. Vite Vinifera De Vino's Blog: June 2007

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Fragile World

I spend a good amount of time in front of my computer, and a fair part of that time surfing the net, looking at fellow bloggers' sites.
I must say, Dr. Vino is a refreshing font of information, with his articles that are very wide-ranging, concise and most of the time (even when they're kind of twisted) on point.
On July the 2nd he posted part of an interview with Robert Parker for the Naples (FL) Daily News;

"For most people, I think, giving 100 points is almost setting up a situation for the people who are reading it … to be disappointed because you have somebody who’s well-known and has credibility saying it’s perfection in wine. And there’s always the issue: Is there perfection in wine?

I’ve always tried to explain it saying that, you know, I’m a very passionate person and an emotional person. I really think probably the only difference between a 96-, 97-, 98-, 99-, and 100-point wine is really the emotion of the moment."

Now the reality is that the difference between a 96 and 100 could mean a significant change in sales, meaning that essentially, the wine world is so fragile that the emotions of an individual can change the fate of a winery.
Better late than never, I say; finally, we hear something objective from the mouth of a wine critic. 100 points does NOT mean perfection, 100 means that a particular wine in a particular moment gave a particular person a strong emotion.
Now the same wine drunk on another occasion might have garnered a lower score. Ergo, a 100-point wine means that the producer of that wine is probably very lucky that his/her bottle was drunk or tasted at the right time within the right frame of mind.
Isn't this system a little too unreliable? Isn't it absurd that what one person has to say about a bottle of wine can mean millions of dollars in sales? Are consumers so used to having somebody telling them what to like and what not to like that their own brains and taste buds are now useless to their natural purposes?
A little while ago, I posted an article on ratings in which I posited that is not possible to rate a wine with a number chart, because an emotion cannot be quantified and because wine is not an exact science.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The End Day XII

Once again "Il Bel Paese" gave us another gorgeous day - bright sun and fresh air. After breakfast, we met with Luciano and head towards Il Carnasciale.
The story of this winery started in the mid 1980s, thanks to Bettina Schnabel Rogosky and her husband Wolf. It is the story of the Caberlot, which is not a blend, but a specific grape. The grape was first discovered in the 60's when agronomist Remigio Bordini came across a unique clone growing in Veneto.
That clone appeared to be a genetic modification of Cabernet Sauvignon, but it was also showing the characteristics of Merlot. That clone was "adopted" by Remigio, and was grown and cultivated under his care for over 20 years before finding its home in the Chianti region, more specifically in Bucine, near the Fattoria di Petrolo under the shadow of the Galatrona tower.
After a good 15 minutes on dirt roads we passed by the Petrolo estate, and shortly after we saw the "Podere" entrance. Peter Shilling, the winemaker, welcomed us with his marked German accent, and to the side, there it was, shining under the sunlight; the Caberlot field (picture on top), 10.000 plants on one hectare of land for a production of less than 1500 magnums.
The house/winery is very small up to the point that Peter was joking about having barriques stored under his bed. In reality you can spot the barrels almost everywhere around the cellars, as you can see from picture.
To the right is a photo of the main floor, where the wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks, and below that floor is the barrique room, although the barriques are placed wherever there is space for them.
The racking system is made so that the barrels can be turned for the "batonage," and to maximize space (they can hold three rows of barrels). While we were tasting different vintages from the barrels, Peter told us that the estate uses the help of Vittorio Fiore as consultant, that their yields are ridiculously low and that they had to decline a Caberlot request from the former Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi the year before. The plants were planted in 1985, after a long bureaucratic journey, so for good luck, they buried a bottle of 1985 Sassicaia in the field.
The winery also produces the "Carnasciale," a younger brother of the Caberlot made from younger vines of Caberlot. It was bottled for the first time in the year 2000, and we had a bottle of the 2004 after the cellar tour.
One thing I can say about their wines - I've never tried a single-varietal wine that tasted like a Bordeaux before these. They are amazing products with an amazing history.
It was time to leave this little piece of paradise to go visit Theophil, probably the smallest winery in the world.
Peter helps Theophil to produce his wine, a blend of Sangiovese and a little bit of Merlot. Theophil Butz is a Swiss graphic designer (or "inspirator," as he defines himself on his business cards). He bought his house with few rows of vines, and restored it. The cellars are next to the living room, and everything is on the same level. He has 1 small stainless steel vat and 2 barriques for a total production of 300 magnums, which are store behind the barrels in the wall.
Theo opened a bottle, and we tasted it. The wine was very harmonious and elegant, filled with fresh cherries and leather flavors. He opened a 2004 ,which is both the first bottling and the current vintage - I must say that we enjoyed it a lot, and I'm currently working on having the wine imported.
In the picture on the left, you can see Theo in the light blue shirt, Peter in the middle, and Luciano "I' Frasca" on the right, talking (most likely) about politics after we finished the wine.
Sadly it was time to leave, and on the way back to Rome, Piers and I exchanged some thoughts on the trip. We both concurred on the exceptional quality of the wines we'd tasted during our journey, particularly how good the first releases had been; the Castello di Vicarello, Tenuta Vitalonga and Theophil wineries will have a very bright and successful future.
I would like to end this diary thanking everybody we met for the exquisite hospitality they provided, in particular: Gigi Maravalle and Il Frasca for giving us a place to stay; Roberto Cipresso and Billy for the wonderful time in Montalcino, as well as Fabio Giannotti of La Fornace, and Caroline and Jan of Pian dell'Orino; Peter and Theo for showing us some wines that are impossible to find and making them available for my store; Marina for the great meal at il Boccon Divino; and il Frasca once again for the amazing food he prepared for us.
Grazie a Tutti

