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There's an old Italian expression that goes: "Vedi Napoli e poi muori", or "See Naples and Die". I can't really explain why, but any city where traffic is this fucking insane at any random street corner will always have a special place in my heart.
It's worth watching until the end. So many close calls... So few helmets...
Best. Outfit. Ever.
But Napoli isn't just panic-inducing traffic, insane all-night street parties, incredible architecture, delicious pizza and fashionable children. If you head to the Western edge of the city, you find yourself in Campi Flegrei, a unique area on the edge of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Geologically, Campi Flegrei is marked by many large volcanic craters. Combine this with the sea's constant winds and you have a fascinating terroir.
While still within the city limits, much of the area feels desolate and forgotten. However, if you follow the twisty, unkempt roads to the crater of Agnano, there is plenty of beauty to experience at Raffaele Moccia's 4 hectare estate, Agnanum.
All of Raffaele's vines are located on a single, steep hillside overlooking the mainland in all its postindustrial glory.
Here is Agnano's lovely hippodrome:
Fortunately, once you turn away from the urban panoramic, you are treated to an absolutely stunning vineyard site.
The soils here are sand and volcanic ash, with the vines planted on terraces that make mechanization impossible. Terraces have been the traditional way of planting in this area for centuries, but in an all too familiar tale, most growers are abandoning them because it's too much work. Speaking of too much work, Rafaelle has to be very careful with his soils.
"If you don't till, the rain goes right through (the soil) and messes everything up."
To avoid this, he lets grass grow wild to absorb water that would otherwise overfeed the vines. The grass also helps create a layer of moisture that helps cool down the vines.
"I didn't come up with this system. It is very old!"
Rafaelle's land is considered a historical vineyard: the youngest vines are 60 years old and the oldest are "at least" 200. Because his soils are so sandy, everything is planted in franc de pied.
"We're drinking the wines the Romans were drinking. Well, with the help of a more modern cellar!"
2.8 hectares of the native Falanghina are planted for white and 1.2 hectares of Piedirosso for red. The vines are some of the most strangely shaped I've ever witnessed.
Rafaelle described the training system as pergola, yet it doesn't resemble what one usually associates with the term.
At one point, a distinct whiff of sulfur overtook the group. That's because there are nearby sulfur eruptions all the time.
See that smoke in the middle? Sulfur cloud.
As we continued our walk through the vines, Rafaelle explained that there are 4 layers to his soil: sandy volcanic, humus, fine sand from basalt and finally basalt subsoils. It is very compact, and in such the roots of the vines feed from all 4 layers.
"Though the younger vines only reach the first 3."
By "younger", I'm pretty sure he meant the 60 year old vines.
Another particularity of these soils is that they auto-restrict yields, which was surprising since the vines are so huge.
Look, it's an old lady working her land alone in the horizon!
I spotted hoses in the vines, and asked Rafaelle about them.
"These are not for irrigation, but rather to have water handy when doing treatments. It's much easier to start from the top of the vines and having pitstops on the way down than having to go all the way back down each time."
At the very top of the hill, some young vines have been planted in massale and franc de pied. They are 15. To help them grow and develop, Rafaelle has planted fava beans in the rows and fertilizes the land with rabbit shit.
I found rabbit shit to be an oddly specific animal for this task, but it turns out that Rafaelle has a side-buisness of raising rabbits, so that makes sense. Speaking of which:
Our tasting/lunch took place in this medieval dungeon type space that was a stark contrast to the beautiful vines.
Rafaelle's son, who is currently in culinary school, made us a banging lunch from this amazing wood fire oven.
Of course, we had to eat some rabbit!
We also tasted some wine. In the cellar, slow native yeast fermentations take place in stainless steel tanks. Malolactic has never occurred since Rafaelle took over the winemaking.
For the white wine, 10mg of sulfur is added at the beginning of fermentation and nothing after. A light filtration also takes place. The red is unfiltered and un-fined.
Rafaelle's great, great grandfather used to sell the wine in vrac to to restaurants in Naples. He would load barrels up in a horse wagon and bring them to town.
"The wine became so popular that my father had to start a lottery system. The wine would go to the winners."
Rafaelle is the first generation to bottle the wine with the 2002 vintage. 4 wines are produced: a Campi Flegrei Bianco that is 100% Falanghina, a IGT white that's 50% Falanghina and 50% grapes I've never heard of. He also makes two reds from Piedirosso: Per e Palumm and Vigne del Volpe, a selection from the oldest vines. They are all delicious.
After leaving, we got a little lost on the way to our next appointment and, after pulling over, met a really ugly dog with a heart of gold.
Due to his underbite, we nicknamed him Teeth. I wanted to keep him forever.
That's the picture Salvo sent us the night before our visit. Oh Etna, always erupting!
After a lovely morning visit at Romeo del Castello, it was once again time to visit the grand, mysterious Salvo Foti!
While waiting for him, many of us got into a heated debate on who was going to buy this sweet miniature automobile.
No one could agree, so we decided to grab a coffee at the best named cafe of all time:
YES, I know it's spelled with a K but I still thought it was funny.
Not making us wait too long, Salvo pulled up with his left-hand man Mauricio and we drove up to a new vineyard.
This parcel is at 1100 meters elevation, and was planted 3 years ago. Salvo does not plant Nerello Mascalese above 800m, as it doesn't grow well in those circumstances. Whites, on the other hand, fare well, and this vineyard has been planted in Grecanico and Minella.
A small crew of the I Vigneri team was busy hoeing the soils.
"Every time they do this, it's like adding a fertilizer to the vineyard. It's the vines' water."
It's very important to do this work in the vines' infancy due to Etna's volcanic ash soils. If the ash isn't constantly being shifted around, the roots will stay superficial and not reach the subsoils. Furthermore, wild grasses and flowers grow very quickly on volcanic ash, making for too much competition.
"If we weren't constantly hoeing, these vines would look like this."
From there, we took a terrifying, extremely steep road that almost resulted in a few accidents. Certainly not for stick-shift novices... Fortunately no one was harmed and we were able to visit the Vigna Bosco:
Salvo acquired this vineyard 12 years ago. To his knowledge, this is one of if not THE highest vineyard in all of Etna, towering at 1300 meters elevation. Very few people still own vineyards at these types of altitude.
"In their eyes, it's too much work for too little result. Plus you need to have workers who know what they are doing, and these are getting harder and harder to come by."
Do to the altitude, the vineyard produces very low alcohol grapes. Harvests here are always extremely late as well. 2013 was picked on November 5th!
Grenache, Alicante, Grecanico and a bunch of grapes Salvo can't recognize are planted here. The vines are 110 years old, and all planted in franc de pied.
Speaking of franc de pied, a new plantation is in the works, all in massale.
Of course, everything will be raised in Albarello.
"Albarello is the best and oldest training method in the world. If this was used world-wide, fungal illness disappear. Other training systems are for chemicals and machines."
That's quite a hefty statement I'm sure many would disagree with. Perhaps Salvo was specifically referring to hotter regions? Then again, Mark Angéli trains all his Chenin in gobelet. Ultimately, his argument lies in the fact that Albarello gets no shadows from other vines and is exposed to more air.
"The cure for any plant's illness is sunshine."
Salvo then busted out a picnic basket with a couple of bottles in it.
It was none other than 2011 Vinudilice Sparkling!
Vinudilice is the wine produced from the Vigna Bosco, and usually consists of a still rosé field blend. With the 2011 vintage, Salvo exceptionally decide to make bubbles due to low quantities and maturity issues.
The wine is already sold out.
From Vigna Bosco, we headed to Vinupetra, undoubtedly in the top 5 vineyards I've seen in my lifetime.
At 240 years old (!!!), Salvo thinks these are "probably" the oldest existing vines in Etna.
"You have to treat these vines with the same respect and care and you would a 90 year old person. When you're 90 you can't do the same stuff you were doing when you were 20. It's the same with vines."
On average, the work to maintain these old vines requires his team 250 days of work. Young vines trained in Cordon on these soils require approximately 50 days of work a year.
"40 years ago, all of Etna's vines were trained in Albarello. Now it's water, chemicals and vines planted to last only 20 years before being ripped up."
The craziest of these vines were HUGE. Here's one taller than me!
And I'm tall!
Conveniently enough, Salvo's house overlooks Vinupetra, and it was at a long table that we sat down to eat dinner and taste wine.
As always, the antipasti alone was enough to fill an average human being up.
Of course, Salvo has a oven set up outside, perfect for making flatbreads and pizza.
As we set up, we asked for a spit bucket. Reluctantly, Salvo got up and brought some to the table. The one on my side had a large spider web in it.
"As you can see, no one uses that thing!"
We started with some white, then the 2013 Vinudilice Rosé, which if you recall is from the Vigna Bosco we visited earlier. Before Salvo acquired it, the prior owner used this parcel to make house wine for his family.
"When I took over, he told me that his grandfather had always made the wine with one night skin maceration. So I continue this tradition."
We then moved on to the Etna Rosso 2012. Did you know that the Etna DOC is the oldest in Sicily, dating back to 1968? Did you also know that this wine is a wine illegally made in a Palmento? If not, re-read this. On the subject, Salvo chimed in:
"Sicilians always expect something illegal. So we don't worry."
The Etna Rosso is always foot-trodden, then and open fermentation takes place for 7 to 10 days before the wine is racked to chestnut barrels.
The tasting ended with younger vintages of Vinupetra, followed by 06, 02 and 01.
As we ended dinner, Salvo toasted us and had this to say:
"I thank you all for coming and doing what you do. Wine is important, wine is three dimensional: there is time (the cycle of the year, the wine aging...), space (the context of where it is consumed, whether in its place of origin or all the way in the US...) and the mental (how it makes us feel, how it brings us together...)."
I guarantee you a lot was lost in translation, but it was a special way to end a special night.
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.
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!
Right next to the Roagna family house is the historic and majestic Pajé vineyard.
The Roagna family has been working this land for over 130 years, and have owned the majority of this Cru since the 1950's; they currently work 2 of the site's 4 hectares, which is shared two other growers. The site is shaped like an amphitheater, and exposed South-Southwest.
Many cuvées are bottled from the Pajé, all depending on the age of the vines and the conditions of the vintage: the base Pajé comes from 45-50 year old vines, Pajé Riserva is from vines that are 60+ and the Crichet Pajé is produced only in the best vintages, and from the oldest vines (70-100).
The soils are composed of marly limestone. The Roagnas never cut the grass at any time in any of their land:
Luca explained that this creates an incredible biodiversity in the vineyards and soil, which -amongst a multitude of herbs and flowers- includes more than 10 varieties of mint.
"If we ever fail at wine, we can become premium Mojito producers!"
The young Nebbiolo vines from Pajé (which are 20 to 50) partially produce the Roagna's Langhe Rosso, and the estates's Dolcetto is also planted here.
A short drive from Pajé, we visited the Asili Cru, the second of three lieu-dits within the village of Barbaresco that the Roagnas produce from.
The soils here are clay, limestone and sand. The youngest vines are 55.
A little further down, you can spot their tiny parcel of the Montefico Cru. Can you guess which it is?
Hint: grass grows wild...
If you guessed this:
You are wrong and chose a parcel with evident, heavy handed herbicide use!
If you chose this:
Then you are correct!!!!!!!!
All joking aside, the picture above is a very interesting contrast of the varying degrees of herbicide use in vineyards. From the full "Brazilian Wax" to "just in between the rows" to "let it grow free!", you get to see it all. Still, I feel I must ask the rhetorical question: which plot looks the healthiest and most full of life?
From Barbaresco, we hopped into our Dressner mobiles and drove the half hour to Barolo. It was looking like rain the whole way over, but we still felt that it was necessary to visit La Pira, the 8 hectare Cru and monopole Alfredo purchased in 1990.
The total property is 11 hectares, with 8 hectares of vines planted. The oldest vines here were planted in 1937, but there have historically been plantings here for at least 500 years.
In addition to the obviously planted Nebbiolo, La Pira is also where the Langhe Bianco and Barbera grapes are grown. As you can see from the pictures, the grass stays just as tall here as in Barbaresco. This is particularly useful for harvesting herbs and making their Chinato, which is one of the best in the game. La Pira is an isolated clos.
At the bottom of the hill, Luca is conducting a franc de pied experiment with the best clones from his various parcels.
The goal is to see which react the best to this situation in order to propagate them in the future.
Our visit ended in a visit in the brand new cellar installation Luca has constructed above La Pira. It is fucking huge and kind of looks like the Legion of Doom headquarters.
It isn't clear if all the vinifications will take place here, but the idea is to do all of the aging here; because space is longer an issue, this will permit Luca to age wines much longer than he has been able to in the past. Even though everything looks really new, the space already has that cold, moldy cellar feel.
Cages will eventually hold reserve bottles of wine.
Or maybe lock up pesky importers if they misbehave.
Luca has also started custom building his own concrete tanks because he doesn't trust the manufacturers.
"I want it to not have lining and the concrete to have very specific dimensions. I want it to to be the most neutral tank possible, and I cannot find what I am looking for on the current market."
Here are some pics:
This shouldn't come as much of a surprise; to this day Alfredo and Luca are the only ones allowed to prune the entirety of their land. That's two guys for 15 hectares!
We tasted wine, it was good. As we drove off, a nice rainbow led the way to Torino.
That was the view from our hotel.
As you know, we here at Louis/Dressner are big fans of underdog regions and the crazy indigenous grapes grown there. We also are big fans of die-hard traditionalists, preservers of history and lovers of the land. After our visit with Giulio Moriondo of Vinirari, I can confirm he exemplifies these qualities to a tee.
First off, if you don't know Vinirari, rest assured that 99.3% of wine drinkers are right there with you. Giulio is truly a garagiste (his cellar in his garage), owns about 1 hectare of vines spread over a gazillion parcels, and tends vines/makes wine purely out of passion and love for his region's viticultural history. He's even written two books about it! And it's not even his full time job!
We only visited two micro parcels very close to Giulio's house, but still learned a ton. The first parcel we visited was planted in Pinot Noir for a long time, but Giulio has spent the last years re-grafting these with over 20 different massale clones of the indigenous Petit Rouge.
Here you can see the grafted vines.
When asked about getting rid of his Pinot, Giulio answered:
"This is not Burgundy. I've tried every vinification possible and still have never found a way to express the grape properly in this terroir."
If you're wondering how Giulio found 20 massale clones of a weird grape you'd never heard of before, it's because he's made it his lifework to discover, analyze, understand and preserve Aosta's indigenous grapes. Through his own rigorous, self funded research, which mostly involved talking to old timers but also DNA analysis, he's been able to identify and in some cases re-discover varieties long believed to have disappeared from the area.
We were lucky, because the only other parcel we'd visit that day (just a short walk from the Petit Rouge) is Giulio's training ground for all the clones he's been able to find and preserve over the years.
One, for example, is called Blanc Commun, a grape from the 18th century. Only 8 plants of this are planted within the vineyard.
Cornalin, another unknown indigenous variety, was considered to have disappeared in the area. Most confused the remaining plants as a strain of Petit Rouge. Giulio, armed with a hunch and DNA analysis, was able to identify the grape and help it regain its identity. But here is the confusing thing: What they call Cornalin in Aosta is actually Humagne Rouge in the Valais of Switzerland!
Other grapes in the vineyard include Oriou Gris, Fumin, Vien de Nus and Giulio's new darling, Nebbiolo Rose.
"This is a very different strain then the Nebbiolo grown in Piemonte. The traditional wine made with this grape was considered a luxury good. It was called a "Clairet", and made like a Recioto."
Petit Rouge and Fumin are the grapes with the longest historical standing in the area. Aosta used to have a much richer vitculutural history: in the 18th century, 4000 hectares of vines were planted on the region's mountains. Today there are barely 400.
"70 years ago, this entire mountain had vines as far as the eye can see."
As far as agriculture, the soils are very poor so Giulio lets grass grow wild, then selectively tills what he doesn't want. He also needs to have gates surrounding the vineyards because of badgers.
"If you don't take preventative measures with them, they can eat up to 70% on the crop."
Heading back to Giulio's house, he was excited to show us "the rarest wine in the world", a mutated strain of Petit Rouge that produces white grapes. Giulio had dubbed it Petit Rouge Blanc (not a confusing name at all...) and planted three rows in his front yard.
The vines are three years old and 2013 was the first year they produced fruit. 23 liters total!
When it came time to see the cellar, Giulio warned us to not expect much:
"My cellar is more of a workshop than anything."
It was indeed tiny and in his garage. The wines are fermented off their native yeasts. Giulio never filters or fines. The wines are usually bottled two winters after they were harvested.
Because he does 100% of the vineyard work alone, Giulio has customized this seat with wheels to make things easier on his back.
I had to make sure it was comfortable to be used on a daily basis.
This customized seat with wheels is Jules Dressner approved™.
We ended the visit by tasting some wine, starting with the Petit Rouge Blanc. It had an aromatic, clean nose.
"It reminds me of Sauvignon Blanc."
It was fresh, with balanced acidity, minerality and again, slightly aromatic. Due to the vines' very young age, there was not much complexity in the body.
Someone asked for a spit bucket and Giulio replied:
"I'll go get a spit bucket for you, but remember that you are tasting the RAREST WINE IN THE WORLD!"
Next we tried the Saint-Ours 2011, a blend of 70% Cornalin and 30% Petit Rouge from the re-grafted parcel we visited. It was very good.
This was followed up by a 2009 Pinot Noir from the aforementioned re-grafted vineyard. This was the last year he made it, and Giulio blended it with 15% Cornalin. We all agreed it was "not bad".
"My wines really take time to develop. I wish I could age them for 4 of 5 years, but I just don't have the room."
We ended the tasting with a wine very dear to Giulio's heart, a "Clairet" style wine he made from Petit Rouge and Vien de Nus.
Lo Vrej translates to "The Real", and is Giulio's homage to the traditional luxury wines of the 18th century.
Unfortunately, both bottles were corked.
Vallée d'Aoste. Holy shit.
In all of my years of visiting viticultural regions, Aoste just might be the most visually remarkable. You can't take a picture here without it looking majestic! Proof's in the pudding: the picture above, is the view from Franco Noussan's front yard.
Speaking of Franco, he lives in the commune of Maillod, which itself is part of the town of Saint Christophe. If all these names sound kind of French to you, that's because they are: Aoste used to be part of the Royaume de Savoie, and only became part of Italy in the aftermath of World War 1. In such, Franco speaks a local dialect called Patois with his wife and daughters, but is fluent in French and Italian.
"We are not French, we are not Italian. We are people of the Alps."
Though vines have been planted in Aoste since Roman times, the idea of terroir driven viticulture is a recent one, dating back to the 70's. This is because more traditional, rural ways of living were abandoned and forgotten during the Industrial Revolution.
As locals began working in the metal industry to build railroads, Aoste wine became for family consumption, while the more established viticultural region of Piedmonte began providing them their every day wine.
"Our tiny micro vineyards could not compete with our much more established neighbors in Piedmonte."
The first vineyard we visited was young Pinot Gris planted in 2007.
The vines are planted in very high density and in Cordon to reduce yields.
The elevation here is 1300m! As we walked through the vines, Franco started breaking down some of his viticultural practices.
In a new plantation, he always uses a small amount of herbicide along the rows for the first three years of their growth. This is because the area has a ton of cereal production, and the grains fly into vineyards because of the wind, then start growing wildly. This creates too much competition for young vines. He also irrigates the first three years, because Aoste only gets 500ml of annual rainfall.
"If the young vines don't get water in their infancy, their roots don't dig deep enough into the soil and won't fully express the terroir."
If the vines are over 3 years old or acquired at a later stage in their growth, Franco never uses herbicides or irrigation.
"After this initial step, I work organically."
Franco's "estate" consists of 1.5 hectares of vines, spread over 13 parcels in 3 communes. 7 different grapes are grown: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Vien de Nus, Mayolet, Cornalin, Fumin and Petit Rouge. He rents all of his parcels, but has fixed them up himself.
"Everything is small production here. You can't make a "commercial" wine in the sense of volume; the numbers just aren't there. The best you can do is produce a great wine of terroir that expresses its place."
Most of the people who currently live in Franco's commune are residential habitants who work in the nearby city of Aoste. Almost no agriculturalists are left.
The next plot we visited was some 20 year old Pinot Noir.
A tiny part of this parcel is a 90 year old field blend. Though he likes the current results, Franco believes it will take at least 20 more years before these vines produce "really great" grapes.
Driving to Franco's main site, we passed a 12 year old, very low yielding vineyard composed of 70% Petit Rouge, 30% Fumin.
Our final stop was Franco's main vineyard site, where 6 of his 13 parcels co-exist amongst his neighbors' vines. It is one of the most stunning vineyards I've ever seen.
The vines that produces Franco's Torrette are located here, and stand tall at a whopping 710m elevation. The soils consist of sand, and it was abandoned before Franco gave it new life.
The highest parcel here 800m elevation planted in Pinot Gris. In the same area, there is some very old Petit Rouge.
"I'm not sure how old these vines are, but they are definitely older than me."
Unlike the earlier parcels we visited, which were trained in Guyot, the much older vines here are trained in gobelet.
The soils in this particular section are very light clay that breaks up like sand.
The sun was beginning to set, so we decided to head back to Franco's house to visit the cellar. Unsurprisingly, it is tiny. So small in fact that Franco is forced to vinify all of his wines at different times. The wines ferment off of their native yeasts for 12 days.
Along with some incredible local charcuterie and cheese, we tried a bunch of wine. Each bottle features the date of harvest on the label, and looking at the lot number is the only way to identify the vintage, since it is not listed.
Blanc de Tzanté: means "little hill" and is all Pinot Gris. We tried 2012 and 2013, and both had a lot of Alpine Charm™. I'm trademarking that because it sounds like the name for a Febreze or Old Spice odor, and you never know with these multi-national corporations! I need to keep my creative endeavors safe!
Torrette 2012 had a dark nose, with a smoky, Mountain Freshness™ and herbaceous character. The blend always consists of 70% Petit Rouge, but the rest varies vintage to vintage.
11 Torrette had a fruitier nose which also marked the palate. It was the fresher of the 12.
Cuvée de la Cote is a blend of all his red grapes, all co-fermented. Both 12 and 11 were super glugable, easy drinking wines.
"You have to want to drink the wine. If finishing a glass seems like a burden, you haven't done your job correctly."
The tasting ended with a 2011 Pinot Noir that was my favorite of the night. Why?
Tune in next time...
When you've travelled all the way from another continent to visit an estate, the last thing you want is getting rained out. It really dampens the mood!
This was unfortunately the case as we pulled up to Casa del Bosco to visit father and son team Odilio and Mattia Antoniotti; in the winter it's not the end of the world since the vines are hibernating and it's cold as shit out. But when you've just landed in Italy in early May and the vines bursting full of vigor and life, you definitely want to spend as much time as possible outside. Alas, the rain was coming down hard, and it looked like it was going to be an "inside only" visit...
Luckily, the Antoniottis have some nice inside stuff to visit. For example, their really old cellar:
The cellar is directly under their family house, divided in two parts and dates back to the late 1700's. What you see here is the vinification area.
Grapes come in through this window:
All of the wine ferments in these large concrete vats from 1910.
There used to only be a single huge vat, but Odilio split it in 2 to focus on more precise vinifications. The grapes are de-stemmed, and fermentations take about 3 weeks, with 2 to 3 remontages a day. The wine then clarifies (decants) in stainless steel before being racked to barrel about a month later to age. Many of their barrels are made from oak chopped down on their own land.
The Antoniotti family produces two D.O.C wines: Bramaterra and Coste della Sesia. Both are micro-appellations, with 8 producers bottling Bramattera and 20 for Coste della Sesia.
"And each producer has a tiny annual production."
Factoid: the tiny village of Casa del Bosco was originally built as a lord's hunting resort. The historical reason vines were planted in the area is because the lord and his crew naturally needed wine to celebrate after the hunt!
Moving on, Mattia showed us their labeling room, which is literally just a room where they hand label EVERY SINGLE BOTTLE ONE AT A TIME WITH GLUE AND A PAINT BRUSH!
That's what I call attention to detail!
From the cellar, we trekked upwards to the Antoniotti's semi-formal tasting room. Old bottles were proudly on display, including this 1964 produced by Odilio's grandfather.
From the tasting room, a large window faces a large hill right by the house.
While sitting down, Odilio explained how this entire hillside was planted in vines just 50 years ago.
Before getting to down to business, Mattia busted out some local cheeses.
There was also some Prosciutto thrown in for good measure.
Finally, there was some wine to taste!
We started the tasting with a first time experiment, a delicious Rosato made from 24 hour saignée. It follows the same blend as the Bramaterra: 70% Nebbiolo, 20% Croatina (also known as Bonarda in Emilia-Romagna) 7% Vespolina and 3% Uva Rara (which literally translates to rare grape). My notes said it was "super good" with "super purity".
Next up was the Coste della Sesia 2011, which is always 90% Nebbiolo and 10% Croatina. It was dark and fully bodied but super fresh, with bright acidity and nice finish.
"This is the best Coste we've ever made."
Conditions were perfect in 2011: cool winds, no illness, no hail.
We ended with the Bramaterra 2010, which is aged 3 years in barrel before release. It showed more structure than the Coste della Sesia, and even though there is less Nebbiolo in it than the Coste, I felt the wine to be more marked by the Nebbiolo than the rest.
Someone asked about the lesser planted and known grapes used at the estate, and Odilio answered:
"Having many grape varieties balances the vineyard and ensures that if something goes wrong (with one of the grapes), you have the luxury of a back up plan."
By the time the tasting was over, the rain had majorly subsided and we decided to brave the elements to visit some nearby vineyards. Incredibly, Odilio had eight million umbrellas handy and was able to lend one to each of us.
Well, everyone but me. I actually had a broken parasol.
The first vineyard we visited is 450 m elevation and produces Coste della Sesia.
In better weather conditions, you can clearly see the Alps and the Sesia river in the background.
The vineyard is and isolated clos, exposed full South and is planted in Nebiollo and Vespolina. The soils here consist of volcanic Porphyry, which is a type of granite. Odilio decided to grab a huge chunk of it to break it down.
"Every different color you see in a different mineral, which adds much complexity to the wine."
Here's another, smaller piece to give you an idea.
The next vineyard we visited took us through a crazy, slippery and very uneven road that I have no idea how anyone could access without a 4x4 truck.
