. Vite Vinifera De Vino's Blog: 2008

Monday, December 29, 2008

Time and Timing

Like everything else in life time and timing are two key factors to succeed in every field, meaning that all the qualities and skills in the world might be not enough to reach a goal if the timing is off. With the nectar of the gods time and timing is even more critical factor. Let's start with time; slow pace is what vines requires, from the moment you plant a vine it will take at least 4 years for the plant to be able to produce enough complex grapes to have a good wine, but it will take several decades in order to have grapes complex enough to produce a great wine, with time in fact the vine's roots will crawl down in to the earth and as exponentially the deeper they go the more complex the grape will get. Making a wine takes time, from the fermentation to being release to the market, some wineries will age their wines in their cellars for a decade, like Kalin cellars or Giuseppe Quintarelli (his Amarone Riserva is aged for 13 years). After being release to the market some wines are still not ready and will need several more decades of aging in the consumer hands (a clear example are the 2005 Burgundy). Timing is also essential in life as well as for wine, like in life there is not a magical formula that will teach you about timing and like in life good timing comes with intuition supported by experience. Famous is the "dumb" period in Burgundies a window where the wine will close without any apparent reason and can last for few years, also Chateaunef du Pape has timing issues, either you drink it young or you'll have to wait for a decade. Wrong timing is also when you'll open a bottle in the wrong conditions; an Amarone is best enjoyed when outside temperature is low, opening a 16% plus wine in the middle of August it might not be a good idea. Probably the only wines that are timing free are the sparklers, good with virtually any food, any weather, any occasions and reasons or any celebration!!!
Talking about that I guess this is going to be the right time to wish you a great 2009...
Buona Bevuta a Tutti!!!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Happy Holidays!!!

It has been very hectic here at De Vino and that's why I haven't post lately, I promise you I'll be back on schedule as soon the holidays will be over.
Meanwhile I like to extend the best wishes for a great Holidays Season and a wonderful New Year to all of you.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Back in what seems like another life, I briefly touched the winemaking world when I got involved in starting a winery in Sicily, the biggest island in the Mediterranean sea. That experience was fairly brief, but it did have a few added bonuses, one of which was a pact between Roberto Cipresso and I to make a wine together. Now, after 5 years, that pact will be honored - Segni is about to be bottled.
Let's go back to almost a year ago when Roberto came to New York with 12 small plastic bottles (much easier to transport) filled with different red wines from different vineyards around the boot. That day, we decided what the wine would be composed of. Roberto told me that he knew already what is going to be but he wanted to see what I thought before telling me. After going back and forth tasting through, two bottles stood out; a Syrah from Umbria and an Aglianico from Basilicata. We started then to blend out of the plastic bottles, higher percentage of Syrah, then more Aglianico or in equal parts and with some Montepulciano. In the past, I have done many barrel tastings in various wineries, and one in particular gave the sense of the importance of blending, even if the wine is produced from a single varietal. A clear example is the Fattoria Il Carnasciale, which I visited a couple of times. They grow just one grape - the "Caberlot" - and they have different parcels of land at various altitudes and exposures. In the cellar, all the parcels are vinified separately in barriques and every cask is like an instrument, with the wine maker as the director that needs to assemble the orchestra in order to create a sublime concert. And of course, that's exactly what happened we opened a bottle of Il Caberlot after tasting through the barrels. This time was a little different, therefore exciting, since my role changed from passive taster and appreciator of the final music, to active participant, all the way down to the choice of the instruments. So after trying in the store and then again last September in Montalcino at Roberto's cellars, the final blend was decided and the wine is about to be bottled... and soon we will be able to hear the sound of it. The final blend will be Aglianico and Syrah vinified separately:
the Aglianico comes from 44 year old vines situated in Barile (Basilicata), trained on a guyot system with a density of 10,500 plants per Hectare, at 480 meters above sea level. The vines produced 700 gr each and the grapes were harvested in the second week of October 2007. The fermentation lasted 10 days and it was carried out in stainless steel tank. The wine was then aged for 12 months in French oak barrels.
The Syrah came from 7 year old vines, situated in Orvieto (Umbria), and trained in "Cordone Speronato" system with a density of 7800 plants per hectare at 300 meters above sea level. The vines produced 500 gr each and the grapes were harvested at the end of September 2007. The fermentation lasted 10 days and it was carried out in stainless steel tanks. The wine was then aged for 12 months in French oak barrels. There will be 400 bottles and 100 magnums of total production. These two vineyards produce wines possessing big character that could be bottled as single grape, and it was almost a revelation to see how these two vineyards could compliment each other, enhancing the terroir-driven connotations. From the last barrel tasting, the wine was layered with fruits, minerality and salinity, with sweet, firm tannins and a lingering note of dark berries and hints of violet. In January, I will probably open a sample bottle and see how much more time the wine will need to sit in bottle.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti!!!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Why did you choose that wine?

