Monthly Archives: March 2012

Vinitaly Day 2, Part 1: Four Day Schedule Welcomed By Producers

I’ve been told my web posts are too long and I am aware of that. I happened to have a lot to say about Italian wines and how they have weaved in and out of my life. This will be only a 320 word post, not the magnum opus I wrote on Monday.

Word on the street in Verona, at least from producers is that the new four day schedule made the fair more trade oriented, a positive in their eyes. Sunday was crowded and Monday was even busier but Tuesday and Wednesday were very easy to manage. Yes there were problems with using your phone to make appointments.

I did some great tastings with wines from Valle d’Aosta, Puglia and Friuli Venezia Giulia which I will write about in another post. I also spent a long time tasting wines from Calabria this year from a new DOC called Terre di Cosenza DOC.

Organizing yourself during the fair is truly key because there are so many wines you want to try, people to say hello to and an entire area for olive oil, another one for food and still a third for gadgets and machines for wine making called Enolitech. In previous years I had been able to visit a few of those pavilions but this year with the four day schedule, I am sad to say that was not be possible.

Once again, I was thrilled to be able to use the very efficient press office which has been moved back to its’ old area. The technicians in the press room will always be in my heart, they found my blackberry two years ago and tracked me down using Facebook. It made me change my mind about using Facebook in general. Buona giornata!

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Vinitaly Day 1: Old Friends, New Friends & Vivit – Natural Wines Debut At Vinitaly

My Vinitaly over the last four years has always started in the same way, with Susanna Crociani, my dear friend and producer of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. I have written about her wines numerous times so today, all I will say is if you are at Vinitaly, go to pavilion 8, stand B14 and try them for yourself.

Susanna, journalist friends and I have shared an apartment for most of the last four years at Vinitaly. It’s great and very homey. Last year I worked for Vinitaly during the fair so I stayed in a hotel but this year, I’m back in the family fold, discussing wines over the dinner table at our house instead of out on the town.

I wouldn’t say that we are slouching though. Yesterday we shared a pretty amazing bottle over dinner and they always introduce me to some new, exceptional Italian food product. This year we had a cheese feast which I will likely digest by next week ūüôā but wow did I enjoy that. I tried an Italian cheese I had never heard of Monte Veronese stagionato (aged) for example.

Mostly, I learn from them,Giampaolo Giacomelli and his wife Bruna, owners of an enoteca near Sarzana in Liguria, Il Mulino del Cibus, about their winemaker friends and products that they have tried. It is a real education for me besides being very funny.

The first day I always spend in Tuscany, saying hello to old friends and trying their new wines. When I emerge from Tuscany, I try to visit a few regions every day. Yesterday I made it to Vigne Vignaioli Terroir Vinitaly, a new area within Vinitaly that focuses on organic, sustainable and biodynamic wines. There have always been producers who follow the various criteria that are required for each of these “designations” within the fair but there has never been the focus that has come into play this year.

This group of 127 producers showcases a mixture of different regions and with a variety of reasons for using natural winemaking methods.

For those who generally go to Vini Veri and Vin Natur, two exhibitions that take place during the same period of the year as Vinitaly, perhaps this part of the show is not quite the novita’, for others though it allows them an opportunity to explore these wines.

I had the pleasure of speaking at length with two producers, one from Lazio and the other from Trentino who were truly passionate about their work, their approach towards wine and their wine making philosophy. Sadly I also spoke with a producer who told me he had decided to follow biodynamic winemaking because it is a better “marketing” approach.

Like in anything else, you find people who make decisions based solely on money, others who make them based on a more deeply held conviction about something in addition to a desire to make money. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against making money, love to make more of it, but I did find it the opposite of what I would have expected in this part of the fair. Perhaps that is just my naivete or as I prefer to think of it, the hopeful side of my indole (nature) coming out.

The first producer that I spent the most time with was Claudio Menicocci from Azienda Agricola Menicocci Cristina from Faleri near Viterbo (Lazio). His property also has ruins from 313 AD.