This is their main vineyard; the current vines were planted in 1978, but the Antoniotti family purchased the land in 1860 (Odilio still has the contract papers stashed somewhere!) The soils are also Porphyry, but much finer and pebbly.
The site is a proper viticultural amphitheater, and as such the exposition spans from South to South-West.
The Antoniottis have never used herbicides.
"We till the grass, and that becomes a natural compost."
Cascina Degli Ulivi will always hold a special place in my heart. You see, when I was 19 years old, I felt a need to distance myself from my social scene (Montreal), and after an initial plan to "move to Vancouver", Joe proposed I go work in vineyards somewhere. I'd never been to Italy, and Joe, knowing that Stefano Bellotti runs a poly-cultural farm and there would be plenty for me to do there, proposed Ulivi. After a quick chat with Stefano, it was agreed I would get room at board at the Cascina in exchange for manual labor. I could (and probably should) write an entire entry on the 5 months I lived and worked there, but this is neither the time nor place. Suffice to say, my time there was -whether I was aware of it or not at the time- the catalyst in finding a personal connection with the traditions of peasantry and wine. Also, working in the fields gave em the only legit tan I've ever had in my life. But I digress...
After landing in Milan, we drove straight to the town of Novi Ligure, where Ulivi is located.
Though Novi Ligure is actually a modestly sized town (28,500) with a bustling urban core, the Ulivi farm is about ten minutes out, completely surrounded by woods and only accessible via a small road. Chickens, ducks and geese are just hanging around everywhere.
Love was definitely in the air.
Because of all the animal fornication going on around us, we assumed it was mating season. Later, Stefano confirmed we were wrong:
"It's like this all the time. They never stop."
As I mentioned earlier, the farm is completely self-sufficient. For example: 23 cows!
These are almost exclusively used for dairy: fresh milk, delicious homemade cheeses, and yogurts/panna cotta,etc... On average, only 2 male cows are slaughtered a year for meat, which is served exclusively at the restaurant/agriturismo within the farm grounds. That's right people: two cows last an entire year!
A lot of fresh fruits and vegetables are also planted throughout.
Look, a goat family!
As you can see, there are all types of animals at Cascina degli Ulivi! But Stefano's favorite, of course, is his Maremma sheepdog Guantanamobai.
You may recognize this big guy from the Filagnotti labels:
Well, that's not actually the same dog; Stefano has loved this breed for as long as he can remember, and owned many since his early 20's.
But beyond farming, restaurants and animals, the real bread and butter of Cascina Degli Ulivi is, you guessed it, WINE!
We started our tour by checking out Stefano's brand new experimental vineyard.
Planted last June, these 3 hectares are all planted in franc de pied aka un-grafted roots. Stefano explained that these 4 varieties were historically considered "shit", but that have also been historically proven to resist mildew and odium over the long term.
Stefano's discovery of these "shit" varieties stems from research dating back to 1910. A pépinièriste (whose job involves growing young vines in a nursery for future use) in Südtirol based his life work on this, and was able to find 25 hybrid grapes that resist the two of the most damaging fungal illnesses in viticulture. Stefano picked the ones that made the most sense for his soils and micro-climates, but also the flavors he liked.
"I didn't want anything aromatic."
Interestingly the soils here are not sand (where the phylloxera bug cannot survive) but heavy clay.
"They are already very alive."
Next, we headed over to the beautiful Filagnotti vineyard, which produces the aforementioned bottling of the same name.
The village you can spot in the background is Tassarolo.
In this vineyard, Cortese is planted on very acidic red clay that is rich in iron. Stefano has been working this vineyard since 1984, which coincides with his first year practicing biodynamics.
Looking in the distance, then back at the budding vines, Stefano proclaimed:
"This is my favorite time of the year. I love looking at individual buds and thinking: This will soon be a glass of wine!"
As with most of Piemonte, a lot of Stefano's vines have been dying for from Flavescence Dorée (read more about this lesser known disease here).
"The best way to fight this is franc de pied, but this directly confronts you with the problem of phylloxera. Still, I believe fighting a bug is easier than fighting a disease."
"The problem is that all funded research is geared towards "fixing" these problems through chemical treatments. Any alternative means always falls on our backs, through our own independent experiments. In the end, their is not one magic solution. It will be a combination of many factors that will lead us to an answer."
Speaking of individual experimentation, Stefano has planted an entire portion of Filagnotti in Franc de Pied.
He feels that these much younger vines already have much more vigor and life than their grafted siblings.
Last but not least, we visited Cascina degli Ulivi's most prized vineyard, Montemarino.
Holy shit that's beautiful!
The soils here are clay and limestone. Standing in Montemarino, the difference in micro-climate between Filagnotti was clear: a constant wind sweeping through the vineyards (as opposed to Filagnotti's much dryer nature) creates a cooler, more elegant wine.
Though the vast majority of Montemarino is planted in Cortese, the oldest vines in the estate are planted here (94 years old, planted in 1920), and consist of Nibio, the local name for the region's indigenous strand of Dolcetto.
Stefano acquired the vast majority of this lieu-dit, which consists of 6 hectares, in 2000. To do so, he had to purchase individual plots from 39 different owners!!! Montemarino is exposed full South, at 310 meters of elevation.
After walking through the vines, it was time for Stefano's self-admitted "schtick I do every time": The Shovel Experiment™
"Of all my vineyards, Montemarino is the only one were I have a neighbor. And of course, he works more chemically than anyone I know!"
The Shovel Experiment™ consists of shoveling a hunk of land from Montemarino as well as his neighbor's to compare and contrast the amount of life in both. Here's a side by side pick to give you an idea of what a vineyard heavily treated with herbicide where one doesn't work the soils looks like versus that of a biodynamic pioneer.
Keep in mind those are less than 50 meters apart!
At the top of Montemarino, Stefano's vinification cellar hosts all his future releases. He works almost exclusively with large wood vessels.
"I like using wood because it keeps the wine alive. This is because it is constantly dancing with oxygen. But it not's oxygenation I look for; it's so that the wine is in constant contact with something alive (air)."
We tasted through a range of 2013 wines, which were a solid vintage for Ulivi. By the time we were done tasting through the current releases, jet lag had started seriously kicking in so we sat down for an early dinner at the agriturismo which naturally consisted of all the meats, vegetables, dairy and fruit of the farm.
It was good to know that 8 years after my time there, Cascina degli Ulivi is still as magical as ever.
The team just got back from an incredible tour of Italy. Expect re-caps and a shit ton of pictures from Cascina Degli Ulivi, Odilio Antoniotti, Franco Noussan, Vinirari, I Vigneri, Arianna Occhipinti and maybe a surprise or two along the way!
Photo of best outfit ever taken in Naples by Jill Bernheimer of Domaine LA.
Cristiano Guttarolo is a pure joy. The guy is humble, enthusiastic, generous, respectful of his land and others, always up for a good laugh and most importantly, constantly questioning his work in order to improve. Not to mention his wines are ON POINT.
Most of Cristiano's vines surround his house and cantina. We began by checking out some young Primitivo planted in 2005.
The vines around the house are all trained in Guyot. The soils consist of clay and limestone. Currently, Cristiano works 6.5 hectares of land, with the possibility of planting 13.
The white flowers you can spot in every picture grow wild, and are closely related to chicory. Cristiano only does one light tilling in the summer, which is why the vineyards were so dense in greenery.
Cristiano has been doing biodynamic treatments for the last two years, and is extremely satisfied with the results. Though it is still very early, he already feels a new, inspiring energy he'd never noticed prior to the conversion. And while fully convinced, he has no plans of asking for certification. None of the vineyards have irrigation systems. Cristiano only did one copper and sulfur treatment in 2013, and none in 2012!!!
Continuing our walk through the vines, the sun started hitting the landscape in a way that, in alignment with the white flowers and lush greenery, struck Eben and I as the perfect photo-op for the cover of a cheesy rock album.
Here is the cover of my debut album, Reaching for the Sky.
Alternate titles: A New Beginning or Shine Your Light.
A little further, Cristiano showed us a small plot of Negroamaro.
You can't see those little guys amongst the flowers, but trust me, they're there.
These were re-grafted 3 years ago on Primitivo rootstock. Many haven't matured correctly because it has been too cool. Not too far off, he's also planted some Chardonnay, mostly as an experiment to see how they will behave in his terroirs.
"Limestone grabs macro-elements from the soil, which takes the vines longer to properly express the terroir. But when it does, it's splendid. This is why so many vines and great wines of the world come from limestone soils."
Has also recently planted some very young Sussumaniello, as well as 1 ha of a white grape I didn't catch the name of.
The last part of the the vineyard that we visited was an experiment on Cristiano's part, intentionally re-training some Primitivo vines to Albarello.
He doesn't mind the results, but prefers the superior yield controls of Guyot.
As we were chatting, our little friend Lady Bug decided to say hi.
By the time we were done walking through the vines, the sun was setting.
More importantly the picture above will serve as the back-cover to Reaching for the Sky.
Before we knew it, it was cellar time!
Most of Cristiano's vinifications are in stainless steel.
Here's the top-of-bottle waxing station in all its exciting glory.
And of course, here are the beautiful amphoras that produce the unique and extremely limited wines that instantly sell out as soon as we get them.
Interestingly, Cristiano does 3 passes on average each harvest, and has no idea what wines he will make until the last minute.
"I need to bring in the the new material (grapes) first to decide what I want to do with it."
His reasoning is that having a set game plan every year would standardize the process and be pointless.
We got to taste 2013 Primitivo Rose, 13 Susumaniello, 13 Primitivo, Lamie della Vina 12, and Antello Antelo delle Murge 10 from barrel. Everything was ON POINT: Cristiano's wines have this transcendent quality, where you forget you're drinking wine from Puglia or Italy. They are infinitely complex yet incredibly drinkable, and I'll let Cristiano have the final word on what really matters:
"Es fondamentale que GLOU GLOU GLOU!"
Having never been to Puglia, I'd always visualized the landscapes to be dry and barren, like Mad Max minus the evil guys with dyed red mohawks shooting at you with bows from a motorcycle. And though our Perrini visit kind of fed into my dystopian post-punk fantasy, our stop at Natalino Del Prete's estate threw me off completely. The last thing I was expecting was lush, green scenery, and Natalino's vines are amongst some of the most beautiful I've had the pleasure of experiencing.
Just kidding. Those vines Natalino's neighbor who bombards them with herbicide year round. Directly across the street though, you get this:
Ok, you get the idea...
This first vineyard we visited consists of 2 hectares of Primitivo planted in massale 30 years ago by Natalino, as well as some 50+ Negroamaro.
Factoid: did you know Primitivo has very thin skins?
"When you don't use chemicals, it keeps the grapes tender."
Natalino was planning to start pruning a few weeks after our visit, followed by an annual plowing. The vines are trained in "half-gobelet", which makes for low yields. The soils are clay.
Before checking out more vines, we did a quick stop to a field of Natalino's olive trees.
A short drive then landed us in the Torre Nova vineyard.
Seriously, TOO BEAUTIFUL!
This 3 ha lieu-dit produces a bottling under the same name, and is planted in Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera. The soils consist of clay with rocky pebbles. Next to the older vines, Natalino recently replanted some Malvasia Nera in massale.
"Without fertilizing the soil, they will grow very slowly."
The end-game is for the vines to dig their roots deeper into the ground to feed themselves from the minerals of the subsoil, in turn leading to a greater concentration and minerality in the grapes. Not fertilizing means waiting a minimum of 3 vintages before these young vines start producing, but for Natalino it's totally worth the wait.
We ended our visit in the cellar to taste the 2013's.
The cellar used to belong to one of the area's biggest négociants, and it's huge. Natalino's total production takes up about a 20th of the space.
"All the big négociants around me keep claiming: "We have the best wine!". And then they close."
Besides those beautiful old-school concrete tanks, a lot of wine ferments and ages in these underground vats.
Natalino has so much room in his cellar that he bottles to order. So the later on in the vintage you're drinking the wine, the longer it has aged in concrete
The 2013's are stunning, and I know it sounds schnooky saying this, but this will be a blockbuster vintage for Puglia. I particularly liked the Torre Nova, a co-ferment of the the Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera mentioned above.
After tasting in the cellar, we went upstairs to have a banging lunch prepared by Natalino's wife Anne. It was a good chance to re-taste the 2012's, but my favorite part of the meal was having thirds of the best Eggplant Parmigiana ever. I didn't realize, but the red-sauce cooking that has become a staple of Italian-American cuisine mainly originates from the south of Italy. While I stuffed my face with more eggplant, Anne inadvertently answered something I'd always wondered about but had never actually looked up: why is is called "Parmigiana" when the cheese used is mozzarella?
Well, as it turns out, Eggplant Parmigiana originates from Emilia-Romagna, where parmesan is from. And since everyone loves melted cheese on things, the dish was adopted by other regions, who then adapted it to their local production. Since Puglia is the home of mozzarella, this became the go-to cheese to use, and this is the version that made it stateside.
Louis/Dressner Blog: You don't only learn things about wine, but also the origins of delicious dishes™
At the end of the meal, Anne busted out these Moscato grapes infused in really, really strong booze.
I had one and was semi-wasted for a few hours. Thankfully, it wasn't my turn to drive.
16 days without an update? Hang me from the rafters!
Actually, you need to cut me some slack, because we just wrapped up our False Prophets of Doom tour, which I will simply recap with this picture:
If you didn't notice the first time, look again.
Moving on the the Perrinis!
After driving around in circles for about 45 minutes, we finally found the Perrini family's main property. Mila Perrini happily greeted us, and took us into their tasting room to taste currently bottled stuff.
Her brother Vito, who is head viticulturist and winemaker at the estate, quickly joined us.
While chatting over some house-made olive oil and fennel crackers (made with Perrini olive oil, of course), we talked about 2013 being a nice vintage with a warm harvest. I also spotted this banner:
Breastfeeding: start em' young and organic they will become!
Mila and Vito farm a total of 50 ha of land, with 30 of those planted in Primitivo, Negroamaro and a little bit of Fiano. The rest mostly consists of orange groves and olive trees, but also includes livestock and all types of others fruits and vegetables. The land is extremely fragmented and spread out, and we spent the entirety of our visit in one of the biggest of these zones.
Walking out of the tasting room, we crossed a site of olive trees with salad and potatoes planted between rows. Vito explained that the trees provide natural shade for the crops, which helps avoid irrigation. Just a little further, we spotted this huge, heaping pile of shit.
This is lamb and cow manure from animals the Perrinis own, and is used as fertilizer throughout the farm.
Because one rarely if ever has an opportunity to take a group photo in front of a seemingly never ending pile of dung, we did just that.
Right next to the poop, we visited our first vineyard, mostly 60+ year old vines of Negroamaro and Primitivo.
The soils here consist of sand, red limestone and clay.
Vito explained that for various reasons, 5 to 8% of the estates' old vines are dying every year, forcing him to replant. It's a pity, because he is one of the few viticulturists in his area who still cherishes them:
"No one cares about old vines here. Everyone replants regularly to get the highest yields possible."
Irrigation systems are in place, and used only in cases of extreme heat.
"We don't want to use too much water, because this precipitates illness. But if it's way too hot, the plant completely shuts down. We therefore do what we see fit; if the plant needs refreshment, we will provide it."
Continuing our tour of the vineyard, we walked to another mixed parcel, this time with much sandier soils.
The Perrini's vineyards are very much characterized by shifts in the land's soil: when the elevation is slightly higher, they are more rocky, while the lower parts consisting of mostly sand. This highly affects the grapes' maturities, forcing Vito to be very diligent at harvest, which unsurprisingly is all done by hand.
After a nice trot through the vines, we tasted some 2013's in the cellar.
The vast majority of the wines ferment and age in the large stainless steel tanks pictured above, giving them a refreshing brightness often lacking in Puglian wine. We got to taste numerous tanks of Primitivo, Negroamaro and the co-fermented Salento bottling, all harvested at seperate times and awaiting their final destiny. 2013 will be a truly exceptional vintage in Puglia.
In the car ride to Natalino del Prete's, Kevin made a point that resonated with me: the Perrinis, who are after all one of the first Italian estates we started working with (2002), live apart from our little Louis/Dressner micro-universe of increasingly tight-knit vignerons: you don't see them at all the hip wine fairs, they don't have crazy late nights with Luca Roagna and are basically off the radar of natural wine aficionados. They are simply a family doing its own thing, and we just so happen to be totally into it. Thanks Mila and Vito!
Before I start this recap, can we all agree that Antonio and Daniela di Gruttola's dogs look like they're up to no good in these pictures? I mean, seriously:
Look, they're even whispering evil things to each other!
They were actually super nice, but because they are hunting dogs, needed to be contained or they'd kill everything non human/dog in sight. Animal instincts, you know...
After getting a little lost, Daniela came to get us and we stepped into the lovely di Gruttola abode. The first thing Eben spotted was this original piece of art that later served as inspiration for the "Clown Oenologue" label.
I know 95% of people hate clowns, but even I have to admit that that is a seriously cool piece.
Antonio was teaching at his school (his full time job), and Daniela informed us he would get back at around 3. So we had a big ass lunch while we waited, which also permitted us to taste all of the currently bottled Giardino wines. Amongst them, new liter bottlings of both red and white were pretty awesome (and cheap!), but the favorite new guy was a Pet' Nat' Greco sourced from 80+ year old vines. Antonio and Daniela recently started renting this parcel from an 86 year old woman who has always made this wine with her "special technique", which as far as we could tell is méthode ancestrale, a style nary if ever produced in Italy.
Antonio eventually showed up, and because our daylight time was quickly dwindling, we all hurried into the di Gruttola's van to visit some vines.
This vineyard is 2,5 hectares. It's planted in Fiano and Coda di Volpe, the latter translating to "tail of the fox" because of the variety's very long, atypical bunches.
The vines themselves are extremely tall.
To give you a better idea just how big these are, here is 6'3 giant Eben Lillie standing next to one.
Antonio and Daniela bought this vineyard a few years ago. It totals 2,5 hectares of vines (the surrounding woods were also purchased to keep it a clos), was was planted in 1933, and the soils consist of a very compact, sculpt-able clay with limestone subsoil.
This clay is SO sculpt-able that Daniela now makes all of the estate's hand-made amphoras from it (more on that later). The di Grutolla's never work the soils of any of their vineyards.
As the sun was setting, we cracked open two more of those frizzantes to celebrate.
That's some dramatic imagery right there! Very majestic...
By the time we got back to the cellar, it was already pitch black.
The Cantina Giardino cellar is rather small, but still chock full of every wine aging vessel you could ever imagine.
In the cellar, we tasted a plethora of 2013 Fiano's and Greco's with varying amounts of skin contact, as well as a bunch of yet to be released Aglianicos. From what I could gather, it seems like the decisions are very instinctual and change each vintage, meaning that the juices ferment in different vessels each year, the skin contact varies from wine to wine, as do the blends.
The wines we didn't get to taste were in these sealed, home-made amphoras.
These are sealed in beeswax, and cracking them open to taste would expose the wine to a dangerous amount of oxydation. It's kind of like a pressure cooker: you just need to let the contents do their things until it's ready, and trust it'll be good.
Our final conversation revolved around the beautiful labels that people are always going apeshit about. Daniela explained that the first 3 (Le Fole, Drogone and Nude) were done by 3 different artist friends, who then put them in touch with others to do future labels. The name of each cuvée inspires the art or vice versa.
"There is no real rhyme or reason to it."
Luciano Saetti doesn't like sulfites. In fact, he owns a Sulfite-Free Mobile!
That translates to: "Wine Without Conservatives. Sulfur? No thanks."
Luciano bought his vineyards and house in 1988, after a successful first career as an egg distributor in the city of Modena. He made a good amount of money and originally planned on buying a nice apartment in the city, but the reality of spending the rest of his life there quickly lost its appeal.
We began our visit with a tour of the cellar, where the wines ferment and get bottled.
This is Luciano's completely home-made disgorgement station.
To give us a demonstration of the disgorging process (more on that later), Luciano grabbed some bottles and put them in this vat of ice cold water, which freezes the lees on the top.
As those bottle tops started to freeze, Luciano showed us the rest of the cellar.
At this point, he only works with stainless steel. Originally, everything was fermented and aged everything in cement tanks, but Luciano shifted to stainless after realizing that it was better for sulfur free winemaking, since it drastically reduces oxydation.
Since the vines are 10 km from the the cellar, Luciano brings the mini de-stemmer you can see below to work as quickly and efficiently as possible.
He also brings 3 of those little stainless vats to hold the grapes, which avoids them getting too hot on their way to the cellar.
"I came up with this simply because 3 vats is a day's work".
These smaller tanks are also used for fermentation, a full carbonic that lasts 4 to 5 days. Luciano usually leaves 13 or so grams of RS before racking. The wine then stays minimum 3 months in bottle before disgorgment, though it only takes about a month for the re-fermentation in bottle to occur.
Following our little chat on vinification, Luciano beckoned us over to the disgorgement station, where he showed us how he manually disgorges each bottle of his production ONE BY ONE.
In those two minutes, Luciano explains how he usually puts some wine in a separate vessel to top off the other bottles, that you have to avoid the frozen bits from when the wine sprays out, that the machine gives a blast of air which doesn't go in the bottle, and is just for dusting off any cork particles. He also points out that these bottles haven't frozen enough yet, and therefore won't disgorge correctly.
Because manually disgorging bottles one by one quickly becomes a tedious task, Luciano built this sweet homemade work chair from a horse saddle. I decided to check its comfort to make sure he wasn't putting too much strain on himself.
That chair is JULES APPROVED.
After our cellar time, we drove to Luciano's only vineyard, 3 ha planted in the local Salamino strain of Lambrusco.
The oldest vines here are 50+ and every other row; Luciano replanted the rest in 1997. The soils are limestone with a clay subsoil.
As you may have noticed, the vineyard is set up with an irrigation system, which Luciano uses 3 to 5 times a year, and only on the younger vines (usually with a very light 30L dose each time).
He doesn't use any fertilizers, composts or chemicals, just the remains of cut grass.
There is always the danger of frost in the Spring, but Salamino is a late variety, so this is rarely a problem.
The training system is called Spalliere, which is more typically used for fruit trees.
Here's some shriveled up second growth grapes to give you an idea what Salamino looks like.
Here's the church you can see on Luciano's labels.
Speaking of Luciano's labels, if you've ever seen or felt them, then you know they are made from a very cool fabric. Here again, the story is simple: his friend has factory that adds patched fabric to clothing for a few major brands. Luciano asked him if he could make a wine label, and he said it wouldn't be a problem. These are made to order based on Luciano's periodic disgorgements over the year.
We are happy to announce our newest Calabrian estate, L'Acino! Go read all about them on their BRAND SPANKING NEW PROFILE!
We first tasted L'Acino on a late night at Tabarro, the bar in Parma I'm always ranting and raving about. After requesting a "Beaujolais style" red, the owner Diego laughed and quickly brought out a bottle of Calabrian wine called Chora Rosso, made from a grape we'd never heard of. Everyone LOVED IT, and was very excited since it turned out the guys were participating in Vini di Vignaioli and that meant tasting the entire lineup the following day. The other three wines (for a total of 2 whites and 2 reds) were so good that Kevin instantly decided to modify our trip to visit the estate.
Two days later, we were smack-dab in the middle of San Marco Argentano waiting for head vignaiolo Antonello Canonico to show us some vineyards.
Though I much prefer driving stick-shift, the old town's extremely narrow, curvy and seemingly uphill only roads made me grateful that we had an automatic for once. While we were waiting, Eben and I made sure to buy some RumJungle jeans for all our cool American friends.
Antonello scooped us up and we drove over the 5 hectare site that produces both Chora Bianco and Chora Rosso cuvées.
The vines here are very young, and were planted by the L'Acino team 6 years ago. As you can see, the soils had been heavily plowed; the guys are doing this every year following harvest, and adding legumes, straw and many other good, biodynamic things to promote mineral richness and depth to the soils, which have never had anything planted in them.
Antonello explained that their are 5 distinct soil compositions within the vineyard, which are essentially varying amounts of sands. In the sandiest parts of this double-sided hill, the guys have planted in franc de pied. The sands go for 1.5 meters until they hit a solid, very hard to penetrate sheet of rock.
That's Antonello in the picture above. His partner Dino pointed out that this layer of rock will always keep yields very low. Furthermore:
"Because we are working organically from the start, the vines are taking a long time to find themselves in the soil."
As far as the grapes planted, the vineyard features the indigenous Magliocco (red) and Mantonico (white), as well as some Grenache Noir and Grenache Blanc. Everything is planted in massale.
By the time we were ready to see another piece of land, the sun was almost gone.
Even though it quickly became too dark to take any good landscape pictures, the second site that Antonello, Dino and Emilio brought us to was a recently acquired plot of land that they will start planting in 2014. The iron infused sand and clay had a red intensity I've only seen at Mas des Chimères.
They are extremely excited about planting here, because this is a completely different terroir than their other vineyards.
We then drove to the cellar to taste the 2013's as well as some bottled stuff. The first thing I spotted was this TOTALLY BODACIOUS poster.
This is their cellar.
Stainless steel tanks take up the majority of the space, but there are some old French oak barrels hiding in the back.
Here are what the labels for the whites look like.
I don't really want to try describing how these taste since that's not really my forte, but they are really fucking good and the Mantonico whites are like nothing I've ever tried before.
Dinner was upon on, and the guys pulled out all the stops: the antipasti was about two meals worth of food on its own, the pasta was banging and the baby lamb slaughtered the night before did not die in vain. More importantly, it was a chance to get to know Antonello, Dino and Emilio, who are super nice guys. Chatting them up, it was obvious how enthusiastic and dedicated they are to the L'Acino project, and I can only imagine great things in the future for them.
The following morning, we set out for the 30 minute drive into the mountains to visit Mantonico vineyard, which produces the Mantonicoz bottling and totals just about 1 hectare.
These vineyards are right on the border of the Pollino National Park, which you can see in the photo above.
Antonello explained that these are very hard to work. The soils feature a little bit of clay, but are mostly comprised of very compact sand. These cool looking rocks can also be spotted throughout the vineyard.
The vineyard is 650 meters above sea level, and exposed North. This gives the area a uniquely cool microclimate that is very rare in the area.
"This microclimate really sets it apart."
The vines are 15 years old. Here's what second growth Mantonico looks like.
The 20 year old Magliocco vines are just a short walk away.
This represents about 1.5 hectares.
