. Vite Vinifera De Vino's Blog: January 2007

Monday, January 29, 2007

Super Bowl Wines

Whether you're looking for Peyton and the Colts to go all the way this Sunday, or you're ready to see the Bears victorious in their first Super Bowl in over two decades, there's one thing about this weekend's game that everyone can agree on - Super Bowl parties.

For many, a cold beer or a simple mixed cocktail will do for Super Bowl Sunday - they certainly do serve as a great compliment for a bowl of pretzels or a sweet sausage nacho cheese dip. But for those who want to put their feet up with a nice glass of wine during the party, we have a few suggestions that might be too tantalizing to pass up.

Medici Ermete Lambrusco, "Grasparossa," 2005 a slightly sparkling chilled red, Lambrusco is a perfect Super Bowl drink. Boasting a dry, cleansing palate of blackberries, raspberries and roses, Lambrusco is quite the companion for barbecue chicken wings and potato chips,

Montesel Prosecco di Conegliano "Riva dei Fiori," 2005 An uncommonly elegant and historical prosecco, presumed to be from the Hills of Japheth, the third son of Noah, who according to Genesis, discovered the art of winemaking. Impeccable scents of fruit and white flowers mark this smooth sparkling wine, with an overwhelmingly clean effervescent palate, perfect for washing down lil smokies and the dip-adorned crudité that are sure to be gracing the country's coffee tables.

Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Another Late Night

I was very happy to spend some time with Roberto Cipresso, after a year or so apart. In my short wine life, I have had few mentors; people that drastically made an impact on my wine education. They are my father and mother, who kindled the process; Luciano Maddi AKA Il Frasca; and of course, Roberto, holder of the title of winemaker of the year awarded by the "Associazione Italiana Sommelier" and author of Il Romanzo Del Vino. He and I met up for the first time here in New York, at a friend's house. I remember blind-"tasting" something like 25 bottles of wine between 5 of us (not a bad way to start a friendship...). After that, I had the chance to work with him on a project in Sicily and the pleasure to share the 2002 harvest in Mendoza with Achaval Ferrer.
Needless to say the amount of information I've learned from him was huge, but one thing in particular had a resounding impact on me; I had learned the human side of the wine, the famous hand behind it; I saw how a great wine is made from the initial stage of an unborn idea until is mature in the bottle - he showed me the emotional side of the nectar of the gods.
Last Wednesday, Roberto and Daniel Oliveros had invited me for dinner at La Masseria in midtown.
The theme of the night was Cotes du Rhone and the lineup was pretty intense. There were 7 of us at the table, and guests included: Mary Ewing Mulligan, the editor of Wine For Dummies, and her husband Edward V McCarthy; Laurie, who works with Daniel; and Daniel's wife Natalie, who joined the table just shortly after we arrived. (I have to interrupt myself momentarily, just to say that after I saw Natalie, it took me good 5 minutes to regain focus on the wine I was sipping)
The Oliveros make a series of wine with Roberto
called Sogno, the first one (Uno) is a red, based in Cesenatico (a grape that grows in Lazio). the second, which will be released in the near future, is a Falanghina; they also have the "Tre" and "Quattro" in progress (contents undisclosed).
Going back to the dinner - we were welcomed with 2 bottles of Louis Roederer Champagne from 1990. There was an interesting difference between the 2 bottles; the first was more austere and probably showing more hints of age than the second, which had fresher flavors of berries. Then we started in on the reds; they were all very good, showing complexity and highlights of terroir and old vines. Jean Louis Chave, Chaputier and Bernard Faurie were among the stars of the evening. Chave's wines, Hermitage from 1998 and 2000, were full, open, and bursting with character, a bouquet of intense berries balanced
by austere tannins and the spiced flavors derived from the terroir. Bernard Faurie was more enigmatic and closed with strong minerality - we had the Hermitage 1995 vintage. Chaputier was somewhat in the middle of the two. After a while, I must say that the experience became a little blurred and overwhelming; with so many good wines, it was hard to focus and remember. So I can say that also the Levet' s Cote Rotie and the 1985 Cornas were impressive, but beyond that, the details start to get a little hazy in my memory.
The last bottle was something I could not forget; Chateau d'Yquem 1921!!! What to say - just the emotion of looking at that golden juice gave me the chills. The wine was still fresh over 85 years after its bottling - it had lost most of its sweetness, and had left citrus flavors of grapefruit and candied orange peel. As the wine opened up in the glass the more typical flavors of dried apricot also started to show.
It was a memorable night for the company and the amazing wines we drank, so memorable, in fact, that I really didn't mention anything about the food, which was very good, but surpassed by everything else.
That night was about friendship and strong relations that last long like a standing promise.
Grazie Daniel and Natalie for the wonderful evening and grazie Roberto for fueling my passion.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

