Monthly Archives: June 2009

Michael & Farah, Childhood Icons Slip Away

I know this is a wine blog but I feel like writing about Michael Jackson and Farah Fawcett. As a child of the 1970s and 1980s, I grew up with Michael’s music and wanted more than anything to be Farah. Hours with my curling iron did not produce the desired look. My friends and I all had feathered hair and tried to do the Farah flip. It was never quite as easy as she made it look with her winning smile.

I loved to watch Charlie’s Angels when I was a kid and Friday nights with the Jackson Five. My sister Lisa and I would sit in front of the TV and dance and sing with Michael. I think the first child’s record we had was ABC, maybe even a 45.

My first performance as a little kid was a Michael hit. His death is truly shocking and sad. I can’t stop watching the music videos and appreciating his immense talent.

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Festa: San Giovanni a Firenze, Calcio Storico & Nocino

On June 24 each year, Florence comes alive with parades and Florentines dressed in medieval gear to celebrate their patron saint, San Giovanni. Drums beat and flutes play, as the procession leads to Piazza Santa Croce for the yearly Calcio Storico match.

San Giovanni

Calcio Storico began in the 16th century. The rules are slightly different from regular calcio or soccer. Three matches are played each year. Head-butting, punching, elbowing, and choking are all legal. A violent match, sometimes people get hurt but it never seems to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm for the game

Via Tornabuoni

I lived in Florence for many years and often tried to see the match but never made it anywhere near the grand stand. In the evening, fireworks are launched from the Piazzale Michelangelo. Last year and the year before I watched the fireworks from different locations in the city with people very close to my heart.

City Colors

I was lucky enough to be at a party in a home smack underneath the fireworks display. It seemed like the raining white weeping willow like shapes were all around me. It was slightly terrifying and glorious at the same time.

parade

On June 24, Florentines also pick walnuts to make into the delicious digestivo Nocino, a walnut liquor. The green hulls of walnuts are infused in alcohol for two months and then some spices are added to the mix. I have never had one in the United States but two brands seem to be prevalent, Russo and Agazzoti. A Nocino also comes out of California.

City Elders

I have only ever had homemade nocino made by Silvia Di Sandro, a cook who could put any famous chef to shame.

San Giovanni is a very festive holiday and is “molto sentita.” A distant second to the Florentine soccer team, La Fiorentina o La Viola, Calcio Storico and San Giovanni are a very big deal in Florentine life.

While Florence can be extremely touristy, hot and commercial, it holds a very special place in my life and in my heart.

Oltrarno

Whenever I go back there and hear “O Susannah dov’e sei stata tutto questo tempo?…(where have you been all this time?) said with a thick Florentine accent by one of the people who run the cafes, restaurants or stores on my old street, I smile and feel like I am always at home. I actually think the air is slower and heavier in Florence but that’s another story. If you ever get the chance to go on San Giovanni, I don’t think you will be disappointed.

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Passing of a Patriarch: Antonio Argiolas Dies At 102

I was looking through some websites earlier and came upon the news that wine maker and family patriarch, Antonio Argiolas from Sardinia has died at the age of 102. The Argiolas family is integrally linked to the history of Sardinian wine making. He will surely be missed but his life and achievements leave much to celebrate.

While Turriga is his most famous wine, I had the rare opportunity to try a wine made in his honor for his 100th birthday at Vinitaly 2008.

The wine called Antonio Argiolas is made in very small quantities and I don’t think this wine is imported but if you are in Italy, try to get some. It is made from Cannonau and Malvasia Nera which were left to dry on the vine before being harvested. It is wonderful and would be amazing with chocolate. It was rich and deeply satisfying.

Many of the Argiolas wines are available in the United States however. To see which wines are imported, go to Winebow , their importer.

I have met a number of members of the Argiolas family and interviewed Valentina Argiolas in 2005 and in 2008. She and the whole family were warm and welcoming.

My thoughts are with them.

