Monthly Archives: June 2010

Birra Roma – ‘Na Novita’

I have spent the last two days at the Fancy Food show working with an olive oil producer from Apulia. I have had the occasion to try many delicacies from Italy but also from all over the world. I’m amazed at how many products there are and how they are available everywhere at this point. Lots to discuss about products of origin and branding but this is a quick note on a great product with what I think is a beautiful and fun label – Birra Roma or craft beer from Rome.

I drink very little beer but in the summer, I must say, it does speak to me. This one is made by an Italian brewery called Birradamare or beer to love. It was created in 2004. They make 20 types of beer in three different brands.

At home they sell different beers under the label Na Birra Rossa, Bionda, etc. If you have any Roman friends or are familiar with the accent, I think you will enjoy that as much as I do. The Romans cut off the first letter of words and have a very colorful dialect. Generally joyous people, I think I am having a bout of nostalgia stamani (That is what the Florentines would say.)

They are not yet distributed in the United States and are definitely looking to enter this market. The bottle shape is reminiscent of old syrup bottles. In terms of its tasting profile, the one I tasted was gold in color and fairly full bodied with a bitter note on the finish. More of a lager than an ale, I really enjoyed it and could well imagine pairing it with pizza or something heartier.

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Madeira Tasting In New York Brings Sweetness To My Day

Yesterday a Madeira tasting was held at the Astor Center in New York. I knew relatively little about Madeira before the tasting, I confess, other than that I really liked it. A dear friend, Rodolphe Boulanger of the Wine Messenger has been decanting Madeira’s virtues for some months but I had not had the pleasure of tasting too many before yesterday. I was quick to remedy that and tasted through many of the ones offered yesterday. The wines were great and what a treat on a Tuesday morning in June.

Madeira is a fortified wine that is comes in a variety of styles from dry to sweet. It can be served as an aperitif, at different places during the meal or with cheese and dessert at the end of the meal. This versatile wine has been at home in the United States since the 17th century, In fact, George Washington toasted the Declaration of Independence with a glass of Madeira. I may follow suit this July 4th. As an aside, I’m a July baby so if anyone wants to get me a present and doesn’t have any ideas, Madeira is a very welcome gift :).

Madeira is made from essentially six different grapes: Sercial, Bual, Verdelho, Malmsey (Malvasia), Terrantez, and Tinta Negra. This last is actually the most widely planted of the varieties but can’t be listed on the label as the others can.

The star of the show was a D’Olivera Reserve Boal from 1922!!! Thank you Manny Berk for bringing that delicious wine. I could get it by the glass at a New York restaurant but the price is a bit steep for me. It was a gorgeous deep brown with beautiful flavors and aromas of nuts, molassses, fruits and cedar. It was so complex and elegant that I finished it without a second thought. This may be my new favorite wine but I did taste others that perhaps were affordable. This would have been on my bucket list but luckily I can now check it off.

At a seminar led by Robin Kelley O’Connor of Sherry Lehman fame earlier in the morning, we tasted a Verdelho from the Barbeito Historic series. This series is named after cities. The Verdelho is called the Savannah Special Reserve and it was special. The perfect combination of sweetness and acidity. It was a very nice expression of this grape variety made in this style. Both the Barbeito and the D’Olivera wines are imported into the United States by the Rare Wine Company owned by Manny Berk.

Madeira has one very special vinification process that separates it from other wines, the wine is heated, either through the use of a hot coil into a tank of hot water in the walls of a tank. This method is called the Estufagem and is continued for never less than three months at a temperature of between 45 and 50 degrees Celsius. After this period, the wines are left to ‘settle” for three months. The wine is never released before October 31th of the year after the harvest.

The wines that are chosen for aging are put into large oak barrels called Cantiero. These wines spend two years in the bottle and are on the market after three years. They are often put on a higher floor of the winery so that they will be subjected to higher temperatures. Like in sherry, an oxidative process takes place with a portion of the wine evaporating and the remaining wines becoming more concentrated. We were told that this is one of the reasons that Madeira has such fabulous acidity. Apparently the concentration enhances the acidity. Adding an older and therefore more concentrated Madeira to a younger wine will raise it’s acidity level.

