Monthly Archives: December 2010

Italian Sparkling Wines For New Year’s Eve

I’m on my way to Austria today if all goes well. I still have to write about the most famous of Austrian Grape varieties: Gruner Veltliner and of course, the king of whites – Riesling. I hope to do that while I am away. If I don’t get the chance to write again before the end of 2010, I wish all a very Happy New Year and a healthy and prosperous 2011. Thanks for reading Avvinare this year. My readership is up but as always, it would be great to have more readers and much more participation.

I hopefully will ring in the New Year with an Italian sparkler. There are so many to choose from whether it be Ferrari from Trento, sparkling wine from Franciacorta, a Prosecco from the Veneto or a sparkler from another region. Italians are now all making sparkling wines from indigenous varieties, a movement I find very exciting. I have had sparklers from a wide variety of indigenous grapes – Ribolla Gialla from Friuli, Pecorino from Le Marche and Abruzzo, Pinot Noir from Lombardia and the list goes on. Not to be forgotten are the great red sparklers Lambrusco and Gragnano, among others. Check out Snooth’s article the other day on Italian sparklers for some specific recommendations. I trust Greg’s palate and his long experience with Italian wines.

Whatever it will be, I know a little piece of my heart will be in Italy on New Year’s as it always is, ringing in the New Year and saying tanti auguri, buon anno a tutti!!!

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Austria’s Indigenous Reds: Blaufrankisch, St Laurent, Zweigelt

As I wait for the opportunity to finally go on vacation, I am getting ever more excited to try some of the Austrian reds that I like from producers I don’t know while away. Austrian reds are now about a third of the country’s production although the whites and sweet wines are much more widely known.

My first experience with Blaufrankisch was actually on Long Island oddly enough. Christopher Tracy, the winemaker at Channing Daughters on Long Island is a huge fan of Italian grapes and also grows Blaufrankisch.

My parents had a home, not at the foot of the Ngong Hills like Karen Blixen’s family in Out of Africa, but in Bridgehampton. I only discovered Channing Daughters the summer that we were packing it to move. I immediately joined the wine club and when I got my Blaufrankisch in the mail, I was skeptical. I was surprised and delighted at how spicy and ripe the flavors were and by its acidity.

Blaufrankisch grows in a variety of Austrian regions including Neusiedlersee, Burgenland (Mittel and Sud), and Carnuntum. These areas have enough sun and soil types that are ideal for red grape growing.

I have tried a number of wines from Austria made from this grape. Among my favorites are Weninger and Hillinger. Weninger hails from Mittelburgenland, specifically from Horitschon. Franz Weninger has been running the firm since 1982. The family has 30 hectares of vines with good draining soils in Austria and properties in Hungary as well. These deep, hevily loamy soils that are rich in clay yield optimal Blaufrankisch. Some of their vines are 80 years old. The winery has been biodynamic since 2006. The wines are vinified in wooden fermentation vats with ambient yeasts.

I highly recommendi the Blaufrankisch Hochacker which is a very fine expression of what the grape has to offer: fruit, spice, toasted notes, fine tannins and elegance.

The Hillinger Blaufrankisch was also exquisite. He has a few wines in which he blends this grape with other grapes but I prefer the single varietal version. I was lucky enough to attend a tasting in the wine shop where I work once a week, Maslow 6. Hillinger came in for the tasting and was very welcoming and warm. It appears he is something of a rock star in Austria but here in New York, he seemed very down to earth. The wines were great, rich and velvety.

St. Laurent, another Austrian indigenous red variety is a rich, fruity grape
which migrated to Austria from France and is genetically related to Pinot Noir. It is traditionally found in the Niederösterreich iand in Burgenland.

I haven’t tasted too many St. Laurent but I have tried the ones from Meinhard Forstreiter. St. Laurent is said to be a hard grape to grow, just like its relative Pinot Noir. It is sensitive to frost and hard to grow. In fact, it is only grown on some 800 hectares in all of Austria but it is a true gem.

The Forsteiter family began making wine in 1868. The 25 hectare winery is located in the Kremstal region, on the right bank of the Danube river. The soils in that area are known as the Hollenburger Konglomerat and is a layered mixture of clay, sand, and loess formed during the Ice Age.

