Monthly Archives: June 2015

Festa: San Giovanni a Firenze, Calcio Storico & Nocino

Missing Florence and looking forward to my next trip there…

avvinare

On June 24 each year, Florence comes alive with parades and Florentines dressed in medieval gear to celebrate their patron saint, San Giovanni. Drums beat and flutes play, as the procession leads to Piazza Santa Croce for the yearly Calcio Storico match.

San Giovanni

Calcio Storico began in the 16th century. The rules are slightly different from regular calcio or soccer. Three matches are played each year. Head-butting, punching, elbowing, and choking are all legal. A violent match, sometimes people get hurt but it never seems to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm for the game

Via Tornabuoni

I lived in Florence for many years and often tried to see the match but never made it anywhere near the grand stand. In the evening, fireworks are launched from the Piazzale Michelangelo. Last year and the year before I watched the fireworks from different locations in the city with people very close to my heart.

City Colors

I was lucky…

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Italian Indigenous Varieties: Greco Bianco from Catanzaro and Reggio Calabria

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This week’s indigenous variety from Italy is Greco Bianco, not to be confused with Greco di Tufo which I wrote about in my last post in this series. This grape which hails from Calabria, from the provinces of Catanzaro and Reggio Calabria. The thinking about this variety is that it arrived on the Italian peninsula from Greece.

It is usually used in a dried version to make what are known as “vini liquorosi” or fortified wines. As it is a white grape, the wines are golden in color thanks to the “appassimento” or drying of the grapes. It is usually used on its own or blended with other white grapes such as Montonico and Gardavalle for sweet or semi-sweet wines and is sometimes added to a blend with Gaglioppo to make rose wines. It is part of various DOC denominations in Calabria such as Bivongi, Donnici, Greco di Bianco, Melissa, San Vito di Luzzi, Scavigna and Verbicaro.

I have written about a few wineries in Calabria over the past years. I also was lucky enough to do one very long tasting at Vinitaly some years ago with wines from a certain area in Calabria, Terre di Cosenza DOC.

I visited Calabria a couple of times only when I lived in Italy. Once I went all the way to Reggio to see some of the most beautiful men I have ever seen, the Bronze di Riace that are in the picture above. What incredible statues and quite worth the trip. Calabria has much to recommend it and is largely undiscovered for me. I look forward to future trips to this most Southern region of Italy where everything seems quite intense and spicy.

Check out this wonderful post by my friend Alfonso Cevola about his Calabrian roots.

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Wine of the Week: Chateau Trianon from Saint-Emilion

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Taking a break from writing about Italy to follow up on a tasting I did in April with the Chateau Trianon wines when they were in New York as part of the Grand Cercle tasting at Grand Central on April 20. The winery has 10 hectares and is part of the Saint Emilion Grand Cru appellation. The wines were made from a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere. According to their materials, the name Trianon is derived from Marie Antoinette’s private retreat at Versailles. Apparently, the chateau was built by a secretary of King Louis XIV in the 17th century. I met Dominique Hebrard at the tasting. A fascinating man, he was lovely and very welcoming and willing to answer all of my questions. The wines were beautiful and a really lovely expression of the terroir of that part of Bordeaux. The winery pays careful attention to their practices both in the vineyard and in the winery. As I am studying for a particular exam, he was very patient with numerous questions that I asked and invited me to the winery. I think I will most certainly take him up on that.

The winery has undergone many changes in the past two years as reported in a press release:

“In January 2014, Dominique Hébrard, shareholder and General Manager of Château Trianon announced a major change in the property’s vision for the future as two new partners invested in the estate: An Enda the owner of Inner Mongolia Jin Sha Ecological Group Co., the winery Château Kinschab and Jin Sha Winery Co. Ltd. in Inner Mongolia, who will be majority shareholder, and Marc Castagnet, a business man residing in Hong Kong and his wife Karin, who are developing private luxury hotel projects, in particular with http://www.villalatosca.com. The change heralds a new chapter in the history of this property with ambitious investments announced in the vineyard and to renovate the chateau building.”

2010 Chateau Trianon

I tried the 2010 and the 2014 barrel sample. Both were exquisite, beautiful expressions of Merlot dominated wines with a long finish and silky supple tannins. Truly lovely and worth buying in my view.

At the same tasting I worked for the De Mour group wineries, La Croizille and Tour Baladoz. As I never write about wines that I work with, I won’t write my thoughts but do suggest that you check out these wineries as well.

I wish I were going to VinExpo this year but other obligations call. Those who are going, I hope you have extra time to visit some estates.

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La Festa della Repubblica, Wines of Lombardy – Franciacorta – Brescia

Italian Flag

Today is an Italian national holiday known as la Festa della Repubblica. It celebrates the day in 1946 when Italians voted to become a republic. In Italy, most people go on holiday for a long weekend, affectionately known as il ponte or the bridge. Most took yesterday off to make it a four day affair. Today is a day to toast and raise a glass to il Bel Paese. I like to toast with bubbly and that brings me to an area in Lombardy that has been much discussed of late, even in the US, Franciacorta. Franciacorta became a DOC wine in 1967 but the Consorzio was created in 1990 by 29 producers. It became a DOCG in 1995. These wonderful sparklers are made in the traditional method, secondary fermentation in the bottle, with three grape varieties permitted: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Bianco.

