Monthly Archives: February 2014

Wine of the Week: Cumaro Conero Riserva D.O.C.G. from Umani Ronchi (Le Marche)

Umani Ronchi is certainly one of the most famous producers in Le Marche. In fact, it came as no surprise to me to see that they won a Tre Bicchieri award for their Castelli di Jesi Classico Verdicchio Plenio Riserva 2010.

Plenio 2010

This was also a great occasion for me to once again taste some of their other fabulous wines such as the Rosso Conero Cumaro 2009 and Marche IGT Pelago 2009.

I am thrilled to have been able to taste the newer vintages of these wines because I attended a lunch in September 2012 with Michele Bernetti hosted by their importer Bedford International and organized by the lovely Aileen Robbins of Dunn Robbins and was able to taste through their older vintages. I was happy to be able to go back to those notes and compare them with what I tasted two weeks ago.

Michele, Aileen, Mario

The winery has been in the Bianchi-Bernetti family for almost fifty years. It was established in 1957 by Gino Umani Ronchi at Cupramontana, in the heart of the production area of Verdicchio Classico. Roberto Bianchi and his son-in-law, Massimo Bernetti, joined the company a few years later. Michele began working with his father, Massimo and his uncle, Stefano in his teens but officially joined the winery after University and a stint in London working for their importer. He is currently the CEO of the winery. Michele is the third generation of his family to run Umani Ronchi.

Umani Ronchi Tasting

Umani Ronchi is very active in two areas in Le Marche which produce beautiful wines – Castelli di Jesi and Rosso Conero, where Verdicchio and Montepulciano grow, respectively. They also own an estate in Abruzzo in the Colline Teramane denominazione d’origine controllata e garantita (D.O.C.G.) area. Umani Ronchi sees it as its mission to promote the wines of these two regions – Le Marche and Abruzzo. The winery promotes quality wines from both its indigenous and international varieties. They have more than 200 hectares under vine. They make a host of wines, both red and white.

Le Marche has very favorable growing conditions thanks to its location on the eastern coast of Italy. It has long hours of sunshine and cool sea breezes which keep the vines cool and healthy.

The wine that won the Tre Bicchieri, Plenio Riserva 2010, was a beautiful expression of aged Verdicchio with great acidity and nutty, ripe fruit, floral and almond notes thanks to its aging regime. It is made from 100% Verdicchio from vines that grow in one of the areas historically regarded as most suitable for the production of Verdicchio, near the village of Cupramontana. The vineyard is situated at about 350 meters above sea level, with an eastern-facing aspect. The soil has very deep clay loam, with poor fertility.

In terms of vinification, fermentation takes place in part (60%) in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks, while the rest ferments (40%) in 5000 liter Slavonian oak casks. Some 10-15% of the wine undergoes malolactic fermentation. The parcels are then blended. This vinification regime lasts about 12 months, during which the wine remains in contact with its lees. Plenio completes its aging with a further 6 months in bottle.

The name Plenio means round, complete and ample in Latin and the Riserva did its name justice. They also make other versions of Verdicchio which should be mentioned including Vecchie Vigne, Casal di Serra, among others. I was able to try these wines in 2012 and they were exquisite. I particularly remember the Vecchie Vigne Casal di Serra from 2007 and 2009. This wine sees no malolactic fermentation. My notes show that I thought these wines were quasi reminiscent of wines from Alsace with white blossoms, almond and honey notes paired with the great acidity of the Verdicchio grape.

Cumaro 2009

In terms of their red wines, the family were among the first to champion red wines from Le Marche. The reds tend to come from the Rosso Conero area. My wine of the week this week is their Cumaro which I tasted again at the Tre Bicchieri on February 6. I had done a vertical tasting of it back in 2012 of the 1995, 1997, 2001, and 2007. This wine is only produced in great vintages. This time I tasted the 2009 Riserva. On both occasions I was impressed with what they do with the Montepulciano grape.

The grapes that make Cumaro are produced in a south-east facing vineyard called “San Lorenzo” at about 150 meters above sea level. It is close to the sea with highly calcareous soils. Cùmaro means Komaros in Greek and is a tribute to Mount Conero. The Conero Riserva wines were awarded the coveted D.O.C.G. designation in 2004.

