Monthly Archives: May 2009

Tango in NYC, Great Music and Some Nice Wines at Armenonville

I have been absent from the New York tango scene for many months. For those who don’t dance tango, that may not seem to be a big deal, for those who do, it is almost criminal. I had forgotten the pleasure of listening to the slow, romantic and beautiful tango songs while trying to swirl around the dance floor in a close embrace. Or the wonderous notes emanating from the bandoneon. I also must mention that at every milonga (dance evening), a couple of professional dancers perform so you can take a break and imagine how you might one day look if you just keep at it. That’s the fantasy at least. Even if you never get close to looking 1/8 as beautiful as some of the couples I have seen, it is always a pleasure to watch their mastery at work.

At Friday’s Milonga at Armenonville in New York City, I was reminded how magical an evening of tango can be. You get to hear beautiful and somewhat exotic sounds, move your body, say hello to old friends and meet new ones but until this weekend, drinking good wine was never part of the bargain.

Luckily, Friday’s Milonga is hosted by Juan Pablo Vicente who also works at Bar Jamon , near Grammercy Park and is well versed in the wine trade. No one goes to tango for the wines but it is nice to have a glass of something decent at a modest price. The wines are from Michel Torino, a winery in Argentina with more than 1500 acres of vineyards, at 5500-6600 feet above sea level. The winery is located in the Cafayate Valley and practices sustainable farming despite its very large size.

I tried a number of the wines and truly enjoyed many of them, including Don David Torrontes 2008, a light summer white with floral and ripe white fruit aromas with lovely acidity and minerality. Some 45% of the wine sees skin contact while 10% is fermented in small American barrels for 3 months and the remaining 45% is fermented in the traditional style.


I also liked the Don David Malbec 2007 which is 100% Malbec and showed plum, raisin, chocolate and vanilla on the palate. Following malolactic fermentation, 70% of this wine sees 12 months in American and French oak barrels before bottling. Another interesting find was the Ciclos 2005 made with a Malbec/Merlot blend. The wine making is much the same as with the 100% Malbec but a slightly higher percentage of the blend, 80%, spends time in oak barrels.


Thanks to the wines and Juan Pablo, who together with Coco runs the very popular Milonga (dance evening) at La Nacional on Thursdays, I finally got back to dancing. For those interested in learning tango, going to see a Milonga or attending a practica, Richard Lipkin’s tango calendar has all the necessary information.

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Italian Indigenous Varities: Albana di Romagna – Passito Version Is Worth A Try

This article orginally appeared on Altacucina Society’s website.

On my recent trip to Italy, I focused on tasting a maximum number of dessert wines, I found the passito version of Albana di Romagna to be interesting and unknown, at least to me. What I discovered with pleasure is that Albana is renowned for its honey, apricot, spice and magnolia flavors. It ages very gracefully and can keep for anywhere between six to 10 years.

Albana hails from Emilia Romagna, a region in Northern Italy, that is home to a significant number of indigenous grape varieties, many of which are largely unknown to the American public. Albana di Romagna was the first Italian white wine to achieve DOCG status. Many disagreed with this choice, stating that it was not up to the task but nonetheless, it was given the denomination in 1987.

I lived in Bologna, an amazing and beatiful city when I went to graduate school at SAIS but I have no recollection of drinking Albana di Romagna passito. Bland white wine, ostensibly made from Albana, yes but not a delicious passito. Bologna is a fabulous place to live and has much to recommend it including the food, the stores, the museums, the streets, the “portici”, the cafes, the market, the opera and the University. Insomma, it is a gem of a city. You can also find Albana more easily in that neck of the woods.


Albana di Romagna has a very long history and is often said to have been the favorite wine of Galla Placidia, Theodosius II’s daughter who is supposed to have tasted it in 435 A.D. Her mausoleum in Ravenna is one of the gems of Roman architecture. While there is no way to verify that she actually tried Albana di Romagna, it was mentioned in an Agricultural treatise in 1300 A.D by Pier de Crescenzi of Bologna.