"When we took over, it was worked more than conventionally."
This is what second growth Magliocco looks like.
For this coming round of Italian visits, I am very happy that Eben Lillie of Chambers Street Wines was around to take so many great pictures. Thanks Eben!
For our annual fall tour of Italy, we got things started by visiting Carlo Venturini and Alessandra Zantedeschi of Monte dall' Ora!
They have a pretty sweet backyard.
Yes, that's their mail box. They also have an awesome dog named Vladimir who loves playing with this old soccer ball.
Before setting off to see a newly acquired vineyard, these stacks on stacks on stacks of drying Amarone grapes caught everyone's attention.
These are left in open without temperature control. Carlo does have a big fan constantly blowing on them though, so maybe that counts as temperature control. You tell me.
Carlo was really excited to show us his newly acquired land just above the mountain commune of San Giorgio, which is located on the Northern-most edge of Valpolicella.
The vineyard is completely enclosed by woods, with no neighbors. It is mostly planted in Guyot. The soils consist of limestone rich in iron. Throw in a complimentary full South exposition, and you have all the factors for great terroir.
The vines are 7 years old and planted in Corvina, Corvinone, and Teroldego. Unbeknownst to the group, Teroldego is permitted in Valpolicella vineyards, up to 15%. The vines were being worked chemically and Carlo is converting them to biodynamics. In total this represents 2 hectares.
He is not sure where the grapes from this land will end up for the time being, as this will require experimentation. The eventual goal, once the vines are older, is to make a site specific bottling from this terroir.
Part of the acquisition included a tiny parcel of whites planted in Pergola.
Cortese, Garganega, Chardonnay and a mystery grape are planted here.
"I'll try making a little white this year. I've only tried this once before, and it was the worst thing ever!"
As we were contemplating the beautiful view, a strange sound started galloping towards us. Everyone got freaked out, but we were quickly relieved to know that it was just a horse running freely through the mountain.
I then unsuccessfully tried to convince the group that this was all staged and that we at Louis/Dressner intentionally set up beautiful acts of nature to impress our customers.
Because it was on our way down, Carlo had us stop by San Giorgo, which was built in Roman-Pagan times. Here's the village's beautiful Church.
And here's a beautiful mountain sunset.
The sun was setting fast, but we still had a bit of time to rush over to the Camporenzo vineyard, which produces the Valpolicella cuvée of the same name.
Camporenzo totals 3 hectares and faces east. Everything is grown in Pergola, which is normal for the region. It's also right next to Brad Pitt and Angolina Jolie's villa, a converted old monastery. No word yet if they plan to produce a Valpolicella after the huge success of their first wine, Miraval Rosé.
The soils here are sand with a loose clay subsoil.
By the time we were done with Camporenzo it was pitch black outside, so the natural transition was to head to the cellar.
We started by tasting the base for the 2013 Sasetti (local dialect for "little rock"), but with the late harvest it was so young (we were there in mid-November) that it was hard to taste much more than fresh grape juice.
The Superiore, which macerates in the wood vats you can see above, needs to be foot-trodden once a day. Since we all happened to be there, Carlo figured he'd give us a demonstration.
"Right now the grapes are very soft. With the Amarone, the grapes are much harder and it's much less fun.".
Speaking of the Amarone, drying time is variable. Carlo waits at least until the 1st of January of the next year, and will be February for this year's harvest. It usually takes 10 to 15 days to start the fermentation. In the first few days, Carlo does very little foot treading. After that, he does 3 treadings a day (about 5 hours apart) for 10 days. In the vats, you have approximately 70% skins and 30% juice, which was the opposite of what he was stomping on with the Superiore in the video. The wine then ages 3 years in barrel and one year in bottle before release.
Dinner WAS INSANE, and featured never-ending polenta with anchovies, Valpolicella ravioli (the pasta was made with wine), pork stuffed with pork and Italian Cronuts. It was also a good time to hear Carlo talk of his early experiences in the area. When he first took over what would become Monte dall' Ora, he made a point to chat up all the old timers and ask them how they used to work. The thing that resonated most with him was that:
"When everything was still done by hand, there were way less treatments simply because it meant so much more work (spraying row by row with a heavy backpack). That's also why people started building bigger barrels. 1000 hl at a time is the way to do it!".
PART 7: SANGUINETO!
READ JEREMY QUINN'S TAKE ON THE VISIT (AND POINT OUT OUR EVENTUAL FACTUAL MIX-UPS!)
After a great time in Tuscany, we flew to Sardinia to visit Gianfranco Manca of Panevino! At the airport, a contraband sniffing dog leaped on Kevin's bag, and he was brought in the back for interrogation. Turns out the "slayed and made" wild boar sausage Dora Forsoni had given us the night before was making the dog hungry! Fortunately, sausage is not illegal in Sardinia, and Kevin was released after a few minutes.
From the Cagliari airport, we drove over to the town of Siddi for lunch with Gianfranco and his family. We were a little early, so we walked around a while before drinking the first of many big bottles of Ichnusa.
It was a national holiday -the Italian equivalent of labor day- and Kevin had told us that people celebrate by having getting together for big worker's lunches. All of us were expecting a family style meal with communal tables, big pots everywhere and a never-ending supply of beer, but instead we ended up having a 7 course wine pairing lunch at the Michelin rated restaurant, S'Apposentu.
Not exactly what we were expecting, but the food was really good and we got to taste all types of wine pairings from local growers, all of which were in attendance. Gianfranco's wine was the recently bottled C.C.P.
C.C.P is SO GOOD. I love it so much that if not selling it and keeping it all for myself was an option, I would seriously consider it. The first sip I took, I immediately got the crazy eyes, a condition I only get when something is SO GOOD, it drives me crazy. Fact.
From there, we drove to our hotel, where we met Anya!
As you can see from the photos, she REALLY loves belly rubs.
The next morning, we met up with Gianfranco in his hometown of Nurri, then set off for a long day in the vines.
We started the visit by checking out a .6 h parcel Gianfranco has been renting for 4 years.
This is one of three parcels that goes into the U.V.A bottling. U.V.A, besides the obvious spelling out of grape in Italian, stands for 'United Vineyards of Angiona'. An Angiona is a local word for a widespread agricultural region.
"It's a project to bring different parcels together, to give expression to a larger area."
Just like America or the European Union! At least in theory...
At the moment, 3 parcels with vines ranging from 30 years old to 70 years old are vinified separately, then blended according to feeling.
Gianfranco found this parcel through a "sort of" relative. The guy never had the right feeling for it, and in hopes of striking gold, ended up planting Trebbiano, Barbera, weird local grapes and Vermentino.
"At first it seemed illogical to work with these non-local grapes, but then I realized I had the potential of being a great experiment. I could use this to understand the vineyard's expression of the territory through different grapes."
The soils here are sand and red clay rich in iron.
To get to the second parcel, the group had to walk up this steep, grassy hill.
It was an unexpected treck, but the reward was getting to walk through the Montassio vineyard!
At 600 m altitude (!), this parcel has less rocky, richer soils. You can visually spot big chunks of schist, which extends deep into the subsoils. Though he's not exactly sure, Gianfranco estimates that there are about 40 different red and white varietials co-planted here (over 200 grape varieties are grown in Sardinia). The red grapes go into the U.V.A and whites go into the Billuke péttilant naturel.
I got to sit shotgun with Gianfranco all day, and through a mix of Italian, French and English, we managed to have some great conversations. We'd never met, and he certainly lives up to his reputation of having fascinating and deeply personal insights on viticulture, wine and life. My own interpretation is that Gianfranco considers himself an integral part of his terroir, that his state of mind is just as important as any soil or microclimate. It reminded me of Chris Debarr's quote on New Orleans being the "physic terroir" of his life: an undeniable cause and effect between environment and life.
In a particularly quotable moment (out of so many), here is one statement I managed to jot down:
"Your thoughts are a tree that go into the soil of a territory. Mine is a cloud, it moves from place to place, rains into the sea and evaporates back up."
This will (hopefully) make more sense later.
We drove to the third parcel, 60 year old vines planted on heavy schist rich in silica and clay.
Before eating lunch, we did a quick tour of the cellar.
Gianfranco is seriously considering phasing out stainless steel from his wine production.
"It's like putting a baby to sleep in a metal bed instead of a wool one. "
The previous cellar was in his mom's basement in Nurri. When he built this new one by the side of his house (which is in the middle of nowhere), Gianfranco scrapped off the walls of the old cantina, mixed them with a mud paste and spread it all over the walls of the new one in hopes of keeping the native yeasts that had formed over the years.
"I have no idea if it worked!"
Our cellar visit was followed by lunch, a great opportunity to hear Gianfranco out on a wide range of issues. For example, if you're familiar with the Panevino wines, you know that the blends change every year, and that each vintage spawns one-off bottlings with their own names and labels. Every cuvée's name has a meaning, because Gianfranco wants each bottle to tell a story. So while the wines clearly reflect specific terroirs, grapes and vintage, Gianfranco is more interested in bottling his emotions from that given year. Everything is done by intuition.
"The wines tell me what to do. Intuition is the alphabet of God: to think you can decide anything anything is an illusion."
Many of the cuvée names are rich in symbolism. C.C.P, for example, is an answer to contrast the U.V.A. While the latter "unites" vineyards from different territories to make a whole, C.C.P is a reference to the ex-Soviet Union. In such, C.C.P is a metaphor for winemaking dogma: the USSR's iron curtain meant nothing could be revealed to outsiders, and this dogma hid the truth of Russia's beauty. Gianfranco feels that a lot of the politics in winemaking have a similar effect. On a much cuter level, pronouncing C.C.P sounds like chi-chi-pii, or the sound of a bird chirping. That's why there's a bird on the label.
And why not talk about Ogu, which translates to the eye?
This bottling was a metaphor for the huge forest fire that wiped out a huge amount of land in 2003. "The eye" represents the life that that saw the fire take place, survived and continued growing to bring nature back from ravage, as indicated by the imagery on the label.
"Maybe I've gotten used to it, but I like that taste of smoke in the wine."
As far as beautiful labels, Gianfranco and his wife come up with the designs, then work closely with a local typographer to get the desired results.
After lunch, we headed out to see more vineyards. The first parcel we visited is named Pikkade.
A wine is named after this lieu-dit using the parcel's red grapes. The vines are over 100 years old; for many years they were half abandoned, but another farmer renovated them 16 years ago. Monica, Carignan, Girol and Moscato are planted here on decomposed schist soils.
All of the vineyard work is done with minimal intervention. Gianfranco has only used copper treatments twice in his whole career (!!!), only as a last resort. In both cases, he used about 400g. The legal European limit is 6kg. Gianfranco has never used sulfur in the vines or wines.
"I only use it to clean the floor."
Pikkade had some of the most visually striking vines of the whole trip.
Here's a particularly artsy shot of Jermemy "Uber somm" Quinn caught between the vines.
From Pikkade, we drove to up a very steep, narrow road to the Cugussi vineyards, Gianfranco's highest at 680 meters!
These vines were planted in 1996, 97 and 98. Gio, Moscato and Cannonau are grown here on schist, clay and sandy soils. The reds go into the C.C.P.
The last plot of land we visited was a steep, unplanted plot that Gianfranco will use to increase his production of Alva, the white skin contact wine and only cuvée bottled under the same name every year.
The day was done, so we decided to go drink some beers by the water. Before, we could make it, we got stuck in a LAMB traffic jam!
This happened three times while we were in Sardinia. The dogs are so used to cars that the confidently stand in front them, controlling the pace of the vehicle to not injure the livestock. Here's another, separate instance of this happening.
The lake was nice!
So it's officially a wrap for the ITALIAN TAKEOVER 2013 series. I'm in the midst of a month stint in France right now, so expect a butt-load of updated profiles, visit re-caps and interviews from none other than Francis Boulard, Franck Pascal, Ulysse Collin, Olivier Horiot, Domaine de la Chappe, Clos Roche Blanche, Noella Morantin, Maisons Brûlées, Hervé Villemade, François Cazin, Clos du Tue Boeuf, Le Briseau, Bellivière, Pépière, Domaine de L'Oubliée, Olga Raffault and more in coming months!
Louis/Dressner, we've got internet content!™
PART 6: FONTERENZA
RE-READ THE 2011 SANGUINETO VISIT RECAP!!!
Dora Forsoni is probably the coolest person I know. Even with the language barrier, she manages to be one of the funniest, warmest, friendliest, brutally honest and passionate people I've ever met. Spending time with her at the Sanguineto farm has been a true inspiration on both of my visits. In LDM's portfolio of characters, Dora is up there at the very top.
We arrived in the late afternoon, and were greeted by Patricia. She quickly filled us in on all the juicy animal gossip, namely that one of the geese is in love with one of the hens and its chicks.
It follows them around at all times, protecting them from danger.
Dora was busy plowing a new, 2h parcel she planted this year, so we walked over to say hello. After dramatically pulling up in front of us and jumping out of her tractor, the visit officially started.
1 h of this new plot will be used to produce IGT Rosso, and the rest will go into Vino Nobile and Bianco. In Sanguineto's case, the Rosso and Vino Nobile grapes have always come from the same vineyards, but a newer law forces estates to claim which grapes will go into what for all new plantations. In total, the farm is 35 h, and 4.7 of those are vines. Everything is and always has been in massale.
Here's a video I found searching for "hopping off of tractor" in hope of illustrating Dora's dramatic entrance.
The internet is an amazing place. Moving on...
The new plantation is next to a large portion of the old vines, which we checked out next.
As you can see, the rows have all been freshly plowed with a tractor. Dora does this twice a year. Chemicals have never been used in the vines, and Dora is very much against any manipulation of the plant, particularly rognage, the process of cutting off the tops to create more sunlight and aeration, or alternatively to make more room for tractors and not having to tie them back up as they grow.
"Wineries that cut the top of the plant are doing the equivalent of cutting a human's veins. The plant stops concentrating on producing the fruit, because it needs to divert its attention to healing its wounds."
In a curveball twist none of us expected, Dora started breaking off vine stems for us to taste!
The idea was to make us understand why Caprioli (little dear animals, no word in English) -a big problem in many viticultural regions- love eating these so much. It was a mix of bitter and sweet, and reminded me of lemongrass.
After finishing up our snack, it was olive tree time.
From there, we were off to the wheat fields, which take up a significant portion of land.
Unsatisfied with our previous snack, Dora started peeling off an un-blossomed wheat plant for us to taste.
She seemed pretty happy with the results.
Walking back, Dora started complaining about how the tractor work had gotten dirt all over her. After taking off her sweater to reveal a tank-top any thrift store aficionado would die for, she let her hair down and looked like a member of the best heavy metal band you've ever heard.
You can watch this 1986 masterpiece in its entirety here. Totally worth it.
Here are some pictures of Casa Dora, aka "Dora's house".
In the vinification cellar, we got to taste the 2012 Bianco, a wine Dora considers:
"The life of the contadina!"
I've always loved this wine, and it's particularly fruity and generous in 2012. The pressed juice ferments in an open concrete vat with less than 24 hours of skin contact and no temperature control. It then ages in concrete tanks.
We also tried the 2012 IGT Rosso, which was delicious and incredibly balanced despite its 15 degrees of alcohol.
At this point, Dora said she couldn't stand being so dirty anymore, that she had dirt EVERYWHERE (even in her nose!) and that needed to shower immediately. When she was done, she returned in her swanked out, night-on-the-town outfit and we headed to the aging cellar to taste more.
Everything was tasting really good, including the homemade "slayed and made" wild boar sausages served up to accompany the wines. One distinction Dora made sure to accentuate was that the wines are made with Prugnolo Gentile, Canaiolo Nero, Mammolo and local strains of Sangiovese.
"There are over 100 types of Sangiovese mutations in Italy. They are territorial. The consumer wants a simple explanation, but when they want to talk about Sangiovese, I ask them "which one?"
This got us talking about tradition and how it continuously keeps getting flushed down bureaucracy' toilet. You can now release a Vino Nobile as long as it's spent 1 year in barrel, six months in ANY container (wood, concrete, stainless, fiberglass, whatever) and 6 months in bottle. So by following the "old" law, Sanguineto releases their Nobile a year late. Ironically, the Rosso they've always intentionally declassified could technically be labelled a Nobile now.
"Here we have centuries of tradition, and with a few new laws, everything is up in smoke."
Another law that recently passed? 30% of ANY grape can be used "in reason" to produce a Vino Nobile.
"This was a direct result of the Brunello scandal. Instead of getting busted for putting something you weren't allowed to into the wine, just change the law!"
We love you Dora!
The visit ended with a quick giro to the 0.7 h parcel that produces the IGT Rosso Toscano.
Dora rents this parcel. The grape grown here is the Nero Toscano strain of Sangiovese. This is the only wine Dora bottles as a mono-varietal.
Dinner was great, blah blah blah...
In the final chapter of ITALIAN TAKEOVER, we bring you to the incredible world of Gianfranco Manca of Panevino in Sardinia! There is so much information and beauty in this visit that it may have to be in two parts. Stay tuned!
PART 5: MONTESECONDO
Continuing our Tuscan takeover, we rolled through to Campi di Fonterenza. The twins' wines keep getting better and better, so I was very excited to finally visit what Kevin Mckenna once described as "incredible terroir".
The sisters' main vineyard is in the outskirts of Montalcino; it consists of almost 4 hectares of land, which produce the Rosso di Montalcino and part of the Pettirosso.
The youngest vines were planted in 2005 in albarello.
As you can see from the photos above, this area has a heavy presence of schist, and as a result:
"This is the area that suffers the most from dryness."
In the oldest vines (a little further), the clay gets a lot heavier.
These were planted in 1999. Part of the vineyard have the Châteauneuf like galets, which are locally referred to as galestro. One bit is a mix of galestro and clay.
The lesson, my friends, is that within these 4 h, there are 4 distinct soil compositions. Throw in the fact that the entire vineyard is exposed full South/Southwest at 420 m elevation and what do you get?
SOME PRETTY INCREDIBLE TERROIR!
Francesca also filled us in on some big news: all of the Cabernet Sauvignon has been re-grafted with massale Sangiovese!
The other main vineyard site is a short walk away.
This 1.6 h of land produces the Brunello, As you can see from the pictures, the vines are completely surrounded by woods, with absolutely no neighbors.
"It's such a pleasure working here. You are all alone."
Someone made a "working naked" joke. It was pretty funny.
After our time in the vines, we drove back to the Fonterenza house and cellar to taste.
We started with this year's 2nd bottling of Pettirosso. 2/3 of the fruit for this wine are sourced from the first vineyard we visited, as well as a .7 hectare parcel that they rent. Skin contact is very short and everything is done in stainless steel. Yields average at 35 to 40 hl/h. It was everything I've come to love about this easy drinker.
The Biancospino white was showing really well. It's a blend of Malvasia, Trebbiano and Procanico, an indigenous grape that Francesca describes as "a more tannic Trebbiano." The wine macerated 2 weeks on the skins. We also tried the Rosso and Brunello 11, as well as the 09 Brunello, which was fantastic.
Our last stop in Tuscany will mark our triumphant return to Sanguineto! Dora Forsoni fans rejoice!
PART 4: FABBRICA DI SAN MARTINO
RE-READ THE 2011 MONTESECONDO VISIT RECAP!
A lot of new, exciting stuff happening at Montesecondo! But before we get into that, here are a bunch of pictures from the vines you can read all about in the 2011 re-cap. Now you get to know what they look like in fall AND spring!
Silvio's albarello training is going well.
All the albarello re-plantings are in massale. As an experiment, he's also planted two rows in franc de pied, as well as re-grafting a lot of Merlot with Sangiovese.
On top of that, Silvio also plans to plant an additional 1.5 hectares of vines on the Montesecondo property.
There's some new additions to the Messana family: Fluffy and and Scruffy!
Silvio lets them run free and do whatever they want most of the time.
The big, exciting news is that Silvio just started renting 6h of Sangiovese vines on very different, non Montesecondo terroirs! At 18km away from the farm, it's about a 30 minute drive. The land is owned by two sisters, and because of the distance, Silvio has hired a full time employee to manage the site. Silvio is currently working the equivalent of 8h on Montesecondo, so 6 extra hectares is quite a boost in work/production. He didn't originally plan taking on so much land, but decided that the opportunity was too good to pass up after visiting the vines.
The vines here are between 17 and 30 years old, growing at 450m elevation, which is very high for this part of Tuscany. They are being converted to organics this year, and biodynamic the year after next.
Silvio's son Taddeo and Lucy the dog joined us on the visit.
For now, he plans to make more IGT Rosso with these grapes, but is open to the idea of bottling a new cuvée once he's familiarized himself with the terroir.
Lucy was very satisfied with our walk.
Once we'de visited the vineyards, Silvio brought us to one of the owner sisters' nearby property.
She was very nice and offered us water and juice. She also loves cats, and has about 20 of them.
You know what else she has? Turtles!
Next visit: Francesca and Margarita Padovani of Campi di Fonterenza! Twin sister party time!
PART 3: COTAR
NEW FABBRICA DI SAN MARTINO PROFILE!!!!! GO READ IT!!!
If you follow the long, twisty road through the uphill backroads of Lucca's city limits, you'll eventually come across a discrete sign pointing you in the direction of Fabbrica di San Martino. The 20 hectare property dates back to 1735, and as you can see from this picture of me striking a philosophical pose, the house overlooks Lucca and the area's surrounding mountains.
We arrived in the late afternoon, but still had enough sunlight to spend some quality time outdoors. While waiting for Giuseppe, we casually strolled around the outsides of the house.
After a short wait, we were joined by non other than Giuseppe Ferrua!
That's his son next to him. Before visiting the vines, we got a quick tour some of the house.
As you can see, it is quite nice in there. As a stupid aside, I kept feeling like I was in an episode of MTV Cribs. As an aside to the aside, visiting the San Martino house was a much less materialistic experience.
We then set off the the vines, which are just outside of the house. Of the property's 20 h, they only represent 2.2 h for a total of 1200 plants. We started at the Fabbrica's original vineyard.
The wine produced from this parcel inspired Giuseppe to give up his restaurants to work at the farm full time.
"These vines are a treasure. They needed to be maintained."
15 Tuscan varietals are co-planted here, which produce the Arcipressi bottling. Everything is older massale, and the vines have always been grafted into place.
I know you should never judge a book by its cover (the wine is delicious, so there!), but there's something about this label that I really, really love.
The whole vineyard is exposed South-East to South-West, so the sun does an east to west half-circle over the vines. We got there towards the end of the day, and Maya's pictures show how the sun set's to the right side of the vineyard.
Giuseppe explained how in this hot region, this exposition is much more beneficial to the vines then if they were full South, keeping alcohol down and acidity/minerality up.
The soils here are composed of clay and stone, but the amount and density of stone rock "varies greatly".
See that olive tree in the middle of the picture below?
It's 500 years old! That's old!
Moving on. Below the original Arcipressi parcel, Giuseppe decided to plant Sangiovese, Colorino and Canaiolo in 1999.
The Fabbrica rosso comes from here.
As far as day to to day maintenance, Giuseppe never plows the vineyards, and only uses plant compost. Biodynamic tea preparations are also a big part of the vineyard work.
"We never enter with tractors, we prune by hand, we mulch and make compost outside."
After a good amount of time in the vines, we got to visit the cows!
Look at that little brown baby one!
"The cows have 10h of forest to live in. They are important, because they regulate the land. They bring more insects, birds and create incredible biodiversity."
Sorry vegetarians: these guys are destined to become meat. In fact, Giuseppe is about to to sell two of them to Elisabetta Foradori!
No visit to any estate would be complete without a trip to the cantina, which is where we headed next.
We started with the 2012 Fabbrica Bianco, a co-ferment of Vermentino, Malvasia and Trebianno. The wine is made in large oak casks with no temperature control. It will be bottled next summer, and sold next year. We also sipped on some Arcipressi 12, which was juicy and delicious. A sample of the 2012 Sangiovese that will ultimately end up in the Fabbrica Rosso was reduced and not showing well, but Giuseppe pointed out that this is an extremely transitional point in the year (we were there in late April), and that the unfinished wines aren't always showing best.
During our cellar tasting, we got to meet Ortalina.
Ortalina is 20 years old! That's old! Her name loosely translates to garden girl; Giuseppe found her on the property two decades ago in the Fabbrica's fields. She grew attached to the family and never left, but has never entered the house and in the 20 years she's been there, they've never fed her once!
Night time was upon on, so we went back to the house to have a very, very good home cooked meal with Giuseppe, Giovanna and two of their children.
It was very, very good and I had thirds of lasagna.
Up next, more Tuscan action with Montesecondo!
Three weeks ago, a small group of us set off to Italy for a two week trip. After spending a day in Venice (where, according to Maya's step-calculator thingy, we walked 7.5 miles!!!), we drove to Oslavia to hang with Stanko and Saša Radikon.
The family's main parcel is located right under the Stanko and Suzanna's house.
Standing next to the Merlot vines, Saša explained that finding large vineyards in this area is very hard, and that a parcel of this size (3 h) is uncommon. Along with the Merlot, Ribolla Gialla and Pinot Grigio are planted on the lower slopes of this hill, which is 190m in altitude and exposed full South.
Everything had to be replanted in 1997 after a devastating mudslide in 1994. Besides horse manure, the only thing added to the vines are copper and sulfur treatments, which Saša is trying to reduce by incorporating propolis, a bee based product effective against mildew.
The training is similar to Albarello. Three cuts, two buds per cane, 4 to 6 clusters per vine.
Prior to the 97 replanting, everything was trained in double guyot. Only a few rows at the bottom of the hill survived.
As you can see in the photo below, they had recently plowed every other row, effectively letting the other have "the year off".
The soils consist of heavy clay with a strong presence of shale.
The subsoils here absorb the region's large amount of annual rainfall, and this natural water reserve is instrumental in conserving minerality and acidity in the grapes.
Oslavia is host to a handful of famous winemakers, and from the Radikons' vineyards, you can spot -among others- some of Gravner's vines.
After visiting the vines, we walked back to the house to taste in the cellar. Before we could make it, Stanko distracted us with this big fish.
It had been caught that morning, and would serve as our main course for lunch.
Cooling off from the hot sun, we ventured into the cellar.
The winemaking at Radikon has been covered extensively in the past, but it never hurts to reiterate. There is no temperature control for fermentations, with punchdowns in the first 48 hours to get fermentations going. Along with their old school, hand-held "punchdown stick", their is a one-of-a-kind mechanic one designed by Stanko himself!
