Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Santadi Monica di Sardegna "Antigua" 2004

From one of Sardegna's great cooperatives comes this blend of 85% Monica di Sardegna and 15% Carignano (both, along with Cannonau, originally from Spain). Ruby red to purple in color; earthy aromas of cherries and blackberries with hints of camphor; palate of blueberries with a peppery spice quality like an Australian Shiraz. Bright acidity and well structured with a soft finish. Very interesting, great value.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Puglia 3: Food & Wine

In the old-town section of Bisceglie you'll be lucky if you find a phenomenal restaurant or "grigleria" named Enosteria. There is no way we ever would have found this place if it had not been highly recommended to us. The first time we walked by -during siesta- large wooden doors covered up the entrance and all signage making it nearly impossible to discern as a restaurant. But after 8 or 9 in the evening the little establishment and Giovanni, its hip, young entrepreneurial owner, came alive. With no more than eight tables, a small kitchen, and a fireplace used for grilling meats, this place redefined intimate. Amazingly enough, Giovanni was not only the owner, maitre'd, server, and sommelier, but he also grilled all of the meats over the fire in the back of the dining room. We proceeded to have one of the longest, most intricate, and most wonderful meals of our lives. Many of Puglia's regional food and wine specialties were interwoven through this 4 hour and 11 course gastronomical adventure.

1- Olives (Puglian olives are incredible!)
2- Crostini w/ ricotta crema
3- Cannellini beans w/ ripini (broccoli rabe)
4- Agrodolce (sweet & sour) peppers
5- Zucchini Ripieni(stuffed) w/ potatoe souffle & balsamico
6- Fava mash w/ chicory greens
7- Artichokes w/ oven-dried tomatoes
8- Carne Misti: Vitello (veal) Filetto, Pork Involtini (rolled w/ Prosciutto), Manza (beef) Kebabs, and Horse Sausage
9- Carroti Crudi w/ olive oil
10- Mixed Nuts
11- Dolci: Molten chocolate cake & Panna Cotta

While the wines accompanying our meal at Enosteria were phenomenal ( a Primitivo named Violante, a Nero di Troia from Rivera, a Moscato di Trani, and a mint-green Amaro), the best wine we had in Puglia was probably Santa Lucia's 1996 Riserva Le More. Worth noting, the other wines deserving the most accolade were the 2000 and 2001 vintages of the same wine. But I was ultimately most interested in the 1996 because of its character and story.

These were my notes taken at the winery on the Santa Lucia Riserva Le More 1996: 85% Uva di Troia and 15% Malbec. All Slavonian, no barrique. Well aged, feminine, and elegant. Perhaps past its prime a little. "No longer a boxer, but a gentleman" -Roberto Perone Capone (owner). Still quite beautiful and natural - just the fruit before the fancy technology and before barrique. 50 bottles remaining.

I found this wine most interesting because I had the immediate pleasure of tasting a half dozen subsequent vintages from the bottle as well as several barrel tastings. In 2000 Santa Lucia began to age their riserva wine in barrique and in 2001 the Le More became 100% Uva di Troia with a half year longer in barrique. The opportunity to compare and contrast so closely and to do so with the owner/winemaker was the highlight to my trip as well as my career. While the heralded, drink-now 2000 vintage and the well-structured, ageworthy 2001 vintage were exceptional, I found the 1996 more nuanced, feminine, well-balanced and stylistically traditional. I had never experienced Uva di Troia like this, certainly not blended with Malbec. As we were leaving Santa Lucia, eight hours after our scheduled appointment, Roberto surprised me with one of his last fifty bottles. I was blown away. And I hope to be blown away again soon - I may drink it with Christmas dinner.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Puglia 2: Absolutely Amazing

When people ask me how my trip to Puglia was, and I quickly and assuredly respond, "absolutely amazing", it most often begs the follow-up question of "why?" My response is qualified, and it must be, within the context of my profession. I am fortunate enough to travel to Italy annually- each year to a different region- to visit wineries we represent at Trattoria Delia and to explore and enjoy the culinary and oenological landscape.

That being said, Puglia stands alone amongst many visits to Italy. There is something inexplicably consistent about the warmth of southern hospitality and it rings especially true in Puglia (the heel of Italy). Perhaps it is the slower pace of life or perhaps it is because Pugila is off the beaten path of the throngs of American tourists that visit Tuscany and other northern regions each year. Whatever it is, our hosts were incredibly hospitable. Our tasting appointments turned into all day visits with long walks through vineyard lands, extensive barrel tastings, and three hour meals with extended family. In Toscana and Piemonte we seldom had the pleasure of meeting owners or winemakers, the focus of property tours was almost always bright, shiny stainless steel tanks, roto-fermenters, and brand-new French Oak barrels, and we never barrel tasted. And we were certainly never invited home for siesta and multiple course lunches with the family. The whole experience in Puglia seemed so genuine. Owners and winemakers took the time to explain and point out the nuances of their properties and wines. Our experiences in their homes and with their families gave us insight to the rhythms of everyday life.