Over time, young men come to know the rule that states, plain and simple: the old guys know the exceptions. This apparently simple phrase has opened up a new horizon in my wine education; I remember the general pairing rules that I learned as kid were - red for meat and white for fish, no artichoke or fennel, and beware of lemon... and caviar goes with vodka. Pretty straight forward, but maybe a little TOO straight forward. One thing I've learned is that exceptions confirm the rule... so where are the exceptions in the pairing world? That is what I've learned with time and casual pairings.
After many bad pairings and few lucky ones, I can still remember a great one from when I was 18 (in Italy we do not have age limits for alcohol - Mom and Dad take care of that) in a small but great restaurant in the Porto Ercole called Bacco, in Toscana. The pairing placed an Alsatian Gewürztraminer next to Mediterranean lobsters, and it was divine. To tell the truth, I learned that combination from my father, an Alsatian wine lover who, along with my uncle Riccardo, used to ravage the vineyards, filling the car with cases of wine at least once per year. They were the ones who told me about crustaceans and aromatic wines.
So, I was saying - after many years I learned slowly but surely the exceptions, the grey areas, the fine line of pairing where you can play with your creativity. Ironically, I was also learning that as a person, although I didn't leave the black and white comfortable ground in my life for few more years. Inside, I had an uneasy feeling of the fear of the new. So I carried on, holding on to my beliefs until I was ready to fly solo. A big help during that time came once again from Luciano AKA Il Frasca, a wonderful friend. When I was in charge of Il Bagatto's wine lists, we had a long conversation about pairing red wines with fish - a conversation that, like a fever, entered my soul and grwe strong with time.
Eric Asimov, in his blog The Pour wrote:
"Twenty years ago – back when critics used to talk of the wine “marrying’’ the food — I used to take this business of pairing foods and wines more seriously than I do now. I used to try for precise matches, carefully analyzing the characteristics of the food and conjuring up wines that offered sufficient compatibility, or contrastability, to achieve semi-perfection. But I tired of this approach. Or more precisely, it bored me out of my mind. My eyes still glaze over when I read some treatise outlining the supposed principles of food and wine pairing. I prefer a far more casual, instinctive approach."
I believe, judging from Eric's sentiments, that he got the same fever I did. He is right about the instinct, which is also supported by years of experience. You don't ask why you choose something anymore, you don't run the rules in your head, but instead you start to FEEL the wine - you have a sip and the pair will materialized in your mind... you think of an occasion and the bottle unveil like magic before your eyes. It's happened many times in my fairly short life with an increasing average as I grow, and I really spent a lot of time analyzing the change. But last Monday, my thinking began to shift. I was having a great lunch at Balthazar (definitely among my top 3 places in New York) with S. and ordered a 1990 Bourgogne Rouge 1er cru (sorry, I didn't take pictures, and I forgot the name:) with "Le Grand": two stories of delicious seafood, including oysters and other delicious raw delicacies.
So S. asks me "have you had this wine before?"
"Nope," I said. "I actually like to pick things I haven't tried before when I trust the list."
Then, innocently she asked "so why did you choose this wine?", and I stumbled a bit on my answer. I thought, well... I knew the plate, because I had had it many times before, and I did experience red wine with oysters (read here). I had also had a heavier wine like the Marion Cabernet Sauvignon with mackerel, and that worked great, but none of those thoughts actually answered her question. So I smiled and said, "I don't know, but it worked, right?!!!"
And indeed, the Pinot Noir was integrating well with everything we had in front of us, including the company.
Then I read the Asimov article, and realized that I followed my intuition, just like I've been following it for quite some time now. I don't have a scholastic approach to wine - I just let the wine or the wine list talk to me, more then trying to talk to it. Yes... a good wine list will talk to you, and allow you to freely choose without preconceptions... and yes, a wine will talk to you about his home, the year, the problems and the good parts of it, the stressful periods and the happy ones and whatever else may have happened during its life, until the moment you drink it. Once you learned how to listen, I believe the wine will actually call to you, wherever the bottle is... in your cellar, in a shop or written on a list.
I guess what I'm trying to say here is that instead of just tasting a wine and use your knowlege to formulate a judgment, it might be more useful sit back drink the wine and feel what it has to say to you. Am I being too romantic??? Maybe. But what actually is the essence of wine, other than a never ending romantic story?

Buona Bevuta a Tutti!!!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Tasting At The Times.

