. Vite Vinifera De Vino's Blog: March 2008

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Meet the Makers: Roberto Cipresso Part 2

… As I was saying before, there is more behind a bottle of wine than you might imagine. To make this concept even clearer, here is the second part of my interview with Roberto Cipresso, which, I hope might increase your passion and thirst for knowledge… and for more truly good wine.

R: We started by reviving an old tendril. The original was made of 800 vines and today La Fiorita became a 7 hectare estate. Today we have two Cru: Poggio al Sole, which is in the Sant’Angelo al Colle area and one in Castelnuovo dell’Abate, characterized by warm and sunny weather, and Pianbossolino, which is in the area closer to Montalcino, in a high, fresh and vertical position and it expresses different tones. Based on the vintage trend, part of each cru is made into Riserva and the other one is left for the regular Brunello. Today, there’s the idea to build a final block of vines, I’ve already intercepted the piece of land where this could take place, but we are moving slowly so that we do not risk overgrowing. La Fiorita today, with a 7-hectare land produces 20,000 Brunello bottles and a second wine named Laurus that represents the Rosso di Montalcino, but it actually isn’t because it is a blend of Sangiovese that makes it an IGT and a part of Merlot.

G: As you’ve said, you’re from Bassano del Grappa, any cultural shock moving in Toscana?

R: Yeah, Bassano is a different culture and a different type of people, I left with regret, first due to the “Malattia del Campanile” typical of people from Veneto, which is the inability to detach from their perish, and because I had to abandon my first, true passion which was the mountain. Of course, Tuscany has beautiful places, wonderful air, great light so much that I’ve decided to raise my children in that place. Beside the mental shock, at 23 years old, I have to admit that we have a strong elasticity of mind and the ability to rapidly change and revolutionize everything. I have to acknowledge that making such a move today would be much more difficult.

G: So, the encounter with Achaval-Ferrer; the Altamira vineyard discovery: do you remember what have you felt when you found those ancient Malbec plants?

R: Well, the discovery has been spectacular, because I found myself to chase a project in Argentina that in Spanish is called “Deferimento in Positivo” which means: a project promoted by the state offered to all of those in Argentina who were willing to invest in the north area of Mendoza, the one in San Juan, in exchange for a very interesting tax break. For this reason a big group of Cordova asked me to make a feasibility plan. We were supposed to understand if in the San Juan area we could start a relevant project of a certain quality. So, I went and I had an incredible experience, exploring land where I believe that no other human being has stepped foot on before. An experience that has left me a strong heritage: the friendship with Santiago Achaval and Manuel Ferrer, today my partners along with two friends Marcelo Victoria e Diego Rosso in a project that, in this case as well, started as a game and ended in a very important and relevant project. We planted a first vineyard in the Valle de Uco in the Tupungato area that is an hour south of Mendoza. Then, I started searching for an old vineyard looking for a land with an identity as close as possible to the old world. I looked for a higher point to find a peculiar microclimate until I found these old abandoned vines in the Consulta region south of Tupungato near the Rio Tunuyan. This was an amazing place, the vines were abandoned but old, almost secular near the mountain facing north (an ideal exposition for the south hemisphere). No one could ever imagine that, after a few years, those dying vines would have been able to provide such a great outcome. The satisfaction for my partners and me came as a surprise considering the market found for that wine, and the great reviews received by Wine Spectator and Robert Parker, where we were assigned respectively 96 and 98 points. Dazzling numbers.

G: Let’s go back to your consulting job: with so many wineries spread around Italy and around the world, how do you organize yourself to be always on top of your game?

R: In the beginning they were a few and I used to follow them on my own. Then, they increased and so did the people involved. At first, there was the Studio Cipresso, then, Winemaking which is a firm of professionals; six of them helping with the technical matters. Our responsibilities are divided by areas which they follow hand on. I’m the supervisor for this “school”. It is still my philosophy, they all report to me and then I make the decision and ultimately I’m the one responsible for the projects. Luckily I’m now able to make wine with four hands with some really talented professional people who are truly focus on these projects and who, like me, travel miles and miles every year.

