. Vite Vinifera De Vino's Blog: November 2006

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Sighart Donabaum Riesling 2004

Last night I was enjoying my day off and decided to open the magnum I had in the fridge since Thanks Giving.
Austria is still paying from the 1985 scandal of Di ethylene Glycol . During that period some Austrian vintners used that chemical to higher the sugar level in order to create sweet wines from dry ones. It is definitely more costly, and accordingly more expensive to buy, to produce a dessert wine than a dry one and simply adding sugars is too easy to detect and therefore to be caught by the authority. The scandal create some sort of "vintners cleaning", were just the wineries that carried a good reputation survived the conjuncture supplying the domestic market. The good part is that now you can go in Austria and still have available vintages dating back to 80's; I had the fortune to drink several bottles in different occasion of Peter Schandl Pinot BlancRuster 1989. The wine has travelled just once from the winery to here and I think that's the reason why every time I had it was in spectacular condition with no bottle variation what so ever. For the 17 years those bottles sat under the barrels of Schandl's cellar in humid conditions, as you can see from the label (sorry for the quality of the picture, I took it with my phone), covered with mildew at constant temperature without being moved. In my "wish trip" list Austria is in fact at the top, hopefully I can make it by next year and bring back some good bottles.
Now going back to the Donabaum, we start to enjoy the wine as aperitif without food. Just opened the Riesling was already showing citrus flavors of Grapefruit, typical in Austrian whites, marked acidity and bouquet of honeydew melon.
It was still a bit closed and probably a bit too cold as well, but still the scent went directly into my brain triggering the calming vision of green cold valleys were the grapes absorb every second of light before going to sleep during the cold nights. After an hour or so we had some nice aged steak that Wolfgang's kindly delivered to us. We still had enough wine in the bottle for the dinner so I just decided to try Riesling with rare steak, the result was quite nice. At that point it had developed; notes of fresh apricots and crispy minerality cleaned my palate getting my mouth ready for the next bite of meat, it also worked really well with the creamed spinach and, believe it or not, even with the onion rings!!! I think this is the first time that I had a white wine with a porterhouse, now I still think that a nice red with strong tannins would have worked better with it but the outcome was surprising. The bottle was big and the 3 of us were still tested by the holiday weekend so we had some left in the bottle. Going to the next task I've tried to see if it would work also with some dessert.
I had in the fridge some left over Pastiera Napoletana, a ricotta with candied orange and cider based cake, a Neapolitan specialty, and had some; the flavors of the candied fruit was amplified by the wine creating a perfect match with the citrus notes of the Riesling leaving a nice and clean after taste. Overall the only defects I could perceive from the wine were mostly connected to the young age of it (2004 is the current vintage and when just opened it was lacking of depth and complexity which had developed some time after that), the biggest plus was the versatility of it the way it have connected with several different kind of food, we also had some crab meat, and without food.
I'll be curious to know if anybody else had some similar experiences.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Friday, November 24, 2006

Another Stuffed Holiday

And another holiday is gone, leaving behind full bellies and sound sleeps. My belly was filled with pasta al gratin, a baked rigatoni pasta with besciamella and prosciutto, obviously the turkey, a wild one, with my sister's special stuffing, an addictive blend of homemade cornbread, sausage and some other ingredients which I swear secrecy on...and the cranberry sauce was just perfect on both the turkey and the stuffing. As side dish she prepared some green peas with prosciutto cut in small dices and to finish the traditional apple pie with vanilla ice cream. Just talking about it I feel full again but I must say my sister nailed another perfect dinner, like an artist, she can give food that extra touch that makes the experience every time unique. As per wine we begun with the bubbles; the Villa Rinaldi showed different layers of sour berries and fresh violet, some sweet undertones of wild strawberries, the bubbles were small and very elegant. We didn't open the Donabaum Riesling, which is still sitting in my fridge ready for the next one, and we sat for dinner with the Querciabella Chianti Classico Riserva 1998; elegant and still vibrant with the typical cherry flavor and notes of leather, the tannins were balanced and still firm considering the age. One my guest, Fulvia, was at first not impressed with the selection, in fact the Villa Rinaldi estate is definitely in the obscure category and Chianti is still perceived as a every day wine; she commented, in typical roman slang of course, once she had tasted them, "ammazza quant'e` bono sto` vino" (more or less translate in this wine is killer) for both of them. That made me think about what my grandma' used to say about judging from the appearance and how sometimes you can get fooled by that. With the dessert we opened up the Colheita Port 1974 from the Barros estate; it is amazing what time can do to wine, this port was elegant and complex, the oxidation balanced the sugars giving a dry and clean finish. Lingering flavors of coffee, chocolate powder and notes of toasted almond were showing in the palate and in the finish.
Everything we ate and drank was natural and of good quality so, I was definitely buzzed and stuffed, but when I woke up this morning around 9 am i didn't have any headaches nor being hang over.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanks Giving Aka Turkey Day...

