. Vite Vinifera De Vino's Blog: February 2008

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What an Honor!!!

It was in January when my phone rang, whom to my wondering ears should speak but Eric Asimov. He had contacted me in order to invite me to be part of his recent tasting panel for the Chianti Classico. I obviously and gladly accepted with a healthy amount of excitement.
The tasting was held in the New York Times' new building on 9th Avenue, beautiful and humongous structure of glass and stainless steel created in the incomparable mind of Renzo Piano. After passing security I was received by Eric's warm smile that cleared a bit of the tension I had - after all, this was quite an honor. He handed me a note book and a pen, and I had brought my palate - so we were ready to start.
The room where the tasting was held had a great view of the river and New Jersey. The table was set up for four people with 25 glasses already filled and numbered, as well as crackers, bread and bottled water. On the east wall at the end of the room I found a long and narrow table with a few plates of delicious food.
Eric was seated at one of the end of the table Ms. Florant Fabricant across from him, and Mr. Charles Scicolone and I facing each other, forming a sort of cross. After relating to us the tasting rules Eric started the tasting. I was the rookie of the table and I must say that everybody did their best to create a very informal and comfortable environment; the atmosphere was very real and there was no space to show off or to be snobbish, and although I was the least experienced in the room my word had the same weight as the others. There were no competitive behaviors among us, and it was a highly focused and professional tasting. Being the new kid on the block, I was asked a lot of questions about my training and past along with conversation about the wine and food world, between all of the swirls, sips and spits. We did a first round eliminating 4 or 5 of the wines, and then continued with the rating and comments on each of the remaining wines.
While the words were going around like a carousel I was amazed by how precise some of the comments were, included some of mine, and it was great to challenge the palate, hearing a comment about a flavor and going right back to the glass and try to see it. The great exchange of information, among the 4 of us, about every wine lead up to detecting whether the wine was more or less expensive, from a small winery or a big one, at times almost getting to the grape compositions. All that was obviously done blind, and the wines were revealed at the end of the tasting by Bernie Kirsh, the 5th element of the table AKA the tasting coordinator.
The whole thing lasted little more than 2 hours but the impact on my education was worth a much greater amount of time. Therefore, I would like to thank Eric for inviting me and Florant, Charles and Bernard for sharing with me and adding a big brick onto my learning wall, a wall that I'm convinced is not going to stop growing until I'm no longer able to breathe.
Thank you

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Meet the Makers: Roberto Cipresso Part One

When you drink a bottle of fine wine, smell the aromas of its land and identify the little nuances transmitted to your palate, you taste also the expression of nature and personality. Nature is obviously a fundamental component in the making of wine. However, the crucial impact of its end-result is the personality behind the process of making that product. So, to complete your tasting experience, I would like to you meet Roberto Cipresso, an icon of the wine making process, and consultant for various wineries in Italy and around the world, nominated Best 2006 Winemaker by the Italian Sommelier Society.

Gabrio : Roberto, welcome to New York and thanks for being here for this interview.

Roberto: Thanks Gabrio! It’s a pleasure!

G: Let’s talk about the beginning of your career. Is there a character that left a mark with you and helped develop your career?

R: Well, there are a lot of people, producers especially. When you develop the passion for wine, then, a great curiosity is triggered and that’s when my never-ending journey started. So, I’ve met numerous “vignaioli” friends, or rather, wine-makers who have become my friends and each one of them has had and has something important to say. Most of all, I got closer to the older producers, the ones who have lived in strict contact with the land and have been able to tell me things… real things about wine and about life.

G: After getting your education, followed the classical training period, which we all have to face, then your first job: what do you remember?

R: Oh my God! That was a strange experience. It started in 1986. I was into mountain climbing and skiing. One excursion went wrong, and that pushed me away from that passion. Since I was studying in San Michele all’Adige at the time, I was given the great opportunity to meet with Gianfranco Soldera and move to Montalcino. There, I worked at his estate Case Basse. From there, I started moving with others, like Poggio Antico, until I found a truly steady ground working for Ciacci Piccolomini of the Bianchini family, who had recently inherited a property in Montalcino and gave me the opportunity to express myself by assigning me role of executive director of the project. In a short period of time we were able to plant new vineyards, reorganize the cellar and improve the whole productive process, allowing Ciacci Piccolomini, an estate unknown at the time, worth to be highlighted on the Montalcino map thanks to the power, the complexity and the freshness of its wines. With the very great success of the 88 and especially the 90 vintages, my career as a consultant/wine maker has taken a turn, increasing my curiosity to look at various vineyards and vines from all over the “boot” and the world. In Italy I worked in some regions like Veneto, Friuli, Piedmont, Toscana Marche Sicilia and Sardinia. Outside of Italy, I’ve been in interesting places like Croatia, Spain and Argentina, a land where I left a piece of heart that is has been giving me a lot of satisfaction.