The island of Madeira is very beautiful and is volcanic in origin. The site of a very tall peak, Madeira has many microclimes and many small producers who cultivate tiny properties. According to the producers present yesterday, there are few “vineyards” as we imagine them, the largest is owned by Blandys. This is because of the difficulty of the terrain. The island is also well known for its series of Levadas or canals which bring water down from the mountains.

Harvesting on Madeira basically has to be done by hand because of the aspect of the slopes and fragmentation of the growing areas. The grapes are brought into the cellars and fermentation is started using ambient yeast. Essentially fermentation is stopped by the addition of alcohol. When this is done depends entirely upon what type of wine the producer is interested in making.

I liked all of the wines that I tasted yesterday but am somewhat partial to the drier styles.

I will just list a few of my favorites from the tasting:

D’Olivera Harvest Terrantez 1988 was very interesting and quite full bodied with rich and nutty notes. It was beautifully balanced with great acidity.

D’Olivera Sercial Reserve Special 1969 also stopped me in my tracks and was so well integrated that I could imagine drinking it throughout the meal with its dried fig and fruit notes.

This house traces its heritage back to the 1820s and is run by a fifth generation Madeira family, somewhat of a rarity these days. The current company is a smallish producer but in the past has incorporated five other Madeira houses.

According to Manny Berk, there is extreme concentration in the industry. Berk is a passionate importer of Madeira who told me he got started importing Madeira almost by accident after having had the opportunity to buy a cache of vintage Madeira. Apparently earlier in his career he was a wine write and author. These days, he’s a great Ambassador for Madeira in the United States. Sounds like a career path that might be to my liking.

I tried a number of great wines from the Broadbent collection as well. I know some of these wines and have had their Colheita. I very much enjoyed the Malmsey 10 year old and the Fine Rich 5 year old as well. I tried the Justino’s Madera Rainwater which is 95% Tinta Negra and was it quite pleasant as well. My understanding is that Justinos and the Broadbent’s use the same enologist. The Broadbent family has been linked to Portugal for many years and are strong supporters of the island.

Of the Henriques & Henriques, a historic house from the 1800s, my favorite was the 15 year old Bual. Fabulous acid/sweetness balance as well as lovely tertiary notes and a smoky dense background. This wine would make me very happy for a long time, sitting open in my home.

Of the Blandy’s brands, I was impressed with the Sercial 10 year old which was elegant and floral and with the searing acidity of the Cossart Gordon Harvest Bual 1997. Blandy’s is the world’s largest producer of Madeira. They have a variety of brands under their label including Blandys, Cossart, and Leacock. No stranger to innovation, they are making a big push to promote Madeira throughout the world. They have also created the first blend of Malmsey and Bual. The resulting wine called Alvada is interesting.

I could go on and on but I’ll stop here. My next trip will definitely be to Portugal and to Madeira which is about as far away from Portugal as Easter Island was from Chile. I won’t let that stop me though, it hasn’t in the past.

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Changes Are Coming To Avvinare

It’s time for a change, you’ve got to rearrange. Avvinare is going to be getting a makeover so that it is more attractive to the eye but it is mostly the content that is going to expand to cover Italian food and restaurants as well. I used to write an Italian food blog for a different entity for the past year, I will now be writing about food on this blog.

Additionally, my Italian grape variety dictionary will be continuing on this blog as opposed to other sites. I’m thinking about adding travel posts as well as notes about Italian art and museums to give a taste of a new part of my business, tours.

Additionally, I’m looking for a guest blogger or two from other parts of the country to talk about the Italian wine scene in their areas. Drop me a line on the blog or through email if interested.

In other words, this is becoming more of an Italy-centric blog than it already is but mostly, I am expanding my subject matter to encompass my interests and my experience as well. This blog will always be primarily a wine blog but why not share the wealth of knowledge I have garnered through 15 years in Italy and many more than that as an Italophile and traveling back and forth. Feel free to complain, rant, and to tell me it’s a bad idea. I’ll take that under advisement.