He has been focused on “natural” winemaking for many years. He was the fifth producer in Lazio to follow biodynamics, he said. I tried two of his wines which were made without using sulfites, Stafilo and Rhesan. Stafilo is made with the Trebbiano grape while Rhesan is a blend of Sangiovese and Montepulciano. Claudio has more certifications than I have every seen, including the right to call his products vegan. One thing he said really resonated with me. “Wine is a food,” un alimento.

What a simple yet profound statement. When one thinks of the food they eat, of course we don’t want there to be chemicals, pesticides and the like in it. We think about vegetables and fruits and animals and how they grow, are cultivated and mature. Why should we not think the same of wine? We all know it’s a living product that changes over time.

“I don’t want my wines to be the same year after year that’s why I don’t put the year on the wine. I put the bottling date which is more a reflection of a particular time period,” he said. This too was simple yet profound as an idea. A bottling date is the same for all but if I buy a wine in May and someone else buys that same wine in December of that year, it will be a slightly different.

The second producer I met was equally as fascinating but I’ll write about him another day. I hope to go each day during the fair to try a couple of these wines.

Tomorrow, March 27, there are a number of interesting conferences on natural wines with the first French female Master of Wine, Isabel Legeron. Famed French producer Nicolas Joly will also give a talk on natural wines. Additionally, there will be a seminar on Demeter, a certified trademark for biodynamic wines. Lastly, Jonathan Nossiter, director of the film Mondovino will show parts of a new film he is working on during a talk with Giovanni Bietti, a sommelier and musician.

I was very lucky to be able to taste these wines with my dear friends Teresa and Filippo, two knowledgeable sommeliers who always bring light to my life.

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Filed under Biodynamic Wines, Italian Delicacies, Italian indigenous Grape Varieties, Italian regions, italy, Organic Wines, Tuscany, wines, Women in Wine

Pre-Vinitaly: OperaWine, Verona, Setting Up

Verona, March, Vinitaly. Early, early, early. This year the fair seems to be particularly early and I’m here early too. Every year I come to Vinitaly in a different capacity. This year, I’m here to see my clients, my friends, as a writer and an explorer of all of the novita’ and there are many.

This odd photo above was taken yesterday during the set up day when producers get a few hours to prepare their stands before the big day arrives…today, March 25, the official opening of Vinitaly. It promises to be a complete whirlwind with lots of official seminars and tastings taking place. The dates have changed and there is one less day to get everything done. Sunday is the official start to the four-day fair. The trade seems happy with the change. The tassisti (taxi drivers) in the city less so but let’s see how it works out.

The set up was amazing. It’s hard to believe how much work goes into setting up this fair with its 15+ pavilions, 4200 wine producers, institutions, restaurants, olive oil and food producers.

As I always, I want to do and taste everything but you have to plan your day at Vinitaly otherwise, the days get away from you. One thing I like to do when I am at Vinitaly during the fair is take a walk in Verona, have a spritz at one of the local bars in Piazza delle Erbe and soak in the scene. This beautiful piazza was the center of city life and the site of the Roman forum during Roman times. It still plays that same role today.

Saturday was the Opera Wine event with the 100 Top Italian Wines chosen by the Wine Spectator. The event took place in an amazing building, Palazzo della Ragione, built between 1193-1196. That’s right, 800+ years old. It is without a doubt the most beautiful location I have ever been in for a tasting.

It was a lovely evening where I got to taste with my friend from our Milan journalist days, Eric Sylvers. We not only used to have the same financial journalist career (he still does) but we also went to the same graduate school, SAIS and a few years ago, I discovered we share a passion for wine. He and other journalists from Milan were doing a video of their tasting for an Italian paper. I will post the link when the send it to me. In the meantime, check out Eric’s blog, FoodieinItaly. I’m always starving and missing Italy when I read his posts. Nice to see you guys!

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Happy World Water Day – March 22

Today is World Water Day. Access to clean water is a basic human right but not one that everyone shares equally. The  U.N.  designates  March  22  as  the  day  of  the year  to  spotlight  the  global  safe  drinking  water   and  sanitation  issue  and  the  collective  efforts underway  to  get  solutions  to  those  in  need.  This year,  a  coalition  of  diverse  U.S.  based  groups  is calling  for  the passage  of  the Water  for  the   World  Act which  will  strengthen  current  U.S. federal commitments  to  safe  drinking  water  and   sanitation programs.  