Lately the phone calls at the store have been bringing a fair amount of good news. Perhaps one of the best came a few weeks ago from Eric Asimov, the chief wine critic of the New York Times, bearing an invitation to be part of his panel to taste some Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.
This was my second time on a tasting panel at The Times, and needless to say, I consider that a great honor. I would once again go into Renzo Piano's creation to sit among the best palates in the world, at the headquarters of one of the nation's most read newspapers. I got there a bit early, and I was welcomed by Eric, who took me to his desk and started to talk about Camillieri, the author of "Il Commissario Montalbano," a series of books based on the stories of a Sicilian police inspector in a small town called Vigata. I'm a big fan of Camilleri's work, so much so that I've read all of the Montalbano books and I think he is simply a brilliant writer - probably the best we've had in Italy in the past century. The next topic was, of course, wine. We exchanged some opinions on 2006 Burgundies, and the scoop is that we both agreed on the notion that 2005 was not significantly better than 2006, though the prices are suggesting otherwise. Then, it was time to get upstairs to the tasting room, where the table was already covered with glasses filled with Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. Eric, of course, did a great job on describing the tasting and the results, and you can also hear my opinions on the tasting. (click here to read the article) For this post, however, I will just focus on some thoughts about this fairly simple grape.
Like most of the Italian red grapes, Montepulciano's origins date back to the Greeks. But only since the 17th century has it been known as Montepulciano - the name has been contended between the Toscani and the Abruzzesi since then. The confusion started because of the many similarities, both organic and morphological qualities of the wines produced in Montepulciano (Tuscany) and the ones produced in Abruzzo. It was later discovered that the grape Montepulciano Primutico, grown in south of Tuscany, was in fact Prugnolo Gentile, a clone of the Sangiovese not related to the Montepulciano grapes. Going back several centuries, we find that the wine produced in Aptruzi (old name of the Abruzzi region) fed the Cartago Commander of Hannibal's army, and animals during the long-lasting Roman siege. The grape itself is quite simply, monochromatic. Montepulciano translates itself in cherry flavors - most other layers in the wine come from the terroir and/or the vinification methods. It is commonly used in "Purezza" (100%), or in blends. It is also a fairly adaptable vine, planted in most of the Italian regions. The wines are often very inexpensive and mass produced; wineries like D'Angelo and Zonin are a clear example, but Montepulciano also reaches the inner sanctum of the best Italian wines, especially when we are talking about Pepe and Valentini, the two iconic producers of the region. For some, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo could become the king grape of Italy dethroning the Sangiovese. In my opinion, we are still pretty far from that happening - but if go back with my memory to when I opened an Emidio Pepe 1980 a couple of years ago, I can see the reason why some winemakers think that way.
I would like to thank Eric Asimov for inviting me, Bernard Kirsch for choosing the wines for us and Florence Fabricant for being a great host at the panel tasting.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Heavy Metals Found In Most of European Wines

Thanks to Eric Porres's Blog NY Grapes, I learned that a study of biomolecular scientists Declan P. Naughton, PhD, and Andrea Petroczi of the Kingston University in London indicates that there are hazardous concentration of heavy metals in wines coming from the old world. The good news are that Italian Brazilian and Argentinian wines are safe to drink. Here are the list of the countries with the worst THQ (target hazard quotients) score:

  • Hungary
  • Slovakia
  • France
  • Austria
  • Spain
  • Germany
  • Portugal
  • Greece
  • Czech Republic
  • Jordan
  • Macedonia
  • Serbia

Hungary and Slovakia had maximum potential THQ values over 350. France, Austria, Spain, Germany, and Portugal -- nations that import large quantities of wine to the U.S. -- had maximum potential THQ values over 100.

You can read the full article on MD Web HERE

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Comte Liger Belair

In the ways of wine, it has been a good period lately - I guess the summer is over, so it is getting colder, and easier to open some cellar jewels. But before I get into that, I'd like to introduce Susan, a wonderful woman with whom I am glad to have shared some great time and obviously some of God's nectar with recently. Now, the wines - let's start with Comte Liger Belair Vosne Romanee. This micro-winery has a long history in Burgogne; the Liger-Belair family settled in Vosne when Louis Liger-Belair, a Napoleonic general, acquired the Chateau of Vosne in 1815. When the Comte Louis-Charles died, the family’s holdings covered more than sixty hectares principally in the Côte de Nuits, with ownership of some of France’s most prestigious appellations: the monopolies of La Romanée, La Tâche, La Grande Rue, a large portion of Malconsorts, parcels of Chaumes, Reignots, and Suchots in Vosne Romanée, Saint Georges and Vaucrains in Nuits St. Georges, Clos Vougeot and Cras in Vougeot, Chambolle, Morey, as well as Chambertin. In addition, they also held a domaine of fifteen hectares at Fleurie in Beaujolais. In 1933, because of the French inheritance laws and the will of most of Comte Liger's sons, the domaine was auction off entirely. In 2000, Louis Michel created his own ,buying back 1.5 hectares of vineyards in Vosne-Romanée La Colombière, Clos du Château, 1er Cru Les Chaumes. In 2002 he recovered another 1.6 hectares and today he mananages 8.7 hectares of vines in Vosne-Romanée, Nuits St. Georges, and Flagey Echezeaux. I first tried Liger wines at a Liz Willette tasting where I had the pleasure to meet Becky Wessman and her husband Russell. A small taste just gave an idea of what this wine can express, so after receiving few cases of both Vosnee Romanee and Nuits St. Georges 1er cru Les Cras, I shared the Vosnee Romanee 2006 with Piers. We open it at the store and drank it throughout the course of the evening (an hour and a half more or less) without food. These vines are 40 to 60 years old, planted in clay and limestone soil and merely 2600 bottles were labeled in 2006. I had the Nuits St. Georges a week later, this time at the store with Susan, and a decanter to help the wine along. The vines of this 1er cru are 70 years old, and they lay on fine clay soil that covers a limestone base. Fewer than 1600 bottles were produced in 2006.
Both wines were showing, although they were very young, a great complexity. Layers of flowers intersecting with mild wild strawberry scents were hitting the nose and the palate, firm and sweet tannins made for a long finish. The Les Cras was more focused and elegant, showing the age of the plants through a velvet texture with a touch of vanilla that disappeared after 20 minutes or so. Spicier and with great herbal complexity, this was probably the best 1er cru I have tried so far.

Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Saturday, October 04, 2008

A Special Bottle

Every once in a while, an ordinary day can turn, just for a moment, into an extraordinary one. Picture this: a sunny and fresh Thursday afternoon during the Jewish holiday (a notoriously slow period for business), and the biggest economic crash in years - not many bottles were leaving the store, and I wasn't running around suggesting a white for sushi or a red for a gift. Although I can't be insensitive to what is happening in world right now, I actually like the fact that things are slowing down a bit, that I have time to think, and a reason (a very good one I will add) to read the signs and plan strategies for the future. Conclusively, I think New York, after the storm has passed, will be a better city. Sorry for the digression. - So this day, this slow and contemplative day, was dragging itself along aimlessly, when all of a sudden, a call from a blocked number on my cell started to flip things around. That call created an excuse to give a different meaning to an uneventful day. As it often happens, you don't create a special situation to open a special bottle, but it is the chance occurrence of that situation that will suggest what to open, and last night suggested that it was time to open a bottle of Billecart-Salmon Cuvee Elisabeth Salmon Rose` 1998.
A word or two about Billecart-Salmon: the maison was founded in 1818 by Francois and Elisabeth Billecart, and today the seventh generation of their family is working the estate that covers about 30 hectares of land and source grapes from 110 hectares of 35 single crus. The Cuvee Elisabeth was first bottled in 1988, is an even blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, vinified white. Some Pinot Noir from Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, vinified as red wine, is added to create the rose. I had never tried the '98, and my guest was the perfect fit for the task. We both put our noses in the glass and glanced at each other right after with a mixture of surprise and satisfied expressions on our faces then it was time for the palate to give an assessment. For a second the world disappeared around me and all I could see was the salmon color of the glass while I was about to ingest some of that nectar. A million bubbles started to gently tingle my mouth while several layers of fresh red berries, light violet and candied lemon skin were dancing between the top of throe and the back of the nose. Amazing!
The champagne was served at 9 Celsius degrees and I left the bottle in a bucket on top of the ice with just enough glass in contact with the ice to keep the temperature constant, drinking a Champagne like this one too cold is a sin. After I came back to earth, I felt like the first time you kiss somebody you care, I started to notice the firm acidity and other signs of youth, with time the flavors became more focused, it was incredible how powerful and yet elegant the wine was, like a beautiful, sexy and sophisticated lady...yes because a wine is not just about the flavors you fell but is mostly about the emotions you get from it, the little chill down the neck when the fine bubbles massages your palate, the time and space traveling while having it in your mouth, and the reminiscence of what it was in the finish tempting you for more until sadly you pick the bottle up and is empty. One thing tough if close my eyes now I can still taste it on my lips!!!
Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Montevertine Fest

Thanks to Alessandro Lunardi, a long-time friend through the wine world, I recently had the opportunity to taste a vertical of Pergole Torte from 1983 to 2001. Alessandro was kind enough to invite me to his house on Saturday to crack open several bottles of one of the wines that changed the history of all Italian wines.
For the occasion, I put a sign on the store door announcing that it would be closed for the following hour or so, then I jumped on my Vespa and in the London-like rain, rode to Varick where Alessandro has a beautiful loft. Elizabeth, Alessandro's wife, welcomed me and I got my precious goblet and started to stare at all the labels. Alberto Manfredi is the artist that creates a different painting for every new vintage of the Montevertine monster's label, it is actually fun for vinophiles to try to call the year just by looking at the label. The very first time I tried this 100% Sangiovese from Radda in Chianti was almost a decade ago. I was with my friend Frasca, while helping to prune a part of a friends of him woods. Yes you heard right - we drank a case of 1993 Le Pergole Torte in the middle of the woods. And to tell the truth we didn't even have glasses so we drank "contadino" style - directly from the bottle. It was an amazing experience - the only problem was that after a while it became very difficult to use the scissors without the risk of chopping off pieces of fingers with the branches.
Going back to the veritable vertical Sangiovese orgy: this is a list of the wines Alessandro served:
Le Pergole Torte 2001
Le Pergole Torte 1999
Le Pergole Torte 1998 magnum
Le Pergole Torte 1997
Le Pergole Torte 1993
Le Pergole Torte 1992

