Monthly Archives: September 2008

Women in Wine Fridays: Val di Cornia – The Etruscan Coast


When I first moved to Italy in 1991, I lived in Florence and like many local residents, went on holiday in Tuscany. I often went to a little town called San Vincenzo which is near the Golfo di Baratti. Little did I know at the time, that the area is actually called the Val di Cornia or the Cornia Valley. It has unbelievably beautiful beaches and a gorgeous stand of parasol pines in the Parco di Rimigliano. It also has world renowned wines, including Tua Rita. An industry expert said that he feels that Val di Cornia is Pomerol and Tua Rita is Petrus. I thought that was an interesting analogy. I have not had the pleasure of drinking many wines from Tua Rita but have been lucky enough to drink the wines made by their next door neighbor, Gualdo del Re . I will be pouring these wines at the Wine & Food Festival – Newport Mansions tomorrow and have been thinking about the wines and that gorgeous part of Tuscany.

Val di Cornia became a DOC in November of 1989. There are only six towns that may use this legislation for wine labeling and that includes Campiglia Marittima, Piombino, San Vincenzo, Suvereto, Sassetta and Monteverdi Marttimo. These towns are located in the provinces of Livorno and Pisa.
The area is called the Etruscan Coast because it is home to numerous medieval towns with Etruscan ruins. This area of Tuscany has a mild climate due to the tempering influence of ocean breezes.
Located just four miles from the Etruscan Coast facing the island of Elba, Gualdo Del Re’s Nico and Teresa Rossi have created a “piccolo paradiso”, a small paradise, in this lovely spot complete with delicious wines, a fine restaurant and a bed and breakfast set amidst pine woods and olive grows.
The Rossi’s have named their Vermentino after their daughter Valentina. Nico told me at Vinitaly that at local bars they just ask for a Valentina instead of a Vermentino. That must be a kick. Valentina works in the family business. She just had a son named Davide but will soon be back heavily involved in all aspects of the family winery.

Vermentino, a classic aromatic Italian varietal is grown throughout Tuscany, Liguria and Sardinia. It produces light, soft straw colored wines with floral aromas, herbal notes and a hint of peaches. The Rossi family currently makes 10 wines using the help of well known enologist Barbara Tamburini. I will write more about Barbara at a later date. The wines include Eliseo Bianco (a mix of Trebbiano Toscano, Malvasia and Clairette) and Eliseo Rosato, a rose’ made from Sangiovese and Merlot. These are easy drinking wines which go well with the summer’s bounty of fish and seafood served with light pastas. Other, more meditative red wines, marry well with heavier pastas and meats. Eliseo Rosso, for example, is a blend of 80% Sangiovese and 20% Canaiolo. It spends some 12 months in French barriques and an additional three months in the bottle. The Rossi family’s restaurant suggests pairing this wine with a delicious Cacciucco di Polpo. Cacciucco is a well known fish stew from the Livorno area. The Rossi’s aren’t simply pure traditionalists. They have taken full advantage of the DOC legislation to make wines using international varieties as well as the indigenous Tuscan varieties. The results have been wildly successful. L’Rennero, made from 100% Merlot, is a fabulous wine that Chef Gianmaria Margelli suggests pairing with a filet mignon in a complex sauce made using the same wine. This wine is aged for 36 months, 15 months in oak barriques and 21 months in the bottle. The Rossi have given one of their wines the perfect name which sums up the whole experience at Gualdo Del Re: SenzAnsia, which means enjoyment without anxiety or haste. Sounds good to me.

I decided to start including receipes on my blog. Here’s one from the Gualdo del Re restaurant. Cacciucco is traditionally from Livorno.

Cacciucco

1 lb. of assorted fish, such as monkfish, mullet, eel (cut in cubes) or halibut
1 lb. of assorted seafood, such as baby octopus, squid or cuttlefish (cut in rings), clams, mussels or lobster
4 tablespoons of good virgin olive oil
Half of a medium onion
Half a cup of minced parsley
2 garlic cloves, minced
A few sage leaves
1 lb. of peeled tomatoes,
1 hot red chili pepper
1 glass of red wine
Thick slices of whole grain bread, toasted and rubbed with olive oil (optional)

Clean and wash the fish.
Boil the fish heads in a few ladles of water in a saucepan, made of clay if possible.
Sauté the minced onions and parsley, sage, red chili, and garlic in oil and remove them once they turn brown.
Add the octopus and cuttlefish to the saucepan and cook them with the cover on. When they are almost cooked, pour in the wine and let it evaporate. Then add the pieces of tomato and the fish head broth passed through a strainer. Add salt and bring to a boil. After about ten minutes, add the fish. Cook them by moving the frying pay, without mixing too much, and add more salt to taste. Arrange the slices of bread in a soup tureen or in small clay pots. Distribute the fish on top with some of its juices. The tomato sauce should not be too watery or too thick. There should be enough so that little remains after you have soaked the bread.