Montepulciano is a late variety ripening variety. The wine ages in barriques for 12-14 months and then spends about 6-8 months in the bottle. They produce about 46,000 bottles of this wine a year.

This wine was very deep ruby red in color with garnet notes on the rim. On the nose it showed ripe dark fruits, spice, vanilla and tobacco. On the palate it was tannic with chocolate and oak flavors but I also detected a hint of minerality. This is a powerful, full bodied, harmonious wine which we had with a steak during the lunch in 2012.

Steak

Another wine I want to mention is the Marche IGT Pelago which I also tasted both in 2012 and at the Tre Bicchieri. In 2012 we tasted the 1995, 1997, 2001 and the 2007 vintages. Recently I tried the 2009. This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Montepulciano. After malolactic fermentation, the wine is transferred to barriques for aging, for a period of 14 months. Pelago then ages for a further 12 months in the bottle.

Pelago 2009

It made a big splash when it was first launched in 1994. It was and is a big, juicy wine with rich aromas and flavors of black fruits and berries. It too had the minerality that I found in the Cumaro. It was created by Giacomo Tachis, the famed Enologist who created Sassicaia.

During the 2012 tasting we also tried two additional wines made with Montepulciano, Jorio and San Lorenzo. The former comes from their vineyard in Abruzzo while the later from the Rosso Conero. It was interesting to compare the two variations on the theme of Montepulciano.

I have never visited their vineyard but I did spend a wonderful holiday in Le Marche years ago, traveling around the area and discovering unknown wines. It was truly magical and at the time undiscovered. Le Marche has a lot to recommend it as a region whether its the wine or the food or the beautiful art treasures to be found in Urbino or at the Sanctuary of Loreto. Absolutely worth a trip.

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Italian Indigenous Varieties: Corvinone Nero from the Veneto, Wine Sites of Interest, News from Italy

veneto-map copy

This week’s variety is Corvinone, not to be confused with Corvina. They are two different grape varieties, although both are from the Veneto and used in many of the wines from that region.

Corvinone is a red grape that is used in blends such as those of Valpolicella and Bardolino wines. It is said to be less alcoholic than Corvina with higher acidity. It is not a full bodied grape and grows best on hills. The grape is resistant to cold and is a good drying grape although it is sensitive to Botrytis. It is a blending grape and is not seen as a mono-varietal.

When researching these grapes on the internet, I always come across a couple of sites of interest. This week’s site is called Wine Ways of Italy.
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In other wine news, a lot has been going on in the wine world these past few days. I often don’t comment on wine news but I think this blog post by Richard Jennings is very informative. I also love his headline referring to Henry II of England as well as Robert Parker’s physical appearance at the Professional Wine Writers Symposium and what is perhaps the last chapter in his long and distinguished career.
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Also, this week, Matteo Renzi was named Prime Minister of Italy, the youngest person every to hold that office. He has nominated his cabinet as well with 16 ministers, equally split between men and women. Another first for il Belpaese.

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Winery of the Week: Capitoni Winery in the Val d’Orcia – Tuscany

Marco Capitoni

The beauty of the Val d’Orcia in Tuscany has been celebrated since the Renaissance, earning the region its World Heritage Site status by UNESCO. I had the good fortune to sit down with one of the wine producers from this area that is blessed with such beauty, Marco Capitoni.

The Capitoni have been farmers in this area for generations. They farm both grains and vines at elevations of around 400 meters above sea level. “Our wines are all created on the vine,” Capitoni noted in an interview, “We have a limited production and we want to keep it that way. When the grapes get to our cellar, they are all healthy and rich in phenolics.”

To read the rest of this article which first appeared in the Organic Wine Journal, click here.

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Italian Indigenous Varieties: Corvina Nero from the Veneto

Verona

Corvina is a red grape that hails from the Veneto, specifically the area around Verona, the beautiful city in the photo. It was first mentioned in the 1820a. The signature of this grape is its acidity. It is a light to medium bodied grape with a thick skin. The thick skin allows this to be a good grape for drying purposes used in the making of Amarone, Recioto, and Ripasso. Corvina is usually blended with two other grapes from this area, Rondinella and Molinara when making these wines. I have only tasted it as a mono-varietal a few times, Zenato makes one called Cresasso as does Allegrini, La Poja.

