Monthly Archives: February 2013

New Column in Organic Wine Journal

I have recently started a new column in the Organic Wine Journal. Here is my first article.

I will be writing about Italian wineries that are biodynamic, organic and sustainable or moving in that direction. I’m excited to focusing on this group of wineries which grows daily in Italy.

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Filed under Biodynamic Wines, Italian wineries, italy

Italian Elections Capture World’s Attention

Perhaps my headline is overstated but there is some truth to it. Italy’s upcoming elections on February 24-25 are resonating throughout the European Union’s capital cities of course but other nations are paying attention as well, especially those with business interests in Italy or with Italian companies. Even US and UK newspapers are filled with news of the Italian elections.

Sadly many also seem to think that the elections won’t produce a stable majority because of the particularities of the electoral system. I’m in Italy at the moment for a series of exciting wine events which I will write about at length but it’s hard to ignore the political and economic crisis around me.

Everyone I know in Italy has a different view than those on the outside. I went to a meeting last week which I wrote about here, and the view was very different from what I am seeing on the ground now that I am in Italy.

While Beppe Grillo seemed a real outlier in the past few months, according to his website he had almost 800,000 people at a demonstration in Rome last night in Piazza San Giovanni. While that number seems extreme, from the discussions I have had this week all over Italy, many will be voting for him as a protest vote. While the idea isn’t that he will win, apparently the thought is that he will send 100 members to parliament who may shake things up.

No one I have spoken with is happy with anyone running it seemed to me. I am leaving Tuscany today and going back to Milan. It will be interesting to see what my Northern friends say, many being more conservative than those in central Italy.

Without a doubt, exports will still drive the Italian economy no matter who is in power so once again, I urge everyone to buy and drink Italian wine. The country we all love needs growth and we can all help in this small way.


Filed under Italian regions, italy, politics, wines

Italian Indigenous Varieties: Casavecchia Nero from Caserta

The subject line could have been little known Italian varieties and that is exactly the point. Often people talk about just how many grape varieties Italy has. The numbers differ but Attilio Scienza, a Professor in Milan and an expert on all things related to the grape told me in an interview some years ago that only 350 varieties are “authorized.”

What did that mean exactly? Authorized to be used in the production of wines that have rules and regulations governing their production, meaning all DOC and DOCG wines. Scienza is a font of so much knowledge, speaking with him was a true joy. The number 350 may be one that stays in your mind but the real number of varieties grown in Italy is much higher. Every trip I take there, I meet someone growing a variety I had never heard of and never seen before that particular day and that particular producer.

I have a small obsession with little known grape varieties so even though you may never drink a wine made with Casavecchia nera, I feel it is my duty to write about it on the oft chance you encounter it in your wine travels.

Casavecchia nera is a red grape grown in the area around the city of Caserta in the region of Campania. It was brought back to life by two people, Peppe Mancini and Manuela Piancastelli and their enologist Luigi Moio who believed in the power of this grape and desired to see it grow in its ancient soils. The winery they own called Terre del Principe began as a hobby. Peppe remembered grapes that farmers had grown near relatives’ homes as a boy. He searched and found some old vines and had them replanted on his land. One of these, Casavecchia nera, wasn’t even written into the “albo” or list of indigenous grape varieties in Italy grown in his region. All that has changed after much hard work. The variety can now be grown in 11 areas around Caserta at 250-350 meters above sea level where the soils are vulcanic with sand, limestone and clay mixed into the pot. The micro climate is protected by the mountains and the grapes are concentrated because of significant thermal excursions between day and night.

Terre di Principe even makes a pure varietal wine from Casavecchia called Centomoggia. Some 10 wineries in this area now grow Casavecchia with promising results and the grape is officially listed in the “albo.” The pair feel as though they are the parents of this grape and are an example of one couple’s commitment to bringing back ancient vines in Italy.

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Filed under Indigenous Varieties, Italian indigenous Grape Varieties, Italian regions, Italian wineries

Prosecco and Asian Cuisines – A Nice Pairing

I celebrated Chinese New Year Friday night at Cafe Evergreen in New York City with Lisa Carley and a number of her friends. We each brought different bottles of wine to pair with the foods. I brought Prosecco because I recently gave a presentation in which I underlined how the wine can pair with all different cuisines. I wanted to put my money behind my words. I brought a Prosecco Superiore DOCG from Conegliano Valdobbiadene from Sommariva It was a Brut version of Prosecco, meaning considerably drier than an Extra Dry, oddly enough. It paired very well with parts of the 10-course meal. Its’ low alcohol, 11.5%, meant it went well with the delicate Lobster dish as well as the Steamed Scallop.


However what really interested me was the pairing of an Extra dry Prosecco from Ca’ Furlan Cuvee Beatrice and certain other elements on the menu. That too, with its residual sugar was a nice match for some of the spicier dishes. I particularly liked it with the seafood bisque.

The meal also had the traditional Lion’s dance. My pictures didn’t come out too well but this one did last weekend in Chinatown.

Lion's Dance

Usually the only wine I find in Asian restaurants are American wines and sometimes a Riesling. We know that Riesling pairs well with many dishes but I wanted to see if the Prosecco could also do the job. I was not disappointed I am pleased to say.