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Adventures in Winemaking – A Look Back

I wrote a post sometime in the Spring about my adventures in winemaking, from buying grapes to pressing them and corking the bottles. I am now drinking a couple of bottles of my first vintage, a Sangiovese-Cabernet Sauvignon blend which I dubbed a Super-Teaneck. The Italian Wine Guy sweetly commented that the name is just as silly as some of the wines they have in his neck of the woods, Super Texans I think they were called…

In any event, I have been sipping a bit of this first vintage from I Due Gatti, the name of my little winery. They are terrible. I have higher hopes for my second vintage but I do have a lot of this first vintage in the basement. Hard to know what to do with it. I met a number of people at a conference this year in New Orleans who said they have never had good homemade wines. Perhaps it is the yeast that I used, a cultured yeast not an ambient one that has made all the difference. I was very interested in the article that Jancis Robinson wrote on her website a few days ago regarding yeast and their strong impact on wines, often making different varietals seem too homogenous. Dr. Vino mentioned it in his “Daily Dose” earlier this week. Thanks for pointing that out. I had missed the article. Whether it be the yeast or the overripe grapes from California, the storage of the grapes before I pressed them, insufficient or inaccurate racking, a too small oak barrel for aging, something just missed the mark. The whole experience has been enlightening but I confess the wine leaves much too be desired.

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Financial Crisis, Movie Making and Wine Blogging

I realized today that I haven’t written a word in my blog for at least a week. While I have been glued to gloomy news of the financial situation and what pundits think we should do about it, I have also been under siege as a result of a movie that is being made on my floor. Suffice it to say, I will not be watching Unorthodox by McGee Productions when it comes out. In the middle of these grim experiences, I did have the good fortune to go to two noteworthy portfolio tastings last week, that of Frederick Wildman and Winebow . Both have very impressive portfolios with an eye-popping amount of wines to try. I tried to be somewhat moderate and orderly in my tasting. At Wildman, I worked for MC Selections, an Austrian wine importer. Monika Caha is a fascinating woman with a rich and long history in the food and wine business. Her wines are outstanding. I was working with two of her product lines so I spent a significant amount of time pouring and tasting wines by Stadlmann and Johann Donabaum.

Two interesting Austrian grape varieties stood out, Zierfandler and Rotgipfler, both from the Thermenregion of Austria.


These indigenous grapes each produce white wines that are unique and perfect food wines.
Monika’s website is very complete so I invite you to check it out and read through the tasting notes for the wines. My favorite Stadlmann wines were the 2006 Mandel Hoeh, a single vineyard wine made from Zierfandler and the 2006 Rotgipfler Tagelstein as well as the 2004 Auslese made from Zierfandler.

The Johann Donabaum wines were big, important wines that the sommeliers seemed to really appreciate. The 2006 Loiben Reserve made from 100% Gruner Veltliner, the most famous indigenous grape from Austria, was rich, nutty and truly special with a note of residual sugar that was extremely pleasing and well integrated. Donabaum also had a number of fabulous rieslings as well. Monika is a wealth of information on Austrian wines. She has promised me an interview for my Women in Wine series on Fridays.

At Winebow, I spent a very long time with the wines from Cantine Arigolas, one of my favorite Sardinian wineries. More to come on those wines later this week. I also tried two interesting wines made from 100% Corvina, a first for me. La Poja IGT 2003 from Allegrini was quite complex and well rounded with aromas and flavors of cherry and blackberry, cedar, spice, tobacco and leather. It was what they call a Signore Vino otherwise known as a noteworthy wine. The second 100% Corvina was from Zenato and was named Cresasso IGT 2004 for the type of soil where the grapes grow. The grapes for this wine grow on a vineyard at 300 meters above sea level. The soil is filled with small stones (sassi), a natural home for the Corvina grape, according to the producer. The wine also had cherry and interesting cedar notes. This was a softer wine with a much lighter price tag as well. I finished the day with Acini Nobili, a dessert wine by Maculan, another favorite producer. This wine is made from dried Vespaiola, Tocai and Garganega grapes affected by botrytis cinerea or noble rot. The wine ferments in stainless steel and ages in French oak barriques from Nevers for two years. It is a perfect combination of honeyed, apricot and peach notes with a considerable amount of sweetness balanced out by bright acidity. I have been partial to this wine since 2000 when I took a class with Fausto Maculan at the Associazione Italiana Sommelier in Milan, Italy. Thank goodness for the tastings, a lovely part of city life.

