it is the territory, the grape and oxygenation that makes a Marsala, not fortification."
At the end of the cellar visit, Sebastiano drew this very helpful diagram to understand the whole process of making a de Bartoli Marsala.
It all seems so simple when you add a cute drawing!
It was time to taste, which is always a lot of fun since the family produces so many different wines from the same vines and land.
We also got to taste the Zibibbo based passitos from the island of Pantelleria, a project started in 1984. As a fun treat, Sebastiano pulled out a few bunches of the dried grapes that make the wine for us to taste.
BEST. RAISINS. EVER.
We ended our visit with a tour of the late Marco's prized car cellar, which is full of rare automobiles from the 60's, 70's and 80's.
The funnest part was seeing his favorite sports car, this red Alpha-Romeo that served as the inspiration for the Rosso di Marco label!