The coalition’s Donate Your Voice social media campaign asks people to donate their Twitter or Facebook status to the cause for one week.

Secretary of State, Hilary Rodham Clinton will make remarks this morning in Washington, DC concerning challenges and achievements of water coalition members and individual advocates worldwide at an event held at the US Department of State on World Water Day.

Other events organized by the coalition include a Capitol Hill advocacy day in Washington, DC, where supporters will meet with Members of Congress to discuss action needed to tackle the water crisis.

As wine people, we are all aware of the importance or lack thereof of water for vines. As sensitive people, I’m sure we all know about the lack of clean water for people as well. Let’s focus on that today.

I promise I’ll get off the soapbox and look at the Cherry Blossoms here in DC.

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Italian Wine Regions: Basilicata

As Vinitaly draws nearer, I am reminded of all the amazing wines that I have tried in past years. Some of the wines are from the most famous regions while others are from lesser known ones. Among those is the one of the regions in the Southern portion of the country, Basilicata, also known as Lucania. I like to say that name.

Sadly all of my pictures of this region aren’t digital so, here is a trailer from a great movie that came out in the last few years about Basilicata – Basilicata Coast To Coast. It will give you a flavor of the rugged landscape. Some 47% of Basilicata is covered by mountains and it has two coastlines, one on the Ionian Sea and the other on the Tyrrhenian Sea.

In fact for many years it was a joke in my family that I wouldn’t leave Italy until I visited Matera, that beautiful city made famous by Carlo Levi, “Cristo Si E Fermato A Eboli.” I visited Matera in 2002 but it took another four years to get me to leave Italy.

The best known wines to be produced in Basilicata are made from Aglianico. While exact evidence is difficult to uncover, experts agree that the grape was found in this region as early as the 6th century B.C. Likely brought by the Greeks, it was called ellenico until about the 15th century. Ellenico is the Italian word for Hellenic or Greek.

It is possible that the grape was brought to the settlement at Metaponto, near the city of Matera. Regardless of when it arrived in Basilicata, Aglianico has brought acclaim to the region for the fabulous wines it produces from the volcanic soils around Mount Vulture. Aglianico, a late ripening grape, is generally the last of the grapes to be picked for making dry wines.

In Basilicata, Aglianico, tends to be cultivated on slopes which are anywhere from 400 to 800 meters above sea level. The region is very dry and hot in the summer. In the winter, it can get quite cold. These temperature changes give the vines time to rest and help to create concentrated fruit. Aglianico has good acidity and firm tannins. The aromatics of the grape tend towards blueberry, cherry, chocolate, coffee and smoke notes. Aglianico del Vulture is a very long lived wine and can take some years to open up.

Aglianico del Vulture was given the DOC designation in 1971 and finally the DOCG in 2011.

Aglianico del Vulture can be made into a variety of styles. The base wine is aged for 12 months in barrels which are generally made of chestnut although some producers are trying to use French oak. When the wine label has the word vecchio on it, it means the wines have been aged in wood for 36 months. For the Riserva wines, the aging period is usually 60 months. Aglianico del Vulture can also be made into a dry and sweet sparkling wine as well.

Some of the most famous producers of these wines include Paternoster, Cantina del Notaio, Cantina di Venosa, Giannattasio, Terre dei Re, Bisceglia, and Donato D’Angelo.

Aglianico del Vulture is not the only area in Basilicata for wines. Terre dell’Alta Val d’Agri and Matera are two additional well-known DOCs.

Oddly enough, international varieties are used in the Terre dell’Alta Val d’Agri DOC. I tried the wines of the Consorzio Terre dell’Alta Val D’Agri. They were blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for the reds which surprised me as well as a small percentage of indigenous varietals. The whites were made with Malvasia Bianca di Basilicata.

I tried a number of wines including ones from Francesco Pisani’s Azienda Agricola Biologica Pisani. They were also organic which was even more surprising. Perhaps it was the altitude at which the vines were grown, 600-800 meters above sea level, that allowed them to grow without intervention of any sort.