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Master of Wine Champagne Tasting – Much to write home about

Today I felt like a real novice. Despite 11 years of serious wine study both here and abroad, I had never been to a function held by the Institute of Masters of Wine. Today was the Annual Champagne Tasting. Armed with my palate and my pen, I set off to attend the tasting. Its been a rough few weeks and I expect it will only get more complex with the number of tastings about town. I started with the non-vintage champagnes and was struck by a few including the Henri Goutorbe Cuvee Prestige Brut NV with its delicious raspberry notes. I was sure there had been a bit of skin contact or that the majority of the blend was pinot noir. While doing some research on the subject, I stumbled upon Wine & Spirits Correspondent Peter Liem’s Blog where he gives some interesting information and insight into this producer. I also enjoyed the Alfred Gratien Brut Classique NV which had tropical fruit notes and a touch of something floral and minerally. The Alfred Gratien Cuvee Paradis NV was also a find with nutty, almond and fruit notes. The Bruno Paillard Premiere Cuvee NV was fabulous with its biscuity and red fruit notes. Finally, the Vilmart Grand Cellier Brut NV was seductive and well rounded. Truly a find for me. Skurnik is the importer of a number of these champagnes.

I moved on to the Blancs de Blancs table but was slightly more distracted. I missed a number of great champagnes I am sure but I was able to taste the Andre Jacquart Mesnil Experience and the Brut Experience, both NV. The former is the more prestigious of the two and it was exceptional, butter and citrus notes abounded. I also tried the Besserat de Bellefon, Cuvee des Moines, blanc de blancs NV. Lemon, mineral and nutty flavors were the ones that struck me immediately. I was running out of stream when I happened into a conversation with noted Champagne Expert, Ed McCarthy. He gave me a few suggestions and I proceeded to follow his advice, obviously.

I tried two roses truly worthy of note. The Bollinger Brut Rose’ NV and the Perrier-Jouet Fleur de Champagne Rose 2002. I may just consider buying a bottle of either or both. I arrived at the tasting a bit late and therefore missed some of the gems, including the Krug 1996 and the Pol Roger Brut Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill 1998. I did however get to taste the Veuve Clicquot Rare Vintage 1988. It knocked my socks off and was truly something to write home about, much to my surprise. It was simply wonderful, nutty with butter, almond and white fruit notes. It was delicate and persistent at the same time. In fact, I poured myself a bit more, sat down and reflected on how Champagne, more than 80% of the wines I drink, always gives me a feeling of deep satisfaction and warmth in my soul. Many thanks to the Institute, it was a memorable experience.

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Women in Wine Fridays: Wine Enthusiast’s Panel on Women in October issue

I received my October 2008 issue of the Wine Enthusiast this week. It had a number of stories about my favorite topic: Women in Wine. An interview with wine maker Zelma Long was encouraging about how far women have advanced in the wine world while another piece called “Bottle of the Sexes” was less so. It confirmed what I see in my everyday world for the most part: many still think women only like sweet wines and give men the menu at the table. This happens to me all the time, especially in the more upscale restaurants.

I was pleased to see though that there are apparently many more female wine makers in California than I had previously thought. Many of the comments rang true about how women and men differ in their perceptions and explanations of wine. Additionally, women on the panel felt that marketing wine specifically to women was not a negative. I too see nothing wrong with marketing to specific groups and agree wholeheartedly with this concept. Particularly in light of the fact that the article largely confirmed what other female wine makers I know have said: most wine buying decisions are made by women.

All that said, you never see an article about male wine makers or about men in the business. That is just par for the course. I hope one day it will not be an issue whether or not you are male or female, merely if you make good wine.

I am optimistic. Since I moved back to New York, many of the people I have met in the wine business are women. They are salespeople, sommeliers, buyers and educators, wine makers and importers, journalists and marketers and publicists and above, informed and intelligent consumers.

The same cannot be said for the country that I know and love so well – Italy. While there are a number of female wine makers, many in fact, they are often behind the scenes. Women generally buy the wine but there are many fewer female importers, sommeliers and salespeople. I always hope that I will meet a female head of a wine consorzio but it seldom occurs. If anyone can make an introduction, I would be thrilled.