The grapes are de-stemmed. The juice then ferments and macerates on its skins -which amount to 20 to 30% of a full tank- for 2.5 to 4 months. After a racking of the skins and gross lees, the wine is aged in large barriques for up to 36 months. The first big attempts with skin contact took place in 1995, with Stanko producing half of the Ribolla Gialla this way.
"Ribolla has very thick skins. My father realized that the skin contact with Merlot made the wine better, so why not try it with Ribolla? It brought more structure and complexity."
Prior to this decision, the wines were fermented in stainless steel and aged in barrique. In the early years, maceration times were much shorter.
"This was a big inspiration for the S line. It has permitted me to understand what my father was doing in the early days."
For those unfamiliar with the S line, S stands for Saša; the wines see 2 to 3 weeks on the skins, are aged in barrel only one year and are immediately released.
Fun cellar factoid: the cellar's walls are the subsoils of the vines we'd just visited, and because of all the water they constantly hold, they sweat out this cold, wet mineral slime.
We tasted a bunch of 09's. They were really good.
To celebrate our successful tasting, Stanko popped open a bottle of 2010 Ribolla Gialla PET' NAT!
That's right, both François Pinon and the Radikons have produced petillant naturel: get with the times people! This experiment started because Suzanna Radikon, who loves bubbles, complained there was never enough in the house. 2010 was a bit of a disaster; there was way too much sugar left, and over half of them exploded during the re-fermentation. But what's left of it is delicious!
Lunch was as good an opportunity as any to taste the recently bottled 07's Radikons and the 10' S wines, as well as some back vintages.
One of those was a 99 Ribolla Gialla, labeled as a DOC Collio. In 2000, Stanko asked that the DOC modify its rules for color so it could allow skin contact wines in the Collio DOC. They declined, so he intentionally declassified everything in 2001.
Another unexpected treat was to taste a pre-skin contact, 1993 Pinot Grigio!
It was bright and mineral, but not exactly memorable. Whatever sulfur was used at the time had completely blown off.
After finishing up lunch with Suzanna's "Best Apple Strudel Ever Made" (Denyse Louis quote), Stanko had to run to an orange wine festival taking place in Croatia. After saying our goodbyes, Sasa drove us to a newly acquired parcel just across the Slovenian border.
This vineyard was planted in 2004 in selection massale, with Ribolla on top, Pignollo in the middle and Tokaj on bottom.
"We always get good wind here from the proximity to the sea."
We ended our visit by climbing up this funky watch tower, getting a bird's eye view of the local surroundings.
That night, we ate at La Subida, which many consider one of the best restaurants in Italy. The all local/organic food and wine program follows seasonal menus, so we got to eat a lot of dishes based on spring herbs and wild asparagus, accompanied by an all-star cast of Friulian and Slovenian wines.
Next up, our visit to Croatia with Clai Bijele Zemlje! These wines have been shrouded in mystery forever, but a full profile and visit recap will finally shed some light (and appropriate shine) on Giorgio Clai's incredible estate!
After saying goodbye to Antonio Perrino, we drove up to the village of Soldano, home of Danila Pisano! The single mountain road to get there was full of upward twist and turns, and the further along we went, the more remote it felt. We were trailing Kevin, and after losing him I couldn't help but feel like we were in the beginning of a horror movie.
Fortunately, we arrived unharmed and were greeted by a joyful Danila hanging out at the cafe with her long time boyfriend Tino.
Because it was later in the afternoon and the vines are a 20 minute drive out, we proposed that the couple hop into one our cars and show us the way. Tino laughed heartily and told us there was no way what we were driving could make it up there. He was not kidding! The drive in Danila's 4x4 was full of super sharp turns and one of the steepest I've ever experienced. There were points when we were on a 60% incline!
Danila and Tino parked the cars, and from there it was a short walk to one of the most peaceful vineyard sites I've ever experienced.
From the vineyards, you can spot the beginning of France.
The estate consists of 0.8 h of vines spread over three different sites in the Val Verbone valley, all in Rossese. The vines are actually from Tino's family, and were inherited when his father retired. Tino has always worked in highway maintenance, but decided with Danila to start cultivating the vines and making wine in 1996. They immediately converted the vines to organic viticulture. The parcel we visited is exposed Southwest, and though it felt much higher, at 250 meters elevation.
They are also beautifully terraced, which has always been the tradition around these parts.
The terraces were built in 1933. The soils consist of 40% sand, 40% clay and 20% limestone. All the vineyard work is done by hand, but they have a small tractor for transportation. The vines are all trained in albarello.
It's hard to tell from the pictures, but the rows are on very steep hill. I think this one with Denyse looking like a superhero (with Lee as her sidekick) gives you the best idea of the steepness.
After visiting the vines, we drove back to Soldano to taste the recently bottled 2011's. The were incredibly good. Both cuvées are vinified the same way: 8-15 days maceration in stainless, then racked and hard pressed. Fermentation usually takes 10-15 days, also in stainless steel. "Savoia" is a selection of the best grapes from their best site. It's the best!
With the 1978 Testalonga fresh on my mind, I asked if there were any back vintages to taste. At first Tino was hesitant, as he truly believes that the wines need to be consumed within two years. Nonetheless pulled out a 2006 for us to try. And you know what? He was right. The wine hadn't completely fallen apart, but had none of the vibrancy and brightness that I'd come to expect. Fortunately, the wines are so good young that they get drunk up promptly!
As we left, this painted sign on the road caught by eye.
I don't know, I just found it funny that the girl basically looks like a shovel.
After saying goodbye, we drove to Sanremo, gambled the night away, drove to Nice the next morning and flew back to our respective cities.
Over the course of our long drive from Piedmonte to Liguria, Lee, Tom and I listened to Mos Def, DJ Shadow, Robag Wruhme, Outkast and TLC. I'm not sure what was playing in Kevin, Denyse and Josefa's car, but based on their musical tastes I would guess it was an eclectic mix of Radiohead, Serge Gainsbourg and REM.
After all that driving and music, we were ready to taste some Rossese di Dolceacqua! If you're unfamiliar with the Rossese grape, don't worry because you are not alone. Grown by an ever decreasing amount of growers in and around Dolceacqua, it got my official vote of "most exciting Italian grape I'd never heard of" of 2012, and I must of discovered at least 214 of them last year! The wines are light in body but concentrated in fruit and minerality. They also have this lasting tobacco finish, which I almost didn't want to write because of how cliched of a tasting note that is. But it's true, okay!
Our first stop was a visit to the enigmatic and legendary Antonio Perrino of Testalonga. We had a little bit of time to kill, so naturally we took a stroll about town.
This unassuming little side street holds Antonio Perrino's cellar.
In the last few months, I'd seen a lot of tiny cellars (Zélige-Caravent, Laurent Barth, Bruno Duchêne), but this one might just take the cake.
7 barrels represents Antonio's TOTAL production! I found it rather humbling that a producer who consistently makes top 100 lists and has such a larger than life reputation could make fine wine in such a small, simple place. Then again, Antonio proved to be an extremely friendly, amiable guy and a gracious host. Also important to note, the quantities reflect the fact that Antonio owns less than an hectare of vines; as we'd find out later, the working conditions of Dolceacqua terraced vineyards are some of the most challenging in Europe, and owning more land would be quasi-impossible to manage, especially since Antonio is 66 and still does everything by himself!
2011 was Antonio's 50th vintage, and every bottle will be adorned with a 50th anniversary sticker. The Rossese was showing well, a little fuller bodied and darker than I was expecting, but it's possible that it needed time to settle in bottle. Antonio also makes a small quantity of Vermentino, and the 2011 was my favorite wine of the trip. Saying it had saline qualities wouldn't do it justice: it was salty to the point of being savory, and so different than the 2005 we'd drank at Tabarro just a few days earlier. Incredible.
We also got to try a 1978 Rossese:
It looked and smelled like an old wine, with an orangish color and elegant nose. The fruit was still there, though on the back of the palate, and I found the tobacco finish to be particularly pronounced.
Here's a funny picture of a cat on a car that has absolutely nothing to do with the visit.
After tasting, we went to eat lunch at this great place called A Viassa. This was our first meal eating primarily seafood, and was a culinary highlight of the trip for everyone. Highly recommended. Just like any other normal lunch, it was accompanied by a Jeroboam of 2007 Rossese:
During lunch, Antonio filled us in on some key Testalonga factoids. The oldest vines are about 100, but most are around 30 to 40 years old. The main vineyard site is called is called Arcagna, and the Rossese used to be labelled as such (you can see this on the jero picture above). Recently however, he changed it since a tiny bit of the final blend comes from other sites. As far as the indigenous grape Antonio has worked with his entire life:
"Rossese is disappearing. It's hard to work, and people want to plant higher yielding varieties they can sell."
The great sites, which are all on steep, borderline hazardous terraces, are all getting ripped up. And in the rare cases when growers decide to replant Rossese instead of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, it is getting planted in shittier but easier to work sites.
I was very disappointed that Antonio didn't have time to show us the vines, which are about a 30 minute drive from Dolceacqua. He did however, have time to show us his friend's olive oil facility. On our way there, I spotted a horse just hanging out in a back alley.
I had never seen how olive oil is actually produced, and it was very entertaining experience.
Next up, end game with Danila Pisano!
Blame it on the Louis/Dressner obsession with rare, quirky varietals if you want, but I've always loved the Cascina Tavijn wines. The Grignolino and Ruché grapes are always so vibrant and fun in their youth, but are still capable of developing complexity with a few years of aging. The estate is also part of our Italian "Gang of Four" (don't sue us Kermit!), the first group of Italian growers we started importing (along with Vittorio Bera, Cascina Degli Ulivi and La Biancara).
Cascina Tavijn is headed by Nadia Verrua.
The first independently bottled vintage was in 2001. Nadia took over the estate from her father, who had always sold the grapes to the cave cooperative; at first she only handled the cellar work, but has progressively become completely hands on in the vines. The estate is of modest size, with 6h of vines and 4h of hazelnut trees planted at the bottom of hill.
We arrived in the early afternoon, and immediately set out to the vines. After a much steeper uphill climb than any of us expected, the damn paparazzi started trying to take pictures of us.
The fall colors were once again in full swing.
The first parcel we visited was Southwest facing Ruché planted in 2001, followed by Grignolino. Some of this land has been replanted in massale since 2001, which has proven to be a challenge since very few growers still have have old vines of these almost extinct varieties.
Young vine Grignolino was planted 2.5 years ago in massale.
Walking downhill was a lot easier, and our tasting was accompanied by a large basket of recently harvested hazelnuts (which I ate a lot of). Every year, Nadia does two bottlings of each cuvée, and we tried the second of Grignolino, Ruché and Barbera. All were showing well. We also got to check out the cellar.
We finished with the sulfur free bottlings of each grape. Nadia bottles these on a tiny scale, and it all ends up at her husband Pietro's restaurant Consorzio.
If you're ever in Torino for any reason whatsoever, you have no excuse not eating there. The food is incredible, and the wine list is an impressive who's who of great Italian and French natural wines. Plus it's the only place to drink sulfur free Grignolino by the glass!
We ate there on election night, and Pietro pulled out the big guns with this:
Drawn by a friend and local artist, this poster is a direct reference to Mauro Vergano's Americano. Speaking of Mauro:
Tucked away in a small alley street in the heart of Torino, you will find Mr. Vergano's magic laboratory.
Mauro has very little room to store the base wine, which stays in those stainless tanks. He drives over to each estate to grab the wine right before they bottle and to reiterate: the Chinato is produced from Giuseppe Cortese's Nebbiolo, the Luli from Vittorio Bera & Figli's Moscato, the Americano from Cascina Tavijn's Grigolino and the Vermouth from Cascina Degli Ulivi's Cortese and the Bera's Moscato.
These little guys hold Mauro's herb and spice concoctions.
Mauro sources his herbs from 3 different suppliers, and the only ingredient he picks himself is chinotto, a bitter citrus rind. On average, he picks 20-30 k of the fruit at the end of September, then peels and cuts them himself. Chinotto is smaller than a clementine, and apparently doesn't taste very good.
In the moment we had all been waiting for, Mauro opened his closet of secret ingredients, many of which you can see in the following picture:
All of the herbs and spices are kept together. Many of these are very hard to obtain, because they are protected when grown in the wild.. But Mauro has a friend who knows all the guys who go to the mountain, and they get him everything he needs on the low-low.
We got to smell many different types of absinthe (or wormwood), which really burns your nose if you sniff it too hard. We also smelled cumin, sage, cloves, oregano, and bark from the bahamas! After out scratch-n-sniff tasting, Mauro surprised us with a new experiment: a Ruché Chinato! It was very sweet, and he joked it was a "Chinato for girls". In this case, he used a mix of the extract used for the Chinato and Luli.
Before leaving, we got a little history lesson. Mauro showed us the original Chinato recipe from a century ago, scribbled on an old piece of paper. You see, Mauro's uncle's father was a barman, and always had fun messing with recipes. After many years of tinkering around, he came up with the base for how all Chinato is made today. His name was Giulio Cocchi, a name you might recognize since it was trademarked many years ago, and is one of the biggest producers of Chinato and Vermouth in Italy.
"I have the original recipe! I don't thing the current owners even have it!".
Next up, the final chapter of the Italy Chronicles 2012, our visits with Antonio Perrino and Danila Pisano in Dolceacqua!
Our two day visit with the Bera family involved A LOT of food. We arrived to Canelli in the evening and jumped right into this Bagna Càuda.
This local Piedmontese dish translates to "hot dip", and consists anchovies and garlic in heated oil that you dip raw vegetables into. It was a welcome change from the HUGE QUANTITIES of meat and pasta we had been (joyfully) eating over the last few days, and it all felt pretty light. Except at the end where Alessandra started cracking eggs in the hot oil, cooking them in the process and forcing us to scoop them out with bread. Not to mention the humongous cheese platter and the "broth of 11 o'clock", a bowl of beef broth that supposedly makes you digest. I'm pretty sure there was caffeine in it, because I was wiped out that day and it woke me right up.
To pair with dessert, we ended the meal with a magnum of Raymond Boulard, the estate Francis Boulard used to run with his siblings.
It was surprisingly aromatic, low in alcohol and high in sugar, which many of us believed was due to an unusually high dosage. But the joke was on us, as it was actually...
Those crazy Bera tricksters! Because of this flub, the Master Sommelier Committee immediately stripped us of our SOMM badges, and re-edited the blockbuster SMASH Somm to not feature any footage of us.
The next morning, we set out the the vines.
The Beras own 12 hectares of vines, and we started by visiting the 5 that surround the house. These Moscato vines are 25 years old, South facing and planted on fairly steep coteaux. No fertilizers are ever used, so the vines are low yielding and much less vigorous that what has become the norm in the area.
The soils here are calcareous. As you can see, there is a lot of grass in the vineyards. They do the fava bean and grass in one row, plow the other row thing: this is a technique many of our producers use, the idea being to give one row the "year off" to rest and fully replenish itself. The estate is certified organic.
The lovely Knights of Malta brought the Moscato grape from Greece to this part of Italy in the 13th Century. The Bera family actually bought land from the Knights themselves! Moscato d'Asti's unique style is due to two major influences: before filtration techniques were introduced to cellars, bubbles were a natural way of preserving wine. Throw in the fact that the taste of nobility was for sweet wines at the time, and there you have it!
Next, we visited a recently acquired plot located very close to the house.
Barbera, Moscato and Sauvignon Blanc are planted here. The vines were owned by an old farmer who recently retired, are on average 80 years old and have been always been worked organically. Buying more land hadn't been in the works, but the proximity to the house and the age/sanitary state of the vines made it a deal too good to pass up.
Their cat Piccolito decided to keep guard in case of intruders.
As we continued our walk, we came upon this statue of San Giovanni the Evangelist, which loomed over an ugly power plant.
After touring the vines, it was time to visit the cellar and have Gian-Luigi give us an official lesson on how to make Moscato. Get ready, this is complex stuff!
1. Harvest grapes in 20 k plastic holders.
2. Do a slow pneumatic press (3-5 hours)
3. Immediately rack the juice to stainless steel tanks.
4. The must is then clarified with a natural gelatin that dissolves in the juice and sinks to the bottom, nabbing all the dirty stuff along the way.
5. The clean wine is racked and separated from its lees. Must is then frozen and brought to a cold chamber, where it is kept for a later step. The risk in working this way is that the yeasts in the must (which are almost completely dormant, but not always), could potentially reactivate, thus wasting the must and natural refermentation.
6. At this point, Gian-Luigi filters ONLY if there are too many lees. In conventional Moscato making, a systematic and very strong filtering is done to get rid of live yeasts, then a "stimulant" commercial yeast is used to make the bubbles, as there is still a lot of sugar left in the wine at this point.
7. Wine is racked to a 5000 l thermal tank. Fermentation starts at 19 degrees. It's usually quite slow the first two days, but really picks up on the third. Normally, it takes no longer than a week for the wine to reach 5.5 alcohol.
8. When the desired amount of alcohol is reached, the tank is chilled down to block the fermentation. The wines stabilize for 10-15 days.
9. The wine is now softly filtered. This is not an easy task because the the wine is under pressure and still active. One tank takes a full day.
10. The wine is bottled, and you get to drink it!
Unsurprisingly, the old school way of making Moscato was way more primitive, and involved this contraption.
The wine was filtered through cloths (placed in those things that look like utters), then caught in a wool sack at the bottom. The fermentation would actually be blocked by the cold of the winter! 1973 was the last year it was used.
That night, we had a huge dinner with a ton of meat and a bomb risotto. Vittorio was very happy that our appetites were up to par.
Next up, our visits to Cascina Tavijn and Mauro Vergano's laboratory in Torino!
Phase 2 of our trip consisted of one of our favorite European tasting events, Vini di Vignaioli in Fornovo. It was a great time to taste with Luciano Saetti, Casa Coste Piane, Cantina Giardino, Zélige-Caravent, Francis Boulard, Monte dall' Ora, Montesecondo, Elisabetta Foradori, Le Coste, Camillo Donati, Natalino Del Prete, Fonterenza, Cascina degli Ulivi, Cotar, Massa Vecchia and Altura.
We also scooped up some very exciting new goodies for you, but that's going to have to stay top secret for now. Also, big shout out to Diego Sorba and the Tabarro crew who once again showed us a great time two nights in a row. Hilariously (disturbingly?) enough, a quick web search landed me on this picture a random girl took of the first round of wines Diego picked out for us.
We drank the Testalonga.
From Parma, we drove off to Rivergaro to visit Elena Pantaleoni and Giulio Armani of La Stoppa. For many of you this estate needs no introduction, as the wines have been available in the U.S for many years. What I CAN say is that we are extremely happy to be their new national importer (with the exception of Massachusetts and Oregon), and welcome them to the Louis/Dressner family.
La Stoppa sits on top of a hill, and consists of medieval living quarters (and a cellar) surrounded by 30 hectares of vines.
We started the visit with a lunch/tasting combo. Elena and guest-star Arianna Occhipinti had just landed THAT DAY from a trip to Montreal (where they work with Oenopole), and told us about dancing all night at a Champagne party where Biz Markie was DJing. Because I know you're not going to believe me (partly because I enjoy keeping the Dressner tradition of making stuff up alive and well), here is proof that it actually happened.
What, no Boulard?
At lunch, we tried the current releases of Ageno and all the reds, including some back vintages of of the Barbera della Stoppa. The young vine rosso and frizzante have been renamed Trebbiolo this year. The name comes from the vines' proximity to the Trebbia river, and Elena admitted that the last thing she expected was everyone to keep asking her if the wine is a blend of Trebbiano and Nebbiolo. This has apparently been happening A LOT, which could be avoided if people realized:
1. La Stoppa is located in Emilia-Romagna, were neither Trebbiano or Nebbiolo is planted.
2. How disgusting that blend would be and how no one in their right mind would ever produce it.
After lunch, it was time to visit some surrounding vineyard sites with Giulio.
Almost all of the estate's 30 h surround the living quarters and cellar. The vines are planted 75% in Barbera/Bornada and 25% in Malvasia at 200 m elevation; these are the traditional grapes of this region, but have only been grown here since 1995. You see, the viticultural history of the estate is a bit topsy-turvy...
Over a hundred years ago, a wealthy lawyer named Ageno owned the property and decided to plant 30 hectares of French varietals: Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The idea, of course, was to emulate Bordeaux, Burgundy and Sancerre (you can see photos of some of these old labels on the home page of their official website that are actually bottled as "Bordeaux"). In 1973, Elena's father bought the estate and continued making wine from these grapes. Giulio Armani took over as head vignaiolo in 1980 and for 15 years, tried his best to produce French style wines: he read every book on viticulture and oenology he could get his hands on, following Sancerre and Bordeaux "recipes" to the best of his ability. Furthermore, chemical treatments were used in the vineyards and the wines were yeasted, acidified and heavily sulfured.
But Giuilo is a smart man and a thinker, and the decade plus of trying to crack the code of his vines finally led to a simple but life-altering realisation: you just can't make Burgundy or Sancerre in Emilia-Romagna, a very hot region where grapes often end up being high in alcohol and low in acidity.
"Every year, I would see the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes completely burnt from the sun. They weren't meant to be here. We understood we had to make a wine of terroir."
So in 1995, Giulio and Elena decided to return to tradition and replant the local red grapes Barbera and Bornada, and well as Malvasia for white. And lo and behold, this instantly solved their acidity problem!
"The secret to making good red wine in this area is Barbera, which has very high acidity and thrives in this climate. It is needed to balance the wines."
Returning to tradition also meant re-evaluating the work in the vineyard, and a shift was immediately made to organic viticulture. These ideas extended to to the cellar, where Giulio started practicing spontaneous fermentations and eliminating any rectification/manipulation during vinification. Today, the wines being produced by La Stoppa are undoubtedly Emilia.
And that's a cool story.
Next up, we visit the Alessandra, Gian-Luigi and Vittorio Bera! Oh, I almost forgot:
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!
Two coinciding trends with the last two Italian Fall trips:
1. They keep almost not happening and 2. I get to fly in business class and learn all about wine from the airline's master sommelier.
For hurricane Sandy related reasons, it was looking like we weren't going to be able to go to Italy at all. After some desperate rescheduling (including a particularly daunting option that involved flying to Moscow to connect to Milan), we somehow managed to nab a direct flight two days later than scheduled. It meant missing visits with Fonterenza, Sanguineto and Luciano Saetti (BUMMER!), but it was better than not going at all.
When we arrived, we all got upgraded and for the second year in a row I once again got to enjoy the laps of of luxury that is business class. I totally recommend spending the 5000 dollars it would normally cost to do this: made to order hot fudge Sundaes, seats that turn into beds, getting to watch everyone in economy stare at you in contempt as they walk by and MOST OF ALL, having master sommelier Andrea Robinson answer every question you've ever had about wine!
Legs? Who knew? Also, worth viewing, this video lets you know that "Once you get to 30 000 feet, your sense of taste and smell are really attenuated". You do get used to the beds though...
Enough funny business!
After landing in Milan and driving to Parma -where we'd stay for the next three days- we set off to the commune of Quattro Castella to visit the Masini brothers of Cà de Noci.
Alberto and Giovanni were there to greet us, as was their father Vittorio.
Vittorio had never met Kevin (or any of us, for that matter), and was delighted to finally put a face to a name he'd been hearing for years.
"Every time I have to add the back labels or hear about the U.S.A, it's always Kevin, Kevin. Kevin! Finally I know what you look like!"
A large portion of the vines surround the farm, so after saying our hello's we jumped right into the visit by checking out their old vine Spergola.
These were all planted in 1970 by Vittorio. As you can see from the pictures, every single vine has grown independently and differently. This is where the Querciole is produced; the cuvée is named after the large oak tree in the middle of the parcel.
Close by, they have bee hives. Alberto explained:
"It's very important for pollination. Grapes like Malbo Gentile would have a hard time without them."
The whites all grow in the less fertile soils around the farm, and with the exception of the older Spergola, all the vines are younger re-plantings of almost extinct local varieties. A short walk from the old vines, we got to check out young vine Spergola, Malvasia and Muscat all randomly co-planted together.
The fall colors of the leaves were beautiful, including some strikingly red plants.
This year, the brothers tried using a new, mineral based product on six rows of these vines to protect them, the idea being to find a substitute for copper and sulfur. It was a first year experiment, and they lost about 50% of the grapes. They are still motivated to make this work, and will try again.
After walking around the farm, we took a short drive into the hills to visit the reds.
Up in the hills, the soils and composed of sand and are more fertile. The oldest vines are Cabernet Sauvignon of 15 years. All the different red varieties are planted here, which include: Lambrusco Grasparossa, Lambrusco Maestri, Lambrusco Montericco, Malbo Gentile and Cabernet Sauvignon. In total, the brothers have 5,4 hectares of vines. Alberto does the majority of vineyard work and Giovanni makes the wines.
After visiting the vines, we took a quick tour of the cellar before tasting.
For aging, they only use old French barrels. With the exception of Riserva dei Fratelli, the frizzante wines are made using old vine Spergola must. The wines referment in bottle, but are never disgorged.
Riserva dei Fratelli, on the other hand, ferments three years in bottle before being disgorged. Look at all that floaty stuff in there!
The Masinis disgorge every bottle manually, which is as extremely time consuming process. It takes about a month to do 140 bottles, because you can only do it very early in the winter morning, when the day is at its coldest (has to be done at 0 degrees). You also lose about 10% of each bottle per disgorgement. While tedious, this permits the brothers to produced a disgorged sparkling with no added sulfites (a true rarity), and is totally worth the extra labor.
Speaking of no sulfites, nothing at Cà de Noci ever sees added sulfur, even at bottling. Though they make skin contact whites and work with thick skinned red grapes, I still have to say that I am very impressed by how consistently stable these wines are. Kudos!
It was officially tasting time, and we got things started by disgorging a magnum of Fratelli 09. This was actually the first time Alberto and Giovanni were tasting it! It was savory, tangy and very dry. Next, we opened up some Querciole 11, which was excellent; giving on the fruit and very a long finish. We also tasted some the still Spergola from 2012 pre-must: it was obviously very young, but still tasty.
At dinner, we went through a vertical of Sottobosco 08, 09, 10 and 11 to compare and prove that Lambrusco really can be a wine that expresses vintage: for example, the 08 was super robust and tannic, while 10 was fruity and fresh (still tannic though!).
