Monthly Archives: March 2015

Day 1: Vinitaly – The World We Love

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Day 1 at Vinitaly is off to a great start. Thrilled to be here and to see old friends and taste great wines. Despite the cold and rainy weather, typical at least one day of Vinitaly a year, the weather is turning out to be even better than expected. I started with a tasting of Susanna Crociani’s entire lineup of wines, always a pleasure. I found them all to be showing really well. I then moved on to taste Lugana with Carlo Veronese, the Director of the Consortium and then on to Sardegna and Vigne Surrau, Vermentino di Galllara. Lunch with Prosecco DOC in their new lounge area that they share with Prosciutto di San Daniele was a welcome respite from the frenetic pace I always feel at this fair. It’s only the first day at 345 pm and I have already done my yearly tasting at one of my favorite Sicilian Wineries, Tasca d’Almerita. I love tasting at Tasca and can’t wait to write about all the great wines I have had this morning. I actually love this fair and am very excited to be in Italy and to be here. I also can’t wait to write about the wines I tasted last night at OperaWine.

Pre-event at Vinitaly

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

Women in Wine: A Chat With April Cullom – Casa Abril, Alma de Vino

April Cullom

This post is the first one this year of the women in wine series. My interview with April Cullom, a friend and Spanish wine guru, is pretty timely as she is just launching two new wine lines, Alma de Vino and Casa Abril. For family reasons I missed her tasting yesterday at K&D but I am sure she will be holding others in the coming months around New York City and other locals.

We started the chat with the same question I always ask: how did she start out in the wine business?
After experiencing September 11th I decided I wanted to “go back to my Spanish roots” where I had lived for 10+ years to start a new business marketing what I loved about Spain – food, wine and travel. My favorite memories were spending Sunday mornings in the kitchen with my Spanish Mother Charo, learning how to cook traditional dishes for Sunday lunch with the family. The wine was always part of the meal even if what was in the decanter came from a box. The experience was about sitting around the table with loved-ones sharing a meal and lots of conversation.

Back in 2002, I realized not many Americans knew much about Spanish wine so I started organizing Spanish wine tasting classes in New York City to promote the category. I noticed once consumers learned more about the wines and tried them they would ask their local wine store for Spanish wines. The more I learned about wine the more I wanted to know, and hence went on to get certified at the International Wine Center where I received with honorable mention WSET Intermediate and Advanced certificates. I later worked for Spanish wine importers opening accounts in New York and New Jersey and also consulted importers on selecting Spanish wines for their portfolios. Finally, I went on to promote and educate the press, trade and consumers about several Spanish wine regions such as D.O. Navarra and D.O. Ribera del Duero, the last region serving as their U.S. Trade Liaison and Brand Ambassador.

What has been the hardest part of the wine business for you in terms of gender issues, if any?

Gender hasn’t been much of an issue here in the US but at times it was in Spain given the cultural differences and a male-dominated industry.

What trends and changes have you seen since you started? What do you see happening in the next 5-10 years?

Spanish wines have increased their presence in the States. I’ve noticed more wines made with indigenous grapes and lesser-known wine regions. Packaging has improved immensely
I foresee more of a global market as consumers around the world start to embrace wine and include it as part of their meal. Asia and Russia are good examples where having wine with the meal was not traditionally part of their daily life but now that more and more people are traveling I believe it’s influenced their purchasing decisions.

What do you see happening in the Spanish wine world in the coming years?

A divide between large producers and boutique wineries – some will focus on volume and consistency in “taste” and others will focus on vintage uniqueness and terroir.
More indigenous varietals with a focus on terroir will make their way to USA thanks to demand for “something different” given an increase in sophisticated wine drinkers in key urban markets who have been exposed to well-known varietals and regions with a desire to discover something “new”.

Are people interested in different varietals? International varietals?

Yes, especially since many people who love wine also enjoy traveling and the quest for discovery. However, some consumers are “purists” and seek authentic varietals from the region and others embrace the new additions of international varietals as a way of complementing the blend.

What wines from Spain are truly interesting to people these days?

I’m seeing more people get excited about “minerality” not only in white wines but also reds. Well-balanced, not as much presence of oak and conservative levels in alcohol volume. It’s as if the pendulum is swinging back to “moderate” or perhaps even slightly to the other extreme. Fortunately, in Spain there’s something for everyone.
Wines from lesser known regions and native varietals.
What do you think about the level of wine education in general in the US about Spanish wines?

In general, I’d say “basic” level. They’ve heard of Tempranillo, Albariño, Garnacha at best. I believe there is a true need for education at all levels and it would be wonderful if the Spanish government could launch an educational program for professionals via ICEX.

What secrets can you share about pairing Spanish wines with food?

I learned one basic trick a long time ago “what grows together, goes together” such as seafood and Galician white wines or “Fino” and “Pata Negra” Iberian pig ham, so go local.
I also like to look for contrasts in textures such as pairing a creamy Arzua Ulloa cheese with a high-acid white wine.

What is going on with sustainability in Spain?

