Monthly Archives: November 2012

Women in Wine Fridays: Stellekaya’s Nitsiki Biyela Discusses Her Time In Italy at Petra

Women in Wine Friday’s is back and this week’s focus is on Ntsiki Biyela, one of my favorite wine makers, a gem of a lady from South African winery Stellekaya. I have written extensively about Ntsiki in the past but today wanted to highlight what she though of working in the Maremma area of Tuscany in Italy at Petra. Read another women in wine’s “wine story” about Petra itself here.

Ntsiki and I chatted a while ago about her experience and what I noted was her enthusiasm for Italy. She said that she thought the culture at the winery was inspiring and that everyone really worked together. She said she was thrilled to be involved in that same level of teamwork that she finds in her native South Africa. Like the rest of us, she too was enthralled with the farm to table approach to living that the Italians have been doing since time immemorial.

Ntsiki said that she was excited to find similar techniques being done at Petra as those she herself uses in South Africa. With crates and sorting tables and small details that she discussed.

She also noted that her work with Sangiovese in South Africa had given her a renewed interest in seeing how Sangiovese grows in Italy. She was very pleased with the comparison she told me and felt that her Sangiovese was doing quite well and that her questions about the grape had been answered thanks to her sojourn in Italy. The owner of Stellekaya fell in love with Italy and wanted Ntsiki to make a blend with Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The blend called Hercules is available locally in a number of retail stores including Maslow 6.

I did a project with the Stellekaya winery a few years ago in New York. Ntsiki is one of the most interesting and charming women I have met in the industry. I found her story inspiring and her wines delicious, always a great combination in a winery and in a friend.

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Filed under Italian regions, Italian wineries, South Africa, Women in Wine

Italian Regions: Tuscany – Morellino di Scansano DOCG

As most of you know, I represent the Morellino di Scansano consortium in the US and thus can’t write about the wines but I can direct you to the Consorzio’s webite, Facebook page and to a new video about the events held in New York in October. What I can also do, is send you some samples if you are a journalist and interested in trying these great, affordable wines so contact me.

I’m posting the video because I like it but also because it was done by I-Italy. I-Italy had a milestone of their own of late with a new magazine and TV show starring, among others, none other than the dynamic wine and food couple – Charles and Michele Scicolone.

I am trying to blog six-seven days a week because I had fallen off sharply. The posts may be a bit shorter but the spirit behind each and every one is the same …. divertirsi, educare ed imparare qualcosa – have fun, educate and learn something new.

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

Wine Wednesday: New World Wines – A Chat With German Lyon of Chile’s Perez Cruz Winery

Some months ago I had the good fortune of working with German Lyon, the winemaker of Vina Perez Cruz on a tasting that he held in New York City at Puro Chile. Lyon was very personable and relaxing to be around. At the tasting we tried a number of his wines, including his Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva from 2010, a Limited Edition Carmenere 2010, a Malbec from 2010, a Syrah from 2010 and a Petit Verdot from 2009 called CHASKI. We also tasted two blends that he makes: LIGUAI 2009 and QUELEN 2008.

I was quite taken with a number of the wines but it was the CHASKI that was the most interesting to me of the mono-varietals although the Cabernet was a close second. When I asked why he had decided to plant Petit Verdot, he said it was something he had always wanted to try but that it was difficult because he had no references somewhat like driving a car with blinders on. I found the wine to be harmonious and long lasting.

The QUELEN was also a favorite, again it was the blend that got me, 42% Petit Verdot, 33% Carmenere and 25% Cot. The grapes all grow in the Maipo Andes Valley. Chile’s wine trade was born in that region in the mid-19th century. The vineyards tend to be well protected thanks to the Andes mountains on the east and the coastal mountain range on the western side. Additionally, the Perez Cruz vineyards have alluvial soils with good drainage – a great combination for grape growing. Thanks to the protection of the mountains, these vineyards also have good diurnal variation or temperature changes between the day and night, also essential for producing good grapes and elegant wines.