I love the holidays because the TV channels do the marathons.
I have a TV in the store that most of the time is tuned on some soccer channels without audio, but when Thanks Giving Day come around 007 marathon arise I will be watching it; like I'm doing right now sitting in the store helping the few that haven't took care of the wine for tonight (on her Majesty's secret service is on now).

Now you might wonder why I'm talking about James Bond instead of wine, well first of all 007 is fine connoisseur wine and more in general of self indulgence, he do like the finest vintages of Bordeaux and the refined Champagnes (BTW James champagne of choice wasn't the Dom Perignon but, in the Ian Fleming books it was the Bollinger...the producers felt that Dom Perignon was more known to the American audience than the Bollinger).
I'm also deciding what to drink for dinner, so far I choose a Magnum of SighartdDonabaum Riesling 2004 2 bottles of Villa Rinaldi Brut Rose` and a Magnum of Querciabella Chianti Classico Riserva 1998 and a bottle of Port Barros Colheita 1974. We are going to be 6 to 7 people eating my sister's Turkey and I think that should be enough wine to keep us happy. I think the we will be starting with the Villa Rinaldi to put us in the mood, this Brut Rose` is made of 100% Pinot Noir grapes grown in Trentino Alto Adige. Villa Rinaldi is a "negociant" his winery is situated in Veneto in the Soave area, they are one of the first winery that used the Traditional Method and one of the few that use the "degorgement a la volee" to preserve all the freshness and the elegance of the Pinot Noir. The Donabaum Riesling is going to be next one probably paired with some cheeses and some finger food.

Then we will approach the guest of honor the Turkey which is going to be ate with the Querciabella Chianti Classico Riserva 98. I'm actually very curious to see how the wine developed since last time I drank it in 2004. I will keep you posted on that.

Dulcis in fundo (sweet at the end) the Colheita Barros 1974, the winery is Portuguese owned and sited in the Douro region. I met the son of the owner, Felipe, not long ago and tasted with him several older vintages of his port and discovered that not only the wines were elegant and still vibrant but that they were also priced very fairly considered the quality; therefore I started carry their ports :)

It is almost time to go now the day was good, there were more last minute "thanks giver" than I had expected, but before I leave you I would like to extend all my "grazie" to all of you and your families.

Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Monday, November 20, 2006


Liguria is one the smallest but also one of the most beautiful region of Italy.
The coast is internationally known for the crystal clear waters the little towns on the Tigullio gulf like Portofino or Santa Margherita (no this is not the home of the big winery which is in Trentino). Also known for the spectacular food and their rare wines.
Ligurian viticulture is characterized by terraces carved from the cliffs that descended vertiginous toward the sea. The production is low and labor costly and most of the Ligurian wines are still very obscure and not known buy the majority.
Pigato is a bio type of the Vermentino and it's mostly found in the Ligurian provinces of Savona, Imperia and Genova.
The grapes have red reflection on the skin when ripe and the wine usually have almond flavors and often marked acidity.
I've always liked the Ligurian whites they are never obvious and with a very distinctive character. Lately I've tried the Bruna Pigato 2005
remarkable fresh and firm, the bouquet was intense with flavors of white peach, almond and some salty notes. I had it by it self but I think it would be great with shell fish (linguine with clams) most of the white meats (turkey included) and with some creamy cheeses like a lighter goat cheese or some brie.
The Ligurian wines are not widely present on the US market but I can suggest you to try also the Colle dei Bardellini Vermentino.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Right Temperature

Nothing better than a cold glass of white wine on a hot summer day. The question is how cold the wine should be in order to be enjoyed to the fullest.