Alberto Tedeschi made a guest appearance and we got to taste the newly named Colfondo.
This wine is the exact same as the previously named Sur lies. Colfondo literally means "on the lees" in Italian. Sur lies is an "official" designation in France and somehow, someone found out about this and forced him to change it.
Next up, a brief recap of the Vini di Vignaioli fair at Fornovo and our visit to La Stoppa! Profile coming soon!
"Nature without compromises: It's a way of life."
Last year, we visited Camillo Donati. After tasting the 2010's, Alex Finberg filmed Camillo while Kevin interviewed him. Unfortunately, the footage was lost and will never see the light of day. But I recently remembered that I still had a record of the entire conversation. So for your reading enjoyment, go check out Camillo's interview!
PART 1: COSTE PIANE
PART 2: COSTADILÁ
PART 3: VINI VERI, VILLA FAVORITA AND VINITALY
PART 4: NUSSERHOF
PART 5: RADOAR
PART 6: I VIGNERI
PART 7: FATTORIE ROMEO DEL CASTELLO
PART 8: ARIANNA OCCHIPINTI
After saying goodbye to Arianna, we drove off to Marsala to visit the the de Bartoli brothers. They live in a little hamlet that looks like a cross of Miami Vice and the set of spaghetti western.
We got out of our cars and Sebastiano greeted the group.
After saying hello, we got to check out the only vines we'd see that day, a large parcel of Grillo located in the back of the farm.
The brothers also grow grapes in many different parts of Marsala, as well as the tiny volcanic island of Pantelleria for the Bukkuram (more info on their official website). No fertilizers are ever used, as they feel the plant's roots need to go deep into the soil to keep their substance. It's very dry where they are, so mildew and odium are not a concern. They use about three sulfur treatments a year on the vines, and are certified organic.
The soils vary, but are mostly composed of limestone; sand and volcanic ash are also present. The brothers specialize in growing white grapes, but they also have Syrah and Merlot planted, as well as a recently acquired parcel of the local red grape Pignatello (not to be confused with the white grape Pignoletto that Alberto Tedeschi grows in Emilia-Romagna).
An old farmer recently sold them a parcel in selection massale: they have been experimenting and might eventually bottle it commercially. The barrel sample we tasted was juicy and on the lighter side of things.
The grape they grow the most of is Grillo, which in indigenous to Marsala but now grown in other parts of Sicily (the TAMI Grillo, for example). It's very high yielding and in the last 50 years, most growers have been selling in bulk to cooperatives, so value has plummeted. And while people now use a ton of other grapes to make Marsala (which has now become little more than cheap cooking wine, but more on that later), the de Bartolis feel that is the ONLY grape to use when making an authentic one. Why? Because it maintains high acidity, which is great for aging.
We then started our tour of the cellar, which is subdivided in accordance to the many styles of wines produced by the de Bartoli family. The upstairs hosts all the stainless steel tanks, and the first wine we tasted was a méthode traditionelle Grillo sparkling from Renato's Terzavia line. "Terzavia" stands for "a third way"; the family produces the classic Marsala dessert wines, the unique dry whites and so the Terzavia is yet another approach to vinification. The sparkling is really, really good, and you should buy some if you haven't already. The wine has no dosage: instead Renato adds a fresh must after the wine is fermented dry to create bubbles. The wine was from 2009 and the must from 2010.
We then checked out the dry white barrel room, where Renato began extracting barrel samples for us.
The wines we were tasting were the INTEGER wines. This is something the brothers started doing a few years ago, the idea being to show how vinification choices affect the final product. The INTEGER cuvées (one Grillo, one Zibbibo) are fermented and aged in old oak with battonage, in contrast to the Grappoli di Grillo and Pietra Nera (Zibbibo) cuvées, which are cold stabilized and fermented in stainless steel, then racked in oak. Sebastiano explained that the winery had taken advantage of new technology in the early 90's (specifically referring to cold stabilization) and that this had resulted in a style of wine that became very popular with their customers. But as time went by, and with Marco de Bartoli being an azienda founded on innovation AND tradition, the brothers decided they wanted to make something a little more old school (even though making dry whites is a relatively new phenomenon in Marsala). The juice for the two cuvées styles comes from the same grapes, harvested at the same time; to reiterate, the only difference is the vinification, which does in fact make a huge difference in how the wines taste. Both styles are very good.
After our INTEGER tasting (11's are well on their way to being super solid), it was the moment we'd all been waiting for: a visit to the Marsala lair!
The Marsala cellar needs to be underground to accelerate oxidation. Two styles are made, the first being the Vecchio Samperi line, which is NOT fortified (the vast majority of Marsala produced today is fortified with alcohol). Then there is the Superiore line, which IS fortified with mistella, a combination of sweet must and eau de vie. This makes them sweeter and rounder, a result most other Marsala producers obtain by using cooked must and caramel to give that same impression of aging. Both are a product of the Solera method: this is a process where new wine is constantly being added to old wine to keep it fresh. In practice, this is never-ending process and the late Marco de Bartoli, who started the azienda in the 70's, began buying every old barrel farmers were willing to sell (which turned out to be a whole lot). Some had clearly marked vintages on them, most didn't. They are all still being used today.
When the de Bartolis release a vintage Marsala (ex: 1986), this indicates the year it was fortified, and therefore a vintaged de Bartoli Marsala will always be labeled as part of the Superiore line. The brothers also release riserva wines: the legal amount of time needed to declare a riserva is 5 years, but for the De Bartoli's it has to be at least 10.
Before we knew it, it was lunch time. Renato served up this insanely bomb seafood cous-cous.
With the couscous we got to taste the 2010 Pietra Nera from 60 year old Zibbibo vines on volcanic soils. Super fresh. The vineyards are at 400 meter elevation, and were harvested almost one entire month after the Grillo! We then tasted the Grappoli di Grillo 2010 along with the 2005 to see how the wine ages. The winery started experimenting with spontaneous fermentation in 2005, and has been using 100% native yeasts since 2008. By tasting the the inoculated '05 alongside the '10, it was a rare opportunity to taste the same wine made with and without preselected yeasts. The 2005 was certainly a very good wine, but there was a flatness, a lack of life in the middle palate I often get with inoculated wines.
Sebastiano also wanted to prove to the group that Marsala wasn't just a dessert wine, and could be paired with salty foods. He pulled out the 1986 Superiore (the first vintage wine in the azienda's history), and definitely got the point across by serving us the single saltiest plate of food I've ever had in my life.
That's salt cured anchovies, salt cured tuna, salt cured tuna heart and salt cured something-else-I-forgot. It was very salty. The 1986 was bold and elegant, and did indeed stand up to the salt really well, though I still had to drink five glasses of water and have fourths of couscous to get my palate back on track. We ended the meal with a very refreshing fruit salad and cigars.
We then returned to the cellar to taste from the original 1986 barrels.
We ended the tasting with a sip from a 1903 barrel!
To Sebastiano's knowledge, this is the oldest wine in all of Marsala.
"When my father bought it, it was basically molasses!"
The nose was incredible, with tons of depth and spice. On the palate, a never ending finish.
The tasting was over, so we we drove back to downtown Marsala, where Sebastiano had us pull over on the docks to give us a history lesson.
Marsala production dates back to the 1770's, and is a direct result of the Spanish/English war. Brits were already in Sicily at that point, and started making wine similar to Madeira and Sherry, also made using the Solera method. This continued until 1860, when the Italian states united. At this point, Mr. Florio, an important business man, started bottling Marsala independently and under his name. The wine's popularity rose over the years, and by the early 1900's there were a 100+ wineries in the city, most located by the water for easy exporting. In fact Marsala was one of the very first wines exported around the world!
Fast forward to the 1960's where the cave cooperatives grew, and of course started focusing on quantity instead of quality. This slowly killed the reputation of the once great wine, which is now mostly known as a cooking wine most people associate with a disgusting American/Italian restaurant staple.
In the 70's, Marco was sick of hearing that Marsala was an industrial wine. So he came to the countryside to produce his own. The rest is history.
After the visit, we partied in downtown Marsala all night with Sebastiano, which was a lot of fun. The next day, we flew back to Rome, had a great day, ate at some restaurant with a really cool wine list, then all flew home to our respective cities.
Thanks again to Lauren Feldman, Shawn Mead and Ian Becker for letting me use their great pictures, as well as the rest of group for making it such an enjoyable trip.
PART 1: COSTE PIANE
PART 2: COSTADILÁ
PART 3: VINI VERI, VILLA FAVORITA AND VINITALY
PART 4: NUSSERHOF
PART 5: RADOAR
PART 6: I VIGNERI
PART 7: FATTORIE ROMEO DEL CASTELLO
After our visit to Fattorie Romeo del Castello, we hit the road and drove down to Siracusa to hang out with Arianna Occhipinti. We started off with an aperitif at TAMI, her boyfriend Francesco's shop.
I had always assumed that TAMI was just a wine shop, but it turns out they sell all types of food, beer, books, knick knacks (including a bananaguard), toys and gadgets. Jeff Vierra scored this sweet hat there.
A TAMI wine bar, located directly across the street, is currently in the works, and they hope to have it operational by the beginning of the summer.
After hanging out and drinking Coste Piane, we grabbed some bottles and head over to a new restaurant just a few blocks away, located in this teeny-tiny alley.
It was a good chance to practice my "SOMM" skills with Arianna.
This work of photoshopped "art" in the men's bathroom embodies what I assume all Americans immediately think of when you say "Italy" (other than Jersey Shore).
Notice the espresso.
After dinner, it quickly became a Radoar grappa, Tami Grillo and shitty Italian beer party on Jeff Vierra's rooftop terrace. A good time was had, and with the exception of Ian Becker and Robert Brownsen who went to a fist-pumping techno club, everyone went to bed to be ready for the first annual OCCHIPINTATHON.
In the morning, we drove to Vittoria and immediately started our visit of the SP-68 vines, located right by her house and bordering the autostrada of the same name.
The SP-68 vines are 8-15 years old. The Frappato vines are 50 years old and the Nero D'Avola is 45. Arianna prefers the Guyot training system, especially for Frappato, because the first buds tend to not produce grapes when trained in Albarello. As you can see in the pictures, grass grows free between each row, and Ari plants fava beans in each other row for the SP-68 vineyards. The idea is to create biodiversity and stimulate the soil in one row while the other gets "a year off". She also uses paper tape, as opposed to plastic, to tie vines; this way she avoids plastic falling off and polluting the soil. We wrapped up our tour of the vines, then drove the 1,5 km to Arianna's new property and future home.
Last December, Arianna's lifelong dream came true when she purchased La Bomborieri, a 23 hectare farm with no neighbors. The entire site has been certified organic for 15 years and consists of 11 hectares of cereals, orange trees and cow stables (she doesn't have any yet, but plans to). There are also 7 hectares of 18 year old vines (Frappato and Nero D'Avola) on a mix of chalk, clay and red sands. The vines are equipped with an irrigation system Arianna has no intention of using and that she will eventually remove when she has the free time. I asked her if she might want to make a new, separate cuvée with these vines since the soil composition differs from the red sands the rest of her vines grow in, and she said "maybe". For now, these grapes will go into the SP-68. The house that came with the farm needs major renovation, but will eventually become her permanent residence. Francesco, who owns TAMI but is also an architect, will design and build a new cellar on the premises.
Surprising Varietal Factoid: Frappato actually has thicker skins than Nero D'Avola, which I never would have guessed.
After visiting the cellar, it was lunch time. Once seated, we began to talk about Vittoria as a wine region, and its recent rise to popularity almost entirely due to the quality, high profile work of Arianna and her uncle Giusto of COS. Arianna explained that Vittoria is a very agricultural place, but it's also very economy driven. Because it is a poor part of Sicily (which itself is one of the poorest parts of Italy), farmers are always looking to grow whatever crop will make them the most money. For most, grapes are worth next to nothing; it got so bad in 2009 that some of Arianna's friends where going to dispose of their entire harvest without making a penny. Instead, she decided to partner up with them and vinify those grapes, eventually leading to the TAMI wine project. The only reason Arianna is one of the only vigniaoli with old Frappato vines is because most farmers have torn theirs out over the years.
After lunch we tasted the current releases that will be be making it to the US soon. The 2011 SP-68 White is less potent and more elegant than the 10, most notably due to it being 100% albanello this year (last year's had Zibbibo). The SP-68 red is the bomb. The Frappato 10 had very structured, dark berry fruit and tannins, with pronounced acidity. It will age incredibly well.
As a special treat, Arianna pulled out magnums of the Frappato 04, her first vintage. Alex Miranda pointed out that the nose had notes similar to a Barbaresco. It had aged very elegantly, and was still full of life. It was then time to taste the 05 Nero D'Avola: it had structured fruit on the nose and palate, as well as nice tannic structure.
We then hung out and digested in the sun for a few hours before saying goodbye. Next stop: the exciting conclusion of Italy 2012 featuring our visit to Renato and Sebastiano de Bartoli!
PART 1: COSTE PIANE
PART 2: COSTADILÁ
PART 3: VINI VERI, VILLA FAVORITA AND VINITALY
PART 4: NUSSERHOF
PART 5: RADOAR
PART 6: I VIGNERI
After lunch at San Giorgio e il Drago, we hopped in our cars to visit Rosanna Romeo and Chiara Vigo of Fattorie Romeo del Castello. The estate is located just on the outskirts of Randazzo, so it was a very quick drive. A long dirt path off the main road brings you to the 17th century house where Rosanna and Chiara live part time (their main residence is in Catania).
Rosanna, who is a local, inherited the farm from her grandmother in the 70's. She then married Mr. Vigo (originally from Naples), and together they took care of the farm and vines, but sold all of the grapes. After his death in 1987, Rosanna continued to maintain the farm alone. Her daughter Chiara, after travelling the world to pursue her masters degree, become a published author as well as a certified kundalini yoga master, decided to return in 2007.
From an early age, Chiara found herself drawn to the parallels between works of nature and art. Inspired by this connection, she found a perfect middle ground with wine labels: this passion became the foundation of her masters' thesis, which she later developed into the great book Arte e Vino. After many years yearning to return to the farm, a chance encounter with Salvo Foti in 2007 gave her the perfect reason.
"He made me understand that I had a treasure, something I wasn't really conscious of."
She returned almost immediately with the goal of independently bottling wine from her family's estate for the first time since her grandfather in the 1950's. Because of her lack of agronomical and oenological knowledge, Salvo offered to mentor her by showing her how to tend the vines and make the wine. 2007 was the "first" vintage of the Vigo wine, the cuvée being an hommage to Chiara's father.
The 14 hectares of vines are 70-100 years old, all in Nerello Mascalese.
In the background, you can see the huge wall of lava that borders the vines.
Mount Etna is one of the most active volcanoes in the world, and its massive eruption in 1981 almost completely destroyed the entire Romeo Castello property. The flow's original trajectory was headed directly towards the house, but at the last minute took a right turn, sparing the property. It was a great tragedy that cost the family a lot of land, but's it's also the very reason why the wines are one of a kind. The lava wall heavily affects how the winds hit the vines and how temperature is contained, thus creating a unique micro-climate. The result is a bright, concentrated red with a ton of personality.
At no point have chemicals ever been used in the estate's history. Chiara has recently reintegrated wildlife into the vines, and Stefano Bellotti of Cascina Degli Ulivi is consulting on how to incorporate biodynamic practices. His first visit was in January; he plans to return in summer, and Chiara can't wait to visit his farm to see what he does first hand.
Walking back, we got to see this 1000 year old tree.
At some point, another completely different tree started growing OUT of it. Pretty trippy man!
I then petted Rosanna's dog because it was super cute.
About a ten minute walk South of the house, Chiara has replanted vines -also in Nerello Mascalese- that have yet to produce fruit.
They aren't too far from the Simeto river.
If you look closely, you can see exactly where the flow of lava that borders the vines ended. The river is very dry this time of year, but fills up considerably.
We then visited the old palmento, which is adorned by that creepy leatherface thing that was just as terrifying in person as it is in the picture.
It was time to taste, so we stepped into the house. First up were the 2007 and 2008 Vigo's which have both been available in the US before. Since Chiara is such a label geek, it's no surprise that she has spent a lot of time thinking about her own designs. The Vigo label features a map showcasing the exact place where the lava flowed through her property (highlighted in red).
It was inspired by this map of the 1981 eruption of where the lava flowed.
Next up where the Allegracore wines, which are new and about to be available in the United States for the first time. Chiara explains the idea behind this cuvée in her Louis/Dressner interview:
"We started with the Vigo wine in 2007. I used my last name as an homage to my father, because he worked this land and died here. But we'd originally wanted to call the wine Allegracore because it's the name of the parcel. I love the name, because it means "the place that makes a happy heart"! This was not possible because D.O.C legislation dictated that everything made in my area had to be Etna Rosso. But thanks to a dedicated group of vigniaoli who fought against this, as of 2011 you are allowed to write the name of a parcel on an Etna Rosso. So now the base wine will be called Allegracore, and the Vigo cuvée will only be produced in great vintages. Allegracore will be cheaper because it's aged in stainless steel. The Vigo will be made the same way as 07 and 08: stainless steel fermentation then aged in barrel. At least for now!"
It is quite glou-glou. The labels are pretty cool too, and will change every vintage. Here is the initial line up for 09, 10 and 11, along with the original label used by Chiara's grandfather on the far left.
For the first three, Chiara has actually used pictures of the original art nouveau wallpaper in the house. You can actually see the electrical wiring!
Here is it is real life. Not too sure what's going on with that clown though...
Up next, Arianna Occhipinti! Stay tuned!
PART 1: COSTE PIANE
PART 2: COSTADILÁ
PART 3: VINI VERI, VILLA FAVORITA AND VINITALY
PART 4: NUSSERHOF
PART 5: RADOAR
We'd gotten some bad news during lunch at Nusserhof. Our early afternoon flight from Verona to Catana had been cancelled, and the only alternative was an 8:30 A.M flight. From Venice... No one wanted to lose an entire day in Sicily so the group was ok with it, but it meant waking up at 5:30 am and an hour and a half drive to the airport.
On an aside: you know a plane is old when there's still ashtrays on each arm rest...
After a quick, restless flight, we were officially in Sicily! With tiny eyes, everyone grabbed their rental cars and we drove to Randazzo. After checking into our hotel, we were greeted by Alfio from I Vigneri. We arrived just around lunch, and he took us to the incredibly named San Giorgio e il Drago. During the meal, Alfio opened up some Vinudilice rosé. It comes from a parcel called Vigna Bosco.
It's a red and white field blend composed mostly of Alicante, with a tiny bit of mystery white and a bunch random reds (i.e: they're not sure what the grapes are), all interplanted together. The soil is ash, the elevation is 1300 meters and the vines are a 100+ years old. We also had the Etna Rosso, also from 100 year old vines. Both are vinified with native yeasts and minimal sulfur, added only at bottling. Both are very good and paired excellently with the local pastas and rabbit served at lunch.
At some point during the meal, Alfio informed us that Salvo wouldn't be able to join us because of an unexpected medical operation, and that he and Maurizio Pagano (I Vigneri's head honcho) would host us instead. It was nothing serious, but Salvo did have to stay in the hospital for a few days so we didn't get to see him...
After eating, we set off to see the first of many vineyard sights.
A quick walk up the path leads to more terraced vines and Mount Etna looming in the background.
Once we'd made it up top, we were greeted by the incredible Maurizio Pagano.
This guy is a serious character: his conviction and passion for viticulture, at least in his way of vocalizing it, is unparalleled. On a prior visit, he apparently told Arianna Occhipinti (who had tagged along with Jeff Vierra and was translating), something like:
"We give him (Salvo) the gold, he makes the wine."
At this point, if you're not familiar with the association Salvo Foti founded 12 years ago, you may be asking yourself, what exactly is I Vigneri?
The renaissance of Etna wines over the last decade can be largely, if not entirely attributed to Salvo Foti and the team he put together in 2000. Salvo was born in Etna, and has always had a love affair with the wines of his region. He is also famous oenologist, and makes the wine for a lot of people in the area. I Vigneri is the culmination of Salvo's desire to promote an environmentally sound agriculture with a simultaneous return to traditional farming. Taken from the association's official website:
"The "Maestranza dei Vigneri" ("Winegrowers Guild") was established in Catania in 1435. This important association of vine cultivators working in the Etna region was the foundation stone for professionalism in wine growing and production.
After 500 years, I Vigneri is today the name of a company of winegrowers and producers operating around Etna and in eastern Sicily. The proprietors are vine experts like Salvo Foti (www.salvofoti.it) and a group of local growers from the Etna region.
I Vigneri is the culmination of more than 30 years experience in Eastern Sicily, of historic, social and technical research aimed at achieving "excellence" in wine growing and producing. We have sought to use non-invasive methods and systems, to respect local traditions and our own ancient grape varieties as far as possible, and to avoid the damage that over-reaching ambition and egoism can cause. Our work ethic lies in the pleasure of work well done, without frenzy, in harmony above all with ourselves, and with all that surrounds us: environment, nature, the volcano Etna, which is so much a part of us. I Vigneri is also a holistic system of grape growing and wine production which respects our environment."
The deal is this: if you want Salvo Foti to make your wine, the I Vigneri team have to be the ones taking care of the vines. This means immediately shifting to organic viticulture practices, eliminating any mechanical labor, hand harvesting and a focus on lower yields. The vines must also be trained in albarello, which Salvo believes is the only way to express Etna's terroir. Maurizio leads the pack, and all in all 35 vignaoli are responsable for day to day maintenance of A LOT of vines. These guys have been in the vineyards their whole lives, so they know what they're doing. What's great is that this also offers them job security they might not otherwise have, all while encouraging locals to take pride in traditional agriculture.
Everyone involved is extremely proud, and they show it by always being adorned in I Vigneri gear (see Maurizio's photo above, and the great pics from their 2011 harvest). When you see the red gear with an albarello vine somewhere on it, you know who's taking care of business...
At the first parcel we visited, the guys had just planted some very young vines.
All vines, especially when they are very young and the roots haven't really sunk into the ground, have to stay on stakes because the ash soils are so loose that they could easily be ripped out during routine plowing and soil work.
On the same site, we visited the beautiful palmento where the Etna Rosso is made.
The fruit is brought up a flight of stairs to the top of the edifice where the grapes are foot trodden. The juice then trickles down into concrete vats below to begin fermentation. I once again direct you to the 2011 harvest pics, which (un-chronologically) document this process. We also checked out the attached -and very abandoned- barrel room.
There was actually still wine in that thing, and it stunk!
After visiting another site, we took a quick rest before dinner, which took place at I Vigneri's club house. Ok, it's not really a club house, but it's a little space in downtown Randazzo where you can buy the wines, the two books Salvo has written about wine, as well as his novel. Yes: Salvo Foti wrote a novel. We had the "Vinujancu" as an aperitif: this white wine comes from a small parcel at 1200 meters altitude; the grape is Carricante, and indigenous varietal. The wine is un-sulfured.
Maurizio was there, and he was almost a different person. Casually dressed in jeans and sneakers, his stern persona from earlier was gone; he was all smiles and told funny stories the whole night. He did however keep reiterating how great all the the wines were throughout the meal...
Upstairs, a big table was set up for us and we got to taste a bunch of I Vigneri wines that Salvo makes but we don't import. To be clear, we only import Salvo's line of wines. I asked Kevin why, and he explained that many of them were inoculated and/or more copious in sulfur. I was surprised to hear this, since I naively assumed that because Salvo was so insistent that the vines be worked organically, he'd also be diligent on spontaneous fermentation. Kevin replied:
"You have to choose your battles. Salvo has chosen to focus his energy on agriculture and the environment, and in doing so he's cleaned up a lot of Etna's vineyards. With his own line, we're on the same page philosophically. But he still makes the wine his clients want him to make for them. Spontaneous fermentation and low sulfur is a risk many are not willing to take."
The next day, we woke up bright and early to check out even more vineyards, starting with the Vigna Bosco.
We got to meet Ciccio the mule!
I Vigneri does as much soil work with mules as they can. It's a lot of hard work for both man and beast, and Maurizio told us that the last one couldn't handle it: his heart exploded on the job! Maurizio punctuated this story by doing "the meh".
It was pretty hilarious. I'm pretty sure that if he was a New Yorker, he would accompanied the gesture with: "Whaddaya gonna do?". Fortunately, Ciccio is a great worker and Maurizio likes him a lot.
But he'll still ride him if he's not doing a good job.
Alfio told Ciccio he WAS doing a good job, and not to worry about Maurizio always bossing him around.
We then visited another new site, where a mystery white was being grown ("ask Salvo what it is!")
Before we knew it, it was lunch time so we went back to San Giorgio e il Drago because Alfio said we weren't going to find better. Nobody complained.
Next up: our visit to Fattorie Romeo del Castello!
PART 1: COSTE PIANE
PART 2: COSTADILÁ
PART 3: VINI VERI, VILLA FAVORITA AND VINITALY
PART 4: NUSSERHOF
After our great visit at Nusserhof, we it was time to drive way high into the mountains to the commune of Feldthurns.
This is where Norbert Blasbichler runs the Radoar farm.
While our visit obviously centered around visiting the vines and tasting in the cellar, it's important to note that wine isn't what keeps the farm running: Norbert makes a living principally off growing Golden Delicious apples, which represent the majority of his production. He also raises cows, grows many other fruits, walnuts, cereals and of course grapes. There have been vines on the property for 200 years, but Norbert's passion for wine inspired him to take things further by independently bottling and producing terroir and varietal specific cuvées.
The farm was started in 1300, and Norbert is the 15th generation of his family to work this land. Radoar comes from a local dialect, and means "big round field" (which explains the logo). Norbert took over in 1997, and immediately converted the entire farm to organic agriculture (certified by Bioland).
After a quick hello, we set off to the vines.
That's Norbert in the center, next to Kevin and Shawn.
The main parcel is about 1.5 km from the farm, and 900m in elevation!
On this parcel, Norbert grows young Kerner vines (1 to 25 years old), 45 year old Pinot Noir and 35 year old Zweigelt.
Zweigelt is the most widely planted red grape in Austria, but very rare in Italy; Norbert actually owns the biggest plot in the entire country. It's actually a funny story: it was planted by Norbert's father by accident! He'd ordered Portugeiser but the nursery sent him the wrong clone. By the time he'd realized the mistake, it was too late...