There is an association that is working hard to bring women to the forefront, Le Donne del Vino.

I have met a number of the women who belong to this association and they have all been very enthusiastic promoters of their wines, the association and women in wine in general. This year they celebrated their 20th anniversary in April with a dinner during Vinitaly. A number of women I know were in attendance and were excited about how things are moving along for women in Italian wine. I felt cheered by that prospect.

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A Visit to the Fireman’s Memorial on 100th Street – 9/11

FIREMEN’S MEMORIAL
Riverside Park

This is a photo of the Firemen’s Memorial which was built in 1913 in Riverside Park. It was designed by H. Van Buren Magonigle (1867-1935), and the sculptures were done by an Italian sculptor named Attilio Piccirilli (1866-1945).

On September 11, 2001 the Fire Department lost 343 firefighters.

There was a large ceremony at the monument today. There were many handsome fireman in their dress blues in attendance. My thoughts today are with them and all of the other families for whom today is not just a national tragedy but a personal one.

I will be drinking a Dancing Bear Cellars Pinot Noir today to celebrate life. The wine is called the Shea Cuvee 2006 and is named after Danny and Joe Shea, the brothers-in-law of my friend and client Eric Munson, both of whom worked in the Twin Towers and died that awful day.

Into The Fire
By Bruce Springsteen

The sky was falling and streaked with blood
I heard you calling me then you disappeared into the dust
Up the stairs, into the fire
Up the stairs, into the fire
I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

You gave your love to see in fields of red and autumn brown
You gave your love to me and lay your young body down
Up the stairs, into the fire
Up the stairs, into the fire
I need you near but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

It was dark, too dark to see, you held me in the light you gave
You lay your hand on me
Then walked into the darkness of your smoky grave
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire
I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

May your love give us love

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Neighborhoods, Wine bars and an odd cast of characters in Manhattan

Lately, I have been thinking that I need to get back to the central focus of this blog – women in wine and Italy. I was set to do that today when I felt an urge to write about my neighborhood. I had no idea when I started to blog that it would be hard to keep a focus because this medium lends one to free associate, a good and a bad thing.

I was hoping to try a good Italian wine at a local wine bar this week and bring myself back to my blog roots. On my way there though, I took a really good look at my neighborhood, a small microcosm of NYC. In a two block radius we have one 30+ year old pizzeria owned by two Italian brothers who after 50 years in this country still speak with heavy Sicilian accents, one Chinese restaurant of some note, a new Thai place and a long standing Turkish restaurant, two diners (one modern, one with the same 1950s writing and posters of James Dean that it has had since they were new), a generous Mexican restauranteur who feeds the hungry after his place closes, one large homeless man, numerous drug deals in broad daylight, groups of housing projects and a few convenience stores all in a two block strip.

It was kind of hard to take all of that in as day turned to night and the wine bar blues were setting in. I recently read a good post on the Brooklyn Guy’s blog about missing a neighborhood bar where you could slip in and have a nice, reasonably priced glass of wine. I haven’t found that elusive stop in my neighborhood either but a few wine bars are at least cropping up. One relatively new wine bar is Vinacciolo.

The bar is a sleek, Milanese style wine bar with minimalist decor and white marble tables. The food is pretty good but I thought the wine list was a bit odd. Perhaps my expectations were merely upended. I was sure that they would have only Italian wines but instead found a variety of countries represented including Germany, France and the usual suspects. I had a delicious Soave by Pieropan but the most interesting wine on the menu to me was the Tokaj Furmint, a wine I really like, from Royal Tokaji. Furmint is one of the two prinicpal grapes in the great sweet wine Tokaj Aszu together with the more well known Harslevelu grape. Furmint can be and is often vinified dry. I have seen it on a number of menus and I always order it. It is generally very minerally and fruity on the nose and palate with nice floral accents and good acidity. The Royal Tokji was delicious. I have also had a good Furmint from Patricius. In terms of the sweet Tokaj Aszu, it features in one of my all time wine moments. In 2004, I did a vertical tasting of Tokaji Aszu during Miwine in Milan with wines by Disznoko. I had a 1993, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000. The 1993 wine practically stood up and sang to me with its rich, sweet, apricot, honeyed flavors. It was absolutely one of my best wine moments to date. I felt better as I left Vinacciolo about the neighborhood and its odd cast of characters. I’m not sure if it was the Tokaj that worked a little magic on me. My hood is a far cry from the left bank and the lungarno but at least I can have a nice glass of wine that transports me to far off lands that I know well and those that I look forward to visiting.

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