Le Pergole Torte 1990
Le Pergole Torte 1988 12-Liter
Le Pergole Torte 1987 magnum
Il Cannaio 1997
Il Sodaccio 1987
Montevertine Riserva 1990
Montevertine 1983

Overall, the wines were in spectacular condition. Some were showing some age signs, mushroom flavors and pale color, but some others were absolutely fantastic. In particular, the Il Sodaccio 1987, along with Le Pergole Torte 1988 and 1995 had something more than the others.
I'd like to say something about the vintages, especially for the critics; 1985 for the so-called Supertuscans was an excellent year (famous is the 1985 Sassicaia, the "pinnacle wine of its generation"). In reality, 1985 didn't have the aging potential of the 1988 or the 1995 which have been forgotten by the media and the critics. I remember when the 1995 Brunello were released in 1999. They were tight, tannic, bitter and closed, which is probably why most of the critics didn't made much of the year. In reality the vintage was spectacular... as a matter of fact, the 1995 Le Pergole Torte was showing what Tuscan Sangiovese is really all about; layers and layers of cherry, leather and big old barrel spice. The acidity was still bright, and there were mature tannins that were still biting, and exceptional. The 1988 was somehow similar, more developed than the 95 but still very vibrant and youthful. The cherry on the top of it all, so to speak, was watching Klaus (up to 2005, he was responsible for the estate) open up the Salmanazar and pouring it very carefully into several different decanters, making sure that the sediment didn't stir from the bottom of the bottle.
Il Cannaio 1997 was also in spectacular condition. This wine was made exclusively for Giorgio Pinchiorri, owner of the Enoteca Pinchiorri, which is one of the few 3 star Michelin Italian restaurants.
The time I had was, as it was always destined to be, sadly finished, and I had to leave the party to go back to the store. I had a big smile on my face and a renewed love toward one of the wines that made history in Italy, and all over the world. I would like to thank Alessandro and Elizabeth for being kind enough to invite me into their house and share so many great bottles.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti.

Good Bye Paul

Starting young Paul Newman was my idol, he had all the qualities and the faults I liked to have as an adult.
Born in Shaker Heights Ohio, he was color blind, served in the navy during WWII, his career started in 1955 as an actor and ended in 2005 as producer, always surrounded by powerful cars, tempting women, dangerous thrills, completed by fine taste that never spilled into opulence or excessive, yet always sober and elegant; I believe he lived a full life and died content of it.
My condolences to his family and friends.
Today is also Google 10th birthday.
Tanti Auguri.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I know this subject is not concerning wine...

...but I have to ask something about the proposal for 800 plus millions dollar aid for Wall Street.
I like to know what the public (AKA us tax payers) will get back from this, is the government going to claim ownership of the companies that will receive the grants? Are we going to make sure that what happen will be impossible to recreate again? Is the financial aid a loan? If yes how much is going to be the interests on the loan? If I rack up a huge amount of debts is the government going to help me as well? Does money grow on trees? Last but not least where is the government taking the money from, if indeed money don't grow on trees? Are we lending money? Or are we printing money? If we are lending at what rate we are doing so and how many decades we are going to be paying for? And if we are printing how much the inflation rate will grow? I wonder if any of you has some answers, meanwhile I'll be drowning my sorrows with a great bottle of Barolo (Pian Polvere Soprano Bussia 1999 Riserva)
Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Monday Dinner