I believe the answer will vary depending on the kind of wine you are about to drink.

Generally speaking, simpler whites need to be colder; more complex ones might be better slightly warmer.

The temperature will affect the acidity, the alcohol and the bouquet; higher temperature will enchant the bouquet but also make the alcohol more present; so a lower quality wine will benefit of a colder temperature because the acidity will give a refreshing sensation distracting your palate from possible faults the wine might have; on the other hand a better wine will be underappreciated if the bouquet is limited by the acidity.

In order, then, to decide the right temperature that the wine has to be served you need to know the characteristic of it.

For example I would never freeze a wine unless I’m in Jamaica and I’m drinking the wine under the hot sun overlooking crystal clear waters and the outside temperature is 100 degrees.

The crystal clear water will already give me a strong emotion and the wine will then have to just act as a refreshing beverage that will put me in a good mood.


…I actually did do this.

The wine that I was drinking was a dirt cheap Pinot Grigio that would be awful to drink at a normal temperature.

In order to really understand how temperature truly affects a wine, here is a great way to understand in a short time – I suggest you try this: 1. Get a bottle of white wine,

inexpensive or to your taste 2. Over chill the wine and then 3. Drinking it a little bit at time, let the bottle go from overchilled to a little too warm.

This allows the wine to speak for itself.

Buona bevuta a tutti


Integrity: the quality or state of being of sound moral principle; uprightness, honesty and sincerity.

The integrity of a wine starts from the vineyard, the winemaker and her reputation. But what if one doesn't know the estate owners, how does the integrity show from the wine itself? What does integrity in wine mean?

By tasting a wine just once, it's difficult to discern whether a wine has integrity or whether it is a manipulated product. Most of the time you’ll feel the effects of a manipulated wine the next day as a hangover. The palate can sometimes be deceived (in the short run, anyway). Think about food: a fast food treat might not taste bad, but it's not sincere. Over millions of years, the human palate has evolved a keen ability to determine good food from bad, but twenty first century chemistry can create artificial flavors that betray the palate and make unhealthy nonfood products taste good.

The same is true for wine. It can taste good but be harmful. I remember during the early 80’s, in Italy, there was a big scandal involving the Barberas. Some producers decided to fortify their wines with Ethanol and the outcome was deadly. Tens of people died, many producers got arrested, and the reputation of Barbera went down the drain. I don't know of producers today making deadly wine, but some "clever" producers are still using dubious practices. They add wood chips, they add sugar (these two practices are illegal in Europe but not in all wine growing regions), they add tannic acid, tartaric acid, and excessive sulfites. With chemistry, you can build a wine to taste like anything, probably even a MacDonald’s burger.

And like a MacDonald's burger, a manipulated wine may taste good. However, usually the wines are fabricated to appeal to the market tastes that promise the greatest short term profits. As a result, you have a Merlot from Chile that tastes the same as Cabernet from Australia, both, incidentally, will give you the same cheap headache the next day, too. I don’t agree with the forces that are producing “taste globalization.” We are beginning to find the same flavors everywhere. I suppose that now masses of people can consume food and wine without being afraid of getting something they don’t like, but with such standardization, one misses out on the richness and mixture of stimulating experiences that make life such a wonderful pleasure!

Buona Bevuta a Tutti


First of all, what does a wine score mean? It's clearly impossible to summarize in a simple laboratory number something as complex, subtle, and organic as the emotional experience of consuming wine.

Also, a numerical score wrongly suggests a level of precision that doesn't exist, and a single scale can't ever accommodate a range of styles. If anything, it has meaning to the judge or, as is often the case with magazine ratings, the team that assigned the score. Every wine critic has his own palate and all industry magazines have their editorial policies. I have nothing against wine critics they serve important functions, not the least of which is to hold producers with excellent reputations to the highest standards. It's the wine score that I take issue with.