Verona 2

Corvina is used in Amarone, Recioto, Ripasso della Valpolicella, and Valpolicella wines (minimum 45%-95%) as well as in the wines from Bardolino and Garda Orientale. Corvina is a late ripener and tends to be quite vigorous so it must be trained to keep yields low. It’s taste profile is relatively straightforward although barrel aging tends to soften it a bit. It is acidic, with notes of plum, sour cherry and almond. It has low to medium tannins. I prefer it in a blend but the mono-varietal wines are an interesting change of pace.

Verona 3

For those going to Vinitaly in April, it is quite easy to try this grape in its various combinations. If you are going, I do hope you get time to visit the great city of Verona, if your feet aren’t too tired from the fair. I love Verona, going to an opera in the Arena is a must for everyone who likes Opera although I also saw a great concert with Sting there some years ago which was fabulous. I think the city is just beautiful with the Adige river flowing through it and of course, a “Spritz” in Piazza delle Erbe shouldn’t be missed. I really like just walking up and down the streets in this city with its beautiful red roofs and pink marble. I’m looking forward to seeing it again and tasting some great wines with this variety.

Verona 4

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Italy Slated To Change Its Premier and Government – Again

I know this is a wine blog but I can’t help but veer off topic at times when issues or situations that I care about take place. One of the great interests of my life for the past 23 years has been Italian political life. I studied this subject in graduate school at Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Bologna but even before that I had a fascination with Italian politics that started when I moved to Italy in 1991 and began reading about the Mafia in Sicily and the death of an entrepreneur who said no to paying bribes and was murdered – Libero Grassi.

At times throughout the years I have been extremely well-informed such as when I was a journalist in Milan with Dow Jones Newswires and at others less so but I have always kept an eye on the political fortunes of il Bel Paese…

Developments last week with the fall of the government of Enrico Letta at the insistence of Matteo Renzi, Mayor of Florence and head of the Democratic party have reminded me again of my life as a correspondent in Milan.

Speaking with friends in Italy, both in Milan and Florence, I have gotten a sense that no one is particularly thrilled with this recent turn of events but some are more optimistic than others that perhaps Renzi can turn around the stalled Italian labor market and the economy. Others are disheartened, as am I, that he will come to power through internal struggles of one party rather than through elections. If he can form a coalition, he will be the third Premier that heads the government but was not chosen by the Italian people through elections.

Still other friends say that we need to judge him on his actions and not on how he gets to power. We shall see. A friend in Milan, Eric Sylvers – a journalist I have known for many years – summed up the situation on his blog, Foodie in Italy, before a longer disquisition on the best cup of milk for his four year old son. While the juxtaposition might seem odd, I feel like it shows how Italians and expats view this latest change of government, with resignation and a wink because they have all seen it many times before.

Here’s a longer piece by the Agence France Presse (AFP) on the latest crisis. We shall see. What I hope for is growth in the Italian economy and flexibility in the labor market to get younger Italians into the workforce and keep older Italians employed. That’s a tall order. Let’s see if this brash politician from Florence can make a difference.

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A Look At the Anteprime Toscane – Buy Wine, Montepulciano and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

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Tuscany is for many the image of Italy. It was definitely that way for me at the beginning and in many ways remains the core of my Italian experience despite the fact that I lived in Milan for three times as long as I lived in Florence. This week, Tuscan wine producers are putting on some of their biggest events, the Anteprime in Florence, San Gimignano, Montepulciano and Montalcino of wines from Tuscany and the Buy Wine visits of international buyers to the area. The events are sponsored by the Consortium of the region together with the agency Toscana Promozione.

Today at Fortezza da Basso in Florence, a large number of denominations are holding a splendid event in a beautiful location. Among the wines on offer are the following: Chianti, Chianti Colli Senesi, Chianti Colli Fiorentini, Chianti Rufina, Carmignano, Bolgheri, Terratico di Bibbona, Elba, Val di Cornia, Montecucco, Morellino di Scansano e Cortona and the Denominazione d’Origine Controllata (D.O.C.) Orcia.

