Monthly Archives: June 2014

Italian Indigenous Varieties: Forastera Bianco from Ischia (Campania)

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I have some gorgeous photos of a sailing trip to Ischia that I took years ago but they aren’t digital and thus, here I am left with my trusty map of Italy. This week’s grape variety hails from Ischia in the Campania region of Italy. Ischia is the largest of the Isole Flegree or the Phlegraean islands. The others are Capri, Procida, Vivara, and Nisida. Forastera is a white grape variety that produces dry white wines generally with other white varieties such as Biancolella. However, it can also be made into a mono-varietal wine.

The soils on the island are quite fertile and tend to be volcanic. Sea breezes cool the vines and they grow at a considerable height. When looking up this variety I discovered that it was recognized in 1966 and that Ischia became Italy’s second DOC wine.

Forastera is also sometimes called Uva dell’Isola. It is used to make both still and sparkling wines. I have never tried this particular wine from the Casa D’Ambra but the description of how and when the winery began made me want to run out and buy a bottle. Check it out.

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Filed under Campania, Italian indigenous Grape Varieties, Italian regions, Italian wineries, Travel

Wine Wednesday: Torcolato Hits The Sweet Spot


Recently I went to a celebration of Italy’s National Day, La Festa della Repubblica, celebrated on June 2 every year. The day commemorates the referendum of 1946 when the Italians voted for a republic rather than a monarchy. This year’s celebration at the Trade Commission in New York showcased Italian delicacies. In addition to cheeses, charcuterie, chocolate, fashion and design, wine was part of the offering.

The wine they selected and paired with cheese was Torcolato from Veneto producer Cantina Maculan. I first tried this wine in 2000 during my first Associazione Italiana Sommeliers class in Milan. I will never forget the experience of this rich and luscious example of an Italian sweet wine. Again this month, I marveled at its beauty and power.

Torcolato is made from indigenous variety Vespaiola that has been affected by noble rot or botrytis. The grapes are dried for four months before they are fermented. In the Veneto, making this wine, means winding twine around the bunches and hanging them from the ceiling. This is where the name comes from as well, because in local dialect, torcolato means “twisted.” After fermentation, the wine spends one year aging in barriques and then six months in the bottle before it is released.

It is a perfect wine for dessert or cheese, not overdone or unctuous, but smooth and delightful with honey, apricot and dried nut aromas and flavors. Maculan makes a series of incredible sweet wines that all merit a taste. This one has particular significance for me however because of fond memories. If you haven’t tried it yet, definitely put it on your bucket list. It is available from Winebow.

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Filed under Italian indigenous Grape Varieties, Italian regions, Italian wineries, Memorable Events, Sweet Wine, Veneto

Wines from the Loire Valley: A Welcome Summer Treat


After today’s soccer defeat for the Azzurri, I think I will be rooting for France to win the World Cup and thus writing a lot about French wines this summer. All kidding aside, as readers of this blog know, I was a Francophile before Italy stole my heart years ago and still have a long and intense love affair with the country. Today is a big day in Florence, my adopted city, San Giovanni, so I am just going to put a link to an article I wrote years ago about the holiday.

Going back to the World Cup for a moment, I am scandalized by that bite from Suarez yet it doesn’t seem that Fifa is going to do anything about it. We’ll see. I think he should be banned from the World Cup and beyond. What kind of a message is that, bite your opponent? Don’t we try to tell children not to bite each other out of frustration…I’ll stop now on this rant.

Back to the Loire it is then. Last year I had the occasion to attend the Society of Wine Educators conference in Orlando, Florida where Linda Lawry, DWS, CWE,CSS of International Wine Center fame gave a great lecture on wines of the Loire. Linda was a marvelous professor when I was studying for my Diploma in Wines & Spirits years ago. Funny and incredibly knowledgeable, she brooked no silly comments and during the lecture in Florida, she was much the same.

The Loire is the third largest producer of Appellation d’Origine Protegee (AOP) wines after Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley and is the number one producer of AOP white wines. The Loire river is the longest one in France with four distinct growing regions: Nantais, Anjou-Saumur, Touraine and the Central Vineyards.

In terms of the market in the Loire, some 80% of the wine is sold through co-ops or negociants. Weather is an issue in the Loire and some of the hazards include spring frosts, heavy rains, hail and humidity. Soils are also somewhat varied with the Nantais showing sand, shale, and gneiss while Anjou and Saumur have more volcanic schist and slate. Touraine has considerable clay and gravel while the Sancerre region has chalk and the famed Kimmeridgian marl.