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Sarteano Day XI

The alarm went off at 8 am; the air was fresh and crisp, the sun was already warming up the earth and a formidable number of birds saluted us with their twitter; yet another spectacular day was ahead of us. The first stop was a more in-depth tour of the Vitalonga cellars. Gigi first took us into the room where the stainless tanks are; the estate vinifies each and every parcel of the vineyard separately, and the tanks are temperature-controlled, giving winemaker Riccardo Cotarella the privilege of having total control of every step of the fermentation process.
Down below the first room, there was the "Barricaia" were the barriques are stored. After the fermentation the wine is transferred by gravity into barrels. Vitalonga employs 3 different kind of wood (Slovenian, French, and American), and splits the wine between new and second hand barrels, were the malolatic fermentation is carried.
When we got to the barrique storage, one of the farmers was moving the solid components in the barrels, batonage, with a funny instrument that looks more like a weapon. We started to taste the barrels, from the youngest to the one that were about to be bottled. Tasting from the barrels is like looking at a baby and from the small sounds and movements they make, you guess how it will be once it's all grown up. We tasted each barrel of the Montepulciano, Cabernet Sauvignon and the Merlot from 2 different parcels (that's a total of 36, not bad to begin the day).
After the barrel sampling, we got in car again, headed toward Sarteano, where Erika was expecting us for lunch at Tenuta di Trinoro.
Here is how small the world is - I met Erika a long time ago, here in NYC while she was working for Domaine Select. Then she moved to Indonesia for few years, and then went back to Italy to work for Mr. Franchetti. It happened by coincidence that I learned of her new adventure, and I was very happy to see her again after so many years.
After a good 45-minute drive, we left the paved road for a white one, and once again we were in the middle of nowhere with amazing 360-degree views of the incomparable countryside. We got there a bit late, left the car and hopped in a old Fiat Panda 4x4 (driven by Erika) to go up to the house for some food and wine. Erika handled the car like a rally pilot in those steep and narrow roads, as we passed by part of the gorgeous vineyards. and when we got to the top, there was a beautiful country house, overlooking the valley guarded by the Mount Amiata, opposite us.
During lunch, Erika opened up a bottle of "Le Cupole" and a bottle of "Passopisciaro". the story of the "azienda" is very unusual, starting with the location; nothing really worth noticing ever came out of Sarteano; then the grape varietals planted - Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot; and last but not least, the crazy owner Andrea Franchetti (who is also the agronomist and the winemaker) that personally choose the blends.
Andrea vinifies every varietal separately until, in April, he figures out the blends. For additional information on his practices, I also suggest visiting the very informative web site of Tenuta di Trinoro.
Passopisciaro is made from Nerello Mascalese from the estate's Sicilian properties, more specifically in the Mount Etna area; both the Trinoro and the Passopisciaro wines are produced in very limited quantity.
After lunch Erika took us around with the red Panda to show us the lake that supplied the water to the vineyards. She also showed us the new plants, and the most precious part of Franchetti's estate; his potato field!!!!!!
Yes is not a mistake nor a joke, Andrea most precious love is his potato field, just consider that he got selected seeds from a special American clone and the King of Belgium, a relation of Franchetti, helped to plant them, the funny part is that there were tens of Italians and Belgians special force and secret service to protect the King while he was planting potatoes...
Then she took us in the cellar, the fermentation is made in cement vats, then the wine is transfered in the barriques for up to six months before going into the bottle.
Our next stop will take us into the core of the Chianti Classico region where my friend Luciano AKA "Il Frasca" was waiting for us. I met Luciano almost 10 years ago, he owns one of the best restaurant I ever eat in called La Valle dell'Inferno overlooking the Ambra river.
The restaurant also have some rooms very well designed with terrace, little kitchen, living room, large bathroom and a big sleeping room, mine also had a small sauna that I used in order to get rid of some toxins :)
After few aperitif it was dinner time and Luciano start to pull out trays of raw scampi, shrimps and some claims and other shell fishes.
Then we had some pasta with asparagus and zucchini followed by a veal "Tagliata" as per wine we had a great bottle of Caberlot from Il Carnasciale, the wine was showing great fruit and body, although the 20o2 vintage wasn't a good one, after some time it start to show notes of pepper and minerality becoming more complex as the oxygen was interacting with the antioxidants.
I will not tell you more about this wine and winery, which has a very interesting story, because Piers and I will visit them the following day therefore I will tell you more in the next post.
The dinner finished with some delicious homemade Tiramisu, Pannacotta, some fresh sorbet and few shots of Grappa.
Every time I come back to Italy I always look forward to spend at least couple of days with Luciano, he is one of my mentor that helped me to learn and understand wine, I like to hang in his restaurant and see his friends that eventually became mine too, I love the irony involved in every conversation, the way the Tuscans make every situation light with some funny jokes and sharp comments, somehow this places recharge me with vital energy.
Another day is about to end, and tomorrow is going to be the last of our trip, probably the one that will reserve us the biggest surprises!
To Be Continued...