I was lucky enough to participate last year in two of the Anteprime, in Montepulciano and Montalcino. The experience was magnificent. Today I am going to write about the experience in Montepulciano where I took the above photo. For those who have never visited Montepulciano, you have a real treat in store. I have been able to spend considerable time in the area thanks to my friend Susanna Crociani, a producer of Vino Nobile.

Susanna Crociani

Montepulciano is a hilly town with its vineyards located at 250 to 600 meters above sea level. Some 1.300 hectares of vineyards are registered in the books and allowed to produce Vino Nobile di Montepulciano D.O.C.G. while another 389 hectares can produce Rosso di Montepulciano. It is also an ancient town and the wines have been spoken about for many centuries, as many of the old cellars in the center of the city attest to with their ancient buildings. There are about 7.6 million bottles of Vino Nobile produced annually and about 2.6 million bottles of Rosso di Montepulciano. An interesting fact is the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was the first wine to receive the Denominazione d’Origine Controllata e Garantita (D.O.C.G.) designation on July 1, 1980.

Montepulciano Wines

The Consorzio represents 251 producers or about 90% of the vineyards in the area. There are also 74 bottlers who are part of the Consortium. About 32% of Vino Nobile is sold in Italy while the other 68% is sold internationally. Germany is a very large market for this wine as are the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland. About 17% of the production goes to the United States. I am not surprised by these numbers because every time I have been in the town, it has huge numbers of German tourists coming through. What I do find surprising though is that more of this wonderful wine made from a grape Americans love, Sangiovese, isn’t sold to the United States.

Montepulciano

Let’s look for a moment at the rules governing Vino Nobile. It be made in the specific vineyards that are registered to produce this stately wine where the soil tends to be sandy and clay-sand mixtures with small pebbles and a high number of fossil materials. It must be made from a minimum of Sangiovese which in Montepulciano is called Prugnolo Gentile. The remaining 30% can be red grapes that are allowed in the legislation or “disciplinare.” The planting density must be 3,300 for new vineyards. Alcohol is 12,5% for Vino Nobile and 13% for Riserva wines. Vino Nobile matures for at least two years following the harvest and three years with at least six months in the bottle for Riserva wines.

ConsorzioMontepulciano

One of the reasons that I think Nobile isn’t as appreciated as it should be on the United States market is that it tends to be tannic and astringent on the palate when it is young. Nobile is a wine that takes a long time to show its best face, something that those who like immediate gratification have a hard time with. Additionally, most Americans don’t have wine cellars where they can keep a wine for a number of years as it matures. Those that do won’t be disappointed by Vino Nobile which shows its exceptional aromas and flavors with time.

According to the materials from the Consorzio, great years for Vino Nobile were the 2007, 2006, 1999, 1997 1995, 1990, 1988, and 1985 vintages which all got five stars. The last four years 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008 were considered four star vintages.

Last year at the Anteprima, we tasted about 64 wines. The event was held in the Fortezza which the Consorzio is also helping to restore. I was excited by the event and didn’t take pictures during the tasting but wrote copious notes. You taste the wines blind with a yellow sheet of paper where you can write your notes and you are also given a sheet with the names of the wineries on them. The first section of the tasting were the 2010s. In general, I found them all to be dark in color with dusty cherry and some floral notes on the nose with spice and oak notes on the palate. Many were very tannic and needed some years to be at their peak. Still others showed considerable alcohol.Thanks to the different grapes that make up the extra 30% of the wine that isn’t Sangiovese, there was a lot of variation in the wine.

We then tried a few 2010 “Selezione.” I very much liked the one from Bindella “I Quadri” which had long lasting and harmonious aromas and flavors of fruit, spice cedar, tobacco and liquorice. We then had a number of the 2009s, 2009 “Selezione” and the 2009 Riservas. I was partial to the Tenuta Trerose “Simposia” which had the same dusty cherry, sweet spice notes that I found in the other wines with an extra layer of minerality. I liked a number of the 2009 Riservas very much including ones from Contucci, Corte alla Flora , Fattoria del Cerro, Fattoria La Braccesca – “Santa Pia”, and il Conventino, an organic winery. As a group they were more evolved, after spending a longer time aging before being released. I found them clean with well-integrated fruits and tertiary aromas and flavors.