In total, Norbert owns 2.5 hectares of vines, 80% in white and 20% in red.
We then drove back to the farm to taste some wines. One of Norbert's cats was just hanging out in the loose fissures of the old farm house.
The cellar is right by the cow's stable.
It was tasting time!
Norbert made his first wine in 1999. For the whites, everything is direct pressed then fermented in stainless steel. For the the Etza cuvée, he does two passes, more or less a week apart. We got to taste the 2011 results from both: the later pass is, unsurprisingly, richer and fatter with less acidity, so the blend creates a nice balance. Norbert also makes a sweeter Kerner with intentional residual sugar called Radoy; The 2010 I tasted at Villa Favorita had 35 grams of R.S and was at about 7% alcohol. The reds are fermented in stainless steel then aged 22 months in barrel.
At some point during the tasting, someone asked Norbert if his kids had any interest in taking over the farm. He said that at the moment, the answer is a definite no!
"But it's ok! They are young, and they need to find their own path in life. It wasn't obvious for me at first either, but I truly found my passion here. And you never know what will happen. If you had told me 15 years ago that a group of Americans from New York and San Francisco would come all the way up here to taste my wines, I wouldn't have believed you!"
Norbert also makes an amazing cider, peach and pear schnaps, grappa, apple and walnut spirits... He basically makes booze with everything he grows! Our group ended up buying a ton of it to drink on the trip and/or bring back home. Before leaving, we got to check out the beautiful, old distiller.
Next up: our mega tour of Sicily, including visits with Salvo Foti, Chiara Vigo, Arianna Occhipinti and the De Bartoli brothers!
PART 1: COSTE PIANE
PART 2: COSTADILÁ
PART 3: VINI VERI, VILLA FAVORITA AND VINITALY
PRE-NUSSERHOF ANECTDOTE: VinItaly was over, and it was time to hit the road again. For the last 4 days, our groups had been split into different hotels, and the plan was to freshen up and meet at I TIGLI in San Bonifacio to celebrate having successfully tasted hundreds of wines in 3 days over some pizzas. And more wine. And beer. This sounded like a great way to wrap up our taste-a-thon, but unfortunately only a handful of us would make it to dinner.
If you ever plan on going to VinItaly, you need to use the "I'm going to leave approximately an hour before the event is over so I don't get caught up in the parking lot/traffic rush at the end" technique popularized in the United States by sports fans who drive and don't live in New York City or San Francisco. It took us 30 minutes to get out of the parking lot we were in, which would probably have been much worst if Jeff Vierra hadn't cut-off a huge, traffic stopping tour bus at the very last second. Shawn and Lauren, who had left the ViViT stand 45 minutes before us, ended up being stuck in the underground parking lot for 2 hours. By the time they escaped, they were already almost an hour late for dinner (which was an hour drive away) and had to politely bow out. Yet this was nothing compared to what happened to Kevin's car.
Kevin's group had left the earliest, and though they got out of their parking lot with relative ease, they still got stuck in gridlock traffic. At one point, a wrong turn meant they needed to backtrack. Kevin pulled into an empty parking lot to get the group going in the opposite direction, and what happened next has to be one of most precious examples of bad timing in human history. Almost immediately after they'd pulled in, the front gate started to close!
It turns out the lot was part of an office building, and the last employee must have left mere moments before Kevin pulled in. There was no one left in the building, and no way to open the gate. The car was trapped! Kevin climbed over the gate to get help; he eventually found a policemen who told him that there was nothing he could do, and that they'd have to come get the car in the morning. Everyone eventually climbed the gates and took cabs back to their hotels. No one got into any trouble, and the car was safely retrieved in the morning.
Jeff Vierra, Robert Brownsen, Ian Becker and I ended up being the only ones making it to I TIGLI, where we ordered five pizzas. They are very hearty, and the waitress looked at us like we were crazy, asking us multiple times if we were sure we wanted that many. We also bumped into Tom Lubbe, met Tom and Arianna Occhipinti's Swedish importer, Niklas Jakobson, and hung out with a bunch of the staff from Les Caves de Pyrene, a group of British importers that do a great job. We ate all the pizzas.
The next day it was time to visit Elda and Heindrich Mayr at Nusserhof!
NOTE: Elda talked about how social media annoys her to no end and how she still likes living in a world of semi-privacy, so to honor her right to not to be flaunted all over the internet (a choice I respect and agree with), there will be no pictures of her in this post. Back to the post...
The Nusserhof estate is a post-modern anomaly of urbanization. The original 2.5 hectares of vines are located right off the highway, in the center of Bolzano, the capitol Tyrol.
In the background, you can see many of the modern buildings that completely surround the Mayr's farm (most of which were built in the 70's). Before World War 2, the city was much smaller (more like the size of a town), and the area's warm climate favored a traditional agricultural economy of nuts, fruits, grapes and wine. After the war, a train station was built, making access to the far removed mountain town a lot easier. This was the beginning of a complete transformation of Bolzano's landscape.
These photos are featured in the Mayr's tasting room. Both were taken from the same location: the one on the right shows Bolzano a few years after the war, and the one on the left depicts what the city looks like today. You may have to squint a little, but the big highway at the bottom of the left-hand picture is what the Mayr's live next to. As you can see, most of the green got replaced by concrete and, as Elda explained, by the late 70's, farm culture had been almost completely erased to accomodate the ever increasing amount of summer tourists.
This hasn't deterred Heinrich or Elda; they are the latest generation of their family to work this land, where the records date back to at least 1788. The name Nusserhof comes from the walnut trees that once lined the house on the river side. Not so long ago they were torn out to put in a municipal bike path. As the years have gone by, the urban environs of Bolzano have encroached the estate, with the city systematically making it harder and harder for the Mayrs to continue their farming. It is believed that the only reason the estate is still in existence is due to the fact that one of Heinrich's relatives was an early opponent of the Nazi occupation and died as a Catholic martyr and conscientious objecter in a concentration camp.
After our history lesson, it was time for a quick tour of the vines.
The 2.5 hectares of vines are a mix of Blatterle, Lagrein and Teroldego, all on sandy soils with granite subsoil. All the vines are equipped with irrigation systems (the norm in this very hot region) but Heinrich uses them only in June/July and if necessary. For example, he only irrigated the Blaterle in 2011, and very little at that. The entire estate is certified organic by the German association Bioland.
We then checked out the cellar. Everything is fermented in stainless steel, aged 1 or 2 years in 500l barrels for the reds, then 1 or 2 years in bottle. Blaterle is all stainless, and Heinrich uses small, Burgundian barrels for the Tyroldego. The cellar is tiny so it was a quick visit; we stepped out and it was time to taste!
We started with the Blaterle: this grape in indigenous to the Bolzano plain, and was traditionally used to make must or sweet, partially fermented wine. Only 3 producers still grow it, and collectively this only represents 1,5 h! In fact, Heindrich is the biggest Blatterle producer in the world! Blatterle is actually spelled with two T's, but Heinrich made the intentional typo because up until 2011, you could not put the grape of the wine from his region. This is also the case with the Tyroldego (funny aside: the first Teroldego I ever tasted was the Tyroldego when I worked at Terroir in SF, so at first I thought Elisabetta Foradori was spelling it wrong). The law just changed, but Heinrich thinks he's going to keep the typo anyway.
After the grapes are de-stemmed, Heinrich does a 6 hour slow press, then ferments the wine in stainless steel. We tasted 2010, 2011 and 2002, which had evolved beautifully. We then tried Lagrein Rosé from 2010, 2011 (tank) and 2001. The wine had developed with age; it was rounder and more structured but hadn't lost any of its acidity.
Next was the Lagrein Rosso. Elda explained that traditionally, Lagrein (also an indigenous varietal) had always been used to make simple, easy rosé. For better or worst, the Bordeaux influence of the 70's/80's led a lot of local vignioli to start fermenting and aging Lagrein in barrique in hopes of creating structured red wine. So red Lagrein has only really existed for 25 years. Heinrich insists on fermenting it in stainless steel to create a lighter, more elegant wine. We tasted 09, 10 and the 1995!
Overall, the 2010's were the unanimous favorites, but the 09's were also great and 2011 shows a lot of promise. After all that tasting, it was time for some lunch, which was definitely one of the best meals of the trip. Because a picture speaks a thousand words:
Look at that slice of tongue! Not pictured: local bread and cheese dumplings called canederli.
Lunch ended with a walnut-centric dessert with a delicious walnut liqueur made by Heinrichs' 89 year old aunt. We still had some time left, so Heinrich proposed we visit the Elda vineyard.
This vineyard is also right off the highway.
The cuvée is named after Ms. Mayr herself, and the grape is Schiava. It's grown on Porphyry (an iron rich granite) and sand. Heinrich rents this parcel from the same 89 year old aunt who made the walnut liqueur, and she was actually there, hanging out in overalls and plowing the soil! Heinrich told her we'd drank her liqueur for dessert: with a big smile, she brought an imaginary glass to her mouth, made believe to drink, said something that I didn't understand (but that was definitely about drinking her walnut liqueur), and let out a content, hearty laugh. We all thanked her for her good job while she laughed and smiled at us the whole time. I can't blame her: being 89 and having a dozen Americans compliment you on the walnut liqueur they just tasted a half-hour ago is indeed a pretty funny scenario. My biggest regret of the trip is that no one took a photo of her; she was so old yet full of life, and it was an absolute pleasure to meet her.
Tune in for Part 5: Radoar!
PART 1: COSTE PIANE
PART 2: COSTADILÀ
First person to correctly identify every grower we work with in that picture wins a Coste Piane apron!
Over the many years of Louis/Dressner's existence, we've developed a formula where these trips always revolve around a series of trade tastings. Italy 2012 was no different, so after a beautiful tour of Prosecco country, we drove off to Verona for a three day taste-a-thon.
Our first stop was Vini Veri in Cerea. Founded by the late Teobaldo Cappellano, this was the 9th edition of Vini Veri, where one can taste:
"...wines that are authentically unique, because they're the final result of a natural philosophy of production, and of a precious work done in the vineyard with organic or biodynamic method, or simply without the use of synthetic chemistry, and into the cellar without any forced stabilizations."
Many of our growers were there, including Altura, Odilio Antoniotti, Campi di Fonterenza, Casa Coste Piane, Clai Bijele Zemjle, Čotar, Domaine Matassa, Fattorie Romeo del Castello, Massa Vechia and Luciano Saetti.
Stuff worth mentioning: Antonietti's 09's (which should just have been bottled), Fonterenza 09's and their new Pettirosso (glou-glou, stainless steel Sangiovese), The Cotar whites, the Massa Vecchia 10 white and Luciano Saetti's 11's. I had a lot of fun at the head of a small tasting group, practicing my horrible Italian with a lot of people I'd never met before. Between their English, my Italian and a lot of expressive hand gestures, I think I did ok.
The next day, it was off to the 12th edition of Villa Favorita, organized by Vinnatur. If you're not familiar with Angiolino Maule's organization and the work they do, check out the blog post I wrote about our visit to La Biancara back in November and refresh your memory with this video:
Villa Favorita takes place in a beautiful Villa called Favorita.
Of the Italians, we got to taste with Camillo Donati, Ca' de Noci, Cascina Tavijn, Giovanni Montisci, Elisabetta Foradori, La Biancara, Monte dall'Ora, Costadilà, Del Prete and Radoar (profiles for both these guys coming soon). Haut les Vins, which teamed up with Vinnatur 4 years ago, was also there in full force, so we got to taste with Eric Texier, Eric Nicolas, Evelyne de Jessey (check out her newly updated profile), Alexandre Bain and João Roseira.
Highlights: Bain's 2010 Pouilly Fumé, Biancara 2011's, Montischi Rosé, Tavijn 11's, and Eric Texier's Picpoul petillant naturel.
We also bumped into Alberto Tedeschi. He was just hanging out, but had some tank samples for us to taste at dinner.
We got a chance to check out the 2011 Bellaria, as a well as Alberto's first attempt at red wine, a Barbera/Merlot blend (don't think this will make it State side, he made very little). After a great dinner, it was time to mentally prepare for the most epicly important wine event of the unviverse:
From the collective tales of Kevin McKenna, Jeff Vierra and Robert Brownsen, three grizzled veterans, Vinitaly sounded like a shit show: 600,000 people over three days, thousands of booths, millions of euros spent on marketing, guys in suits, scantily clad Prosecco girls, displays of raging public intoxication... It basically sounded like the wine industry at its worst. But let me tell you...
You'll never quite understand how big Vinitaly is until you visit (fact master extraordinaire Alex Finberg told me that if you were to put each booth side by side, it would span 2.5 miles!). Everything about it is over-produced, over-hyped and over-the-top. There is no shame. Do you you want to purchase Prosecco packaged in a gold bottle?
One stand had the entire Verona basketball team, including some American guys Ian Becker followed when they played in college, looking bored out of their minds (and obviously completely out of place), sitting around and sipping whatever brand pays for their uniforms. Complimentary foam mini-basketballs were available for those who tasted. Also, for some reason the Marche has officially made Dustin Hoffman their spokesperson.
Don't believe me?
I actually got really excited about this, and couldn't wait to meet Dustin in person, since I'm a huge fan of Rain Man. I was furious to find out he wasn't even there! What a rip! Needless to say I will be boycotting the Marche
for their false advertising.
But none of this could even come close to the Astoria 9.5 Pink Rosé stand.
You can't see it in that picture, but the girl in the picture is rubbing a dripping ice cube on her face. Girls in skin tight, pink and white spandex would wait outside to flirt with guys and encourage them to come visit the stand. There was a "bouncer" at the front working the velvet rope, and loud techno was blaring. The kicker: on the side of the stand, written in white on pink:
"I have a dream" MLK
Ian couldn't get a picture because the stand was too crowded. I will eternally regret this.
If you're wondering if we went to VinItaly solely to make fun of absurd stands, you're wrong! We totally had a legitimate reason to be there and it's called ViViT. Spearheaded by Silvio Messana, Elisabetta Foradori and Elena Pantaleoni of La Stoppa, here is the manifesto:
"Vivit is the exhibition this year at Vinitaly dedicated, for the first time, to natural wines from organic and biodynamic agriculture. Wines from organic and biodynamic agriculture are increasingly attracting the interest of consumers. This trend should by no means be underestimated, since society as a whole is requesting production methods ensuring low environmental impact. Vivit at Vin italy offeres producers and traders the chance to get to know each other better, over and above ideologies and in the name of fine wine. Vinitialy has asked the companies involved in ViVit to sign a very strict self certification document concerning the production methods applied in vineyard and in the wine cellar."
This is the first time a part of VinItaly has been organized by the producers themselves. It's also the first time different countries and regions have been grouped together by the way they farm, so it's kind of a big deal that were able to pull this off. All together, 100 vigniaoli from Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Croatia and Slovenia came together to show off their hard work. Stefano Belloti and Nicolas Joly helped with the organization, so there was a very strong Renaissance des Appelations presence. Of our producers, Montesecondo, Cascina degli Ulivi, Monte D'all Ora, Arianna Occhipinti, Costadilà, Cristiano Guttarolo, Alessandra Bera, Cantina Giardino, Elisabetta Foradori and Luciano Saetti were present (there was some overlap between this, Vini Veri and Villa Favorita). Silvio later told me that it was a huge success, with thousands of people visiting each day (I commend him for his hard work). VinItaly has agreed to redo ViVit next year in a bigger, more open space.
We didn't have too many stands to check out, but we did swing by Radikon. Saša made us taste from black gobelets so we couldn't see the wine. The idea was to show that without seeing it, the experience is similar to drinking a red. We tasted something new, a 2000 "Riserva" that has aged 9 years in bottle and is only being released now (we're getting some in), and it was the best wine I tasted the entire trip. I also finally got to meet Stanko for the first time; he was really busy but we still got to talk for a few minutes about how much I looked like my dad and our upcoming visit to the estate in November.
We also swung by Sanguineto's stand to taste the 11 bianco (which will be bottled in July), the Rosso 10 (bottled in January) and the Nobile 09. Dora was wearing a blazer, which was awesome, and brought out wild boar and black and white spotted pig sausage for us to munch on while we tasted. Naturally she'd hunted the animals and made the sausages herself. The wines are fantastic.
On our way to the parking lot, my lace became undone. This had been happening constantly on the trip, and Ian told me I really needed to learn how to tie my laces correctly. Right when he said that we bumped into Sonia Torretta, who applied the powerful "double knot" technique on my shoes.
My laces haven't come undone since.
Stay tuned for Part 4, detailing our visit at Nusserhof!
PART 1: Coste Piane
After our great visit with Loris Follador at Coste Piane, we drove back to Conegliano. We had some time to kill, so naturally we decided to go to some local bar with a terrace about a block away. Note to all broke travelers: if you're really hungry but can't afford a nice meal, go to an Italian bar around 6pm. I ordered a beer and the waiter brought out chips. Robert Browson ordered a Spritz (which I mercifully made fun of him for) and they brought out a tray of prosciutto. Ian Becker ordered something else and they brought out 4 mini sandwiches. I was a bit perplexed as to why this bar would give us so much free food (didn't they know we had to eat dinner at 8?), but Robert explained that this practice is fairly common, that bars tend to give away all the old stuff they hadn't sold for lunch/dinner because it's better than throwing it away. We barely touched it.
We got back to the hotel and were immediately greeted by Ernesto Cattel, the brainchild of Costadilà.
He easily recognized us since we were the only obnoxious, loud Americans screaming down the streets in English.
For the most part, we here at Louis/Dressner haven't put up too much info on Costadilà (check out their meticulously detailed profile), so I'm glad that we can finally shed some light on what Ernesto has been doing since 2006 (the first wine was in 2007). The Costadilà project is the combined effort of Ernesto, Mauro Lorenzon (who owns the famous Osteria Mascareta in Venice), their oenologist Leonello (didn't catch his last name) and a few silent partners/investors; it's truly a labor of love, since all three currently have full time careers. The goal is to valorize and rejuvenate the rich agricultural traditions of Tarzo by reintroducing natural farming -however small the scale- to the region. The scope of the project goes well beyond wine, and emphasizes polyculture: the long term goal is to have vines, fruits, vegetables, cereals and livestock coexist on the same plots of land. They hope that by creating this example, they can create a model farm for the region, so other farmers who are trapped in monoculture can see the way out. Completing this cycle, the produce grown from Costadilà land is then used and sold in local businesses, such as Osteria la Muda where we had dinner.
Nestled in the little mountain village of Cison di Valmarino, Osteria la Muda is one of the oldest restaurants in Italy, dating back to the 1470! When the last owner decided to sell the space, Ernesto and 6 other partners didn't hesitate to remodel and keep this landmark alive. They are currently touching up the upstairs and planning to open an agriturismo. Also, the place is open till 1am almost every night.
The next morning, it was time to visit the first of many vineyard sites.
Our first stop was a completely isolated plot, only accessible by a single dirt road. Tucked away in the mountains, this little area has a rather interesting history: up until the early 70's vines had been grown here, but when the owner retired no one wanted them and the land became abandoned. It was then taken over by a German hippie commune. Then they left, and nothing really happened until Ernesto saw the terroir's potential and decided to replant vines two years ago. These vines are coming from 6 different clones, all in selection massale, and are a mix of the four traditional prosecco grapes (Glera, Prosecco, Bianchietta and Verdizo, but more on that later). The soil is composed of clay with a marn subsoil at 15-20 meters.
Ernesto is replanting the vines exactly where they were originally located in the 1970's.
Everything at Costadilà is farmed organically. Ernesto, who has never studied agriculture or oenology, explained how he came to this decision.
"Working organically and not manipulating nature is much more favorable in the long term. Chemical agriculture seems beneficial in the short term, because you get instant results. But those quicker, easier results have repercussions. For example, if you use a herbicide, on the short term you've solved your grass problem. But then the soils have less life and micro-diversity, so yields suffer. So you use a chemical fertilizer, and now your yield problem is solved. But then your soils are even weaker and the vines, now lacking a proper immune system, become prone to fungal illness and insects. So now you have to use pesticides and large quantities of sulfur to protect the vines. And even then, the vines become so overexploited and ill that they can only live for about 25 years before they need to be ripped out and replanted. It's a vicious cycle that traps the farmer in continuing to use chemicals if he wants to keep his business going."
The site is also host to this old house that Ernesto and the gang are in the process of converting to an agriturismo and attached osteria that would serve only Costadilà produce.
It's fully equipped with the coolest sun clock ever.
For those of you familiar with the Costadilà wines, you already know that each cuvée is named by the elevation of the site. We got to check out the "280" vineyard, and our final stop was the "450".
The "450" is a 3.5 hectare parcel that is completely isolated, featuring chalk soil. It's all glera grapes. If you've never heard of Glera, Bianchietta and Verdizo as grapes used for Prosecco, you're not alone. These grapes, along with the seminal Prosecco, used to be widespread in the area, often blended together to make the region's famous sparkling wine. But in an all too common scenario, farmers began to realize how much more prolific and high yielding the Prosecco grape was, so they began tearing out their remaining vines to replant the more productive varietal.
As far as the wines, they are fermented with native yeasts until completely dry, then bottled with must made from passito grapes they dry themselves in the attic of the farm for a secondary fermentation. No sulfur is used at any point in the vinification. The wines are crisp, fresh, expressive and each cuvée successfully expresses its terroir. Ernesto cites Loris of Coste Piane as a big inspiration for making a quality wine in a region that has succumbed to the pitfalls of industrialization.
"Loris is a sculptor! We just shape rocks!"
Tune in next time for the official recap of Vini Veri, Villa Favorita and, drumroll please, our wacky hijinks at the craziest place in the world, VINITALY!
Greetings everyone! It's already been 10 days since my return from Italy, and the trip is still fresh in my mind. Ian Becker, Shawn Mead and Lauren Feldman have given me access to their pictures of the trip, so I'm glad to say these recaps will be a little more colorful than those covering our recent trip to France. Let's begin!
Here at Louis/Dressner, we're dedicated to getting as much bang for our buck as we can from these trips, so the plan was to visit Loris Follador of Casa Coste Piane approximately five hours after landing in Venice. So after a 9 hour flight, we grabbed the rental cars and it was a two hour drive to the lovely town of Conegliano. After an hour nap, it was time to drive to the famous village of Valdobbiadene!
I was excited, because if there's one thing I drank the most in 2011 (and the first third of 2012), it's Coste Piane. It never fails me, and I drink it almost every opportunity I get. It's gotten so bad that I was recently pulled aside by our Self Consumption Director Eddie Wrinkerman (S.C.D), who told me that I needed to leave some for the customers.
The visit began with Loris heartily greeting us, then almost immediately sitting us down in his dining room to taste Prosecco and eat lunch.
Food was not part of the plan, and everyone had just eaten in the anticipation of the visit. Well, everyone except me, who had napped instead (cause I'm smart). So after a 2010 bottle for the aperitif, a true feast began, which started off with this pan seared salami on a bed of local Friar's Beard.
It was delicious. Another fun thing was the opportunity to try Loris' new Brichet cuvée.
Brichet is a single vineyard of 50+ year old vines just outside of the village. Loris rents them from an old guy who recently retired, and they've been worked organically for years. The soils are composed of sandy limestone with red earth. Brichet is just as easy to drink as the base cuvée, but a little more structured, with pronounced minerality.
Having the group sit down for a meal gave Loris the opportunity to give us some insight on the estate. Coste Piane was founded by his grandfather; in those days, all sparkling wine from the village was made completely dry, with a méthode traditionelle secondary fermentation in bottle. But at some point in Loris' lifetime, two major changes occured: people began to develop a taste for a much sweeter style of Prosecco, and cave cooperatives began dominating local production. Today, almost all Prosecco is chaptalized and carbonated in the chermat method.
By the time Loris took over the estate in the late 70's, things were taking a turn for the worst. Since most vigniaoli were selling their grapes to a coop, the more they had to sell the better, which led many to aim for the highest yields possible (Loris then explained that Prosecco vines are already incredibly high yielding, and that you really need to act responsibly if you want the juice to retain any complexity). And with the dominance of chemical agricultural practices that began post-war (which became the norm in the region in the late 70s early 80s), chemical fertilizers were incredibly popular to beef up yields. But Loris was unfazed: he's always worked the vineyards organically and made the wine naturally. When he started, only 3 producers in Valdobbiadene worked traditionally. Now there are about 20, which makes him happy.
After lunch it was time to check out the vines.
This is what the 60 year old vines look like:
We also checked out some incredibly beautiful 120 year old vines that are apparently still very productive:
While most have shifted to intensive monoculture, Loris continues to let grass, wild flowers and various root vegetables grow free. Free roaming chickens and ducks hang out in the vineyard.
Before swinging by the cellar to taste the 2011's, Loris had to play with his 3 month old puppy.
He was the softest dog I've ever petted in my life, and was adorably cute. The only scary thing was that he was teething and has these uber-sharp vampire dog teeth. He was chewing on everything he could (mostly Kevin's shoe and Ian's pant leg).
In the cellar, we got to taste the 2011's. As always, the wine is direct pressed, then racked to stainless steel and cold fermented until completely dry. The wine ferments in about 12 days then settles in tank for 4 months. A must (which is usually purchased) is then added to the wine and bottled immediately, where it referents in bottle. We tasted the 2011 before pre-must, and the wine was bright, intensely acidic and mineral, qualities that definitely carry over into the final product. Loris always bottles the wine right after Easter (so just a few days ago! Yay!), so that magic re-fermentation should be happening as we speak. We ended our visit by drinking two bottles of 2005 to see how the wine ages. It ages well.
Tune in for Part 2 of Perusing Prosecco, when we swing by Costadila!
We're in Italy. I'm going to write about it. Stay tuned for part 1: Pressure in Prosecco.
It' s been a week since I got back from Italy, and I think I know why I was having a hard time writing this until today. Recapping each day as it happened helped capture our experience, but when sitting back to write my global impression of the trip, I needed a week for everything to sink in. I needed to think about it.
This trip featured two types of distinct experiences for me: the first being when you're in the thick of things and everything is in the moment. I believe I've captured this in all 9 parts of The Italy Chronicles. The other is invariably attached to the former, but extends past the moment to shape your present and future perceptions; these are the observations (and that's all they are) I hope to deliver in this epilogue.