Friday, June 08, 2007

Back to my trip Days IX and X

I'm ready to go on the road again! The first stop is the Fiumicino Airport where my friend Piers is about to land, in the afternoon.
The schedule will take us to Umbria for the first day, and then once again to Tuscany for some more winery-seeking.
After a little delay (British Airways lost Piers luggage), we were on the way to Orvieto to have dinner with Gigi Maravalle.
Gigi's family owns a vineyard called Tenuta Vitalonga in Ficulle. They've had the property for many decades, but it was just recently that they've decided to renew their estate.
We arrived in Orvieto a lovely little town that sits on top of a steep hill; this particular hill was the natural defense system for the city during the medieval period.
Piers, Gigi and I had dinner at Vinosus, a cute winebar with a great list and delicious food in the Piazza del Duomo.
I spent endless hours in that piazza, back in the days of yore. I had my training period there while I was serving in the Italian Army for my mandatory period, with my military buddies. We spent so much time there that we actually started to count the Duomo's marble lines on the side facades, a clear indication of how boring the town was at that time.
Now the barracks are closed, and the town is planning to build a university in there. The town itself is now filled with nice little restaurants and bars and it looks much more happening than it did 13 years ago.
We sat outside and ordered the local specialties on the menu - Porcini mushroom Tagliatelle was one of them, and a great Barolo with it.
After dinner we went to sleep at Gigi's estate that has also two guest houses, which he rents out. the place was a typical country house; two stories, with a huge dining room, a very big kitchen several bedrooms and a living room with a fireplace so big that I could almost stand in it; the house also had an outside pool, a huge lawn and a great view.
We got there around 1 in the morning and we still had some energy for a quick tour of the cellars (and for a night cap). Gigi picked up a Magnum of Terre di Confine for the occasion. The wine is a blend of Merlot and Montepulciano. The estate vinified every parcel of the vineyards separately - first in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, and then in 3 different kinds of barriques.
2004 is the first release of this great (and inexpensive) wine. The vines are still very young (around 5 years old), but the wine is already showing the rich and complex character of a much older vineyard.
We had half of a bottle before passing out in Morpheus hands, that took care of our dreams until the morning.
We set the alarm for 8 AM and by 9 we were already on the way to Montalcino, where I'd left some unfinished business. It was another great day, and as you can see in the picture, the top was down and we were ready to go. It took us couple of hours to arrive in Montalcino, but I stopped first at Wine Circus to show it to Piers, and then we proceeded to the site of my unfinished business; lunch at Boccon Di Vino.
The restaurant is owned by Marina's (Roberto Cipresso's wife's) family; it's on the way up to Montalcino from the Cassia and has a stunning view of the Val'd'Orcia. The menu is filled with delicious Tuscan specialties like the "Crostini Toscani," the "Antico Peposo", a plate from the 400's, made from cow cheek, Filetto di Maiale al Brunello, pasta with various game meat sauce, and their infamous "Zuppa di Cipolle"; to drink I choose a bottle of Achaval Ferrer Malbec Finca Altamira 1999, probably the best Malbec produced in Mendoza, full with round flavors of raspberry, leather, hints of mint leaves and some smoky flavors of ashes. The vines are over 80 years old and the production is very limited, in 2002 I went to visit the estate with Cipresso and spent 2 amazing weeks during the harvest time and just by smelling the wine I went back to Argentina for a minute or two. Now if you ever going to be in the vicinity of Montalcino you need to treat yourself with a meal here.
Le Ragnaie was our next stop; the estate, is on the highest part of Montalcino near La Magia and Soldera vineyards, some of their vines are 600 meters above the sea level, the property also have an "agriturismo" which is going to be improved and renovated in the next few years as well as the cellar facilities.