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Father’s Day: Bringing Cyprus’ Commandaria Home For Dessert

June 21 is the longest day of the year and it is also Father’s day in the United States. While my dad loves Amarone, Brunello and many French wines, his real fondness is for dessert wines. I often try to ply him with different wines to gauge his interest. One I know he likes and thus it will be making an appearance after dinner is Commandaria, reputed to be the oldest wine in the world, from Cyprus. This sweet, deep amber colored wine is delicious. Generally about 15% alcohol, it is made with indigenous grapes grown on the hills of the Troodos mountains, Mavro and Xynisteri. There are a number of brands available in the United States and I have tried most of them. I like all of them and even the easy ones to get I find are enjoyable.

The wine is made from grapes that have been allowed to raisin on the vine and are then picked and dried out in the sun before being crushed and pressed. Fermentation stops relatively quickly because of the over ripe grapes which translates into high alcohol. The wine is aged for four years in oak barrels.

This wine has been famous for centuries and is associated with the ancient Greeks, the crusades in the middle ages, and Richard the Lionheart. My father is a historian by training and a great lover of all things related both to ancient Greece and to England. I think it is a perfect pairing.

Family

Did I fail to mention that is it also fabulously rich and delicious with dried apricot, nuts, spice and oak notes. I love this wine and will happily drink it as opposed to eating dessert any day of the week.

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Masciarelli: An Abruzzo Winery That Needs No Introduction

I am writing a series of posts about wineries from Abruzzo to keep attention focused on that region which is recovering from a devastating earthquake which took place on April 6.

Everyone who has ever had a wine from Abruzzo in the United States has likely come across the name Gianni Masciarelli. Masciarelli is a very well known winery that produces signature grapes from Abruzzo, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo and exports much of its production.

Located in the town of San Martino Sulla Marrucina in the province of Chieti, between the Adriatic sea and Mount Maiella, the winery has been credited with bringing Abruzzo’s wine making techniques to a new level. The charismatic namesake of this winery died suddenly last year at 53. Vinowire, an Italian wine news wire service reported on his death as did one of its editors, Franco Ziliani on his well loved blog, Vino al Vino. While the owner has sadly left us, his wines continue his legacy.

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I never had the pleasure of meeting Masciarelli but his wines have been on my radar for many years. I had the occasion to taste them again both at Vinitaly and at the Tre Bicchieri tasting in New York. These wines never disappoint. Whether it is the Trebbiano, the Cersasuolo or the two Montepulciano cru wines, Marina Cvetic 2002 and Villa Gemma 2005. These last are both deeply colored, full bodied wines that are a beautiful expression of this grape with nuanced notes of black fruit, vanilla, tobacco, spice, nuts and fig. The wines were long lived and had a velvety mouth feel. Hard pressed if asked to choose which one I prefer, I find them slightly different but each very rewarding on the palate. Always a pleasure, I was glad to see the Masciarelli stand at Vinitaly was packed. Masciarelli’s wines are imported by Martin Scott Wines.

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Abruzzo’s Tenuta Ulisse: Innovative Technology Encounters Italian Indigenous Varieties

As I made my way around the Abruzzo pavillon at Vinitaly earlier this year, I happened upon a new winery that caught my eye, Tenuta Ulisse. I am not sure if it was the huge smile on one of the owner’s faces or his enthusiasm that drew me in but whatever the case, I was impressed with his demeanor and more importantly, with a couple of their wines.

Tenuta Ulisse

Antonio and Luigi, two brothers took over the winery in 2006 that was started by their grandfather Antonio Ulisse at the beginning of the 1900s. The winery is located in Cercchio in the province of Chieti in Abruzzo, between the Adriatic sea and the mountains. Originally they had two hectares but now have 30 hectares in three locations: Cercchio, Lanciano and Ortona. Thus far the brothers have had a lot of success. They are currently producing 65,000 bottles but next year plan to make 130,000. They expect to eventually produce 200,000-300,000 bottles.

The brothers have been working with Vittorio Festa, a noted enologist to develop a new vinification system and particular viticulture techniques. One example of this is that they have different clones of the same grape variety growing in the same area. The winery has worked to keep yields sufficiently contained, 50 hl/ha, with approximately three bunches on each plant and 4000 vines per hectare.