Many wine critics have great breadth and some have an incredible mental database of flavor memories. Although these expert qualities help make ratings consistent, they do not make the ratings objective. I acknowledge if you know the score and you know the judge's tastes, you can infer something: 3 bicchieri from the Gambero Rosso means a bold, oak refined wine, a big score from Robert Parker means a big new world style wine. Of course, to understand a judge's taste very well, one need to drink a lot of wine rated by that judge and then study the scores those wines were awarded. In the case of magazines, it's hard to learn their tastes because the scores are awarded by teams, and when the teams have changing members, it's just about impossible.

So why are wine scores so popular? Magazines, books, and guides try to boil the rich experience of wine into a single consumer friendly number and they promote the fallacy that your enjoyment will be commensurate with their scale. Unfortunately, this fallacy sells, and magazines and books depend on sales to survive. The prevalence, especially this time of year, of top ten lists, best wine of the year awards, and so on, are derivations of the same reductionist marketing strategy.

The serious problem, however, is that when scores are related to sales, they can be compromised by commercial interests. Magazines are dependent on wine producers for advertising revenues and there's a lot of temptation for magazines to give insincere ratings. For example, a recent edition of Gambero Rosso (I Tre Bicchieri) gave the "best producer of the year" award to Barone Riccasoli. Two years ago that winery was convicted of fraud when the police found 900 hectoliters of Montepulciano wine labeled as Chianti Classico in their tanks. I could go on for pages with examples from other magazines and guides, but you get the picture.

Personally, I love to drink a wine and not to rate it. And I don’t have a favorite wine or ten favorite wines---there are so many delicious wines and I love all the options ("There are more things on heaven and earth, dear Horatio...") Also, there are many people that I recommend wine to (and buy wine for) that don’t share my tastes.

It wouldn't do any good for me to score wines and then recommend them according to my scores. Instead, I pay attention to who will drink the wine, what their tastes are, and I try to find a way to communicate the emotional experience I had on the occasions that I drank that particular wine.

In the end, I tend to stay away from magazines and guide books. And anyway, I enjoy drinking wine far more than reading wine scores!

Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Nectar of the Gods

Throughout history, divine properties have been attributed to wine. Jesus miraculously transformed water into wine. Catholics represent the blood of Christ by wine. The Popes made their own wine, the Chateauneuf du Pope, which was used for their own holy consumption (and also served to dignitaries).

In historic texts predating Christianity, miracles involving wine abound. The Greeks had one god devoted entirely to wine. The habit for winemakers in ancient Greece to chant the name of this deity while crushing the grapes persisted well into the Roman Empire. It was common to hear a Roman say "in vino veritas" meaning "there is truth in wine." Perhaps not exactly a religious statement, but the idea that people were more likely to be honest while drinking wine was considered something magical. Certainly, the choice of wine in Roman culture was a telling measure of the prominence of a guest and the status of the buyer. But, the importance of wine went far beyond a status symbol. It was believed to have youth-preserving properties, be good for the skin, and was given to pregnant women (at that time, alcohol content was lower but wine was naturally bacteria-free and usually cleaner than water).

If one believes that science is a kind of modern religion, providing its own magic and miracles, then it should come as no surprise that the priests of science continue to report on the divine properties of wine. We know that wine contains antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and other substances with remarkable biological properties. Medical studies indicate that moderate consumption of wine improves cardiovascular health, inhibits cancers, protects against Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, lowers risk of diabetes, boosts the immune system, lowers stress, lengthens life, and help you fight the flu virus as Italian researchers recently discover. And there is far more for science to discover about wine.

In addition to that, when I consider that wine also tastes delicious and makes you happy, I have to conclude that our ancestors were right to believe that wine was a gift from the gods!

Buona bevuta a Tutti

Wine is alive!!!

One of the few true things spoken in the movie Sideways was when

Virginia Madsen said "the wine is alive."

