. Vite Vinifera De Vino's Blog: November 2008

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 Gew├╝rztraminer 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