Monday is my only day off during the week, so I use it to get together with friends and make new ones, at a more decent hour than I am usually able (I close late in the evening every other day of the week). This past Monday was a little different because my sister Beatrice was behind the pots and pans and the guests were all very serious wine lovers and experts. It was also my first opportunity to meet in person with Alice Feiring (up until Monday, we just exchanged emails). Before I continue with my chronicles of the evening, I have to apologize for the absence of any pictures - I was too busy with pouring wine, opening oysters and bringing food to the table. The guests arrived around 8:00 with their bottles; Mark and his wife Carol brought two of the Prince Fiorano wines, the Malvasia 1986 and the Semillion 1990, plus a bottle that he wanted us to be tasted blind. Then Luigi showed up with an Isole Olena Oreno 2003, Piers, the Francophile, arrived with Daniel Rion Echezeau Grand Cru 2000 and a Dauvissat Chablis Les Clos 1998, then Alice with a biodynamic Jura Puffeney Arbois Poulsard 2005. Susan also showed up with a red and a white from Francois Chidaine' Clos du Breuil and Descombes Morgon Cru Beaujolais 2005. My brother in law, Julio, opened a Montevertine Le Pergole Torte 1997, and I uncorked a Refosco 1988 from Ronchi di Cialla. The guests were welcomed with some refreshing bubbles - the Godme 1999 Millesime Grand Cru. This is a small grower that gave me a lot of satisfaction on several different occasions, and it was enjoyed with some fresh oysters, carefully shucked by yours truly. I don't know why, but in addition to loving the taste and texture of oyster, but I also find pleasure in opening them up. The final aperitif was a plate of some great cheeses; Gorgonzola dolce with a little honey, some Castelrosso and a deliciously stinky Taleggio with a cream of "Amarene" (Sour Cherries), which my sister selected with the cheese monger Luigi Di Palo earlier. After sipping on champagne, we started to check the condition of the wines before we sat down. Luckily, we had no corked bottles, but one funky one (unfortunately the Fiorano Semillon wasn't in great shape - the oxidation had killed most of the bouquet) but considering the age of some of the wines we were very fortunate indeed. The dinner didn't have a theme, so I decided to just leave all the bottles on the table and set up the guests with 2 glasses. I kind of liked the lack of "discipline," leaving space to experiment with the same dish and several different wines. A big terracotta plate of pasta with tomatoes, fried eggplant and ricotta salata, a Sicilian specialty, was the first course - we started right in with the drinking as well. As I said, there was no order so I went back and forth with the same wines for the course of the entire dinner. I found the reds better fitted to the pasta; I tried the Jura first, a young Pinot Noir with very pale color, elegant and minerally. It was a bit closed, and it will benefit with some more aging in the bottle, like it benefitted from breathing in the bottle after opening. Then I tried Susan's Cru Beaujolais, which was also a good pair with the pasta - medium bodied with some fresh berries and a violet bouquet, some minerality and firm acidity. While time was passing by, and I was attacking my second plate of the delicious first course, the wines were getting better. My next choice was my Refosco, which had been opened for several hours at that point. It was incredibly young, still very vibrant with charming red berry flavors and hints of herbal spice (somewhere in between oregano and rosemary). There were no signs of aging whatsoever, which is pretty impressive for a 20 year old wine. Oreno was next - it was an 03, so a modern wine in a hot year, well done but probably lacking in complexity compared to the others. Piers's Echezeau was also from a hot year but the wine was showing layers of violet and minerality, the tone of the bouquet gave hints of the year with some ripe scents around the nose and in parts of the palate as well. Last but not least was the Le Pergole Torte 1997. Leather and cherry perfumes were bursting out of the glass and in the palate those same flavors were supported by some mature tannins, gaining in lenght and depth. Finally it was the secret bottle's turn. The wine was an old friend with a totally different attitude, a Chateau Musar 1999. None of us got the winery although Alice, Piers, Luigi and myself had had the Musar many times in past vintages. They must have changed something in the way they make wine because it didn't have any of the old characteristics that made Musar special, to tell the truth this more polished by-the-book version was not as interesting as the older ones, and that was also Piers and Alice perception. I'm just wondering why they changed - could it be because they now want to please the big critics? I don't really know but it was a bit of a disappointment. The second course consisted of 2 whole red snappers, roasted in the oven with olive oil, wine, oregano and garlic, and as side dishes we had a wonderful and tasty potato salad and some green sald with olive oil and vinegar dressing. As the night was progressing, the focus of the conversations shifted from the wine itself to the different methodologies to vinifying must. We focused on some shady practices of some producers involved in this business, and briefly talked about Mr. Parker (his wine majesty was mention when we tasted the Musar). One thing Alice said about him (which I thought was spot-on) is that Parker is a very cultured individual that loves wines, but is blissfully ignorant when he writes about them.
Going back to the wine of the night - with the red Snapper, the whites showed their best. I first tried Susan's Chenin Blanc which was slightly sweet but minerally, with some complexity. Usually sugar residues give stronger flavors to the wine but also flatten it, making it less complex. Next was the Chablis, which was vibrant and citrusy, with strong minerality showing terroir and some tropical fruit along with lemon zest. Now a different chapter needs to be opened for the Fiorano wines. I heard a lot about the story of these wines and thanks to Mark I had the chance to drink them. As I mentioned earlier, the Semillon was not in good shape being that the oxidation had overcome most of the flavors, so I focused on the Malvasia. I tried it from its initial opening to few hours in, with a final taste while I was cleaning after everybody left. I'm a bit torn in what to say about the wine, because there were several positive aspects, but there was something lacking in the wine. Alice told me that it was lacking in acidity, but my mouth was watering from the sides, which is a sign of a lower PH. She was right though - there was something missing in the middle of the palate, the backbone of the wine was weak so the still-bright fruit did not have something to hold on to. Because of that, the Fiorano was not as complex as I thought, I'd be curious to blind taste it next to a Lopez the Heredia Rioja Riserva Blanco from the 80s.
It was a great evening where some exceptional wines were opened, and, as often happens, the wines were mirrored by the great mix of people sitting at the table, so I'd like to thank all my guests for another brilliant evening.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Meet the Makers: Bruno De Conciliis Part 2

Here is the second and last part of my interview with Bruno De Conciliis owner/winemaker/slave of the viticoltori De Conciliis.