Harvesting is all done by hand and the grapes are put into baskets with dry ice in order to avoid the start of fermentation. The grape baskets then pass directly into a tunnel called “Enocrio” where they undergo a rapid 25+ degree temperature change, from 20/25 degrees celsius to -3/-5 degrees celsius. This thermal shock breaks the grape skins and releases primary aromas in the fruit much earlier than it would have had the grapes been sorted, selected and then pressed.

The grapes are then pressed in an oxygen free press with a diffuser filled with argon gas. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks covered with argon gas at 12 degrees celsius.

The brothers have also made a specific choice in terms of the closure system that they use. They only uses glass closures.

The winery produces some seven wines under the Unico label: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC, Trebbiano d’Aburuzzo DOC, Cerasuolo di Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC, Chardonnay IGT, Merlot IGT, Pecorino IGTand Cococciola IGT as well as a brand new sparkling wine.

Brut Unico - Pecorino

My favorite was the sparkling wine they make using the pecorino grape. Percorino is traditionally associated with Le Marche but also grows quite well in Abruzzo. Their version had a beautiful perlage of numerous small bubbles. Made using the charmant method where it spends 3-4 months in the tank, this light summer sparkler was very appealing with white fruit and flower aromas and flavors. It was much drier than your average prosecco, a style which I prefer. Sparkling wines made from lesser known Italian grape varieties haven’t yet made much headway in the U.S. but I expect that time will come.

In addition to the Percorino sparkler which I so enjoyed, I tried a wine I have never heard of Cococciola, a Terre di Chieti IGT. Apparently it is a white indigenous grape from Abruzzo which is being resuscitated. It had aromas of apricot, floral notes and other stone fruits. I enjoyed its lovely minerality and lively acidity.

The third wine which I found refreshing was a Cerasuolo di Montepulciano DOC made from the Montepulciano d”Abruzzo grape. This salmon colored wine was a lively mouthful of cherries and strawberries. A nice summer wine, it was made using the Salasso method.

This is a vinification technique used to produce rose’ like wines using red grapes, often called “bleeding the wine.” After the grapes have macerated for a few hours with their skins, the wine maker takes the free run juice from the bottom of the fermenting tank and does a temperature controlled fermentation at a very low temperature with this portion of must. Some of the color from the maceration is maintained but none of the tannins achieving the fruity wines that the winemaker is seeking to produce. This can be done with a variety of grape varieties which tend to produce big wines. I have had wines made using this method from Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Aglianico and a host of others. Originally it was done to create more concentrated red wines but most high quality rose’ wines are made this way.

Additionally, I was amazed that one week after the devastating earthquake in L’Acquila on April 6, Luigi Ulisse wrote me an email to say how much he had enjoyed meeting me. I was touched and happy to see that business is alive and well in Abruzzo and that there is a young, energetic generation out there marketing their wines. As of Vinitaly, the brothers were still looking for a US importer. I hope they have found one.

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Abruzzo wineries: Agriverde’s Wines, Spa and Agriturismo

I had promised that I would write about all the wines from Abruzzo that I tasted at Vinitaly as a way to honor the victims of the earthquake on April 6 and to support the region and its inhabitants. I got distracted by some other wines I have tasted in between but I have not forgotten my promise, nor some of the interesting wines I tried.

One winery which I found thanks to my friend Paolo Vino from the Associazione Italiana Sommeliers (AIS) group, is Agriverde, a winery in Ortona, in the province of Chieti in Abruzzo.

cantina_esterno

The winery was founded in 1830 and is located between the Adriatic coast and Mount Majella. The winery uses organic techniques to grow and harvest the crops. In fact the entire company pays careful attention to environmental issues, not only in its farming but also in building construction. Both the wellness center and the agriturismo were built following specific enviornmental guidelines.

interno_cantina_small

The winery is currently offering enticing weeks at the spa for vinoterapia. Sounds very appealing and I admit to being quite tempted.

Agriverde has numerous wines made from Montepulciano d’Abruzo. Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Chardonnay, a couple of rose’s and a pecorino. My favorite Montepulciano d’Abruzzo was the Piane di Maggio. The wine ferments and ages in steel. It doesn’t see any wood at all. I like this clean, fresh style for Montepulciano although I have had some aged ones which knocked my socks off. This wine was imminently enjoyable and was a good find. Grazie PV.

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