. Vite Vinifera De Vino's Blog: September 2008

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