G: (Laughing) However, to create less confusion, the conclusion is that [the process you described] reflects in a way your way of being and of making wine where you do express creativity, like the fact that you make so many different labels; you did innovative things like Le Traccie used to be, Gli Impulsi, and as a result of these two you came out with Antece. Therefore, on the outside it seems as if you are following a path that, in my opinion, has changed yourself and your way of making some wines in the past five years. You seem to have gone from a more stressed intervention in the cellar to an increased search for elegance and complexity, that maybe you lacked a little before that time.

B: Yes (not convinced) maybe…maybe it was an adolescent phase, an acne phase where there was the need to express the muscles and let those four hairs grow on your lip to make believe that you had a mustache. However, I don’t believe that it is this way.

My awareness has changed, and the number of parameters that I try to follow during vinification has increase; my capacity to drink wine and read it has improved. The common trait certainly is this chaotic dimension.

You’ve been in my cellar.

Sometimes, I dream a Teutonic cellar where everything is in order, precise, organized and clean, some other times I say that I would not feel at home in a place like that…

G: You would disorganize it again.

B: Yes, yes! Heraclitus’s notion that from chaos originates creativity…

G: You embraced it as your own.

B: Or let’s say it is my karma. Certainly, when it comes to the qualitative growth of my wines, in some cases this applies and in others it needs to be verified through the time-length. Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to taste a vertical of all my Zero and Naima vintages with Sandro Sangiorgi from Porthos. It was very interesting to go back to the ’98 and the ’99 vintages. I found them both very…

The 1998 was definitely a minor vintage, due to weather conditions of that year. I had to harvest much earlier than I usually do because of the frequent precipitations that took place in September. While the ’99 was a really cool year, I could anticipate a positive evolution, and that, in fact, took place. Moreover, in the States, -in Italy, it is not so easy for me to do so- I had the opportunity to go back twice to the ’99 Naima. I have to admit that I went back to it with….

G: Satisfaction

B: …I got out of it with pride, despite the mistakes that I know I’ve made back then; mistakes, which sometimes were not even so small. However, the wine is in great shape, and it expresses a complexity and dialectic to the nose, which is something that I constantly strive to reach.

G: Then, can we consider this as Mother Nature that runs its course despite man’s intervention?

B: …Despite my foolish mistakes, absolutely.

G: Ok, three words to describe the Cilento area -which I’ve visited and it’s beautiful- to persuade people to come and visit you.

B: Well, the first word that always comes to my mind, and that is also present in the choice of the pictures that you’ve seen, is “dramatic”. Dramatic understood as: total need of confrontation, in its most negative component… dialectical in this case. [In Cilento] even the clearest and sunniest days, the ones when you can breathe the thinnest air and where everything presents itself in the right way, there is an very slight veil of anguish that stays under. I do not think that you need to be a masochist in order to appreciate this characteristic. I believe that this light suspension, this feeling of not being out in the sky, out in the sea, nor down on earth is something that in a way impresses both the people who come and visit and the ones who live there. This land has a dramatic and dialectical ability in the way it poses itself towards things…

I’m not really sure that this is persuading anyone… (laughs)

G: (laughs) Well, maybe someone.

B: Certainly not the ones who want to spend their entire time to lying on the beach. Even if we actually did lie on the beach and surfed…

G: We also ate that really good Bufala yogurt…

B: Yes this. One reason of pride, which can persuade people to come down and visit, is a very strong and solid gastronomic tradition that you can still find even in the “Trattorie”.

G: This is something that is declining a little bit in the rest of Italy. In Rome, every time I go back, I find fewer autochthonous places that serve good food. There is a higher volume of Manhattan style, pseudo- restaurants that serve you food that is not as good as it should be, and the true Trattoria style is now extinct.

B: Instead, in our area, it’s often the contrary. In the place, where you would never imagine finding a dignifying meal, they serve you a dish of Fusilli with Castrato which is…

G: The real one!

B: …Which is made exactly as it should be done. Then, they might give you a “Caprettino”… Basically, it’s there. This tradition is still very strong and beautiful. In fact, for a few years now -maybe thanks to me or to this ability that I have to communicate- I’ve been visited by many restaurateurs, from both the East and the West coast, who come down to get some hands-on experience with…

G: [Who come down] To learn!