The winery practices sustainable agricultural techniques. The St. Laurent is made from 50 year old vines. It is full bodied and elegant wine with roasted notes, soft tannins and berry fruit aromas and flavors.

Zweigelt is actually the most widely planted red grape variety in Austria. It is a cross between Blaufrankisch and St. Laurent. Zweigelt grows throughout Austria and makes many different styles of wines. From cheery fruity reds with pronounced spiciness to more complex ones with aging potential. The Neusiedlersee is the most well known area for Zweigelt.

Anita and Hans Nittnaus make wonderful Zweigelt as well as amazing dessert wines. Nittaus is known for his wine making as well as his ability to unite winemaking colleagues. He created two separate groups of winemakers, the first in 1994 called Pannobile which bands together winemakers making high quality wines from indigenous grapes and then created in 2004, the Leithaberg group started with 14 colleagues and now has 62 members making high quality white and reds from this specific terroir. He is moving towards bio-dynamic methods.

Interesting enough, I learned that Austria is the birthplace of organic farming which began in 1927 in the southern state of Carinthia.

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Snowed In: Austria Will Have To Wait, Drinking Austrian Wines in The City

Like everyone else, I’m snowed in. I’m supposed to be on my way to Austria for a ski trip with friends but the airports are closed, flights are canceled and more delays are expected. What to do, blog about Austria wines. Hopefully before the week is over, I will be drinking some in situ.

Over the course of the last two years, I have had the occasion to try many wonderful Austrian wines. The first person who truly introduced these wines to me was Monika Caha. I don’t remember how it came to pass but I worked at a Frederick Wildman tasting with Monika in New York, pouring her wines.

The wines from Stadlmann which Monika brings in were exceptional. Stadlmann’s winemaking dates back seven generations. The winery is located some 20 miles South of Vienna The region is known as Thermenregion. The region is supposed to be among Austria’s warmest with brown soil mixed with sandy loam. Some of the vineyards have 40 year old vines.

I remember meeting the indigenous grape varieties, Zierfandler and Rotgipfler, and being floored. These white wines were at once full bodied and minerally, filled with delicate floral and fruit notes, and a zing on the palate. The Zierfandler has a fascinating combination of acidity and sweet notes. This is because the grape ripens unevenly producing both sugar and acidity. The wine ferments in large wooden barrels. Both wines can age as well. Zierfandler is the signature wine for the Stadlmann family. It can be fermented dry or made in one of the sweeter Pradikatsweine levels such as Auslese or TBA. The Zierfandler Mandel-Hoh was truly memorable.

I order these wines whenever I see this producer on a wine list.These same indigenous varietals apparently were cultivated when the Habsburgs reigned. I’d like to think my great grandparents might have had a glass when they lived in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Stadlmann also makes very noteworthy Pinot Noir. The wine spends time in large oak barrles for 12 months and has classic pinot noir aromas and flavors including soft berry notes and elegant tannins. I have had the occasion to try these wines in the years since that first meeting and they never disappoint.

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Christmas Delights – Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Vin Santo

Christmas is a joyous and special time for me. Every year I look forward to seeing my family and having a very special meal. We always have roast beef on Christmas and every year I try a different wine as a pairing. This year we had a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano from Avignonesi.

It was a perfect match I must say although I was nervous because it was a 2003, a very hot year. The wine still had lots of fruit, elegant tannins and a velvety nuanced flavor as it slid comfortably down my throat.

The wine was made from a blend of 85% Prugnolo Gentile, 10% Canaiolo Nero, and 5% Mammolo. It spends 18 months in wood barrels and then a further nine months in the bottle before it is released.

We also had a fabulous dessert wine, a Vin Santo from Susanna Crociani. Susanna is a dear friend and her Vin Santo is my favorite dessert wine. She very lovingly sent my family a bottle for Christmas-THANK YOU. I have written about this wine many times and did a podcast with her about it about a year ago.

I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas filled with great wine, family and friends, and good cheer.

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Naples, Natale, Il Presepio and Wines from Campania

Last week, I had the honor to translate for the curator of a new exhibit at the Italian Institute of Culture on the Neapolitan Creche. There are many different Creches by Neapolitan artisans on show which truly are worth a visit.