From Patagonia with Passion

This is the story of a dream that it has materialized in a bottle of wine.
The story starts as usual in a glass shared with friends, that is what Piero Incisa della Rocchetta did in Argentina. " I had tasted a Pinot Noir that Hans (Vinding Diers) had made for Humberto Canale (a Rio Negro Specialist) and the wine hunted me".
Here is when the pursuit for the dream took him in a magical place were he found 85 acre vineyard with Pinot Noir plantings from 1932, 1955, 1967 and 1999.
Historically the Rio Negro has been the fruit growing center of Argentina, producing particularly apples. Chalky soil combined with a long ripening season under clear skies make it an ideal home for vineyards.
I had the "treintados" few night ago at Il Posto Accanto, which by the way is now open on Mondays, had it with my friend Piers, an English gentleman, Burgundy lover and connoisseur.
We opened the new released 2005 and decanted it, we had a little taste in the glass while we let the nectar breathe oxygen.
We appreciate the color with deep purple reflection, the nose filled with violet and herbal scents, in the palate the soft and yet firm tannins cleaned the palate for the long persistent finish of pure terroir.
Although the wine was still a baby, because of the age of the vine, it was already showing complexity and the secondary flavors of exotic spices, minerals and rose petals.
We waited until the food arrived, some amazing Oxtail Ravioli, to keep experiencing the bottle.
The wine kept opening losing some of the boise flavors and strangely enough showing firmer tannins, I must say that the pairing with the Ravioli was sublime. Piers comment to the wine was "extraordinary" I felt the same way. The wine is highly allocated and very expensive($ 120 plus shipping if you can get it from the winery I sell it for $ 160); little more than 2700 bottles and 150 magnums were produced in 2004.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here

In Dante's inferno those words were written on top of the hell's gate, and I think those should be in any Italian's wine book preface.
Italy is a very complicated wine country, we grow the highest number of grapes than any other, we have as many laws that identify a wine and as many exceptions. We have some grapes that are grown exclusively by just one producer like the Barbarossa, named after Frederick the first Emperor of Germany, in Emilia Romagna by Fattoria Paradiso.
The destiny of that grape was rewritten when in1955 Mario Pezzi discover it in a over 100 year old vineyard that was destined for the scrapers, now they are the only ones in the world growing Barbarossa. We have not-so-good DOCG's (the highest quality denomination reserved for wines like Barolo, Brunello and so on), and some excellent Vino da Tavola. Then you have the guys that follow the institutional guidelines, but they do not want to part of the institution itself, like Maculan and Anselmi in Veneto, who refuse the Soave DOC status, even though their wines meet the qualifications necessary. The same goes for Cascina Ebreo in Piemonte which makes a kick ass "Barolo," called "Torbido," but because of a vinification choice made by the house, it is categorized as Vino da Tavola.
In the belpaese every individual has his own way of doing things, and this is true with wine as well - learning about Italian wine involves a lot of drinking and studying. To this day I still come across new grapes that I've never heard of before; the wine business bloomed in the past 10 years and new wineries started to grow like mushrooms creating, if possible, even more confusion. For example, and just to make things a little bit more obsure we have a town in the south of Tuscany that is called Montepulciano were the Rosso and the Nobile di Montepulciano are produced, but we also have a grape that is called Montepulciano and is the most famous "Abruzzese" (from Abruzzo) grape. Sangiovese is called so in the Chianti area, but it changes its name to Brunello in Montalcino, Prugnolo in Montepulciano and Morellino in the Maremma area; Nebbiolo is also known as Chiavanesca in Valtellina.
With all of these essentially chaotic facts surrounding the study and enjoyment of Italian wine, it can be a very rigorous undertaking to build a substantial knowledge base - and even then, even after a lifetime of learning, there are still thousands of new things to know. At least we know that there is always something new to enjoy, right?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Size does matter

Most good things in life come in small packages!
There is an exception to that rule, the bottle format is one of those; in that case the bigger the better. There are several different reasons why a wine will sit better in bigger bottles, one is the fact that the wine will take more time to develop as the size of the bottle increase. Other reason is that usually a selection of the best wine goes into larger formats. The largest bottle I'd personally drank from was a Melchior; the equivalent of 24 bottles in one, it was a Felsina Fontalloro 1997 that we drank during the World Cup Final game against France, the wine was different more complex with stronger peppery notes and a depth that I haven' t experienced from the regular sized bottles of the vintage. Big bottles are very desirable within the collectors for the longevity that the size will guarantee, for the higher quality of the wine inside it and because larger formats will increase the value quicker and for longer than regular bottles. These factors in combination with the small amounts that every producer dedicate to the larger sizes makes the price rise. That's why most of the time the price of a magnum is more than twice the price of a regular bottle, I'm not referring obviously at the so called "bottiglioni" used for the house pour in most restaurants and bars which follow a different path price wise. Personally I like to drink from big bottles also to satisfy a primitive instinct of opulence and decadence, I also believe that it is a more "social" size that gives the opportunity to a bigger group of people to share wine from the same bottle, it will also make a big impression on others, try to show up with a 5 liter at a party and see for how long people will remember you.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