G: Now that you have this structure that allows you to have some free time, you’ve decided to take on two new big projects: “Winecircus” and “Le Stazioni del Vino” (The Wine Stations). So tell me: don’t you enjoy resting?

R: (Laughs) This is a good point! I’d like to, but the thirst of research and the ambition to close the circle that started twenty years ago in the wine world is very high. In fact, there are two concurrent projects, Wine Circus and Winemaking, which in reality are the same type of plan but they are expressed in two different platforms. Winemaking deals with consulting, explores the land and meets with many different types of people, both in the work environment and in those with whom I have to mediate in order to find the right compromise into obtaining a feasible wine. On the other hand, Winecircus starts as a gymnasium, a big laboratory where my boys and I go above and beyond. We do not make wine for the market but here is where we deepen specific thesis that in other people’s vineyards cannot be done. So, we try to vinify some stocks of grapes that are impossible, vertical, in mountains, in old places, from old vines, by the sea, on the original rootstock, forgotten and abandoned varietals. Thanks to this project now we have a series of ingredients able to generate some very interesting wines, and among these, one that was released for the first time a few years ago, called La Quadratura del Cerchio. This actually represents a wine that is born with respect to the terroir, and that, at the same time, takes advantage of that terroir as an extraordinary ingredient, able to offer formulas that come out of mathematical theories but that develop into a more philosophical concept, for which, sometimes 1+1 can even be equal to 3. Wine Station, instead, by offering consulting for WineMaking and research for Winecircus, wants to be the Disneyland of wine, a place where the connoisseurs and the people curious about the wine with a sporty spirit can be able to drink in a very peculiar location. This is an old place that we are bringing back, where they can drink great wines, free of ties and lies, this is therefore, a real and original space. This is an area that I hope to be the one where instead of chasing after the world, the vineyards, the people, I welcome and wait for friends and connoisseurs to come and see me in such a suggestive place.

Stay tuned for the 3rd and last part...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sicily is on the wine map now.

Sicily is the biggest and one of the most beautiful Mediterranean islands. It has been historically relevant for over 4000 years and it's very likely that it's soils hosted the first grapes ever planted on Italian turf.
It's a magical land that inspired Homer (Polyphemus, the Cyclops defeated by Odysseus dwelt on Mount Etna) as well as many other writers throughout the centuries. The soil is rich and luxurious but also demanding and hard to work - there are very hot and dry summers, fairly rainy and windy with great luminosity. The oldest trace of winemaking, dating back to over 4000 years ago, was found in Sicily, although the island just in recent years has been recognized for the wines. Historically Sicily produced wines to be sold "sfuso" (in bulk) often to France and the north of Italy where, because of the cold climate, there was a need for juices richer in sugars. Today along with the historical estates like Rallo, the king of Marsala, Donnafugata, Conte Tasca d'Almerita and the Duca di Salaparuta, new ones have flourished and in some cases outshone the more renowned estates. Wineries like Planeta, Cos, Valle dell' Acate, Passopisciaro of Andrea Franchetti, Palari, Spadafora, Santa Anastasia and many others helped Sicily to rose from the mediocre and antiquated conception of wine making to having a steady spot in the circle of top wines of the world. Recently I received an email with 90+ Parker ratings on Passopisciaro. The red wine of the year for the Gambero Rosso was indeed Sicilian (Palari Faro 2005) , and there are properties like COS and Spadafora that have embraced bio-sensitive (biodynamic and or organic) growing systems. COS actually started to use amphorae to age their Cerasuolo Pithos. The Cerasuolo di Vittoria (a blend of Nero d'Avola and Frappato) is the 1st DOCG of the island, meaning that now Sicily can sit with the elite of the Italians wine regions.
I had a brief but intense experience down in Sicily: a few years ago I participated in a project for a winery in a little town called Santa Venerina on the Mount Etna slopes. It is an amazing place - the land is black (composed by lava and ashes), very rich in organic substances, south west exposure, with a breathtaking view of Taormina and Giardini Naxos. And with Etna behind all of that, the place radiates a constant powerful energy (since the volcano is still very active you can feel its power just standing next to it). I believe that Sicily is still unappreciated considering the concentration of historical sites, and the spectacular weather. I was swimming in the sea in November, eating the unbelievably fresh and tasty foods, from next-to-alive fish to the typical plates like Caponata, Cannoli and Cassate. You can ski in the winter on Mt. Etna and then start to enjoy the sea in the spring.
I don't think there are many islands in the world that have so many attractive qualities. No, I'm not paid by the Sicilian Tourism Agency. :) Actually, after I split up with my partners in the winery, I haven't be back there, so I'm actually surprised that after so many years, every time I think about Sicily I still have a powerful nostalgia for that magical and impossible island.
Buona Bevuta a Tutti