We tasted a nice a refreshing rose vintage 2005, a Rosso 2004 and their Brunello 2001, we also tasted the Rosso 2005 and 2006 from the barrels and the Brunello 2005 and 2006 from the barrels. The wines were all traditional not too heavy with good acidity and sweet tannins. From what I tasted in Montalcino I can say that 2004 is a traditional vintage with a long life in front, the heat of 2005 didn't really bother the Montalcino vines and 2006 looks like an excellent vintage.
It was time to get to our next stop Castello di Vicarello in Cinigiano (Grosseto).
It took us a couple of hours to get there and on the way we went through Banfi Vineyards, I'm not a big fan of them and looking at vineyards place on the low and flat part of Montalcino on the road to Grosseto I remembered why I'm not...
The castle is literally in the middle of nowhere, we traveled for almost 20 minutes on a dirt road not sure if we were lost or not; but then you'll see out of the blue the vineyard 1 hectare with 9000 plants of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Sangiovese (look at top picture) "alberello" system (every plant has his own support and look like a small tree). I must say that Roberto Cipresso is a genius here he goes for the highest quality standards I ever saw; the yield is very low (4 plants per bottle) the plants are so close to each other that all the intervention has to be made by hand, but the result is worth the work and the efforts.
We were welcomed by Carlo Baccheschi Berti which had used his experience in Indonesia to built this 5+ star hotel, every little detail was perfect; the huge gardens were perfectly groomed and the view was breath taking.
Carlo took us in the living room where he opened up the Castello di Vicarello 2004 and cut some Salami flavored with white truffle to go with it. The 2004 vintage was the first release, the plants were still fairly young (5 years of age at the time of the first harvest) the wine was full and balanced, already complex and structured with very charming flavors of red berries cherries and leather. Impressive wine especially being made from still very young vines, the production is tiny (1700 bottles) and I'm currently working on have the wine imported in the states.
Then Carlo gave us a tour of the property, the suites looked like real apartments and every room had a different scent, outside facing south west there is the infinity pool that serve the suites.
Then he showed us the villa with private infinity pools and gardens, then we walked around the vegetable garden and by the olives trees, what an amazing place so quiet that sound like the birds are screaming, so peaceful that you can hear the sound of a roe deer from several hundred yards of distance.
We end up on the top terrace of the castle were we enjoyed the last rays of sun lighting the hills behind the property.
Last stop was the kitchen, where the meals for the guest are prepared using just what is organically grown on the premises, with the exception of meat and fish that Carlo personally buys every 2 days from trusted sources.
It was getting late and we had to go back to Ficulle which was good 2 hours away. The road took us in the heart of the Maremma, in these places I spent many summers growing up, we passed by a great restaurant named Petronio that was sadly closed that day so we kept going until after one of the many sharp turns Pitigliano reviled itself in all his splendor with the steep natural wall of tuff, a particular kind of stone where the town is built on.
Now I'm really time traveling, here my mother used to have a vineyard many many years ago and here is were I had my first wine experience cutting grapes looking at the cellars and have small tastes of the god's nectar.
Another long day was about to finish, we finally arrived at Ficulle around midnight with enough energy to cook some pasta with tuna sauce and to finish the half bottle left from the day before of the Terra di Confine, which now showed much more complexity and balance.
I finally crashed on the bed with a really big smile on my face, part because of what we did today and part for what is going to happen in the next couple of days our compass is going to direct us to the Chianti area.
To Be Continued...