I also tried wines from De Blasis, Nigro, Fiorenti and L’Arcera. They were all interesting, big, rich wines that needed to be tried with food. Needless to say, I am going to go back this year on a full stomach, towards the end of the day. These are not morning wines.

Matera DOC, the third area that I explored makes both red and white wines from indigenous grapes. One of the most memorable wines was from Ditaranto. I especially enjoyed the Greco bianco which was floral and fruity at the same time. I also really enjoyed their wine called L’Abate made from Primitivo.

Of all the wines I tried that day though, I have a soft spot for those of Michele Laluce. I highly recommend them if you have the chance. I think you will be as speechless as I was at their bonta’.

I can’t wait to try more of these wines and the new vintages this year.

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Italian Wine Regions: Liguria

When one thinks of Liguria wine isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Surely it is the picturesque towns known throughout the world, Le Cinque Terre or the beach towns along the coast.

Or maybe even the delicious focaccia that comes from that area of the country or the great olive oil, fishing and sailing opportunities.

When I think of Liguria, I do think of sailing its’ crystalline seas but I also think of slowly sipping Vermentino while sitting in a lovely piazza or on the dock or on the boat coming or going from a day of sailing.

Vermentino is grown in a number of the provinces in Liguria including Imperia, Savona, Genova and La Spezia.

Vermentino in Liguria is a light, refreshing wine that works perfectly with any summer dish. I wrote this post about a producer that I really like some time ago but there are many great producers of Vermentino. Other producers that I like very much are Punta Crena and Durin. They both grow lots of funky indigenous varietals such as Lumassina and Mataossu which as you know, if you read my blog, excite me.

As I write this post I am getting incredibly nostalgic for the summers I spent in Liguria, renting a weekend house with friends in a lovely little town called Finalborgo.

As well as for all the weekends I went sailing in this beautiful place…

Vermentino isn’t the only famous white from Liguria, Pigato is a close second if not even more popular locally. Pigato is a slightly richer white wine but is also often used often as an aperitif. It is grown in all four provinces that I previously mentioned. Last year at Vinitaly, I had the opportunity to try a number of them including one from Vini Lupi, ,and Bruna.

There are also a number of local reds including Rossesse di Dolceacqua. I used to have this wine every time I ate at my favorite local Ligurian restaurant in Milan, Osteria del Pre’, a reference to an infamous street in Genova.

Rossesse is an easy to drink, friendly red wine that goes well with local cuisine. I tried one I liked very much last year from Terre Bianche. There is also another red variety that is grown in the province of Imperia called Ormeasco di Pornassio.

Last but not least is the famous dessert wine from the province of La Spezia called Sciacchetra’. I think people really like to have this name roll off their tongues, I know I do.

This is a straw wine or one made from dried local white grapes. It is great with desserts on the drier side and has a distinct honeyed aroma and flavor.

After all this, I’m craving a trip to Liguria. Hopefully I can go there when I am in Italy next week or on my next trip.

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Francesca, Il Mugello – Pinot Noir

Today was my friend Francesca’s birthday. She died four years ago of cancer at the age of 37. Every time I hear a certain song, eat a particular food or hear a deeply Tuscan accent, I think of her. She was a wonderful, artistic, creative soul who suffered an awful early death from that plague – cancer. I miss Francesca all the time. She was one of my oldest friends. I met her when I was 24 living in Florence and I spent every weekend with her and her boyfriend/husband for the better part of six years. She lived in the Mugello, an area of Tuscany above Florence towards Bologna in an old Medici Villa.

She taught me how to make Castagnaccio, showed me how to restore paintings, make jewelry, make nocino, and so many other delights. We sung our lungs out to Jovanotti, Ligabue and other Italian singers. We traveled to Spain and Portugal in a car, skiing in the Val Badia, trips to Portovenere and everywhere else. She was incredibly wise and very different than I am as a person. None of that nostalgia crap she would say when I would get weepy over something. Not that she was without warmth, she wasn’t. She loved her sons to pieces, Matteo and Filippo.

I adored her and I miss her to this day. Here’s an article I wrote about a wine that is made right near her home. I loved the wine and it reminded me of how special that area is and how special she was to me.

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