The grape is grown all over the region from Bologna to Rimini but plantings are concentrated near the cities of Forli-Cesena, Ravenna, Bertinoro and Bologna. There are a number of different clones of Albana.

Generally it is grown on hills where it is subject to winds from the Adriatic Sea, rain from the Appenines and humidity from nearby rivers. It grows well on limestone soils with marine organic materials.


Albana is made into a variety of styles including secco, amabile, dolce, and passito. Albana can also be a made into a sparkling wine but it can use only the DOC denomination for the sparkling version. Albana is a relatively light bodied grape variety with good acidity. It also can contain considerable residual sugar and therefore is well suited to the sweeter styles of wine made from it. While the dry, off-dry versions of this wine are not considered to be that worthy of note, the passito is another story.

Producers have a lot of leeway in the way that they produce Albana di Romagna passito which is not usually the case. Generally production rules, especially for DOCG wines are very strict and meticulous. Instead for Albana di Romagna, producers can choose their method to dry the grapes. It can be done either on the vine, in small boxes, on wooden grates, or indoors using air. The wine can be vinified in wooden barriques or in stainless steel. The length of time for vinification is also not specified. The one rigid piece of the legislation governing the production of Albana di Romagna wine is the date that it is sold on the market. It must be on the market by September 1 of the year following the harvest for the entry level passito and on December 1 of the year following the harvest for the Riserva passito.

Some of the most famous producers of these wines include Umberto Cesari (Colle del Re), Fattoria Monticino Rosso, Leone Conti, Zerbina, and Baciami. The wines are imported by Opici Wine Co., Martin Scott Wines, JK Imports, Michael Skurnick Wines, and John Given Wines, respectively. Many of the most famous Italian brands are not currently available in the U.S.

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Filed under Italian indigenous Grape Varieties, Italian regions, Italian wineries, italy

Montalcino On My Mind – Laura Brunelli In NYC

I’m truly looking forward to seeing Laura Brunelli of the Gianni Brunelli winery this week in New York. I had the occasion to try the latest vintages of their great wines at Vinitaly 2009 and it will be nice to see how the wines have evolved over the past two months. I met Laura & Gianni two years ago through their New York importer, Dancing Bear Cellars. Laura and I quickly became fast friends. A post I wrote on Gianni’s untimely death in November has been by far and away the most widely read post on this blog in the past year, a tribute to how much he meant to so many people. Gianni is greatly missed by all who knew him and his absence will be felt this week in New York as well. Their wines however are a way to toast and celebrate Gianni. I will be happy to drink them together with his amor costante, Laura, this week. Ben arrivata amica mia!

Laura & Gianni Brunelli

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Georges Duboeuf Wine Tasting – Summer in a Glass

Georges and Franck Duboeuf

I wrote a long piece for the The Gourmet Retailer Blog about a tasting I attended in late April of Geoges Duboeuf’s wines. It was a wonderful event where we were able to taste a number of the Beaujolais Crus. I wanted to post some photos of the event on this blog. Please check out the post if you have time.

A group that promotes Beaujolais known as Les Campagnons Du Beaujolais offered a beautiful cake to Georges Duboeuf to celebrate his 76th birthday. The cake referenced all of the 10 Beaujolais Cru. Truly beautiful, it was delicious as well.

Birthday Cake

A few friends in the wine business have been inducted into the society including Cynthia Cheng from Find Your Craving and Michael Schaefer, a wine judge, educator and salesman.

My favorite Beaujolais Cru of the evening was the Chiroubles. It was an elegant and refined expression of the Gamay grape.

Summer has arrived and I intend to add Beaujolais Crus to my summer wine list. They are also easy on the wallet, always a joy.