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Filed under Italian DOC Wines, Italian regions, Veneto, Wine Industry, wines

New World Wines: Tasting Man O’War From New Zealand

Apparently Waiheke is one of the hotspots in the New York Times 2013 travel section. Too bad, I thought it was a secret. Kidding aside, I wish I had pictures of this splendid island from a trip there but alas that is not the case. What I do have are nice impressions of the wines that I have tasted from the Man O’War winery.

I was introduced to Man O’War when I worked for a time at Maslow 6 in Tribeca. It seemed to me that wines flew off the shelves.

Apparently Captain James Cook first discovered the island in the 1700s but the Spencer family has been credited with creating the wine industry there, starting in 1963. Today they have 150 acres of vines, separated into unique areas. Each area has a particular micro-climate and soil to it and the family plants grape vines appropriate to each terroir.

I have been lucky enough to meet their lovely wine rep and taste some of their lineup including the Graystone – a blend of Semillion and Sauvignon Blanc, the Valhalla Chardonnay and the Dreadnought Syrah. All three surprised me and helped me to get over what I thought were ingrained prejudices. I have tasted wines from both their Man O’War range and the Flagship range.

All three were very interesting both in terms of their aromas and flavors as well as the wine-choices. The semillion in the Graystone ferments in old oak with cultured yeast while the Sauvigon ferments in tank with wild yeast. The two are then blended producing a rich wine with exotic fruit characteristics.

The Valhalla Chardonnay was made with whole bunch pressing and wild yeast fermentation and is very full and layered in terms of its taste profile with a velvety buttery, creamy mouthfeel.

The Dreadnought Syrah was a nice expression of Syrah, more muted than I might have imagined.

These wines surprised me and made me want to get to know the area more intimately. In addition to the great wines, the setting cannot be beat.

The wines are brought in by VOS Selections and are not only interesting but nicely priced.

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Filed under New World Wines, New Zealand, Tastings, Travel

Italian Indigenous Varieties: Carricante Bianco

Carricante bianco is a white grape variety that used to be widely planted throughout Sicily. Production of this vigorous variety has now been concentrated in the area around the city of Catania. In the US, perhaps Carricante is best known for the wines it produces on Etna. Etna Bianco must be 60% Carricante while Etna Bianco Superiore must contain at leas 80% of Carricante. I like the name Carricante, one of those words that rolls off your tongue and makes you feel languid, like a hot summer day in Sicily. The grape variety is apparently quite susceptible to disease and high temperatures and must be grown with leaf cover to protect its delicate bunches.

It produces a white wine with notes of white fruits and flowers. It can be blended with other white grapes or even with Nerello Mascalese, another common variety seen around Etna.

I climbed Etna back in 2003 after a sailing trip with friends around the Aeolian Islands. My photos are of course, not digital. It was an amazing experience and one I highly recommend. It gave me a profound understand of the soils around a volcano and why generally they make such superior wines.

There are many Etna Biancos on the market. Here’s a nice piece by about the area and some of the wines. I highly suggest reading it, even if you are in a cold clime today, you will want to go out and drink white wine made with Carricante.

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Filed under Indigenous Varieties, Italian indigenous Grape Varieties, Italian regions, sailing, Sicily, wines

Wines From Old World Regions: Vranec from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

Macedonian Wine

I had my first Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonian (FYRM) wine last week at a restaurant I like in New York City called Balkanika. The food is a mixture of Eastern European cuisines and a perfect spot for a meal after my tango class with my teacher from Montenegro.

The former Yugoslavian republics are a fascinating mix of people, cultures and foods. The memory of the Balkan wars has receded in many people’s minds and things have improved according to the waitress at the restaurant. I was in graduate school during that war and one of my professors had been the last US Ambassador to Yugoslavia. I will never forget how haunted he was by what had happened there.

I had the wine in the picture above called T’ga za Jug” which is the name of a poem by the most famous Macedonian poet, Konstantin Miladinov. Loosely translated it means longing for the south. The poet was from the southern part of the country and found himself in Moscow when he wrote the poem.

The wine itself was semi-sweet and not exceptional but I liked the story behind it, the poem and discovering a new indigenous grape variety – Vranec which is apparently the most widely grown grape in Macedonia, a tiny nation in the Balkans, landlocked between Greece, Serbia, Albania, Bulgaria and Kosovo.

According to this website I found, Tivkes, the producer of this particular wine, is the largest winery in Macedonia.

Macedonia may be landlocked but it has numerous water sources and lakes which provide interesting micro-climates. Apparently it has some of the world’s most elevated lakes, a result of the shift in the tectonic plates that lie below the surface. A mountainous region, the climate is apparently a mixture of Continental to Mediterranean, as you move from North to South. I also found this interesting piece on about wines from Macedonia and a chat with the sommelier at Ai Fiori, a lovely man.

I look forward to trying more of these wines. For that, one place where I can certainly find them is a great importer called Blue Danube. I met the owner about five years ago at a Society of Wine Educators conference in New Orleans. I see their business has greatly expanded and that they now have a New York presence as well.


Filed under Importers, Indigenous Varieties, Macedonian Wines, Old World Wines, wines