We also tasted the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2008 “Selezione” from Salcheto called “Salco Evoluzione.” This is another winery that used organic methods. The 2008 Riservas of Cavalierino, also a winery using organic practices, and Boscarelli also were very much to my palate with fruit, animal and spicy notes.

There is so much more to say about Montepulciano as a town, a tourist location, a food lovers paradise, an art lovers city but this post is already very long for the internet. Suffice it to say, put Montepulciano on your schedule for your next Tuscan vacation.

The last wines of that day were from 2007. I was partial to the Talosa “Filai Lunghi” and the Fanetti wines, “Selezione” and “Riserva” wines respectively.

You can try Montepulciano in the States in March during their 2014 tour, with information listed here.

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Wine of the Week: Solagi from Caparra & Siciliani – Calabria

Tropea

Last week was a busy one for the Italian wine world in New York City. Two major events took place,the Vinitaly/Slow Wine tour on February 3, 2014 and Tre Bicchieri on February 6, 2014. I was lucky enough to be able to attend both events where I saw many old friends among the US wine industry and many imports and producers at both events. Of course, I also was able to taste a lot of great wine.

This week’s wine of the week is from Calabria from a winery called Caparra & Siciliani. I first met this producer at a dinner last year thanks to their importer, a friend, Andrea Fassone of Enotria. They have a great selection of family-owned wineries. This particular producer hails from the province of Crotone. The winery was created from the merger of two family businesses in 1963. Each family began cultivating the vine in this area in the late 19th Century. They work in the Ciro and Ciro Classico areas of Calabria with 213 hectares under vine. They work with a well-known Italian Enologist, Fabrizio Ciufoli.

Tropea 2

Wines from Ciro and Ciro Classico are typically made with Gaglioppo, a grape thought to be of Greek origins. The Greeks, in fact, played a large part in the early settlements in Calabria. Calabria, as we know, is one of the most Southern Italian regions located in the “toe” of the Italian boot. I never think of Italy that way but I know it is a shorthand way to look at the country.

The core of the Ciro production is located in the towns of Cirò and Cirò Marina in the province of Crotone. These two ancient towns are located near the Ionic coast and benefit from wonderful sun and cooling breezes. They are not completely flat areas but instead have gentle rolling hills. The soil is calcareous marl with some clay and sand deposits.

Tropea 3

When I met one of the owners he told me that Gaglioppo was the Nebbiolo of the Sea Coast. One could debate this for a long time I imagine and Sicilians and Pugliesi would have a different idea for the Nebbiolo of the Sea Coast but that’s for another time.

Solagi is 100% Gaglioppo and ferments and ages in stainless steel and large barrels. It is a very pure expression of this grape and is ruby red in color with an intense and persistent nose of developing aromas of fruit and flowers. On the palate the wine is full bodied, with nice minerality and sapidity as well as fine tannins. I thought it was balanced and harmonious, a real showcase for the grape itself.

solagi

Solagi is the name of a location in Ciro Marina where there is an ancient tower. This fortress was a lookout in ancient times. I also tasted two other wines that they make, Volvito and Mastrogiurato. The former is a Ciro Classico Superiore Riserva and is also 100% Gaglioppo. It has more mature aromas and flavors than Solagi. This wine is aged in small French oak from Allier. The latter is a blend of Gaglioppo and Greco Nero, also aged in small wood barrels.

Solagi, Volvito, Mastrogiurato

All of the wines would work beautifully with pastas with a meat sauce, salumi or aged cheeses. I tried all three of these wines again at Vinitaly and was quite impressed. Calabria is a very exciting place and one where I have not spent enough time. I will need to rectify that in the coming years. One wonderful trip I took was to visit the Bronze di Riace in Reggio Calabria as part of a longer sailing vacation. I was also able to visit the beautiful towns of Tropea and Scilla. These photos are from the Tropea trip. I have not yet had the pleasure of visiting Crotone. Here is a post I have written about Calabria in the past. There is a lot to discover in this part of il Bel Paese (Italy).

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