More to come…

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So much wine, so little time

Do you ever feel like that? So many tastings to go to, so many wines to try, so many varieties to learn. Sometimes the world of wine seems completely impossible to get your mind around. At least it does to me. Take today’s opportunities – a wine tasting in the afternoon of wines from the Jura. Wines that are sexy and not so easy to find although there are an ever growing number Cremant du Jura on wine lists. A lovely wine bar called Solex used to carry a fair number but they shut their doors a few years ago.

Later in the day, I will be at Maslow 6 trying Tunisian wines from Le Poisson Wines made by Jean Boujnah. I’ve never had a Tunisian wine nor have I visited Tunisia. I always think of Craxi when I think of Tunisia but that’s another part of my life. I’m very excited and will write about the wines after I taste them.

We are lucky to live in a place where we have access to so many interesting wines across many price points.


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Wine of the Week: South African Shiraz from Muratie

My wine of the week is a South African Shiraz 2007 from Muratie Estate. I was shocked to find that I kept going back for more of this wine during the England vs. USA world cup match. I was invited to a lovely party by Wines of South Africa to watch the game. While we watched the game, we were also able to taste a wide variety of sparkling, white and red wines from South Africa and sample great food from Rouge Tomate

My favorite was this Shiraz. It was quite dark in color and was complex with spicy notes but it was a bit more restrained than many Shiraz based wines that I have tasted. It’s peppery notes went very well with the small hamburgers we were served.

The wine is made from grapes harvested from three different vineyard parcels on the same estate. The oldest of the lot was planted in 1975. The remaining two were planted in 1994 and 1998. The soils on these vineyards are rich sandstone and the grapes are all handpicked.

The wine is imported by Worthwhile Wine Company in Atlanta.

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Italian Indigenous Grapes: Bianco d’Alessano and some other “B” grapes

I have been writing a dictionary of sorts on Alta Cucina’s website of Italian indigenous grape varieties. It is very slow going because there are more than 3000. In fact, no one know exactly how many there are. On the site, I try to write about the most important ones either because they are part of a designated area such as a DOC or a DOCG or because they have some particularity which just must be mentioned (ancient grapes).

My latest installment is this article on Bianco d’Alessano. Bianco d’Alessano that grows in the Valle d’Itria which extends from the provinces of Bari, Brindisi and Taranto. Traditionally it has been blended with the Verdeca grape. Bianco d’Alessano is used in the wines in Locorotondo, Martina Franca, Ostuni. and Lizzano Three producers of interest are Borgo Canale, the Cantina Sociale Coop. del Locorotondo and I Pastini.

A few other grapes that I should mention are Bervedino Bianco which basically only grows near the city of Piacenza This white grape variety is usually blended with other grapes to make local wines in the area of the Val’Arda under the Colli Piacentini designation.

Bianchetta Trevigiana which grows in the Veneto and in the Allto Adige is an ancient variety first mentioned in 1500. The name is somewhat generic for white grapes and has been used to describe a wide variety. Bianchetta Trevigiana is permitted in a few DOCs in the Veneto, It too is a white blending grape and in the past was used to make Vermouth. Only 13 more “b” grapes to go….

This weekend I confess I will be drinking some South African wine as well as a few others.

Buona Visione. I love the World Cup!!

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Italian Wine Blogs To Know: Three Favorites

There are as many Italian wine blogs as there are American ones certainly, perhaps many more. Three that I like to read have joined forces, VINO IGP (i giovani promettenti) and are creating a column called Garantito IGP which is a designation for guaranteed quality. The three sites are in Italian, not English ahime’ but many things are still understandable and certainly wine names are easy to recognize in any language. Today, one of them Luciano Pignataro came out with the news that his blog is launching a new blog all about French wines from an Italian perspective. This might seem strange but the truth is that most Italians drink Italian wine, not French and vice versa. Nowhere in the world is there such a diversity of wines as here in the USA.

The blogs are two blogs are wine surf which I have mentioned before on this blog and Vino al Vino by Franco Ziliani.

The news about the French wine blog caught my eye and I wanted to share it. Happy reading.

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