Friday, March 07, 2008

Young Or Old?

A few weeks ago I was reading, with a bit of jealousy I must say, Eric Asimov's diary on DRC tasting. While reading I was struck by the comments of the co-owner and co-director of the estate Aubert de Villaine on the possibility of drinking a Burgundy in early age; "when you get older, you develop a taste for young wine." My first thought was one of disbelief... but then I remembered how the Tuscans drink their own wines - young - and it didn't seem so irrational after all.
Obviously there are some wines that need to be drunk young and others that need more time to develop, a fair few having almost the same progression as a human being - a few years of infancy, followed by childhood, adolescence, puberty and so on. Wines like Barolo, Burgundy, Brunello and in some aspects, also Bordeaux age like humans. A bottle develops, grows, changes in color and characteristic, loses power and gains complexity, until finally shrinking (ullage) into death. Now if that is somehow true my question is: are all of the teenagers not quite worthy of our attention? My answer is no - Mozart was a prodigy in his childhood, as was Picasso. So is it possible to appreciate a wine, which is destined to grow old, in early age? Now my answer gets a bit more complicated. Yes of course I enjoy young wines - they are more challenging, austere, bitter and astringent, is fun to let them open in a glass and feel my taste buds battle through the tight tannins. It's akin to wrestling with a kid and tricking his impetuous energy with the experience. But, on the other hand the chess game you can have with an older wine is also a great experience. Ideally, there would be enough bottles of the same wine to enjoy it in all the stages of its life, but that is a prohibitively costly solution, not only in simple practice, but because it implies the acquisition of larger quantity of the same wine for every vintage, which for most of us is not possible. So, the process I like to use goes something like this: open a wine and pour a glass right away, take a sip and set an aroma/taste benchmark - are there any aromas or flavors at all? How hard are they to detect? What are they? Then, keep tasting it in regular intervals (every half an hour, for example) and see how the wine changes. Then leave the bottle open with a piece of paper on top (so none of our small flying friends can usurp your fine juice) until the following day and pour another glass... and so on until the wine dies or the bottle is finished. That will give you a pretty good idea on the wine's longevity. Usually after the second day you will start to taste the oxidation, although I've had wines that lasted over 3 days (like Bernard Faurie Saint Joseph I wrote about a while ago). Doing this, you don't need to open a bottle per year - you can decide when the wine will be developed enough to be enjoyed. But! - the real question here is whether or not you can enjoy young a wine ought to age; as I mentioned before, the Tuscans like their wine young... they are wine pedophiles. I always thought of that as sort of a sin, but growing up I find more pleasure in drinking a wine at an early stage, like Mr. de Villaine did, so I my answer will be yes I can, and I not only think is important for my job to do so, but is becoming a growing pleasure to sip low ph and Gallotannins. Am I becoming wine pedophile as well...
Buon Bevuta a Tutti