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Emidio Pepe, An Iconic Winemaker From Abruzzo

Pepe Family

The Pepe family has been making wine in Abruzzo since 1899. Emidio Pepe took over the winery in 1964 and has been promoting Montepulciano d’Abruzzzo ever since. His wines are made near the city of Teramo in a place called Torano Nuovo, very close to the border of the Marche region and not too distant from the shores of the Adriatic sea. The soils in that area are full of minerals and some lime which produces wines that have lively acidity and mineral notes. Acidity is crucial for the longevity of a wine and many of Pepe’s wines can age for years despite the fact that the wines are made organically and have been for decades. Organic wine making doesn’t allow the use of pesticides or substances that serve to conserve the wine and therefore it is somewhat rare to see older vintages.

Older Vintages of Emidio Pepe's Wines

The white grapes are actually still pressed by hand while the red grapes are de-stemmed by hand, a long and laborious process. No cultured yeast or sulfites are added to the wines and no filtration is used before bottling. Rosa Pepe, the family matriach, decants and rebottles every single bottle in their cellars to take out the deposits which have formed naturally during the aging process. The Montepulciano d’Abruzzo spends two years in cement tanks before being bottled. Emidio Pepe has three daughters and at least two grand daughters so it is safe to say that women will be very important in the Pepe winery for generations to come. One of his daughters, Sofia Pepe, is an enologist with her own winery.

Pepe Family 2

I had the pleasure of tasting numerous wines from the Pepe family’s cellar on two occasions during Vinitaly. I passed by the stand late in the day on the penultimate day of the fair and some older vintages were open. I tried the 1977 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo which was still filled with spice and fruit aromas despite it’s 32 years. The 1982 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo was interesting and thanks to its acidity, it was still somewhat refreshing and fruity. The1983 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo still had a deep ruby color with the same fruit, pepper and spice notes that I had tasted in the younger wines. The 1985 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo was very similar to the 1983 but I preferred the 1983.

Pepe Family Label

While it was fun to try these very old vintages, I like this wine a bit fresher and fruitier. I also tried the 2001, 2003 and 2005 vintages. The 2001 and 2000 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, this last is one of Emidio Pepe’s personal favorites according to his granddaughter, were delicious with beautiful red cherry fruit, liquorice and spice. These two were definitely my favorites.

Chatting with his daughter about her experiences as a woman in the wine business in Abruzzo she said that many more women are now working in the industry, be it in the fields during the harvest, in the offices doing administrative tasks, leading wine tastings for clients, sales and marketing abroad and a host of other duties. “My father brought us on trips to Europe when we were 15 and 16 once a year to show us the business,” she said, “he is just amazing and has taken at least 80 trips to the United States and managed very well despite not perfect English.” The family has 15 hectares of vines from which they produce 60,000 bottles of white and red wines made from indigenous grapes – Trebbiano d’Abruzzo and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grapes as well as an organic farm guesthouse and a wine and oil museum. Extremely lovely and welcoming, the Pepe family’s philosophy of nature leading the way was very appealing. I hope to visit them at the winery soon., perhaps this summer. The wines are imported by Polaner Selections.


Filed under Italian indigenous Grape Varieties, Italian regions, Italian wineries, italy, Travel, wines, Women in Wine

Remembering Abruzzo – Five Weeks Later

It has been five weeks since the devastating earthquake in Abruzzo. The earthquake hit on April 6 at around 3:38 am. I haven’t yet written about it because I wanted to find the right tone but then I saw that some blogging colleagues were trying to drum up attention to bring people to the region for the holidays, an initiative that I would also like to support. Well done Dobianchi and Alfonso One of Abruzzo’s main industries is tourism. It is a beautiful place with rolling hills, a very large park called the Gran Sasso, enchanting medieval villages on hillsides and many fabulous wines. Parts of the region are surely effected by the damage from the earthquake but numerous other areas are absolutely open for business. Abruzzo is still rural in many areas and can be a wonderful place for a holiday. I went to Abruzzo five years ago specifically to visit L’Aquila and a church I wanted to see Santa Maria di Collemaggio, built in the 13th century by Pietro da Morrone who later became Pope Celestine V. He held his cornation in the church and is buried there.

My mom had bought me a map of L’Aquila by mistake when she was looking for a map of Aquileia, a town in Friuli with a fabulous Roman basilica. The map sat in my house for five years before my visit. Once there, I couldn’t believe my good fortune at having “discovered” this amazing city, region and people. Abruzzo also has a fascinating history of resistance during World War II. The Abruzzesi are a notoriously stoic and resilient people.