First of all, everyone we work with in Italy loves French wine. Angiolino Maule has three rows of Chenin Blanc planted somewhere in his vineyard, and when his son Francesco told me that they had sold three palettes to France this year, he felt it was "an honor.". I must have drank Francis Boulard at least 5 times as an aperitif. Elisabetta Foradori claims that drinking Beaujolais influenced her to make softer, less tannic wines herself. Gian Marco Antunuzi of Le Coste spent almost a decade working with French vignerons and more or less said: "Almost all Italian wine sucks.".
Does Italian wine suck? Is French wine better? The answer to both these questions is obviously no, but in the context of natural winemaking in Italy, it makes sense that so many of our growers are looking and finding inspiration in France. This inspiration is multi-layered, but essentially boils down to this: effectively mastering your terroir to best express it.
Does France have better terroir? Do the French take terroir more seriously? Again no, but we must remember that French wine having a sense of place has existed longer than in Italy, at least in the post phylloxera landscape of European viticulture. Unlike Italy, where every day I discover five new grape varieties, France -who used to have thousands- began planting noble grapes... Less grapes meant wines have to distinguish themselves by terroir rather than varietal. The A.O.C system was put in place in 1925 while D.O.C's first appeared in 1963. All this to say that Italy's potential for quality is exactly the same, but the cultural approach to making wine isn't as focused on sense of place. Yet.
This is also NOT to say that Italians are trying to make French wine. Quite the contrary; in our visit to her cellar, Elisabetta told us how she tried making a semi-carbonic Teroldego last year that was "undrinkable" and "disgusting". It was a fun experiment, but it ruined the wine's territorial qualities by tasting forced and unnatural. To make Teroldego from alluvial soils in the Dolomites, she had to find her own way to work harmoniously with nature. This means going further than not using chemicals in the vineyards and in the cellar, but to humbly acknowledge that nature will always be more powerful than you are, and that uniforming it will never work. Unlike France, for almost everyone we work with in Italy, this is the first generation who has philosophically decided they want to work this way. So it makes sense that they'd turn to a more experienced France for help. And it also makes sense that this generation would be a more forward thinking bunch than their Northern neighbors...
It's a sign of the times. While many vignerons still lean on tradition, experience and quality in France, their has been a recent reversal in trends, where a majority of the country's third (and VERY young) generation of natural winemakers are so focused on how their wine is made that they are forgetting to care about how it tastes. Native yeasts, organic agriculture with no additives or sulfur is great as long as the wine doesn't taste like volatile acidity, brett, unintentional oxidation and referementation.
The big trick to avoid or cover up these flaws is to make every wine carbonic; so you are either left with glou-glou wines that could be made from anywhere and from any grape or you have wines that all have the same flaws. These wines may all be natural, but they also all taste the same (which is often fucked up). This is not what we are looking for as importers; to me it's just as bad as the spoof that Joe, Denyse and Kevin have dedicated the last two decades sifting through to find the wines we now all know and love.
All this natural stuff: it's great for the environment, it's healthier for consumption and it takes a very strong stand against agricultural industrialization. But let's not forget that the good ones taste great! They taste great because they are unique, and they are unique because of where they come from. You're not tasting organic agriculture and native yeast fermentation when you drink; those are means to and end, a work ethic that best expresses where a wine comes from. These are wines of terroir! And Italy does not take its' terroir for granted.
My impression was that Italy's approach to these wines is just as rooted in tradition as France, but with a more progressive attitude towards smarter, better work. This is not to knock the French: things guys like Eric Texier and Didier Barrouillet are doing with science, what Alexandre Bain is doing with biodynamics or what Michel Augé is doing with(out) sulfur is great, great stuff that confirms why France remains the "capitol" of natural wine.
And just like France, where vignerons started making natural wine in the early 80's to maintain a tradition that they believed best expressed their terroir (thanks to generations of know how), and give a big fuck you to industrialization, this first generation of Italians have stopped and asked themselves "Why has it always been done this way?" and "Why does it make the wines taste better?". But unlike France where, in some cases -and mostly from this current generation- people tend take their terroir for granted, the Italians we visited seem to be all asking themselves: "This is great terroir. What can I do to make it even better?"
Most of our growers are learning as they go along, by using methods linked to a rich past of tradition and know-how, but also by constantly reevaluating their work through personal and scientific experimentation and research; they respect tradition but don't fear moving forward by creating new ones, as long as the work is natural and the wine is good. Vigniaoli working this way are fewer than in France, but their dedication and passion to working as naturally as possible, both in an environmental and qualitative context, is very impressive.
Changing to better suited vine-tending methods (Maule, Foradori, Montescondo, Le Coste), associations like Vinnatur who fund soil research in hopes of ridding it of mildew and oidium, harvesting at optimal maturity (i.e earlier), experimenting with various methods of fermentation and aging in the cellar, vinifying and blending different grapes in ways they never have been, not using any sulfur: none of this is very traditional, but all of this leading to clean, natural and unique wines of terroir that wouldn't exist if these efforts weren't made.
For example, for years Elisabetta Foradori wanted to make a lighter, brighter wine from Teroldego, a typically fuller and more tannic grape. She tried a semi-carbonic maceration, but that didn't work. She easily could have harvested earlier (lower % potential), macerated the wines less or even have added water. Instead, she began using clay amphora. Yes, one could argue that amphora wine is the original and most traditional way of making wine, but this predates it being made in Elisabetta's region. So instead of using oak (which can only draw out more tannic structure from the wood) or settle with the neutrality of concrete, she decided to try amphora, which adds freshness, brightness and lightens the wine's body. It's why so those wines taste so good, and it's why she has decided to make all her whites in amphora as of 2011.
Maybe in 100 years, this will be the traditional way of vinifying in the Dolomites. Maybe in 50 years, that "old vine" Sangiovese planted in Albarello by Silvio Messana will yield the best fruit in Chianti. Maybe in 10 years Vinnatur will have discovered what causes mildew and eliminated it, thus rendering copper and sulfur treatments in the vines obsolete. Maybe next year, one of our completely sulfur free producers will have mastered it.
I don't know if any of that will happen, but I do know that none of it could happen at all if it wasn't for the people we visited, not just this trip but those we have been working with for the last 23 years. So much has happened with European wine in the last 30 years, but 30 years is nothing! It took 30 years for chemical viticulture and the complete industrialization of winemaking to turn it's back on a millenia of work and tradition. It also took 30 years for people to take a stand against this, a stand we are proudly committed to. We are at a point in time where more and more people also taking this stand by making these wines, as is the consumer by drinking it. It's in everyone's best interest that we keep this going.
We must always respect nature. If nature has proved us one thing, one "tradition", it's that you work with it and not the other way around. Every time man goes against nature, he loses.
But nature isn't trying to be man's enemy. It's not trying to hide anything from us or play games: it's all right there, in our faces everyday. If you respect it, work with it, understand it and love it, nature will give you everything you need.
And some pretty fucking good wine too.
On Sunday we managed to escape Giglio just in time to visit Gian Marco Antonuzi and Clémentine Bouveron at one of our newest estates, Le Coste.
Many of you probably aren't familiar with these wines; they only recently made an appearance in the States on a very small scale (limited to New York City). But if you do know them, you're thinking: "Yeah the cheap liter bottles with two guys chugging wine!"
The visit began at La Ripetta, a great restaurant in the town of Gradoli that actually overlooks the young couple's vineyard. Gian Marco's 80 year old aunt is the head of the kitchen and made us our meal. On the menu: eggs and white truffles (that Clémentine went into the kitchen to make herself), anchovies, a delicious spaghetti dish and for the main course, a mumbo-jumbo of veal lung, liver and all types of parts of the animal that tend to gross people out. Every dish was a local specialty, because:
"Food has as much terroir as wine!"
Lunch naturally lasted over 3 hours, so I had plenty of time getting to know Clémentine and Gian Marco.
Clémentine is from Lyon. She went to school for viticulture and oenology in Alsace, where she met Gian Marco in 2001. From the beginning, she felt uncomfortable with what she was being taught in school, leading her to two conclusions: that she would never work with chemicals and modern oenology, and that to do so she would need to manage and own her estate independently. In 2005, Gian Marco asked her if she'd be interested in helping him plant some young vines on his newly acquired land. Clémentine had never done this kind of work, and was interested. She came to help out and the two, who were just friendly acquaintances at the time, fell in love. She never moved back to France.
Gian Marco is from Rome, but his grandfather is from Gradoli (back then all the grapes were sold to the cooperative). He worked as a lawyer for 8 months before quickly realizing it wasn't his line of work. He quit to move to France and pursue a career in food and wine journalism. This was more or less working out, but he wasn't getting the satisfaction he needed:
"I've always been the type who prefers making something more than writing about it."
The man has an impressive track record: he started apprenticing in Alsace, then at Léon Barral. After that, he worked in the Beaujolais with Jean-Paul Thévenet, then Dard & Ribo, and finally Phillipe Pacalet. You can taste his French sensibilities; Gian Marco is all for wines that need time to age and develop, but with the exception of a 3 month skin macerated white, he makes "vin de soif".
This means "wine for when you're thirsty.", and is also increasingly being called Glou-Glou by young Directors of Social Media and Viral Marketing (D.S.M.V.M) in the wine importing industry. You're SUPPOSED to knock a couple bottles back with some good company, not banish them to the cellar.
This isn't to say these wines are simple! Even the potentially very heavy 09's we had at lunch managed to stay fresh and lighter bodied, pairing well with the food. The good work in the vines, the terroir; it's all there, and it's telling you:
"Drink me now. Then drink more of me!"
He started Le Coste in 2005. Every day is a learning experience, and every year the couple apply what they've learned to their present work:
"We live our terroir every day so it's easy. The work is never finished. There is always something to learn, to discover. This is why I fell in love with my work."
Because of the geographic nature of the region, intensive agriculture and the use of machinery has always been impossible. It was therefore, and I love this sentence: "Too expensive to make economic wine." There soils have never been exposed to chemical entrants: this means the region was never touched by copper for the first half of the 20th century or with the advent of herbicide, pesticide, chemical fertilizers, conservatives, etc…
When he purchased the estate, it was completely abandoned. It is spread out over 22 parcels at 600m in altitude. Ten of those are young vines planted by the couple: the first in '05, then in '09 and '10. The other 12 are old vines between 40 and 60 years old, and most of these are rented. The estate totals 10 hectares, and its' "heart" is the lieu-dit Le Coste, a clos overlooking Lake Bolsena. It's comprised of 8 parcels, all with different heigh, exposition and soil.
Half of the estate was planted by hand in massale, and the other half is franc de pied. Everything is trained in Albarello.
In an argument you almost never hear, Gian Marco plans to tear out all of his old vines bit by bit. He told us us that their only real use will be providing him with selection massales when he replants.
My initial reaction was shock! Tear out 60 year old vines? What about the vineyard's heritage, its history? How can you want to eradicate a franc de pied's 6 decade journey, its roots digging deeper and deeper into the soil, unlocking the secrets of its terroir?
Gian Marco wasn't having any it:
"Everyone always talks about the importance of old vines. Old vines are great, but one thing people never do is stop and ask themselves "How were these old vines planted?" I'm all for old vines being old and well planted. But the 99% of 'old vines' in Europe were planted post phylloxera: this was a time when guys were nervous about everything. The vines planted were those that resisted best to hardship; the quality of the grapes produced was a secondary concern. It was also a time where vignaolis were trying all types of crazy shit to keep the bugs away, stuff we now know was completely useless at best and often times harmful to the soil and vines. In many cases this led to the vines sprouting wild and unproductive roots.
When I replant my young vines, with my selection massales, on my land and with my hands, I will know that conditions were optimal. I will know their history and their origin, so no matter how old they are I know they are the best vines!"
It's definitely a compelling argument.
The farm and vineyards are worked biodynamically, with zero animal compost. They never work the soil, preferring to let wild grass grow freely and working in polyculture to promote a natural, balanced ecosystem.
"We leave the vines alone unless they tell us they need something."
Le Coste is as unique a terroir as you are going to find anywhere, due to its infinitely complex soil composition and micro-climactic variations.
The soil can be summarized as volcanic, but this would be underselling it: Gian Marco explained that when the volcanic eruptions that shaped his soils occurred, they spread an innumerable amount of different stones far and wide into the landscape. The one you find the most of is Basaltic, but even then, he was able to show us three separate and completely different types of it: one was very dense and heavy while another was much lighter, with visible air holes ("These were baked like a loaf of bread."). Some were solid and other would break apart when smashed. There is also a heavy presence of Lapillo, which are volcanic cinders. You also find limestone and a tiny bit of clay on the surface. And because the result of these volcanic eruptions placed everything randomly, effectively every single parcel has different soil composition. Check out these pics of three different hillsides:
As far as micro-climates go, you'd think you were in Burgundy.
As mentioned earlier, the 8 parcels in the Le Coste vineyard all have different soils, expositions and height. The vineyard follows the edge of the lake, taking the shape of South-East to South-West arc; so when the sun rises the parcels furthest to the East bask in sunshine while the rest of the vineyard waits for its time in the sun. This also means that it's never the same temperature at any time, in any parcel:
"The terroir IS the lake! You can be in this parcel, which is exposed South East and closer to the lake, and be freezing cold at 2pm. But if you walk over to to one that's full south, it's T-shirt weather."
Gian Marco continued the tour by showing us where he keeps his vegetal compost. Digging his hands deep inside the pile, he pulled out two big handfuls, stuck it in my face and said:
I was a little freaked out since my mind associates compost with cow shit, something I don't want stuck in my face… I politely took a big whiff and to my relief the poopy odor I dreaded turned out to be the smell of grass and dirt. It smelled like nature. After having smelt the compost's pleasant odor, I was less grossed out when we he exclaimed:
"It's still fermenting! It's warm! Feel it!".
He wasn't kidding: the compost had the heat and texture of freshly baked brownies.
Let me help you stop thinking of dung brownies with this gratuitous dog picture I couldn't use anywhere else.
It was getting dark so we started wrapping up our vineyard time.
Before leaving, Gian Marco showed us the little enclaves dug into the hillside of one of his parcels, which used to hold animals. He keeps his biodynamic preparations in the old pigsty because the temperature is perfect. And in the old stable he makes beer with INDIGENOUS white grape yeasts.
It wasn't finished fermenting, but it was delicious.
We then got to check out the cellar, which is in the middle of the village.
The cellar is 400 years old, and for Gian Marco it's a dream come true. He only uses it for vinification, and the first room contains the stainless steel tanks and open chestnut vats for longer fermentations.
Further along, you reach a narrow hallway full with little grottos on the side (he plans to use these to cellar bottles in the future).
This leads you to the oak barrel room.
We tasted a gazillion things, ranging from an 09 orange wine to still fermenting 2011's, but the highlight for me was tasting a red aged in cherry tree oak. It smelled like eau de vie (in a good way), and tastes like nothing I've ever had before.
About the vast number of cuvées, Gian Marco makes a good point:
"It goes right back to the terroir. I really try not to blend my different parcels, and I also like vinifying and bottling single parcel cuvées. You've seen them: it would be a shame otherwise."
Expect to taste a lot of these in the near future because Kevin ordered a bunch.
After a 6 hour visit, we thanked Gian Marco and Clémentine. Their 1 year old Camille was sad to see us go.
We drove to Rome, ate dinner, fell asleep and took our planes home the following morning.
Tune in tomorrow for the epilogue!
After our quick visit to Massa Vecchia, we were off to Isola Del Giglio to visit Francesco Carfagna of Altura. The only way to get to the island is by ferry, and Francesco had warned us that the Tyrrhenian Sea would be rough today. Kevin McKenna, our Italian Portfolio Relationship Manager (I.P.R.M), made a quick judgment call and decided we'd brave the sea and go anyway.
Francesco wasn't kidding: the boat was going up and down like a huge seesaw the entire trip and I got very, very sea sick. Kevin and Josefa were totally fine, and don't quote me on this since my head was in a garbage can 75% of the ride over, but they seemed slightly amused by my misfortune. You might remember me getting car sick for the first time in my life in yesterday's post, and Kevin was observant enough to call my nausea "two for one day." Later Alex would go on to say:
"Today really took it out of you. Literally!"
Finally, we got to the island! Once a military stronghold for the Roman Empire, today it is little more than a tourist destination. It's incredibly packed during the summer, but almost abandoned otherwise: 600 people spread over three main villages live there year round.
A big part of what Francesco -who is the ONLY person making and bottling Giglio wine independently- is trying to do with Altura is:
"To take strong action against environmental and social decay by preserving an outstanding wine heritage. This means joining together to foster pride in the island's inhabitants, to create a future that is lively and well lived, not an inhuman shell dried up by a tourist village economy."
Francesco cares about Giglio: originally from Rome, he would vacation here with his father and he fell in love with the island when he was 8. As a young man, he became a high school teacher in his hometown, but quickly grew to hate it. In 1985, he decided to quit (and in the process lose his pension) to move to the island. Without a lira to his name, he found ways to manage and eventually opened Arcobalena, a small restaurant and wine bar, in 1987.
He then met and fell in love with a young woman named Gabriella, who came for a summer vacation and never left. They ran the restaurant together until 1999, when an opportunity to buy an old house with abandoned vineyards on the south side of the island presented itself.
"When I showed up to the appointment, the owner said: 'Let me show you the house.' I told him I wanted to see the vineyards! He was shocked, and told me I was the first person who'd ever asked him that! It wasn't too hard to seal the deal…"
Francesco, who refers to himself as a "fat old man.", is now 60 and a staple in Giglio. He's got a happy go lucky personality, speaks good English and has a lively sense of humor. He's also a talented singer and musician, and every year to celebrate harvest he and his family (who all play instruments) perform a concert at the foot of the vineyard. He lives in Castello, the island's main town.
At 550 meters of elevation, it's Giglio's main (non beach) attraction because of the incredible remains of its' castle town.
The town is still inhabited, and Arcobalena is located in the center of it.
Walking through the narrow alleys and up winding and twisting staircases, I couldn't help but feel that I'd been here before. A past life perhaps?
Then it hit me! I'd never been here before but I'd seen it in film! This castle town could be non other than the setting for one of the climactic final scenes of the 1985 classic Gymkata!
For those of you not familiar with the plot of Gymkata, please brush up on the film's surprisingly detailed wikipedia page. The final test of "The Game" is to go through the "Village of the Crazies", where after a valiant gymnastics infused martial arts display against the villagers, John Cabot is finally surrounded. Fortunately, there just so happens to be a rock in the middle of the village that looks and functions exactly like a Pommel Horse, which Johnny uses to his advantage by pommel-horse-karate-kicking his enemies into submission before escaping.
Though I'd convinced myself otherwise, it turns out that after some extensive research the film was actually shot in Yugoslavia. Oops.
Francesco had brought us here for an aperitif at Arcobalena. This year was his first at Vini di Vigniaoli and this led to the subject of the natural wine movement in Italy. Francesco isn't comfortable with the term, preferring to use "Alive Wine." He isn't jumping on the bandwagon either; to prove it he pointed to the original 1987 Arcobalena sign:
For those too lazy to use Google Translate, the sign says: "Alive Wine and Kitchen".
After the aperitif, it was off to check out Francesco's cellar.
It's located directly below where he lives, an old light house he reconverted with his wife Gabriella. You can see it all the way to the right of the picture below.
It was at this point that I declared: "this shit is crazy."
Just two days earlier the Dolomites' beauty had captivated me, but this was more than just pretty scenery: it suddenly hit me that I was about to taste wine made in a cellar under a lighthouse from grapes indigenous to a tiny island off of Tuscany. It made me wonder how so many "somms" only drink Burgundy and Southern Rhone because they're the "best wines in the world". It's a shame that wines like Altura's are too often overlooked by boring, close minded people because, as I was about to discover, they are as unique as the island itself.
In the cellar, Francesco let us taste the 2010 white and red, the latter still in barrel and quite delicious: fresh, mineral, bright fruit, lively acidity and serious drinkability.
The 2011's were also very promising, although the fermentations are very slow this year, particularly for the red.
The unexpected treat of the tasting was Arcobalena's house wine, a Sangiovese Francesco makes himself. This stuff is the definition of Glou-Glou, and as official Taste Maker for Current and Future Markets (T.M.C.F.M), I pleaded for him to bottle it for us! Francesco told us we weren't the first to ask, but unfortunately the low quantity and extra manual labor (the family bottles and labels everything themselves) wouldn't make it worthwhile. For now...
Francesco closed up shop and we were off to Arcobalena for dinner.
Francesco's son, Mattia, is the chef there, and his specialty are his cured anchovies. He's developed quite a reputation for them in Italy, and is hoping to expand his production so he can sell them to restaurants across the country. I sincerely hope so: in an incredibly quotable moment, Josefa said:
"These are the anchovies that converted me to liking anchovies."
And at our Montesecondo visit, Silvio said:
"Man, those are some of the best anchovies I've ever had in my life!"
Silvio LOVES anchovies and apparently gets antisocial when good ones are around because he can't focus on anything else.
It was a great meal full of fresh fish and complimented by an Altura vertical of the last three vintages. Alex went as far as saying that Altura is the best anchovy wine he's ever had and it was his favorite pairing of the trip so far. "They actually make each other taste better." We left well fed and ready to visit the vines in the morning.
When we woke up, it was official: though it had rained a little bit the day before, our good weather streak was over. The village was gray, windy and rainy, but Alex and I still wanted to explore the castle town a little bit.
Francesco then picked us up and it was off to the vines.
Before I go any further, I really need to stress that no pictures can aptly do this site justice. You just have to be there to understand how special it is: the terraces, the water channels, the view of sea... It's just something else.
Isolated on the south side of the island, the only way to access the vines is to take a small dirt road that can only be navigated with four wheel drive. The rain and wind was picking up but Alex was still able to get some great shots of the site.
When the Carfagna's took over the 4 hectares of vines, they were abandoned. This was great for the purity of the soil, but also meant a ton of work. The family rooted and ripped out all the weeds, and rebuilt thousands of meters of dry stone walls and water channels.
The oldest vines are 60 to 70 years and franc de pied, but since the land was abandoned, only a minority are still producing fruit today. Francesco re-grafted, and planted young vines 10 years ago on American rootstock. Everything is selection massale. They also began training the vines, some in Guyot but mostly in Albarello. The soil is granite.
There is no choice but to do everything by hand (not that Francesco would do it any other way), and the harvesters have to carry the grapes from the bottom to the top of the hill before loading them onto a four wheel drive truck.
Our ferry back to the mainland was at 10:30, so we hurried back to the Port. I made sure to buy some motion sickness medicine.
But when we got there, we were informed that the sea was even rougher than yesterday!
We were told that if the conditions are like this in the morning, they most likely won't get any better later in the day. We were marooned!
Francesco fell in love with the word and ended up using it at least 50 times during the rest of the day. He was also delighted because now we had no choice than to have lunch at the lighthouse. He pulled out the big guns with this local fish.
The aperitif consisted of Francis Boulard and Coste Piane, and marked the beginning of a 4 hour lunch.
Around 1 hour and 34 minutes into lunch, Francesco's buddy Pietro swung by for a glass.
Pietro is an important guy on the island and you have him to thank if you've ever drank a bottle of Altura anywhere other than Giglio: he's the guy that ships all exports and imports to and from the island.
Gabriella also showed me this AWESOME ad she'd just received in the mail for graphically designed stainless steel tanks.
Looking good, Marilyn!
2 hours after lunch we returned to Arcobalena for dinner. We somehow managed to eat all five courses (although Kevin and Josefa had half portions of everything).
The plan was to grab the 6:30 am ferry because at this time the sea is at its' calmest. Kevin tried to gracefully bow out from the table, but we weren't allowed to leave before Francesco could sing us a little tune on the piano. The instrument was out of tune but it didn't really matter, since he stole the show with his singing; that guy can wail!
All of a sudden one of his friends got on the drums, then some other guy was playing guitar and they had a full band going! Francesco kept impressing us with his serious tuneage, and Gabriella broke out into an interpretive dance. It was a great way to be cast off, and after many thanks we finally got back to our rooms for a little shut eye.
We woke up to a cold, windy morning, but nothing as bad as the eve. We gathered our stuff, drove to the port and I took a Dimenidrinato. We pulled up to the ferry for the woman at the ticket booth to tell us the last thing we wanted to hear: the sea was still too rough! We'd have to wait and see if we could take the 9:30.
After three hours semi passed out in the car, I woke up to a mob of people storming the ticket booth! The ferry was leaving, and people wanted out. After all there was a two day back-up of people trying to leave! Kevin fended off an angry German family and made sure we got our tickets. A rainbow light the sky and we were on our way!
Tune in tomorrow for the grand finale of The Italy Chronicles, detailing our 6 hour visit to Le Coste and my epilogue!
Sorry once again for the lapse in posts. For reasons you'll discover in part 8, I haven't been able to have any real internet access until today. Fortunately for you guys, I'm back in the U.S of A where the internet flows freely from everywhere.
After our visit at Cerreto Libri, it was off to visit the lovely ladies over at Sanguineto for an overnight stay and a tour of the farm and cellar in the morning.
Dora Forsoni runs the farm alone with her life and business partner Patrizia Castiglioni. This is not an exaggeration; Dora takes care of 100% of the vine maintenance, meaning she works the soil, prunes and ties every vine of her 3.5 hectare estate by herself; the only time someone else ever steps foot in the vines is during harvest when a small team of friends helps out.
As you could imagine, Dora is one tough cookie.
For starters she is a renown hunter: the season just started and she's already nabbed four 70 kilo deer. In her own words:
"4 deer, 4 bullets. I shot each one straight in the heart! Only males, because they make the best trophies."
Please don't read into that as some kind of feminist thing: Dora showed us the heads (trophies), which she simply explained make better mantle pieces because of the antlers. Obviously she eats every last bit of each animal, and butchers them herself.
She's been working the family farm her entire life, and learned everything she knows about agriculture, viticulture and vinification from her father; her work in the vineyards therefore leans less on philosophy and more on tradition; a tradition that results in much purer, honest wine than 99% of her neighbors.
She can't weigh more than 110 pounds (and I'm being generous).
When we arrived, we were warmly greeted by Ali, the dog pictured above. His specialty is catching rabbits, and they can't let him loose on the farm, otherwise the free roaming chickens and geese would be in for it.
Dora let us in and told us she was glad we were here. In the kitchen she was roasting freshly picked chestnuts and preparing a wild board stew (from meat she'd hunted a few days earlier) with polenta.
I've always had a thing for wild boar because of the french comic strip Astérix, where the Gauls are constantly seen eating sanglier.