And the wines themselves, you ask. They were amazing too! For most consumers, southern Italy is a world of obscure, indigenous varietals that are difficult to pronounce. It was incredible to have the opportunity to explore this world and to taste the un-tapped potential of these ancient varietals. Tormaresca, of Antinori fame, is doing phenomenal work with Aglianico, Primitivo, and Negroamaro. Run out and try their Masseria Maime (100% Negroamaro)- a three glass winner that will blow your socks off! Santa Lucia was my favorite visit yet in any region of Italy. What Roberto Capone is doing with Nero di Troia, an unheralded and ageworthy red varietal, is phenomenal. The problem is actually finding his wines in your local wine store. And Taurino, responsible for bringing international acclaim to Puglia, makes fabulous blends from Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera, including the highly regarded Patriglione. Above and beyond, I recommend drinking a Rosato (Rose) next time you are feeling Puglian. Yes they are chilled; no, they are not sweet. They are dynamic, often spicy, and absolutely delicious with seafood.

Which brings me to food. If you love vegetables and fruits, Puglia is gastronomic heaven. Think broccoli rabe (ripini), chicory greens, cherry tomatoes, arugula, artichokes, peppers, eggplant, fava and cannellini beans, apricots, clementines, persimmons, figs, and peaches. And don't forget all of the artisinal pasta shapes beyond the recently famed Orecchiette, amazing cheeses including Pecorino, Stracciatella and Burrata. The seafood is so fresh and abundant and used creatively like octopus carpaccio, pesce crudo (raw fish), langostines, prawns, mussels, and clams to die for. And I certainly don't want to give you the impression that they don't eat meat. The region is known for its horse and donkey sausages, carpaccios, and grilled kebabs. And there is plenty of other amazing sausage, braesala, prosciutto crudo and cotto, and beef carpaccio. Don't worry- grilled meat is everywhere! Puglian cuisine is a quintessential example of what makes Italian cooking so special and so unique. First, it is about high quality, fresh, local ingredients prepared simply and in logical and harmonious combinations. Second, it is a celebration of diversity and the bounty of the land and sea.

While the hospitality, food, and wine of Puglia can only be described as "absolutely amazing", traveling as a tourist in Puglia is not for the Italy uninitiated. First and foremost, there most certainly is a language barrier. The quantity and quality of English spoken is nothing like it is in Northern Italy. It is highly recommended to at least speak and understand tourist or elementary Italian. To make things even more interesting, much of the Italian you do hear on the streets is in dialect, seemingly a different language than Florentine Italian. The good news is that, at least in my experience, Italians love it when you attempt to communicate in their language and are more than willing to help you learn your way. My wife's ability to speak French and my ability to speak German also proved invaluable when our Italian proved too cumbersome to express a need or an idea.

Figuring out where to stay, where to dine, what sites to visit, and most importantly, what their significance is also proved to be difficult in Puglia. From what I've been told, however, the tourist infrastructure has improved dramatically in the past 5-10 years to address this shortcoming. Lonely Planet is supposedly coming out with their first guide book on the region in February 2008. In the meantime, finding information on B&Bs, restaurants, and tourist attractions requires some internet savvy and a bit of patience. And ideally some friends who have travelled in Puglia to get you started. Luckily for me, my wife is a librarian and the owners of Trattoria Delia vacation in Puglia frequently. I highly recommend this website for accommodations. Reasonable rates for B&Bs and very affordable, delicious meals can easily be found throughout this region.

And my recommendations, you ask. Well, I recommend renting a fuel-efficient car and driving. You will most likely start your travels from Bari. While not too spectacular itself, Bari is very close to many wonderful coastal towns and ancient hilltop villages. A little farther away you will find Baroque cities and verdant nature preserves. We loved our time in Trani, Giovinazzo, Bisceglie, Castel del Monte, Minervino, Cisternino, Martina Franca, Alberabello, Ostuni, Copertino and Guagnano. We wished we had the time to visit Otranto and Lecce in the far south and the Gargano Peninsula in the far north. I guess that's what they made next time for.