Given most of the vineyards are dry-farmed, soils and climate are ideal environment for grape vines. Coupled with the traditional mentality of what goes in the soil eventually is absorbed by the grapes, you’ll find many wineries practice sustainability, however it’s only been recently they’ve realized the importance and value of these practices as a way of maintaining terroir and uniqueness in such a crowed market. I’ve also noticed there’s a surge in wanting to promote and defend these “eco-friendly” viticultural practices, as each year there’s a wine show “FIVE” (Feria Internacional de Vino Ecologico) dedicated to organic and biodynamic wines which has been growing year by year.

alma de vino

Tell me about Casa Abril and Alma de Vino?

After almost 15 years working with Spanish wines, I’ve made quite a few friends as winemakers who also have their own vineyards albeit more like “parcels” of vines. In a collaborative way, we make wine together focusing on the unique expression of terroir in the vineyard. The difference between the two brands comes down to the kind of experience you want with the wine. If we were in Spain, let’s imagine we walk into a restaurant/bar, and we decide if we’re going to have lunch either at the bar with tapas or sit down at a table for the “menu del dia”. It depends on what you’re in the mood for and the kind of food you want to enjoy.

Casa Abril wines are easy-drinking, go with many dishes and are easy on the wallet and made from recognized Spanish varietals such as Tempranillo and Garnacha for example.
Alma de Vino wines strive to surprise an educated palate and are focused on working with blending wines from various parcels with century-old vines or using lesser-known varietals such as Caiño Blanco or Bobal.

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Filed under product launch, spain, spanish wines, Women in Wine

Francesca, Il Mugello – Pinot Noir

Now it has been 7 years. I wish she were here and she could meet my son Niccolo’. She would have liked him and he would have liked her.


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…

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Tuscany Still Has A Hold On Me Like No Other

Tonight’s virtual tasting with Snooth of Ruffino wines transported me back to Tuscany. I thought I would repost this piece on how I feel about the place. In the morning, I will write about the wines but I am going to bed with Florence on my mind…


I guess it’s actually true that your first love can never really be replaced…In this case though, I’m talking about a city and a region. Last week, I was in Florence for all of 9 hours, enough to remind me of why I moved there and never left Italy for 15 years. Our love affair began over 20 years ago but it was June 1991 that it really took shape, when I moved to Via Vellutini, 5.


So much has happened since then in life and in love, in the world and in work but I still feel like a kid when I get to Florence. It truly makes my heart soar and I think it will be that way forever. At least I hope so. I know it was last Thursday night when I arrived at 2030 at Campo di Marte, was picked up by a dear old…

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Women in Wine: A Chat With Stellekaya’s Ntsiki Biyela

Happy Birthday Ntsiki. Hope you are doing something wonderful today.


I met Ntsiki Biyela, a 30 something South African winemaker who was born and raised in Kwa-Zulu Natal, about a month ago during her visit to promote Stellekaya’s wines in the United States. Ntsiki is one of only two or three black female winemakers in South Africa but that isn’t the only reason that she’s so remarkably interesting. It’s because she’s a young, dynamic, great winemaker. She’s also a very talented communicator and actually convinced me to take a second look at Pinotage, a grape that I have never been partial to, to be quite frank. I spent many hours chatting with Ntsiki over the course of an afternoon and during a dinner that was organized at Braai, a South African restaurant owned by the same people that run Xai Xai, the well known South African wine bar.

Ntsiki joined Stellekaya in 2004 and was at first…

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Wine of the Week: L’Atto Basilicata IGT from Cantina del Notaio

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This week’s wine of the wine is made from 100% Aglianico del Vulture. The wine is called L’Atto and comes from the Cantine del Notaio winery. I can only imagine it is called this because of the play on the word ‘notary.” In Italian, l’atto also means deed, among other things.

This winery is in Basilicata. I’ve always had a thing about Basilicata. Many people know the region because it is home to the city of Matera, a beautiful city and absolutely worth a visit. I used to say I would never leave Italy unless I got to see Basilicata, a way of course of staying for many years. I finally visited in 2002 and remember fondly my first Aglianico del Vulture.

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.

Aglianico seems like a perfect wine to be drinking with this never ending weather. The grapes that went into this particular wine were hand harvested. They underwent a short maceration of 5-6 days. Maceration brings out the color in wine as well as tannin and other polyphenols but with a grape like Aglianico, you want to be careful not to over-extract. In fact to control the rate and depth of extraction, the winery vinifies the wine at a controlled temperature in stainless steel. The wine then ages in their funky tufa cellars in small barrels, tonneaux and others, for a period of 12 months.

The wine is full bodied and balanced with spice and fruit notes typical of this grape variety. It has a lot of finesse and elegance and a long finish. Balanced and harmonious, this wine brought me back to that fascinating region.

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. I have tasted a number of years with producers from Basilicata, specifically from Lucania.

Sadly none of my pictures of this region are digital so, here I suggest looking up a 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.

Some of the otherfamous producers of these wines include Paternoster, 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 at this year’s fair.


Filed under Italian indigenous Grape Varieties, Italian wineries, Wine of the Week, wines