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

La Capitale Days VII and VIII

After a lovely trip I got into Roma. By that time, the sun was already below the horizon, but it was still warm enough to keep the top down and enjoy the Roman breeze. My home town used to be kind of static, not many changes ever occurred, but something was definitely different this time.
Urban-wise, the amazing thing was that a lot of projects were actually completed, like the tunnel on the "Olimpica." There were some changes near the Auditorium, and a lot of "Autovelox," devilish machines that automatically takes pictures of whoever breaks the speed limits. I actually noticed an increase of these devices all over Italy... I guess the local authorities saw the revenue possibilities that tickets can bring in with the use of that technology.
In the couple of days I spent in Rome, I got the chance to meet up with some old friends, and spend some time with my father. Food-wise, I went to a good friend of mine's restaurant called Il Cocomerino in Via Cortina d"Ampezzo 379. Massimiliano did a great job - he built a very big restaurant maintaining a rustic appeal. The grill, the pizza oven and the kitchen are open to the customers' view, and the food was fresh and really well prepared. I had a great selection of "fritti misti" a mixed plate composed of fried olives (Olive all'Ascolana), fried zucchini flowers (Fiori di Zucca), the Suppli (fried rice balls with tomato and mozzarella inside) and their specialty - the Pizzelle (fried pizza dough stuffed with cold cuts or cheese - delicious). I skipped the first course to keep space for the monster Bistecca alla Fiorentina that I ordered next.
The wine of choice was a nice and inexpensive Rosso di Montalcino. Being that the restaurant was more Pizzeria and Trattoria style, the wines on the list were all below 40 Euro, and that served us more than decently with our meal.
The Flintstones-sized steak came on a hot stone tray and carved out the bone from the precise waiter's hands. Inside, the meat was still row (as it should be), and the stone was there to finish the cooking.
It was a great meal, and with the company a group of old friends, some of whom I haven't seen for over 8 years, it was like going back in the past with a time machine... but the fact that most of them are now married with kids brought the watch back to the current time :)...
Finished with dessert and after-dinners, some of us left with the wives and the singles. Others, myself included, left for a round in the center.
I hopped on my 1977 Honda 400, seen here in the original blue color, that I changed to yellow a decade ago.
The ride took us towards Piazza delle Coppelle were another old pal had opened up a very nice spot named Coco with kitchen, bar and outside sitings.
I had couple of mohitos made, like the recipe calls for, with some great Cuban Rum (Havana Club Riserva). I was standing outside in the middle of this little Piazza, and the best part was that is legal to do so in Europe. That actually reminded me of another great night spot, which is Pizza Campo dei Fiori, where in the morning you'll find the local market and from the afternoon on, it becomes the most happening square of the center. There are 5 or 6 bars, 2 wine bars, several restaurants and a movie theater; technically there are a ton of people there for almost 20 hours per day.
I feel sorry for the people that live above the square, but it is kind of amazing how Campo dei Fiori is still so happening after so many years.
I enjoyed these couple of days spent in Roma, but there is no time for that now. Tomorrow I will be on the road again to pick up Piers at the airport to go discover some more wineries.
To be continued...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Little Commercial Break: The Learning Case

Hello Wine Explorers,
Asimov's recent posts on having a mixed case of wine as learning tool was spot on; I remember one of my "wine school" was the Enoteca in Cortina d'Ampezzo were everyday I was going after a skiing day, to have a different glass of wine.
So far I've being providing this kind of service on one to one basis, so I suggested mixed cases on personal basis according to the taste of the costumer.
After reading Eric's article I realize that if I can put together a mixed case filled with wines that have different character, it may better if somebody is in for a learning experience.
As I said earlier my approach when I needed to learn was the "scientific" one; I order two different glass every day starting from the top of the board working my way down, so in one week I tasted 14 different quality wines that weren't chosen to my taste, also the fact that I was buying the glass (I was 16 years old with some cash flow) made me think about the wine itself more then whatever I liked it or not.
So with this week newsletter I would like to propose the "learning case" a selection of 3 different wine for 4 different categories, Reds, White, Rose and Sparklers under $ 250.


Bruno de Conciliis Salim Brut 2005 (Italy)
Refreshing and elegant blend of Fiano and Aglianico grapes patiently crafted by the master Bruno de Conciliis.

Avinyo Cava Brut NV (Spain)
Parellada, Xarel-lo, Macabeo blend and vinified with the traditional method, complex and elegant; from the Penedes region north of Barcellona.

Billecart Salmon Brut Reserve NV (France)
Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, fine Champagne elegant and round with charming fresh berries flavors.


Cantina Valle d'Isarco Kerner 2005 (Italy)
From Trentino Alto Adige mineral and crisp with red apples and pears palate

Movia Tocaj Gredic 2005 (Slovenia)
Full and dry Tocai Friulano, round and mineral very unusual like the hand that is behind the Movia Estate.

Albert Boxler Riesling 2004 (France)
From Alsace not too sweet with good acidity and minerality that makes the wine refrrshing and clean.


Cantina Bolzano Lagrein Rose` 2005 (Italy)
Nice fresh red berries flavors dry and refreshing

Shinn Estate Vineyards Rose` 2006 (USA)
From the North Fork of Long Island this 100% Merlot is full and dry gentle fruit bouquet and long dry finish.

Lopez de Heredia Rioja Rose` 1997 (Spain)
Blend of Tempranillo, Garnacho and Viura aged for ten years between large casks and bottle; very unusual herbal and full light in color big in structure.


Felipe Rutini Malbec 2004 (Argentina)
Rutini is an Italian family that started to make wine in Mendoza in the late 19th century, traditional style, spicy and full of dark fruit and mint leaves flavors.

Domaine du Gallet du Papes Chateauneuf du Pape 2001 (France)
Great medium bodied Chateauneuf made mostly from Grenache grapes, earthy with soft tannins.

Cavallotto Dolcetto d'Alba Vigna Scot 2005 (Italy)
Sharp with firm and sweet tannins, fresh flavors of cherries dry and long in the finish.

The case priced at $ 240 (before taxes and shipping were applicable) to order click here.

Enjoy your "homework"

Saturday, June 02, 2007


In collaboration with Dr. Vino we are calling a "Meet Up" at Il Posto Accanto on Thursday June the 7th from 6 Pm to 8 Pm.
Meet up is an excuse to phisically meet from the virtual world to share some wine and food.
So if this sounds good to you show up Thursday and bring a friend as well if you have somebody worth a nice afternoon :)
See you soon everybody.