While wine might not meet all the criteria required by science to be a life form of its own (it doesn't reproduce, but it would be nice if it could) it certainly exhibits some of the phenomena of life. Properly interpreted, wine grows, adapts, and responds to stimuli. It seems to me that wine even has memory. Those memories have roots in wine's early life as a plant: weather conditions, adversities, soil content, aging of the plant, invisible qualities in the air, and everything, everything that happened to the vines in the vintage year leaves indelible organic imprints on the fruit.

Wine grows, too, once the fruit leaves the plant. Like a child that needs to be watched (and given guidance and correction) during his or her formative years, during the vinification process the juice should be carefully followed by the winemaker. The expert hands give a little guidance and the very best winemakers have the goal of retaining the absolutely greatest amount of organic information from the picking to the bottling. Every human action too, leaves its imprint on the wine (think of the growing child, who is learning all the time, whether the parents think they are teaching or not).
Wine responds to stimulus after it’s in the bottle, and like living organisms, it can be hurt, too. The analogies with humans work when thinking of injuries. Young vivacious healthy wines are more resistant to injuries, like exposure to high temperatures. I was in Tuscany a few years ago and had the chance to share some great wines that were in the display window for more than a year. These were high end wines and their condition was quite good considering how poorly they had been stored. One of them was showing some oxidation perfumes at the beginning, but came back strong in half an hour.
This wine was like a teenager, injured but healing quickly after resting. Some of the older wines proved less resilient and didn't recover as well. But thought of as a living thing, we shouldn’t expect antiseptic perfection and robotic durability. A minor injury leaves a small mark and reminds us that wine is precious, delicate, and mortal like us. And a small scar like a cork leak, a small change to a flavor or a damaged label can sometimes, like a small imperfection on a wonderful face, add to the beauty.

Buona Bevuta a Tutti


One of the most common questions I’ve been asked so far is; “what is your favorite?”

Whatever the subject is wine, food, movies, color, or clothing my answer is always the same: I really don’t have favorites, but I do have options. On a personal level I don't like limiting my self to just a few choices. I love to choose considering as much information as I can. In the case of wine, the info can came from weather (you might not want to drink a cold Pinot Grigio at the North Pole in December), food, occasion, number of people and so on. Also, I usually never think about my taste because I tend to like or at least to appreciate a wide range of styles. Sometimes the style that I prefer less is the right one with the food that I’m about to eat. For example, I don’t really care for oaked Chardonnays, but with shell fish White Burgundy works great. Now, I do understand that asking for a favorite is a way to be guided, in my case, throughout a wall of wine, much of which is obscure and unheard of. But, when I get the question, I try to respond with questions and determine what kind of wine might suit the person shopping.

Also living not seeking for favorites helped me to explore more, tuning and developing my taste. And exploring helped me to understand better the essence of wine, and things in general, stimulating me to grow. When I was a kid I strongly grasped onto a black and white vision of life, and later, growing up, I discovered a million different shades of gray. I must say that the transition from one vision to the other wasn’t that smooth, but now I do appreciate things that before I used to strongly dislike. Then life brought me to select wines for a wine bar called Il Posto Accanto and the gray range became even wider. I was “forced” to experience wine that I never understood before; really, the entire new world was new to me. But now I can understand a big Zinfandel or a jammy Shyraz; they aren't necessarily going to be the wines I will drink the most but they are options in case the conditions require those flavors. Having options in your hand also allows you to appreciate differences, and that putting two different wines in competition, out of any context, can be pointless. What is better a Barolo or a Brunello, a California Cabernet or a Bordeaux? Who is better Petrus or Lafitte, Biondi Santi or Soldera, Ridge or Stag Leap? I’m sure most people will have a quick answer to each of hose questions, taking a stand for one or the other. But in my opinion, one doesn’t exclude the other, Barolo, Brunello, Petrus and Ridge are all good for different reasons and if one day you choose one it doesn’t mean that another day the other option won't be more appropriate.

In order to create options one must sometimes leave the "comfortable ground of the known," but I do believe that to live without choices is to risk living an inanimate life.