The creche of the Presepio as it is called in Italy is a nativity scene. It started with figures from the Holy Family but soon branched out to add colorful scenes of everyday life in Naples with local characters represented in figurines. According to the curator, an art historian, this tradition began in the 1700s in Campania. At first it was the province only of the wealthy but by the mid 1800s it was commonplace to find families from all different social stratum creating creches at Christmas. It is a family activity and people of all ages work on the presepio together.

My friend Giancarlo from Milan used to have running water and electricity in his creche. It was incredible. He would spend weeks making it and everything had to be perfect.

I have never visited the famed commercial street where merchants hawk their wares, San Gregorio Armeno but it has been on my list for many years. A friend in Milan used to make

To see some great pictures of the exhibit, check out I-Italy, they have a great slide show and an in-depth article on the exhibition.

I haven’t spent enough time in Campania, visiting the countryside, cathedrals and drinking enough of its wine. Luckily for me, my friend Terry Hughes of Domenico Selections is a true fan and has introduced me to some great wines from Campania.

I particularly like the wines from Terra di Vento, Petrale 2006, a lush aglianico and Faiano 2009, a Fiano. He also introduced me to a Grillo that brought tears to my eyes.

Both the whites and the reds from Campania are splendid, especially those vineyards on volcanic soil which gives great minerality to the wines, a quality I very much appreciate.

I won’t be having a seven fishes dinner this evening but I will be drinking a wine from Campania with my own Christmas tradition.

Merry Christmas to all. Buon Natale.

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Ithaca – My Favorite Poem & A Lovely Greek Wine

As the year draws to a close, I try to create a balance sheet of how I have fared, personally, professionally, wineally during the previous year. As always, the year was full of surprises. One lovely surprise was finding a copy of one of my favorite poems in a pile on my desk. This poem by Constantine P Cavafy is such a talisman for me. It reminds one to enjoy every minute of our journey. It also evokes my love of travel, curiosity to discover new places and meet new people and my sense of adventure. Like many people, this is one of the reasons that I love the wine business. It allows you to travel through a glass to visit a winery and feel centuries of tradition behind the meeting, to find communality with the most unlikely people. It also provides you with hours of sensory pleasure.

So to celebrate finding this poem, I will have a glass of Nykteri from Santorini this evening. I love Greek wines and this one particularly. It is made from 75% Assyrtiko, with Aidani and Athiri making up the rest. The wine is not a light one, with good concentration and focused flavors of baked apples, pear, and citrus. It sees 3 months in oak, which gives it some weight – the oak is nicely integrated. Lucky for me, I’m working at Maslow 6 later today and I can pick up a bottle.

Here’s this fabulous poem:

When you set out for Ithaca
ask that your way be long,
full of adventure, full of instruction.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon – do not fear them:
such as these you will never find
as long as your thought is lofty, if refined
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
savage Poseidon you will not meet
unless you carry them in your soul,
unless your soul raises them up before you.

Ask that your way be long.
May there be many Summer mornings when,
with what gratitude, what joy –
you shall enter first-seen harbors;
may you stop at Phoenician trading centres,
and to buy good merchandise,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensuous perfumes of every kind,
sensuous perfumes as lavishly as you can;
to visit many Egyptian cities,
to gather stores of knowledge from the learned.

Have Ithaca always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don’t in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to give you wealth.
Ithaca gave you a splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn’t anything else to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca hasn’t deceived you.
So wise you have become, of such experience,
that already you’ll have understood what these Ithacas mean.

Constantine P Cavafy

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Santa Lucia – A Feast Day In Parts Of Italy and a Special Day To Me

Santa Lucia, which is celebrated today in many towns in Italy, is akin to Christmas. In some families in Cremona for example, Santa Lucia is considered to be the most important day in the Christmas season and the day on which they exchange gifts rather than on Christmas. Cremona is widely known for its violin makers or lutaio .

Someone very special to me also finds Santa Lucia a special day.

This beauty is my niece Lucia. When she was younger, she didn’t know a lot about wine and would ask me how the soda business was going. I thought it was very funny and appropriate. She still doesn’t too much about the wine business because she’s way too young although she does know the difference between wine and soda.

She also made me sing and act out the entire movie The Sound of Music in front of my family when she was 4 years old. That movie, one of my favorites, is one of the many things we have in common. Insomma, a girl after my own heart. Happy Santa Lucia.

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