B: No, not to learn. I take them in these sea-places, in simple places… Clearly, it would not make sense to take them in sophisticated restaurants or in those places that reinterpret the tradition. For them, it makes much more sense trying to gain experience over these elementary culinary roots. I have to admit that, in a way, this form of cultured-enogastronomic tourism is increasing. I just hope that these “scoundrels” of my fellow people are not going to be led astray by (laughs)… the successes of their culinary abilities…

G: (At the same time) By the successes… that this would not go over their heads.

B: Exactly!

G: One last question: which is the wine that’s in your cellar dearest to you, and which is the one that you don’t have but you would like to have?

B: As of today, Antece is definitely the wine that satisfies me the most both under the creativity level and the end result that expresses to the tasting experiences every time I open a bottle. I’m sincerely proud of the product that I was able to create with this wine. Even if… how would I say this- “children are a piece of heart”- … I have to admit that Zero, in the past three vintages, 2004…2006, basically since we have started a biodynamic process in the vineyards, is expressing itself at a level that it never reached before. It needs to be said that this starts from the grape. Two out of three times, when I open a bottle of Zero with someone, I notice…

G: Improvements, changes..

B: No, I see the sparkle in the eyes of the person who’s drinking it. It is understood. The ones passionate about wine and the connoisseurs in front of such a wine lighten up from the inside. With Zero, this phenomenon happens pretty frequently.

The wine that I would like to make is the one that I’ll probably never be able to make. I’m currently working on a project that would bring the Fiano vineyards about 2,000 feet above sea level. The reason for this is that the wine that I can’t make is the one where the game and the eloquence and the deep ability of elegance, levity and of the light component of life, - (jokingly) not the dramatic one, maybe it is not from Cilento - are fully expressed in the wine. In reality, with these past hot vintages and, therefore, with difficult harvests, the Cilento area has been expressing, not just through me but also through other winemakers there located, wines more representative of withering power. It would be an extraordinary achievement to be able to make an Aglianico with the levity and the elegance of a Pinot Noir. It would not make any sense, though, to make a Pinot Noir from Cilento.

G: Maybe not! (Laughs)

B: I read that question in your eyes.

G: No, no, no, I wasn’t thinking of asking…

B: No, But, but…

G: Maybe a Syrah…

B: But there is a common thread between the Aglianico and the Pinot Noir in terms of the way they express themselves. The Aglianico has an extraordinary acidity even in warm climates that in a way it is able to feed these “big animals” that we are creating. It keeps them standing and it gives them character. The Aglianico does not have the primary scents as developed as the ones of the Pinot Noir. Even if, in my opinion, once we are able to properly define the balance of the load of grape per vine, and once we find the right time for vinification, we can definitely extract the way of expressing such primary scents. On some vineyards, in some vintages, I’ve been able to hit this little miracle of balance on the Aglianico. I think that this is a long way to go and to understand. Therefore, [the Aglianico] has this acidity and this potential longevity; it has, it can have or we can find a way to make it fully come out in its primary terms- a front-wheel drive wine- as I define it. Perhaps, the thing that [the Aglianico] is missing at the moment is the right vintage to express all of that. Even if we should ask ourselves: if we need to wait for the right vintage, is that the right wine to make? The reason why there are all of those uncompleted experiments in my cellars is exactly this one.

G: The search for the Grail?

B: The search for the Grail. Wine is not art, wine is handicraft. This means that the ‘design’ of a wine implies the ability to duplicate the product despite the climate conditions or a single harvest. The single-spot vintage can be an extraordinary thing. It can be the shot that changes your life; it is- how to say this- hitting the right barrique, in experimental terms, that can lead you; that leads me sometimes – I’m an imbecile in this case- to get a feeling of omnipotence. (mockingly) “I was able to do this in the Cilento area, during this vintage, I am…

G: You’re a magician!

B: (still mocking) “I’m God!” Instead, it is not like this, not like this at all. The serious representation of a wine implies the ability to duplicate during every vintage, clearly not in an identical manner- it is far from my winemaking philosophy, the idea to reach a standard and to persist on it-, the planning and the overall structure of the wine. If this aim is not achievable, then, it means that we need to change some of the parameters such as, as far as the Fiano is concerned, trying to plant higher, around 2000 feet above sea level in order to express the finesse and the elegance that I’m longing for in this wine.

G: Well, I thank you a lot for this half-hour together. We have to go in a little while because a table is waiting for us at the Blue Note. Many know that Bruno has a great passion for Jazz music, which transpires also from names like Naima, Selim and Perella. I thank you again. I hope that your tour in the state has been profitable, and… see you next time.

B: Thank you! A year from now, we’ll take stock of the situation and I’ll tell you the exact opposite of what I just told you now (laughs).

G: And I’ll be here, listening to you.

B: (Still laughing) You’re great!

G: Ciao.

Click here if you like to listen to the interview in Italian