All of Lyon’s wines had an interesting minerality to them which I very much appreciate. Minerality and sapidity are such hard terms to define but suffice it to say the former is akin to acidity with a touch of a racy note and the latter is somewhat salty or saline in taste. That might sound odd in a wine but I have found some of the most food-friendly wines have these two characteristics which can cut through fatty, or juicy flavors and leave your palate clean and ready for your next morsel. Chile’s enormous coastline is one of the reasons for this particular phenomena as is the sandy and chalky soil underlying many of the vineyards.

Lyon’s wines all had an herbal note as well. He attributed this to the green harvesting that he had done in the vineyards. His fruit was also ripe but not overly so. In fact, I found all of the wines to be very balanced. I have none of them at home with me and would love to open a Cabernet with the steak I made. Alas it will have to wait until another day.

The wines are available at Puro Wine and through their distributor, Cana Selections.

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November 28, 2012 · 11:42 pm

Wine of the Week: Stark Thirst Sonoma Chardonnay for #GivingTuesday

Today’s wine of the week, Sonoma Chardonnay from Stark Thirst, has special meaning for me because it is a wine that has as part of its’ mission giving back to an organization I believe in, WaterAid. WaterAid is an international development agency that works on providing access to clean water, safe and clean sanitation and hygiene (WASH). These are such basic human rights that we often take them for granted. Today is #GivingTuesday and many are thinking of what organization to support. Stark Thirst, for example, supports WaterAid through a portion of every bottle it sells.  A look at WaterAid’s website will show the scope of the problems we are talking about: 783 million people without access to clean water and 2.5 billion people without access to safe and clean sanitation. That said, all is not lost and every dollar counts.

Two additional organizations are in my thoughts today, oddly enough, both were started by friends of mine from camp. Andrew Buerger started Climb for Hope when his sister, also a camp friend, Jodi, was diagnosed with cancer. A tragic story and devastating for all who knew lovely Jodi, Andy has created hope and inspiration. Climb for Hope raises money to fund breast cancer research which will potentially make this world safer for all women including Jodi’s daughter.

The last organization that I want to mention is Afya created by Danielle Butin. Danielle, one of the most energetic people I have ever met, created an organization that partners with a network of donor hospitals, health organizations, corporations and individual households for the collection of medical supplies and humanitarian provisions.

Afya has established a supply system tailored to the needs of its donation institutions. They have implemented a citywide strategy for this course of action and pick up medical supplies from hospitals, health care centers and individual’s homes. Weekly trips into New York City and surrounding areas result in the collection of supplies that will save lives abroad.
The unceasing demand from the international community necessitates a steady flow of domestic donations to Afya.

I will get off my soap box but after all the “shopping” holidays, today is a day to give back in whatever form we see fit.

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Italian Indigenous Varieties: Canaiolo Nero

Avvinare has had a bit of a vacation as well as an enforced period of sick leave because of the flu but it’s back and hopefully on track for December and 2013. This has been our worst month of traffic in about two years, proof that if you write, people will read it, providing you produce something either interesting, educational, funny or thought-provoking.

Avvinare aims to be educational above all else which is why this series on indigenous Italian varieties began. It has gone through ups and downs but will now be a constant series on Mondays thanks to renewed efforts, books and drive.

Canaiolo Nero, a widely planted grape throughout Tuscany, was part of the original Chianti recipe created by Barone Ricasoli. Its’ origins suggest that it was already a wine producing grape in ancient Etruria. While hard pressed to find it vinified “in purezza” or as a monovarietal, I have tried one or two but not of any particular note.

The grape is used through Tuscany as a blending grape in Chianti Classico DOCG and in Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG wines. It is also used in a host of DOC wines both in Tuscany and in Umbria.

It brings softness and fruity notes to the wine and in earlier times was part of the “governo” method of adding dried grapes to Chianti for fermentation. Canaiolo, while hard to pronounce for most foreigners, does not work well with American rootstocks and thereby is harder to newly plant. In fact, quantities of Canaiolo have diminished in the course of the last decades.