It was one of the best dishes I've ever had. Josefa had thirds.
Right after we got in, someone called Dora on her cellphone and she said she couldn't talk because she was with her importer Kevin. The person didn't seem to understand, because unlike France where Kevin (pronounced Keveen) and Steeve (pronounced Steeeeve) have become popular names in the last decade, a name like Kevin sounds unfamiliar to the Italian ear. Dora explained:
"Kevin! Kevin! Like Kevin Costner! Haven't you seen Balla coi Lupi?"
This caught on at dinner, and for the rest of the meal, Mr. McKenna was referred to as:
"Kevin Costner: Balla coi Lupi".
Besides the food and hilarious 90's movies references, Dora keyed us in on some interesting aspects of her work and that of her neighbors. First of all, I've never met a grower who so passionately expresses how much they love their wine.
With every bottle opened, Dora exclaimed how "fantasic" and "beautiful" and "delicious" it was without a shred of pomp or attitude. In the context of our meal, it was hard to disagree.
I really think my father was on to something when he wrote that a to truly understand a wine, you need to understand the person who made its personality.
Dora is as much part of her terroir as the indigenous grapes that grow from her sandy clay soils: she emanates a sense of place and local tradition, and you can taste her passion in each bottle.
A poignant example would be her choice to vinify and bottle a Toscana Bianco. At dinner, she explained that traditionally Nobile would be blended with up to 10% white grapes to lighten the color and alcohol. But she loves her grapes so much (both the whites and the reds), that she refuses to blend them so that they can better express themselves on their own. She pointed to her glass of white and said:
"This is MY Nobile!".
The final noteworthy comment was about this year's harvest. Most of Italy had a very hot 2011 harvest, and Montelpulciano was no exception. Dora had to start her harvest early in late August. By the time she was halfway done, her neighbors were just starting.
"I harvested at optimal maturity and my alcoholic potential this year got close to 15%! Either my neighbors will be blending their juice with a lot of water or they won't be making any wine this vintage."
Bets are in for what's most likely to happen...
In the morning, we checked out the vines.
Most of the vines on the estate were planted in 1963 by Dora's father.
"He taught me that you make good wine by working well in the vineyard. To work in harmony with the vines, to listen to them to take care of them. To make a good broth, you need a good chicken!"
The vines are all selection massale and franc de pied due to a technique that Dora learned from her father where she allows a shoot to come off from the base of the vine, which eventually caps off the old stump and lets the new shoot take over as the producing vine.
Her next door neighbors have just torn out their vines for the third time since Dora's were planted in order to make way for another generation of uber-productive clones pumped full of fertilizer.
The ground is worked twice a year, and Dora lumps soil around the bottom of of each vine during the winter (buttage) to better resist the cold. She undoes this (debuttage) in the spring.
After our tour of the vines it was cellar time.
As far as vinification goes: maceration on the skins and alcoholic and malolactic fermentation occur in large concrete tanks. You could hear the 2011's still fermenting. Dora exclaimed: "They are singing to me and to each other!". The song went something like this:
"Bloop. Bloop. Bloop Bloop. Bloop."
The wine is then then racked to large oak vats (30 hl) and aged for a minimum of two years, then bottled. Dora's father bottled his wine independently and his last vintage was in 1978 (Dora says they are still delicious to this day). For reasons unclear, Dora sold her grapes to the cooperative until 1997 when she bottled her first vintage herself.
The red wine is always a blend of Canaiolo, Prugnolo Gentile (a type of Sangiovese characterized by big, juicy berries) and Mammolo. The blend varies each year but is the same for each cuvée, which are bottled according to years aged in wood.
One exception is the I.G.T Rosso Toscano. This wine is made with a strain of 40 year old Sangiovese called Nero Toscano, sees 6 months on average for alcoholic and malolactic fermentation in concrete, and is then aged two years in oak.
We tasted a few 2010's, but more importantly the 09's which are about to be bottled. Though the fruit is young and the tannins are strong, there is already a great balance on the palate with pronounced minerality and sharp acidity. It's definitely drinkable now, but should start showing its' full potential in 5 years.
Much to Ali's regret, after our tasting we had to jet over to Massa Vecchia.
There is no highway to get there, and since the estate is in the mountains, one must navigate the most twisty-turny route any of us have ever experienced to accomplish this.
Because we were late, Alex and Kevin were driving like mad men, taking those turns like Formula 1 racers. Mind you that I hadn't eaten breakfast because, although it is customary to eat insanely large dinners at Sanguineto, apparently breakfast is out of the question. When I woke up nothing was set on the table and all Dora offered me was coffee.
The combination of an empty stomach, having just tasted a large amount of tannic and acidic red wines, twisty roads and Kevin's Michael Schumacher impersonation was too much. For the first time in my life, I got violently car sick. Luckily, Alex noticed something was wrong when I stuck my head out of the window and promptly pulled over. I rushed out in the nick of time and luckily, things didn't get messy.
Our Massa Veccia visit was to be a quick one and we were late. Kevin looked around and made some phone calls but Francesca was nowhere to be found. I took advantage of this to eat some white chocolate with macadamia nuts, the only thing I could find in the car.
Alas it was looking like we'd missed our chance and the most we were going to get out of the visit was my nausea and this picture Alex took of a donkey.
Kevin wrote a note on the two pack Dora had given us for Francesca and we hopped in the car. Alex turned on the engine and was about to pull out when we heard a van driving up the road. It was none other than Francesca Sfrondrini!
After letting us into the cellar, Francesca gave us the lowdown on 2011. It was a difficult vintage, and she joked that right around harvest they were worried that they would be stuck with "1000 kilos of Passito!". They started in late August, and a few days of rain, along with some much needed cool nights, saved the day. In the end it will be a great vintage for the whites and for Sangiovese in higher elevations (which they possess).
If necessary, a small pied de cuve is made in this concrete tank.
Everything is then fermented in open chestnut vats, with the exception of the Rosato which is made in stainless.
Francesca explained that they prefer working with big, neutral barrels.
The Querciola, made from 72 year old vines planted by Francesca's great-grandfather, is aged in the old, larger Rinaldi barrel you can see to my left.
Francesca also has some small cherry and chestnut barrels reserved for making their Sangiovese Vin Santo.
Side Note: Francesca has the coolest pony tail I've ever seen.
As of this year, a new law passed that the wine has to be pressed before Christmas to be given the Vin Santo title. Francesca explained, however, that for the Sangiovese style, traditionally one does not press until late January, which is what she did. When Kevin asked why this law was passed the answer was simple:
"It benefits big companies who mass produce Passito."
In such, they will be obliged to label the wine as Passito, which is technically false because unlike other straw wine, Vin Santo is made by hanging hand picked grapes to dry from rafters as opposed to laying them out to dry. Another distinction is that they are then fermented and aged in small cherry, chestnut or pear tree barrels and aged for much longer than the average Passito (up to ten years). Whenever she ends up bottling it, Francesca plans to explain on the back label that the wine was made traditionally but that the law forces them to label it incorrectly.
The visit was ending when I noticed a box that said: "Etichette McKenna."
Kevin wants you to know that, as official Verifier of Winery Import Label Management (V.W.I.L.M), everything at Massa Veccia is in order.
Tune in tomorrow (I promise! It's already written!) for our crazy adventures visiting Altura on the Isola del Giglio!
Two rectifications from yesterday's post. The soils where Elisabetta Foradori grows her Nosiola and Manzoni Bianco is actually LIMESTONE and not clay and the method primarily used to make frizzante in Emilia-Romagna is CHARMAT and not Champenoise. Both these errors have been rectified in the original post.
We began our visit at Montesecondo (check out the dead toad we found that looks exactly like the estate's logo!) by visiting Silvio's cantina.
I swear he was more excited to see us than he looks in the picture. Silvio had a very challenging 2011 harvest but after some initial worries the wine is turning out to be just fine. We tasted a tank sample of the 2011 young vine Sangiovese which spent a lot of time on the lees that had very good acidity and lively fruit. The old vine Sangiovese was darker in color and more concentrated in fruit and minerality.
We then tasted some old vine Sangiovese that had been fermented in amphora. Silvio got his inspiration from tasting Foradori amphora wines, and he uses the same ones as Elisabetta. The juicy quality of the fruit and lighter body of the wine reminded me of Beaujolais.
Before heading to the cellar, Silvio offered to let us taste a vat of 100% Colorino yet to be blended into this year's Chianti Classico. Colorino is an indigenous varietal traditionally blended with Sangiovese and Canaiolo to make Chianti; it used to be way more prominent but the D.O.C's aspirations to emulate Bordeaux in the last 30 years have seen it all but disappear, and instead it has been replaced with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.
We then made a quick trip to the cellar where Silvio blended a sample from three barrels of what will be the Chianti Classico 2010. Put your orders in early: It's fresh, lively, delicious, and will be bottled in January.
Here's Kevin's "Wine Spectator Editorial" pic.
It was then time to take a tour of the vines.
All of Silvio's vines surround his house, and are composed of three separate and distinct soil types: the vineyards closest to the village are sandy soils, the lower blocks are clay and and the top of the hill is composed of heavy clay and Galestro (heavy alluvial rocks similar to the galets ronds in Chateauneuf).
First we checked out some clusters of Trebbiano and Malvasia still hanging out and waiting to be harvested to make Passito.
After a tour of the Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino vines, Silvio filled us in on an innovative experiment of his which seemingly will shape the look and style of the vineyard in the future.
Guyot is the typical vine-tending system in Chianti, but Silvio feels that he's had a great deal of frustration dealing with an excess in leaves, which he feels smothers the vines. In such - and continuing the pattern of our vignaiolis questioning and changing their vine-tending to better suit their work- Silvio has begun planting and re-grafting many vines in the Albarello (goblet) style.
He feels that this way the grapes can hang loose, not be bunched up and benefit from more air. Furthermore, he is planting them on attached poles with each vine quite separated from the next in order to avoid having to use wires in the future but also to give each vine enough space and soil for it excel.
As far as he knows, he is the only person doing this in Chianti.
After a "light" lunch at Silvio's house, we were off to visit Rufina and Fattoria Cerreto Libri.
The 80 hectare farm is headed by Andrea Zanfei and is run biodynamically.
Andrea explained that the farm dates back to the 19th century around the time of Leopold the 2nd. It used to be organized by separate houses: many small houses were spread across the land for shape croppers, one house was for workers and animals (usually filled with two families or one big family of as many as 20 people), another was reserved for the land manager, and finally the main residence belonged to the owner, who naturally had servants. All in all about 50 people lived on and actively worked the land.
The vines had never been a priority up until the last ten years, and Andrea jokingly explained that the parcels are spread across the farm like "leopard spots".
Before entering the cellar, Andrea showed us his de-stemmer, which Kevin thinks is probably one of the earliest models ever made.
He also showed us a huge pile of gross lees.
Then it was off to the cellar.
Everything is fermented in these beautiful concrete tanks.
Andrea only fills them up to about 75% and never presses the grapes. The fermentation is therefore a pseudo semi-carbonic maceration but with with numerous remontages and in concrete. No new oak is ever used for aging. Sulfur is never used during vinification or at bottling.
From concrete we tasted a tank of 2011, and a 2007 Chianti Rufi re-racked from barrel which Andrea plans to bottle in a month or two. It was light and easy with bright fruit and the wood wasn't overbearing but rather well integrated.
We also tasted some 2010 in tank without wood, some Canaiolo 09 in barrel and a standout Sangiovese 09 in barrel that had ripe, young fruit and strong vibrant acidity. Looks like it'll be a keeper.
Here's my "Wine Spectator Editorial" pic.
Tune in tomorrow for the Tuscan Takeover: Part 2!
I know, I know. While this post was written yesterday, it could only be posted today due to lack of time and internet access. The rhythm of the trip has picked up, and while I promise to write a post recapping each day, I can't guarantee I'll be able to update as regularly as I have been (though I'll try my best).
After tasting at Monte dall' Ora, we hopped in the car and an hour and a half later we were eating dinner on top of an 800 meter mountain in Elisabetta Foradori's house.
This is my first time in the Dolomites, and it's one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen in my life. As the photos prove, everything is a landscape, and it's no surprise Elisabetta's wines come from such an inspiring area.
After breakfast we headed back down to Trentino to visit Elisabetta's main site where she works the 15 hectares she owns. In an experience that paralleled our Angiolino Maule visit, the traditional method of vine tending in Trentino is Pergola but Elisabetta has progressively replanted all 15 hectares in Guyot from a selection massale of her best Pergola vines (a few rows remain untouched and go into the Granato).
Elisabetta confirmed Francesco's point about Pergola's high yields: her Guyot vines yield about 40hl/h while her neighbors' average 150.
We also bore witness to neighboring vines already pruned and green harvested in early November! Essentially the vignaiolis are tricking the vines into thinking its' a different season (winter) so they shut down and hibernate early. In the Spring they kick start them back up with fertilizers which ultimately leads to, you guessed it, much higher yields. Elisabetta considers this a shame and a tragedy.
In the cellar, we got to taste some 2011 samples of whites and reds that had been fermented in tank and in amphora.
The amphoras that Elisabetta use are not the traditional Greek or Georgian kind and do not have any bees wax on the inside.
Only one Spanish producer makes a limited amount of these each year, and they are hard to come by.
Elisabetta has accumulated a serious collection, and they bring an unparalleled freshness to what could easily be much heavier wines.
After an extensive cellar tour, we went to check out the 3 hectares of vines Elisabetta rents.
This is where she grows her Manzoni Bianco and the Nosiola that goes into the Fontanasanta. Fontanasanta is a lieu-dit which means holy fountain. Low and behold, there is it!
This is a very unique terroir for the grapes: limestone with a pink hue due to a very strong presence of iron.
Our next stop was in Emilia-Romagna to visit Camillo Donati.
We checked out his new cellar which overlooks his vines. After tasting some 2011 tank samples Camillo kindly explained his vinification process.
Everything begins in an old concrete tank from 1968 that originally belonged to Camillo's mentor Ovidio (the "Ovidio" cuvée, made with Corvina grapes, is named after him).
The tank has only ever been washed with hot water, and has accumulated over 40 years of tartaric deposits, which is one of the secrets of Camillo's process (the Baudry's do the same thing with their concrete tanks).
In this tank he makes a pied de cuve for each varietal. The juice remains in this tank for a maximum of 3 days for the whites and 7 days for the reds.
The rest of the grapes are then harvested, destemmed, pressed and placed in stainless steel vats on the skins. After fermentation he racks off the gross lees but keeps the fine lees, which are essential for the wines to referment in bottle. If the residual sugar is where he wants it to be (12-18 g per l), he leaves the wines as is, but since he lets them reach their maximum alcoholic fermentation, the wines are often dry so he blends it with his Malvasia Dolce.
This is the traditional way to make Emilia-Romagna Frizzante, but almost all producers in the area now use charmat method, which for Camillo completely defies the purpose of making this style of wine in the first place:
"Those who have settled for Methode Charmat are missing out on the beauty of life and have settled for monotony."
We then checked out the vines, which have all been planted by Camillo in -you guessed it- Guyot on heavy clay soils.
So far all of the vineyards we've visited have been beautiful, and Camillo's were no exception.
We ended the visit by tasting the 2010's, which took longer than usual to referment and have just been released (they should just be getting to the States). We tasted the only way one should when drinking Donati: alongside local panchetta and aged Parmesan (a 24 month, a five year and a 10 year). The 2010's are spot on, particularly the Malvasia Rosa (with 5% Barbera) and the very lively and fresh Lambrusco.
Stay tuned for part six with visits to Montesecondo and Cerreto Libri (profile coming soon)!
I apologize to any insomniac readers eagerly anticipating a 4:30 am post.
After a wild night at Boys Alternative Disco, it was off to visit Angiolino Maule. When we arrived, we were a little shocked to see one of his dogs hanging out on the roof.
Angiolino was off harvesting his olives, which he uses to make oil for personal consumption, so his son Francesco gave us a tour of the vines.
With the exception of a few rows, every vine of the estate has been planted by Angiolino over the years in Guyot as opposed to Italy's traditional Pergola. When I asked why, Francesco answered: "quality". While Pergola vine tending is used in hotter climates to protect the grapes from the sun, Francesco explained that in the case of Garganega, the principle variety used at the estate, the grape does not benefit in any way from this type of vine tending, and vigniaolis hide behind this excuse because Pergola vines are much more productive, which results in higher yields.
For those who don't know, Angiolino is the founder of Vinnatur, what I consider to be the most forward thinking and progressive association dedicated to natural wine. Vinnatur is more than a group of vignerons working the same way: it's an institution dedicated to exploration, research and analysis of what goes on in the vineyards -and most importantly in the soil- in order to find reliable and proven methods to work as naturally as possible. Francesco told us their ultimate goal is to eliminate mildew and oidium in order to stop using copper and sulphur treatments, which he and his father feel are the final step to producing 100% natural wines.
Francesco showed us a small plot of six rows that is funded by Vinnatur; in each row a different technique is used (he didn't elaborate further) in order to observe the results and report back to a laboratory in hopes of finding an answer. While they're still searching, one thing is certain: this answer lies in the soil.
Francesco explained that vines have only suffered chronic illness like mildew and oidium since the beginning of chemical warfare, the very same technology which ultimately led to the creation of all chemical products used in industrial agriculture today. In just 70 years the soils have completely shifted in their composition, and while Angiolino and Vinnatur hope to find out why and rectify this, he acknowledges that even if they do we have many generations of work ahead of us to bring the soil back to its' original state...
Francesco then showed us their new cellar at the very top of a beautiful hill surrounded by the family's vineyards. The installation is completely solar powered, and is much more spacious than the one currently used. They also plan to build a tasting room and a kitchen for parties, and maybe have the top floor converted to a bed and breakfast. 2012 will be the first vintage produced here.
Well, that's not entirely true, as the Maule's have begun using a specifically designed open air room to hang the grapes that will become this vintage's Recioto.
Francesco says that this room is much better than the one they were currently using because the elevation provides a more steady and constant wind which greatly benefits the drying of the grapes.
We ended our visit by tasting some 2011 barrel samples, currently bottled releases and a special treat no one knew existed:
Angiolino loves Chenin Blanc and planted 3 rows of it for fun. It was a very unique expression of the variety to say the least. Everything's tasting great, by the way.
45 minutes later we were being greeted by Carlo Venturini and Alessandra Zantedeschi at Monte dall' Ora.
After touring the beautiful vines and checking out the cellar, we tasted some 2011 tank samples. Carlo and Alessandra are both very satisfied with 2011 and expect great things. They promised me a bunch of pictures and videos of the harvest so expect that to be up on the site soon.
The visit ended with Carlo talking very passionately about biodymanic viticulure. More or less in his own (Italian) words:
"All organic agriculture is telling you to do is not to use any chemicals. For me biodynamic agriculture means you're always searching for something, always learning and always trying to move forward. It's a way to open my eyes every day and see something different, something new. It lets me face problems as they come along, to work with nature and to find a solution.
When we first started the estate in 1995, we knew that an environment where we had to use chemicals so harmful that masks were required was not a place we'd want to raise our children. We wanted to work traditionally, but we didn't know what that meant. Back then, the concept of organic and biodynamic agriculture wasn't common knowledge; I only discovered these practices in 2004.
Biodynamic work is a way for me to learn how to work traditionally; a link to how our ancestors did things before technology and philosophy took over. It's not about if the treatments work or not, or to be dogmatic about lunar cycles and root days. It's simply a way to look at the vineyards in a different way."
Hmmm. Seems like these guys are on to something...
Anyway I'm very tired and need to go to bed. A domani!
Who says Italians don't celebrate Halloween?!
We began yesterday by visiting Giovanni Campari's brewery just outside of Parma. Giovanni is a young, passionate brewmaster and wine geek, and as Kevin pointed out his beers share Louis/Dressner's wine sensibilities: delicacy, subtle complexity, drinkability and most importantly, balance.
Giovanni (on the far left of the photo below) was kind enough to explain his brew process step by step, which begins with carefully selected blends of malt from France, Belgium, Germany and Italy that end up aging in his impressive collection of old oak barrels (wine and whisky) from America, Italy and Sweden.
His take on beers I usually find offensive and overdone, particularly his Sally Brown Oatmeal Ale and Ultima Luna sour beer, were full of life and flavor (and low alcohol!), and proved to be real revelation. We have Alex Finberg to thank for making this visit happen.
We then returned to Fornovo for round 2 of Vini di Vignaioli. We missed a pulse -pounding conference on the use of sulphur in winemaking, which in the words of Francesco Maule, was "scandalous" and delivered by a man who had "lost his mind ten years ago."
From what I was able to gather from various sources, the speech was a great introduction to sulphur being harmful in winemaking if it had been presented the general public, but was pretty useless in a room full of people that not only know this but have been advocating and practicing low or sulphur free winemaking for years.
A few growers we tasted with out of curiosity still might have learned a lesson or two…
It was much calmer than on Sunday, which permitted us to get some good face time with a lot of our growers. I tasted the Cotar wines for the first time and was blown away.
We tasted a few other things new things from new people that we all loved but Josefa Concannon, our National Beverage Strategist (N.B.F) told me that I shouldn't write about them because our competitors might try and steel these prospects from us by bribing them with front row AC Milan tickets and lavish offers of premier placements in all of Las Vegas' coolest hotel restaurants.
Then it was a two hour drive to our hotel in San Bonifacio, which is conveniently located next to an "Alternative Disco", which didn't seem like much more than a strip club. We didn't go in though, so if anyone knows what truly goes on in "Alternative Discos" please let me know.
Finally it was dinner time at I TIGLI, the legendary pizzeria. This used to be Angiolino Maule's joint and its' where he built his reputation as a famous pizzaiolo. They use a mother yeast culture that they've been keeping alive since the 19th century that makes a pizza that pizza experts have called "bomb", "the shit" and "fucking delicious". That pizza expert was me, by the way.
Angiolino's cousin owns it now and its' still very much a family affair: Francesco Maule (who joined us for dinner with his girlfriend Erica) worked there for two years and his brother was in the kitchen making our dinner. The wine list was unsurprisingly great in quality and diversity.
Today we're off to visit Angiolino's Azienda, then Monte Dall' Ora's and finally we will be dining with Elisabetta Foradori at her house and visiting the vines in the morning.
Yesterday was day one of Vini di Vignaioli.
The event is organized by Christine Cogez Mariani, a French woman (with an Italian chef husband) who has certainly succeeded in bringing the best aspects of French and Italian wine culture together at this event.
The logo, which you can see on the photo above (yes I know it's vertical), is simple: people+grape=wine, so you get the idea of kind of wines were at this thing…
The event is open the public and it's basically a big party; Josefa and I were the only schnooks frantically writing anything on a notepad. But it's not all fun and games; all the vignerons bring wine to sell, and its' refreshing to see them ACTUALLY hand sell their wine after people have tasted it. I saw one guy leaving with a shopping cart full of Occhipinti.
We tasted a lot of great stuff. Some standout includes Arianna's Passo Nero, a Castex white from Banyuls and the Guttarolo amphora wines.
We were also able to meet consulting oenologist Marco Digiannovi who introduced us to Campo di Rovere (they work mostly with the best clones of Pinot Greej in Alto Adige). They felt we could truly develop their brand identity in the US, and as part of their marketing budget, they gave me this!
I think we're going to have a very fruitful relationship! It's looking like it's going to be a great trip!
See you tomorrow for part 3!
Reporting from Parma!
Leaving JFK was a nightmare. We experienced record breaking traffic that made Kevin, Josefa and I extremely late for our flights. It seemed like all hope was lost; neither Kevin or I had checked in (we were on different flights) and by the time we got to the airport our planes were leaving within the half hour.
Josefa, our National Beverage Strategist (N.B.F), had her boarding pass so they let her go through security, but things weren't looking so good for me. I had missed the check in cutoff by 40 minutes, and was going to have to find another way to get to Milan.
Meanwhile, Alex Finberg -our Key Account Specialist, Brand Manager and Market Maker for the Pacific Region (K.A.S.B.M.M.M.P.R) over at Farm Wines- was waiting for us at Gate 43. We were keeping him in the loop because for a minute there it seemed like he was going to be off to Milan by himself. In a fortunate twist of fate, he informed me that the catering crew for our flight was extremely late, and that this had also delayed the cleaning of the plane and boarding wasn't anywhere near happening. American Airlines representatives didn't believe me, telling me that there was no sign of the flight being delayed, although a quick call to gate 43 proved otherwise. I was in!
Because Josefa's job is to conquer the Untied States like a game of Beverage Risk, she travels a ton and gets a series of free flight upgrades each year. These are cumulative but you lose them at the end of the year, and since this will be her last international trip of 2011 (a 9 hour trip at that…) she decided to not only use her upgrade to Premier Business Class, but to offer me one! Alex, who has yet to prove himself to the company, was relegated to coach.
The most exciting part of Premier Business Class is that the wines selected for our flight are from non other than award winning sommelier Ken Chase.
Ken is originally from Toronto, but he does such a good job that American Airlines was able to forgive his nationality and hire him anyway.
Ken's worldly selections spanned from Oregon to New Zealand, but the real excitement came from "Chase's Choice", a special selection made just for that flight! I naturally inquired about it and was thrilled to find out it was a Pinotage from South Africa!
It paired incredibly well with my crudités.
Last night we went to a GREAT wine bar in Parma called Tabarro. Diego Sorba, the owner and a friend of Kevin's, has done an incredible job of putting together a diverse and exciting list of wines not only from Italy but France as well. It is very rare in wine countries like Italy to find a bar/merchant who works with wines other than the ones of his country; we Americans have it good in that respect.
Diego speaks incredibly articulate English, and was a gracious and hilarious host. We finished the night in Tabarro's cellar with Diego playing "stump Kevin Mckenna" and bringing us a bottle of (requested) Glou-Glou red from a producer we'd never heard of made with an indigenous grape we didn't know existed. It was delicious.
Today we kick off our Italian trip with the (apparently) very fun Vini dei Vignaioli in Fornovo. I'm looking forward to seeing some of my favorite people there: Arianna Occhipinti, Francesca Padovani, Mauro Vergano, Steffano Belloti and even a few Frenchies like Francis Boulard!
While it is always great to check up on our current growers, the real point of this trip is develop Relationships with new Consulting Oenologists and Brands (preferably with a strong Marketing Budget) to represent and develop in the U.S market!
Stay tuned for part 2!