About 55% of the wine produced in the Loire is white while 45% is red and 14% of that is rose. The Loire also produces a considerable amount of sparkling wine, second only to Champagne.

The wines we see from the Loire in the United States most often include Sancerre (Sauvignon), Vouvray (Chenin Blanc), and Muscadet (Melon de Bourgogne). I’ve had great wines made from Romorantin, another grape grown in the Loire as well as from Cabernet Franc, a personal favorite. Two indigenous varieties that only grow in the Loire are Grolleau and Pineau d’Aunis.

The Nantais and the Sancerre regions produce mostly white wines while Anjou-Saumur producer 60% red wines and some of the world’s greatest sweet wines. Touraine makes both white, rose and red wines and much of the Loire’s sparkling wines.


Travel to the Loire is always a great adventure. Relatively recently, I had the occasion to visit Chambord, one of the great estates. Always a pleasure.

We tasted a number of stand out wines that day including a Vouvray from Domaine de la Taille aux Loups “Les Caburoches”, Michel Redde “La Moynerie” 2010, a Savennieres from Domaine des Baumard 2004 and a lovely Sancerre Rouge from Domaine Serge Laloue 2010.

It’s hard to go wrong in the summer with a wine from the Loire, be it a Muscadet with shellfish or a sweet wine from Coteaux du Layon with dessert, this is also a go to region for great wines throughout the year.

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Filed under France, Indigeous varieties, Loire Valley, Memorable Events, Travel

Wine of the Week: Movia’s Veliko Belo

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This week’s wine of the week is from Movia, a classic Slovenian winery that has a true cult following in the United States. Slovenia is on my mind after I read an article in the Travel section of the New York Times this week that renewed my interest in visiting this country that borders with Italy.

Despite Slovenia’s close proximity to Italy, especially Trieste and Friuli Venezia Giulia, I never made it there for a visit during my years in Il bel paese. If one can’t visit a country, I firmly believe that sipping their wines and learning about them is a good interim substitute until the occasion presents itself.

This wine from Movia, imported by Domaine Select, is a blend of Chardonnay, Ribolla Gialla, Sauvignon, and Pinot Gris, in varying percentages. The average age of the vines is 41 years and the grapes are late harvested. Secondary fermentation takes place in barriques with no racking or sulphur added. The wine then spends three years in oak barrels before being released into the market.

The Movia estate has about 22 hectares and dates back to the 1700s. The Kristančič family which owns the estate inherited it through a wedding in 1820. About half of the estate is on the Italian side of the Goriška Brda (Collio). Everyone is enamored of the winemaker on this estate, Ales, who is often seen in photos standing on his barrels using a wine thief to taste wine. Here he is in a more relaxed pose.

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I have not had the pleasure of meeting Ales but I have tasted a number of his wines and they are all interesting, different and memorable. I particularly like the minerality and the acidity in his wines which I imagine comes from the soils (marl) and climate (Mediterranean) as well as his wine making techniques. Likely a combination of all three, if you want to taste a wine from Slovenia, Movia is a great place to begin and to end up as well.

This particular wine reminded me of another wine I know well from the Italian side of the border from Lis Neris, Confini. Both are complicated wines that pair with a number of foods and occasions. I think we don’t see enough of these white blends in the United States but maybe that will change.

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Filed under Memorable Events, Slovenia, Travel, Wine of the Week

World Cup Surprises: Costa Rica Vs Italy

Costa Rica 2

I may not be the most assiduous soccer fan but I always watch the World Cup or at least I have been watching it since 1990. Every year, I root for Italy to win. Today, I was very surprised to see that Costa Rica won the match against the Azzurri. So much so, that I began to look through my notes about Costa Rica and whether I had ever had a conversation about soccer while I was visiting there four years ago. No surprise but I did not. I discussed many topics while in Costa Rica studying Spanish and living with a family but not soccer so it came as a surprise to me today that they beat Italy. Perhaps I need to look more closely at this country.

Costa Rica

It was a beautiful place I remember and the Tica people were lovely but it just wasn’t the country for me. Perhaps it was my state of mind at the time or what I was doing there but I have never had the same feeling about Costa Rica that most Americans seem to. Maybe I need to give it another try. As a wine destination, it didn’t offer much if memory serves but apparently I had this bottle of Shiraz. Although I can find no information about it either in my notes or online. Not local grapes obviously, I’m not sure where the wine was bottled.