During a recent trip to wine producers near the city of Arezzo, everyone still used Canaiolo in their blends. While it is never the first grape listed in the wine, it is a sure bet for most producers.

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Filed under Indigeous varieties, Italian indigenous Grape Varieties, Italian regions, Travel, wines

Once Upon A Time – The Mezzadria’s Influence on the Tuscan Countryside

C’era una volta (once upon a time) is a phrase that reminds me of stories from childhood certainly but also of how people lived at a certain period of time.

I am in Italy for work and have had the pleasure to spend the day with a number of producers of the Colli Aretini, part of the Chianti DOCG wine denomination. The Colli Aretini is one of the seven sub-zones of Chianti. It is not one of the most well-known and now that I have tried a number of them, I think that is truly a shame.

I’m going to write more about the wineries that I have visited thanks to the incredible organization that they have in that area, the Strade del Vino Terre di Arezzo but tonight I wanted to write about something that is related to today’s wine industry in Central Italy..

Today I learned a new piece of the puzzle about life in the Tuscany countryside – the institution of the “mezzadria” and how it influenced this part of Central Italy until the early 1970s. I had heard of the system of mezzadria but I had never met anyone who has lived this experience and I didn’t understand the importance that it had on the central Tuscan countryside.

Mezzadria was a system in which an important owner (padrone) of a agricultural farm had numerous families (mezzadri) who worked his land and kept half of the produce which fed their families. These families made wine, olive oil, grew vegetables, wheat, raised animals, often had cows for milk and cheese, chickens for eggs and other animals for food.

This system, I was told today, is responsible for the extreme and exception agricultural development of central Italy. When you drive through this area, every inch is farmed. Speaking with producers today, we discussed how this all changed in the 1960s and the 1970s when this system fell apart. The mezzadri started to look for work in cities as Italy became a more industrial society and the owners of these great farms were no longer able to maintain their land.

According to my hosts today, this led to a sad period in Italian viticulture because many of the farmers (contadini) left these farms and took with them all of their agricultural knowledge, leaving the countryside in the hands of few and inexperienced people.

Central Italy, specifically, the area near Arezzo was devastated because of this lack of agricultural workers. This period lasted until the 1980s when a new generation of producers began to rediscover their land. I will write more about this new generation in the next few days.


Filed under Tastings, Tuscany

Wine of the Week: The Seeker Malbec from Argentina

This week’s pick for my wine of the week is a Malbec from Argentina from a “global wine brand” called the Seeker. The wines are distributed by Kobrand and they have very extensive information about the wine on their site.

What can I add to this description of the wine? A perfect pairing for it and the perfect restaurant to try this Malbec – Bonarda – Cabernet Sauvignon blend, Picnic Market on the Upper West Side. It is an Alsatian Bistro with a very relaxed Columbia University faculty crowd and the best steak frites I have had in a long time. They have a special every Wednesday and Thursday night and this week, I tried the steak with the Malbec. Last week, I paired it with a Beaujolais Village, also a lovely pairing. The spicy notes from the pepper on the steak matched perfectly the spice in this juicy Malbec which spends one year aging in oak barrels.

Bonarda is a grape which I have always more or less ignored but I recognize the fresh fruit and floral notes that it brings to a wine. I usually associate Bonarda with wines from the Colli Piacentini, not with Argentina.

It has been ages since I have had a wine with a majority of Malbec, some 85%, that I enjoyed from Argentina. I wrote about Argentina some years ago in this post after I came home from a visit to Mendoza. It was a special trip and I haven’t been back since but I am hoping to change that soon.

The Seeker is friendly and pleasing, easy on the palate and the wallet, always a winning combination. I’m back to all things Argentinean lately after having finally been able to go back to dancing tango and studying Spanish. It all works together in my mind – Malbec, Tango and Spanish – just like this wine and the steak frites.

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Filed under Argentina, Wine of the Week