When in Doubt Champagne

The name Champagne derived from the Latin Campania which identify the open country side north of Rome. In the early middle age it became applied to a province in north east France. Today Champagne is synonymous of finest sparkling wine in world.
The first serious mention of vineyards date back to the 5th century, at that time the wine was made out of Pinot Noir it wasn't sparkling and had a pale pinkish color.
In the early 17th century the winemaking in Champagne greatly improved under the auspice of a clerical men; Dom Perignon.
But it wasn't until the second half of the century that the wine great fame became reality with the introduction into the Court of Versailles and later on in London by the banished Marquis de St Everemond.
In the cold winter, normal in the region, the fermentation had the tendency to stop until the spring when milder temperature restart the fermentation, that used to be consider some sort of nuisance, as the resulting release of Carbon Dioxide was often strong enough to break the flimsy bottle used at that time. The Brits later on developed a stronger bottle that permitted drinkers to enjoy the "bubbles".
Although the more resistant glass still the pressure is so strong that of the few thousand bottles produced yearly up to half would break.
Today the Champagne bottles can withstand a pressure up to 6 atmospheres (the same pressure you have 150 feet below water).
In the early 1800s notable wineries like Madame (Veuve) Cliquot, Bollinger, Krug, Roederer and Moet started their history. The Champagne's history had also some set backs mostly caused by the Philloxera, deadly bug that destroyed 80% of the European vines, and the two World Wars. During the Philloxera time the scarcity of prime material generated the first big wine scandal (some vintners took the short cut of sourcing grape outside what was considered the Champagne area). The French authority tried than to specify by law which Communes were entitled to produce Champagne; that attempt almost resulted in a civil war in 1911.
Was finally in the 1950's that the region has enjoyed unprecedented prosperity with sells quadrupling to well over 200 millions bottles.
Personally I drink a fair amount of Champagne all throughout the year and not just in special occasion. Sparkling wines in general are good with a lot of different plates that are hard to match with still wine, the carbonation and the delicate flavors cleans the palate making possible the marriage with Caviar or similar not so wine friendly food.
It is good as aperitif, during a meal, after a meal and for breakfast too maybe corrected with some peach nectar or blood orange juice. It have a festive aura that makes his appearance very well accepted in every occasion to the point that most non wine drinker would not refuse a glass of it.
In the end if you don't know what to drink or what to bring to a social event choose a nice bottle filled with "bubbles" and you will not go wrong.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Marketing Power

A few nights ago, a customer told me about a client of hers that was raving about a "higher end" Pinot Grigio that he gets in a restaurant in New Jersey. Right away, I said "I'm afraid that might be the Santa Margherita." My customer checked the restaurant's wine list online and found out, sure enough, that the "higher end" pinot grigio was the Santa Margherita, selling for $45. I thought it ironic since they also had the Rosazzo Pinot Grigio, which is a far better product in my opinion, on the list for just $28. As I reflected on this story, I thought about the power of marketing.

Santa Margherita spends millions of dollars in advertising and public relations, as do other wineries like Castello Banfi. The budgets for giants like Gallo or Yellow Tail are in the range of tens million dollars. At some business wineries, marketing strategy is so important that they invest more in marketing than in their vineyards. This outcome of all this advertising investment is that their wines, which are below average for their category, gain an added brand value in the minds of consumers. Usually, I don't like to compare wines since each bottle contains it's own stories and meanings and opinions and tastes can differ, but there is a huge difference (objectively!) between, for example, the ordinary but well-advertised Santa Margherita and an excellent wine at the same price from Ronco del Gnemiz or Cantine Terlano.

It is amazing to me that people are more apt to submit to information from a television just a glorified plastic box, really than they are to their own judgement. I admit that I have a negative opinion of advertising. Maybe it is due in part to my upbringing my parents always reminded me how fake commercials can be when I saw something miraculous advertised that I thought I had to have. And I know a bit firsthand, having played a priest in a television commercial once myself, and I'm no priest! But, the lessons are there for everyone. Just think about how people used to think smoking was safe when in the 60's actors dressed as doctors campaigned for them on tv! Look at those big billboards promoting famous champagne usually consist of beautiful people and some line that has nothing to do with the product itself. Or, the Yellow Tail ad that says "tails you win." You win what? You win yourself a big headache is what you win. In the end, it's a good idea to rely on your brain and your taste, rather than the brain of someone else especially when that other brain has the goal of taking your money and not of improving your life!

I wish you all a 2007 filled with goodness, joy, and exciting experiences, all of your own choosing!

Buona Bevuta a Tutti