All that said, here are a couple of long posts I wrote about my trip to Costa Rica.

Shiraz Costa Rica

What I do remember about the country was the amazing fruit and the lush vegetation. I also found the hummingbirds quite impressive. I guess travel really is not only about the destination but about your state of mind. Maybe soccer is the same..

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June 20, 2014 · 8:49 pm

Italian Indigenous Varieties: Foglia Tonda


This week’s grape variety hails from Tuscany. It was originally mentioned in conjunction with the vineyards of the Castello di Brolio of Barone Ricasoli. It is said to grow only in Chianti where it adds color and body to Sangiovese based wines. A number of Tuscan producers work with this grape variety. I have had the pleasure of also tasting this wine as a mono-varietal or “in purezza” as they say in Italian, near the city of Arezzo at Mannucci Droandi, a winery in the Valdarno area of Tuscany near the town of Montevarchi in the past few years.

Ceppeto - vigneto-vineyard Ischio - estate-summer 2006

The Mannucci Droandi family has been farming their land for many years, but used to sell their grapes until the 1990s, when they began making their own wines. The owner Roberto Giulio Droandi and his wife Maria Grazia Mammuccini run the estate They have two properties: the first is the Campolucci that has 6.5 hectares and is located on the eastern slopes of the Chianti Mountains at about 250 meters above sea level. The family has owned this property since 1929 and its alluvial, sandy and silt soils are organically certified. The second property is called Ceppeto, and is surrounded by dense woodland. This property is on the western side of the Chianti Mountains at 450 meters above sea level. The soils are a mix of clay and stones and are also organically certified.

The winery has been a hub for a project with the Consiglio per la Ricerca e la Sperimentazione in Agricoltura; they are working to bring back extinct and nearly extinct Tuscan varieties. Because of legislation and market forces, Tuscany, and the rest of Italy, now have many fewer varietals. Roberto said he used to have field blends throughout his lands and, at one point, grubbed them up. He is now quite sorry he did that. He also found numerous grapes growing on his land that are unique. The study with the university is to see how some of these older varieties can grow today. According to the University, the change in viticulture is a negative consequence of specialization, and is harmful for the genetic patrimony of the vine. Some of the grape varieties that were growing did well on the property while others did not. Foglia tonda was one of those that did well.

In the cellar, the Foglia Tonda grapes are de-stemmed and gently crushed and then fermented in small vats (10–15 hectoliters), with prolonged maceration (20 days) and pumping-over alternated with delestage; a two-step “rack-and-return” process in which fermenting red wine juice is separated from the grape solids by racking and then returned to the fermenting vat to re-soak the solids. This step is then repeated daily. The wine is aged for eight months in French oak barrels used for the 2nd and 3rd time and then in the bottle for three months. I enjoyed the wine and particularly the novelty of it all.

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Filed under Italian indigenous Grape Varieties, Italian regions, Italian wineries, Memorable Events, Travel, Tuscany, wines

Wine of the Week: 2013 Bodegas y Vinedos Monteabellon Avaniel Rosado


This week’s wine of the week is the 2013 Bodegas y Vinedos Minteabellon Avaniel Rosado which I tasted last night for the first time as part of a virtual tasting led by Snooth Editor-in-Chief, Gregory dal Piaz, and Sommelier Roger Kugler. Snooth virtual tastings are a great way to learn about a region and some of its wines. Last night’s edition was quite informative about Ribera, a place with a decidedly tough climate and a very high altitude. I always learn something new from these 60 minute conversations.

The wine was fruity and floral as you would expect from a good rose. It also had considerable acidity and minerality which allows it to pair well with a variety of foods. Additionally, it only costs around $14-$15 a bottle and comes in a very nice package, making it a great party gift for the Summer season. I found entries for the 2012 on in the States.

Bodegas Monteabellón was founded in the year 2000 in Nava de Roa. They own 70 hectares of vineyards around the township of Nava de Roa, in the provinces of Valladolid and Burgos, the heart of Ribera del Duero. The wine is made using 100% Tempranillo grapes and is fermented and aged in stainless steel. They don’t use the Saignee method but rather grapes from their young vines, 6-10 years old. According to Kugler, many make Rosados as a way of seeing the future of their grapes. They see these young grapes as a way of making adjustments for the future, if they need to. He noted that much of the Rosado doesn’t even make it to the US because they drink it all in Spain. After tasting this delicious wine last night, I can certainly see why.

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Filed under Memorable Events, spain, Travel, wines