Santa Maria di Collemaggio

I am going to post a photo of how the church looked then. Click here to see how it looks now. It breaks my heart to see Art and Architecture, two of my great loves, destroyed. Nothing however is quite as devastating as the photos of those who lost their loved ones or the look of fear in children and elderly people’s eyes in the days following the big quake.

A photographer, Alessio Occhiocupo, from Abruzzo was kind enough to share some of his photos of Abruzzo’s wine country.


These photos make me want to jump on a plane and head to Abruzzo tomorrow. The day before the quake, I had been tasting wines in the Abruzzo Pavillion at Vinitaly.


On April 6, the entire area where the Abruzzo producers had been was dark and everyone had left. While some wineries were damaged during the quake, the biggest hit comes from the devastation that impacted local restaurants and bars. According to a post by Eric Asimov on his blog The Pour, between 10%-50% of the wine produced in the region is sold locally.

My next posts will be about the producers I met from Abruzzo. Tonight though, I will definitely have a glass of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. I invite all to do the same and toast to the living and those who are gone from that beautiful region of Italy.


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Filare 41 – Tenuta Casa Dei From Suvereto

Like many wine geeks, wine lovers, winos or however we like to describe ourselves, I drink a lot of wine. I always promise to write about wines I like but sometimes it takes me ages to do it. That is the case with this wine, tasted in December 2008 with Mike Reilly, a fellow recipient of the Diploma from the International Wine Center. Mike was my neighbor at the Diploma dinner held at I Trulli in December. The dinner is a really lovely event held each year for those who have received the Diploma from the Wines and Spirits Education Trust, a rigorous wine study course which lasts for at least two years although many are on a slower path. It’s a nice way to celebrate and meet others who may not have been in class with you. I received my Diploma in July of 2008. During the years that I studied at the Center, I met a lot of great people. One of my favorite people, Jason Carey, is currently featured on the Wine Center’s website. In any event, one nice thing about the dinner is that everyone brings a favorite wine. I Trulli has a great list as we all know but for the dinner, the wines are brought by former students. Mike brought the Filare 41 2002. I had never heard of it. Tenuta Casa Dei is located in Suvereto which is part of the Val di Cornia in lower Tuscany, somewhat near the city of Livorno. I have been to the area many times when I lived in Florence, specifically to San Vincenzo, a lovely little sea side town on the Golfo di Baratti which also has a splendid a pine forest. This area is known as the Costa degli Etruschi. The Island of Elba is often visible from the seashore as well. Many wonderful wines come from this part of Tuscany. Val di Cornia is a very small DOC with some big names such as Tua Rita and Gualdo del Re.


While I love indigenous varietals, I am absolutely not a strict traditionalist and also enjoy wines made from international varieties, yes even some “Super-Tuscans.” I try to judge wines on how they taste and on how well they are made not on who rates them and what their point scores are or how much they cost. I like wine and I love to try all kinds. I have found that Petit Verdot, a traditional grape from Bordeaux, is a key ingredient in many wonderful wines from this area of Tuscany. The soils in this lower part of Tuscany, the Maremma, are said to be similar to that of Bordeaux in that they are a mix of gravel, sand and clay. The soil in Suvereto contains a lot of minerals as well. Filare 41 is made from 100% Petit Verdot. The grapes are hand picked and spend 16 days macerating on their skins after a long fermentation period of 6 to 8 days in stainless steel. The wine is aged in French oak for 15 to 18 months. The wine was just delicious, filled with spice and lovely red fruit berry aromas and flavors. It also had a hint of that earthiness that I favor in a wine. I couldn’t find the wine in a number of stores but was told that it can be found at I Drink Wine, a store dedicated to limited production wines. The wine is expensive and not for everyone perhaps but I truly enjoyed it. Thanks Mike.


Filed under Italian regions, Italian wineries, italy, Travel, wines