Italian Sparkling Wine

The area is very beautiful and if I were in Italy this month, I would certainly choose to go to their festival, Franciacortando but alas alack it isn’t in the cards for this year. The soils in Franciacorta are rich in sand and limestone, and are known for their drainage. The area is located on what was a moraine that formed as a glacier withdrew many centuries ago. As in many areas of this type of geological origin, numerous minerals, stones and rocks were left to create rich soils where the vine can flourish. The soils in Franciacorta vary with the zones but overall they have these characteristics.

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The area is also attentive to sustainability issues and to being carbon neutral. I know a number of producers in the area who strive to be carbon zero. Some interesting numbers listed on the Consortium website noted that 109 wineries participate in the Consortium and 19 towns or communes are part of the Franciacorta terroir. Some 2,800 hectares are planted with Franciacorta DOCG (82% Chardonnay, 14% Pinot Nero, 4% Pinot Bianco) while 350 hectares are dedicated to wines with the Curtefranca DOC designation. 15,475,977 bottles were sold in 2014 but only 1,428,993  bottles or 9,2% was exported. The Italians are smart and are drinking 90% of it themselves. So many wonderful producers to mention here but I will just link to posts that I have written in the past about the area.

That said, check out this great blog on Franciacorta. The Lombard city closest to Franciacorta is Brescia, a city that is surprisingly interesting and rich in art, culture and even Roman ruins. Brescia, Lombardy’s second largest city after Milan, is often thought of as a small industrial town in Northern Italy, perhaps worth a few hours to see the Duomo, have lunch and then continue on its more well known neighboring cities. On closer inspection however, Brescia reveals it exciting and varied history as well as numerous treasures. Brescia is known throughout Italy for its steel industry and precision instruments. The city is quite well to do and the wealth and prosperity of the city is clearly evident in the high quality shops, stores and restaurants. These last are considerably more expensive than even those of its larger neighbor, Milan. An itinerary through the city of Brescia can be created around various themes such as Roman, Medieval, Renaissance, and 17th century architecture. The city can be well navigated on foot from the central station, by bus, car or on bikes. Like Bergamo, Brescia is a great side trip if you are in Milan visiting Expo 2015. As you might have guessed, I wrote a long travel article on Brescia for a magazine some years ago.

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Wines of Lombardy: Valcalepio – Bergamo

Baptistery Bergamo Alta

As I mentioned yesterday, I am going to be writing about wines from Lombardy all week. One friend was perplexed that I said I didn’t know the wines of Lombardy that well. What I meant and was perhaps misunderstood is that I don’t know all of the wines of Lombardy as well as I might like to, although some I know quite well and have worked with in the past, visited the regions or am currently working with as we speak.

Bergamo

Today I want to mention an area of Lombardy that I love, Bergamo and its wines from the Valcalepio, still quite unknown in the US but also in many parts of Italy. The Consorzio Tutela Valcalepio was founded in 1977 by 22 members. Today, the consortium has 85 members, or about 98% of the producers of Valcalepio. The area is in the province of Bergamo and has two main wines that are allowed to have the DOC denomination. The Valcalepio Rosso DOC is made from Cabernet Sauvignon (25%-60%) and Merlot. The grapes are harvested and fermented separately. The wine is then blended and aged. If aged for three years, at least one in wood, it can be called a Riserva. Of the 400 hectares that go into making wines in the Valcalepio area, 70% are used for the Valcalepio Rosso.

The Valcalepio Bianco DOC is made from Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay (55% to 80%) and Pinot Grigio (20% to 45%). In addition to the DOC wines, a line of IGT wines are also made including a traditional method sparkling wine.

No post on Bergamo and the Valcalepio can be complete without mentioning the Cantina Sociale Bergamasca. They produce wines using the Terre del Colleoni or Colleoni DOC denominations, a DOC created in 2011. This cooperative was founded in 1957 in San Paolo d’Argon. It has 150 members and 160 hectares of vines. The coop produces some 800,000 bottles annually and exports currently 10% of its production.

I did a project with the Cantina a number of years ago and have always had a fondness for their wines.

Valcalepio is an area that runs from the Lago d’Iseo to not far from Lago di Como, about 60 kilometers. These are the prealps and can be separated into two parts, one with clay and calcareous soils and the other more driven by schist. The vines grow on hills of 300-600 meters above sea level.

Bergamo is a jewel of a city and anyone visiting the Expo 2015 should take a day or a few hours and visit Bergamo. My first dinner outside of Milan when I moved North in 1995 from Florence and Bologna was in Bergamo at a restaurant called Trattoria da Ornella. It was the first time I had Polenta Taragna, a typical dish from the Valtellina, another area of Lombardy. It was very picturesque with high ceilings and I ate more meat than I had ever seen in an Italian restaurant. That was my first experience in the lovely city of Bergamo. Over the years I have had many more thanks to good friends who live there. Bergamo also boasts fantastic churches with a number of beautiful paintings by Lorenzo Lotto, a painter that I am a fan of from the 1500s

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