G: After that, you decided to strengthen your Montalcino roots and became partner of La Fiorita. Tremendous start! First bottling in 1993; the old production was bought by Giorgio Pinchiorri, owner of Enoteca Pinchiorri, and, then, auctioned in part at Cristie’s. Now, from the little I know about you, you talk to the vines. So tell me: what did you feel when you found the vineyards for your estate and what makes La Fiorita different from other estates in Castelnuovo dell’Abate?

R: La Fiorita, like if often happens for the most beautiful things, was a lucky discovery. I’m from Bassano della Grappa, and I met up with two people who had nothing to do with wine. In fact, they were involved in car racing, more specifically rally, Micky Biason and Tiziano Seviero, who fell in love with Montalcino during their races and decided to start a small, microscopic project. So, I found a piece of land with two olive trees and a shack on it and we started like that; a place to hang out, eat meat and drink good wine among friends more than anything else. Then, my two partners began taking on different projects and I took more interest into that estate and started looking around, gathering new vineyards, putting a lot of myself into it, and trying to express an maximize the expression of the terroir.

Listen to the original interview in Italian, part one and part two

Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Saturday, February 09, 2008

A lovely dinner with Bruno de Conciliis

A few weeks ago, we had the honor and pleasure of holding a dinner at Il Posto Accanto for 25 esteemed guests. The guest of honor was Bruno de Conciliis, winemaker and owner of Viticoltori De Conciliis, a fairly small estate in the heart of the Parco Nazionale del Cilento, in Campania.
The theme of the dinner was of course Campania, and the from the hands of Beatrice, Chef/Owner of Il Bagatto and Il Posto Accanto (she also happens to be my sister) came a 4-course meal that was to die for.
I have written about Bruno's wines many times, as I value his winery as the most accurate representative of the area in Campania. Through the years Bruno gained enough confidence and experience to gradually lower the use of sulfites in his wines, and in 2007, after five years of conversion, he received the certification reserved for organic growers. That night, we drank several of Bruno's wines, among which I would say that the Naima showed the biggest change from the year before. Naima is made from 100 % Aglianico, and is aged in Barriques for 12 months. The difference stemmed from the use of second passage wood (old) more than new wood; it gave the wine more depth, elegance and complexity. Hearing the guests' comments on it was one of the major highlights of the night, along with talk over the Antece, a Fiano vinified with a long maceration on the skins that results in a darker, full bodied and, if you can believe it, tannic white wine; I must say, it was as unique as the hand that produce it.
The food was brilliant and the guests barely left a bite on the plates. In fact, I was impressed by their capability to finish every succulent dish, all great pairings with the wines; like the Si:kjube, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the Timballino di Riso al Ragu` e Piselli, or the Zero, an exquisite Aglianico with the Braciolina di Maiale... just thinking about it I got hungry and thirsty again.
A note on the Si:kjube: it is not one of Bruno's favorites, because "it's too easy to work with Cabernet Sauvignon, and l like the challenge." The grapes come from a neighboring vineyard, and Bruno helps the owner make the wine. In exchange, he keeps some of the production and labels it under his logo. According to Bruno, he will bottle the Si:kjube for another year before calling it quits.
The Zero, rather, is Bruno's golden child. The grapes come from old vines in different vineyards of De Conciliis properties. Composed of, 100% Aglianico, the wine is dark like ink with astringent tannins, an intense bouquet of dark fruits, a long finish and long aging potential; we opened the 2003 vintage and the juice was still little closed, showing aging capabilities.
Before the desserts we had the chance to try De Conciliis's latest creation, IBS. This wine is a blend of 80% Aglianico and 20% Fiano, made to be released in 2009. 600 bottles comprise the total production, so it was a so-called barrel sample, because the juices are still aging in the barrique. It was very good, but still with a long road ahead before it is able to express its full potential.
Dulcis in fundo, as the Latin scholars used to say, the desserts made their appearance along with the Ka! and Ra! De Conciliis dessert wines. The Ka! is a Moscato Bianco Passito, full with great flavors of flowers and peaches. The Ra! is an Aglianico passito, which somehow shows up like a Recioto, with herbal flavors over a bed of luscious red fruits.
It was a lovely night and I would like to thank all the guests, and of course Bruno de Conciliis and Dino Tantawi of Vignaioli Imports for their enlightening presence.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti