Monthly Archives: October 2008

Trick or Treat, Halloween and Impressive Young Lions

I’m too nervous about the election to write on my blog although it has been a full and fun wine week. I have never seen so many Masters of Wine in the same room as I did at Wednesday’s Young Lions Seminar moderated by Serena Sutcliff, MW and attended by Jancis Robinson, Mary Ewing Mulligan and Ed McCarthy as well as Lisa Granick. I saw other MW candidates that I know as well. The wines were an impressive list from Spain’s Pingus to Palacio, Italy’s Antinori, Tenuta Ornellaia and Masi wineries as well as Bodega Noemia (Argiano) from Argentina and French winemakers from Roederer and Domaine Dumac. I must say that the tasting reminded me that there are good wines and even great wines and then there are wines that are a cut above that. These were truly spectacular. More to come on the wines later. Balance and harmony were the key factors in all of the wines. Truly appealing afternoon.
Happy Halloween. Got to go get my Palin costume on, you betcha…

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Brunello Vote

I am not a huge fan of the whole Brunello controversy story, meaning I am pessimistic that attitudes and habits will truly change in the long run but a fellow blogger Jeremy Parzen on his eclectic and varied blog Dobianchi has been following it assiduously since the beginning. For information on today’s vote, check out his blog. I am amazed in truth how big a story this has been for months now. I guess my feeling is that everyone really knew more or less what was going on. Perhaps not to the extent that was revealed but piu’ o meno. That is no justification for behavior that goes against the rules but still I wonder how many people were truly surprised. I guess we will never know. In any event, clarity reigns once again.

Who knows what the next controversy will be? I’m thinking something about the amount of alcohol on the label, also never quite what it seems. We’ll see. Anyway, while I am not involved in the debate , I do like to know what is going on and faithfully check Jeremy’s blog and other sources for news. I also discovered a blog on Montalcino that I had never seen before, the Montalcino Report by Alessandro Bindocci, certainly a great resource.

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Women in Wine – A Chat With Sardinia’s Valentina Argiolas

The Mediterranean island of Sardinia may be best known for its beaches and sailing opportunities but its wineries are giving the world markets a run for their money. The viticultural tradition on the island can be traced back hundreds of years to 1392 when the reigning Sovereign Elenor mandated the planting of vines in uncultivated areas. Sardinia has been slow to capitalize on this ancient tradition in terms of producing quality wines but things are changing at a brisk pace. The island can be divided into three principal areas: the north is characterized by the areas around Alghero and Sassari, the center around the towns of Oristano and Nuoro and the south around the city of Cagliari.

I had the opportunity to interview and met Valentina Argiolas, of the Argiolas family a number of times. She represents a new generation of the Arigolas family in Italy, young and female. The family Patriarch Antonio is 101. He has two sons who work in the business and they in turn have three daughters and a son. The family owns some 250 hectares of land in Sardinia and produces over two million bottles of wine a year. This makes the Argiolas winery the second largest on the island. Sella & Mosca is the largest winery in Sardinia and one of the largest in the world. The Arigolas have worked with the famous enologist Giacomo Tachis for many years. In addition to his consulting, the Argiolas’ have Mariano Murru as their enologist on a daily basis. I had the pleasure of meeting Murru at Vinitaly in April. He was incredibly generous with his time and passionate about the Argiolas wines.

The Argiolas winery located in Serdiana near the city of Caligari lies at the south eastern tip of this Mediterranean island. The winery is typical of new trends in Italy towards technological innovations and the use of indigenous grapes. Founded by Valentina’s grandfather in 1918, the original winery used many types of grapes including non-indigenous ones until the 1970’s when the European Union (at that time the European Community) incentives called for the grubbing up of many of the older vines. Quality wines were the exception not the norm at that time because of the extensive quantity of poor grapes being produced. During the 1980’s the family decided to restructure the winery and the first indigenous grapes were planted in 1991. Valentina describes the winery as using innovative techniques and processes married to the traditions of the island and its indigenous grapes such as Vermentino, Cannonau, Nasco and Nuragus. Argiolas’ efforts have paid off and their famed wine Turriga and a number of others have been widely acclaimed for many years.

Sardinia has just one DOCG, the premium category for Italian wines, Vermentino di Gallura which must be made from 100% Vermentino grapes and can be aged up to three years with an alcohol level of 12% and the reserve or Superior version can rise to 13%. Sardinia is also home to numerous DOC wines. Cannonau is the second grape which is most widely seen as a future entrant to DOCG status. Turriga, the Argiolas’s premium wine is made from 85% Cannonau and 15% Malvasia Nera, Carignano and Bovale Sardo.

The Argiolas’ family exports to some 50 countries including the United States where they are represented by Winebow. As with other wineries trying to make a splash on the international market, the Arigolas family has well defined characteristics that they intend to emphasize. “We are interested in promoted the region of Sardinia through the use of local varietals.Vermentino for example from Sardinia is unique,” Valentina notes. “ We want people to buy our wines because of their quality.”

Like many women who work in wine marketing, Valentina also sees that women bring a special quality to the world of wine. “Women are very attentive to all of the details of the product from the image to the packaging to client welfare when they visit the winery,” she notes. “Women have a native sensibility and intuition that they learn at home.”

I once again tasted through the Argiolas wines at the Winebow tasting in New York earlier this year. I was very impressed and pleased to hear that Valentina is expecting…Auguri.

Tasting Notes:

S’elegas DOC 2007

This wine is made from 100% Nuragus. It was fresh and fruity with some floral and mineral notes. Perfect for seafood.

Costamolino DOC 2007

This was 90% Vermentino and 10% other varietals. It was a great example of Vermentino and had its subtle floral and fruit notes with nice acidity. An easy drinking wine, I happen to be partial to Vermentino.

Is Argiolas DOC 2007

This was a bit more complex. It is 100% Vermentino and the grapes spend an extra 10 days on the vine so the fruit is much richer and more tropical, mangos, honey and nuts.

SerraLori Rosato 2007

This is a blend of Sardinian red grape varieties including Cannonau, Monica, Carignano, and Bovale Sardo. It undergoes partial carbonic maceration and spends 3-4 hours macerating on the skins and is filled with red fruits -strawberries and raspberries abound.

Costera ICT 2006

This blend of 90% Canonau, 5% Carignano and 5% Bovale Sardo had nice fruit, good tannins and pepper, and cedar notes.

Perdera IGT 2006

I like the Monica grape very much. This wine was one of my favorites with 90% Monica, 5% Carignano and 5% Bovale Sardo. It had good tannins, ripe red fruits, lead pencil and tobacco notes. I thought it was persistent and of medium + intensity.

Korem IGT 2005

This wine has an interesting story and a lovely label, that of a Greek coin found in the vineyards on the Arigolas property. It is made from 55% Bovale Sardo o Bavaleddu 35% Carignano and 10% Cannonau. I found it very well rounded with beautiful fruit and cedar, chocolate and tar notes. It spends about one year in French barriques and six months in the bottle. Valentina told me at Vinitaly this year that this was a more female wine as opposed to the very muscular flagship wine Turriga. I loved them both.

Turriga 2003

85% Cannonau, 15% Malvasia Nera, Carignano and Bovale Sardo. This spends up to two years in barriques and about 12-14 months in the bottle and can age beautifully. It was layered and nuanced with fruit, spice and oak notes coming in waves followed by leather, tar, tobacco and chocolate flavors.

Tremontis Mirtu NV

I also tried this Mirtu, a Sardinian digestif. I like Mirtu and this was an interesting one. This is made from 40 different herbs. Mirtu is an acquired taste I find and once you get hooked, its all over.

At Vinitaly I also tasted:

Angialis

A blend of Nasco and Malvasia, this was a great late harvest wine. Nasco is an interesting indigenous variety.

Antonio Argiolas

I tasted this wine which is a celebration of the Patriarch’s first 100 years. I don’t think it id imported but if you are in Italy, try to get some. It is made from cannonau and malvasia nera which was left to raisin on the vine. It is wonderful and would be amazing with chocolate. It is rich and deeply satisfying.

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The Wine Academy of Spain in New York

I have had the pleasure of taking a two day seminar with Pancho Campo, the first Master of Wine (MW) from Spain over the past two days. I am hoping to pass a certification examination on Spanish wines tomorrow so I will just write a quick entry. We have had a world wind tour of Spain and I must say I am enthralled. We have tasted numerous wonderful wines from all over the country and many stood out, including Finca Garbet 2004 from Castillo Perelada. This is from the DO Emporda’ located in the North Eastern corner of Spain on the border with France. It was sublime with 40% Syrah and 60% Cabernet Sauvignon. It had a wonderful bouquet of black cherries, chocolate, leather, savory meat and cedar notes. The palate showed more of the same. The wine was balanced and well integrated with firm tannins and good acidity. It made me want to hop on a plane and head to Spain tomorrow morning. I had heard the name of this wine and couldn’t quite place it. Then I remembered that a friend is the importer.

Tina Williford, a friend and colleague from the International Wine Center’s WSET program imports this wine through her company Grape Expectations. Tina was one of the first people I met when I returned to New York and is still the only female wine importer that I know. Her company is based in North Carolina. Tina also turned me on to a group of fabulous sherries and to one specific type, the Palo Cortado. I will write about that another day. Pancho Campo is holding an incredible tasting tomorrow evening of iconic Spanish Wines. If you go to his website there is more information about the event. It looks like it will be outstanding. Campo is also very knowledgeable and informative about climate change and its impact on the wine industry, a fascinating and scary topic. Hopefully, after Nov. 4, we can get on with a serious discussion about climate change and its impact not just on our beloved wine world but on the world in general.

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Luca Maroni Comes to New York – Sense of Wine

Today was one of those lucky days when Italy and New York join and I feel that I can have both of my worlds in the same place. Luca Maroni was in New York promoting his tasting method at an event held at the Astor Center. Luca Maroni is one of those famous luminaries on the Italian wine scene together with Luigi Veronelli and a handful of others. Each year he produces an enormous guide which I buy and bring back in my suitcase. It weighs at least three kilos and is chock full of tasting notes on wines. He also holds a huge wine event in Rome which I can never get into because it is always too crowded. This year the event is the last weekend in November for anyone traveling to Rome.

I confess I wasn’t all that clear before today’s event what his tasting method was and why it differs from that of the other well known tasters. I myself have written many a tasting note and ventured to give wines specific ratings based on a point system I learned in Italy when I was studying at the Associazione Italiana Sommeliers or AIS. Every wine was around an 85 if memory serves. While at the WSET or International Wine Center I rarely used a point system but did write complete tasting notes with conclusions.

Maroni’s method is actually quite simple and he stressed something that I completely agree with, you need a methodology and that methodology must be the same for all of your tasting notes. I find that this has not always been the case with me.

His method uses three components – consistency, balance and integrity and is based on the senses. Infact, he calls himself a sensorial analyst. I do not want to misrepresent his method but my understanding of it is that consistency is essentially the extract of the wine or its volume if it were to be reduced to dust. This is then offset by a wine’s balance which is a synthesis of sweetness, acidity and bitterness. A wine is balanced if its softness is equal to its acidity and bitterness. Maroni noted that the only sensation which can sometimes be out of balance but in a positive way is the sweetness factor which can be overwhelming but still harmonious say in a late harvest wine or a Tba.

In terms of integrity, he refers to the absence of defects in the wine which can put it out of balance such as a faulty malolactic fermentation which can leave a yogurt aroma or too much sulfur which can smell very smoky or like rotten eggs. We then proceeded to rate the components based on a numbered scale of 1 to 99. He doesn’t use a 100 point scale because he pointed out that no wine is perfect and I frankly agree. There are wines that are perfect for me on a certain day in a certain mood but I have never found a wine to be flawless. At least not yet. Maroni said that all of the best wines in the world, from different countries, have almost the same numbers on his scale. I found this very interesting.

I spoke with him a bit after the event about how he started and what he thought were upcoming trends in Italy. Early on, Maroni worked with Veronelli in Bergamo but after a few years set off on his own. His wine guide has no advertising because he doesn’t want to be linked to any producers but wants to judge the wines without any of the complications that advertising brings. In terms of future trends,he foresees a move towards wines with lower alcohol and more aromas. People will continue to look for freshness and rich aromas or will drink with their noses…. He also made an interesting point about how the Italian wine world is one of the factors which protects Italy’s natural landscape and beauty. Where wine brings in money, new construction is not allowed. “You don’t see any awful construction on land where good wines which bring a pretty penny are produced. Take Frascati and the Castelli Romani.” Interesting indeed. Maroni will be back for an event with Alta Cucina Society in February.

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Amarone & Dad

Although today is Friday and I try to write about women in wine on Fridays, it is also my dad’s birthday so I am going to write about one of his favorite wines – Amarone. Before we began drinking wine together though, we went fishing together. A bonding experience. He taught me to put worms on a hook at an early age. It was a useful skill to show the boys in my class that I wasn’t afraid of bugs and insects…Dad also made wine in the basement when I was young. Old vine Zinfandel with his friend Carmelo from Ragusa, Sicily. Thus the wine bug was planted.

My dad loves Amarone whether it is from a small or a big producer. I, on the other hand, have never been partial to Amarone. Sure, I recognize that it is one of the great wines of Italy but I only really enjoy it with Roast beef at Christmas. That all changed this past year at Vinitaly when Mark Levy, a veteran wine salesman, introduced me to Amarone della Valpolicella Classico D.O.C. “TB” 2001 by Tommaso Bussola. A life changing event in terms of my appreciation for Amarone. This Amarone was a blend of 75% Corvina, 20% Rondinella and 5% of Cab Franc, Dindarella, Croatina and Molinara. It was rich and luxurious with black and red fruit, spice, oak and chocolate and tar notes. It was in a word, a sexy wine. Polaner Selections imports the wine and his website gives a fuller description of the wine. This was a gem, just like my Dad. Happy Birthday.

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Financial Lingo & Grape Varieties – Asprinio di Aversa and Aroma Kitchen & Wine bar

I have been reflecting lately on how strange it is that so many people now know what a Credit Default Swap is and how Mortgage Backed Securities work. It would have been nice if we had been given a slow training session instead of one month of panic about what these concepts mean without having to watch our 401K accounts plunge. Unfortunately that is not the case. I first learned this financial lingo when I was a reporter at Dow Jones in Milan in another incarnation. That was 1995. At about the same time, I started seriously studying Italian wine varieties and it was just as foreign to me. The names were exotic and ancient and I felt that I had been given a key to a new world.
I am interested in finance so reading the papers has been upsetting but edifying as well. I think it is equally interesting that American wine lists now contain Italian varietals that I would never have dreamed of seeing in the States just a few short years ago.

Aglianico del Vulture is a case in point. Eric Asimov wrote a piece in the New York Times about Aglianico del Vulture last month and has likely assured its future. I had once made a stand that I wouldn’t leave Italy until I visited Basilicata, the region where this Agliancio comes from, and finally went to Matera in May 2002. It took many more years for me to leave Italy but Basilicata and Aglianico del Vulture has remained nel mio cuore…
I was at a wine event at Aroma Kitchen & Wine Bar this week and had a conversation with Vito, the owner, about all of the new products coming out of Italy and how exciting it is. Vito used to sell wine and was extremely knowledgeable and his wine list shows that clearly. He told me about a producer from Campania that now makes single varietal Coda di Volpe wines. It is hard to believe that the wine scene has evolved to that extent. As it happens, Vito is from Basilicata.
I had never been to Aroma and was glad to have the chance to appreciate the place. While I only got to taste a small variety of Vito’s foods, they were delicious and I will definitely go back for more. I found the whole place and Vito and his wife very appealing. I was very interested in Vito’s Asprinio di Aversa Frizzante from Campania from I Borboni. I have only ever seen Asprinio on the wine list at Terroir. This white grape makes light fruity and floral wines. I love seeing new varietals on wine lists.

Surely we will learn many more financial concepts in the months and years to come but I hope that at the same time new varietals and small producers will also be arriving on the scene to bring us Allegria.

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