In my next posting on Bottles and Glasses, I hope to incorporate some photos into my musings of Puglia and conclude my trilogy with descriptions of my favorite wine from our trip and the menu from my favorite dinner (11 courses and 4 hours) EVER!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Puglia 1: Reflections on Blogging

While enjoying our wonderful annual trip to Italy (this year to Puglia) I had ample time to ponder what I'd blog about upon my return to the States. I also had plenty of time to discuss my blogging habits with the Sheck (my wife, a librarian, and an avid blogger) and how they fit into the norms of blogosphere culture. Upon my return, friends and colleagues offered me feedback and constructive criticism as well. Oddly enough, it seems folks want to know more about my story, my travels, what i'm thinking, the evolution of an idea, etc. And they want to see more pictures and links to other blogs or material I read. Truthfully, I have approached my blog more as my tasting log as well as a wine learning tool for others- and less as a journal of my thoughts and experiences, much less a personal expose. Perhaps I have had too narrow of a view of what I should include on my blog about wine- overly concerned it might become a blog about something else or simply about me. As I've been preparing my slide show (with the assistance of a high-tech, striking librarian) I realized that there really is a world of topics and issues to discuss that are interesting, personal, and relevant to wine. So expect to read and see more about food, travel, culture, hospitatlity, sustainability, etc. And perhaps even a little bit about me too!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Altesino Rosso di Altesino 2003

Let me begin by saying that Altesino was one of the best winery visits I've ever had in Italy. 80% Sangiovese and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. This baby "Super-Tuscan" never sees any wood and its floral, bright red cherry-berry fruit aromas jump from your glass. Ripe forest fruits, black pepper, and seemless acidity. A bargain wine from one of the best Brunello producers in Italy.

Arnaldo Caprai Poggio Belvedere 2004

From Gambero Rosso's 2006 winery of the year and perhaps Umbria's best producer comes this value-laden wine. 100% Sangiovese, bright ruby red in color, hints of wild berries, leather and tobacco on the nose. Spicy with a spectrum of cherry fruit on the palette, well balanced acidity, and a smooth lingering finish. An elegant wine.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Renato Ratti Barbera d'Alba "Torriglione" 2005

A beautiful dark red color introduces a spicy nose with hints of blackcherries and plums. Surprisingly full, warm, and robust with a long finish. With La Morra as its origin and eight months in French oak barrique under its belt, this modern Barbera is super-soft and accessible to all. The Ratti family's entire portfolio has proven quite exceptional.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Underwood 07 - Toscana

Our second evening's feast at Underwood was more traditional, certainly in terms of the Sangiovese-based wine pairings. We prepared simply seasoned but well marbled ribeye steaks, oven roasted potatoes with olive oil, sliced heirloom tomatoes and basil (both from my garden), sauteed snowpeas with heirloom garlic, and a tossed salad with garden veggies.

Our wine journey began with Marchesi Antinori's Chianti Classico Riserva 2000. While I had many of Antinori's "Super-Tuscans" as well as wines from his Puglian properties, his Chianti was new to me. And not surprisingly, it was beautiful. Ruby red with bright cherry fruit, well-balanced acidity and plenty of those leathery-tobacco notes. I did note, however, that it was fuller bodied than most Chianti, certainly from traditional producers.

While everyone was enjoying their first wine, I began the arduous process of removing the traditional wax seal closure on our next wine: a jeroboam (3L) of Poggio Amorelli Oracolo 2003. While I had removed the wax seal closure on large-format bottles previously, it is never any easier the next time. In fact, it is usually tedious and always messy. But the process is generally rewarding and it certainly was this time. While I missed the opportunity to visit this property in Castellina in Chianti, I have always loved wines from this producer which include an amazing Chianti as well. The beautifully named Oracolo from Poggio Amorelli is technically a "Super-Tuscan" despite being 100% Sangiovese and traditionally styled. The 2003 has a rich garnet color with an intense earthy, leathery nose and gobs of ripe cherry berry fruit on the palette with all components in remarkable balance (amazing considering the 2003 vintage) and a long, silky finish. The wine practically screams grilled meats! While perhaps not the best vintage ever, this wine is truly noteworthy. And that was a good thing considering we had copious amounts of the Oracolo to drink.

Underwood 07 - Piemonte

Everyone needs a friend who owns a "camp" in the Adirondacks. And everyone needs a friend who shows up with an amazing line-up of wines to accompany the meal they are preparing to honor the occasion. I was preparing a meal that could best be described as "Swiss-Germans comfort food". The menu included breaded pork shops, sweet and sour red cabbage, truffle oil and garlic mash potatoes, and fresh apple sauce. If it were to be enjoyed in Italy, this meal would probably be found in the far north: Friuli, Trentino-Alto Adige, northern Lombardy, etc. With a little stretch of an oenophile's imagination, I decided to pair the meal with a line-up of Nebbiolo based wines.

We started with Produttori del Barbaresco's Langhe Nebbiolo 2004 as we sampled cheeses and finished cooking our feast. Everything Produttori del Barbaresco makes seems to be of quality. They are the quintessential example of a sucessful modern Italian cooperative with 58 growers representing over a quarter of the Barbaresco zone's production and making wine from 9 famous Barbaresco crus. The Langhe Nebbiolo 2004 was feminine, elegant, and well-balanced with that perfect traditional aromatic profile one expects from Nebbiolo. The wine was on the lighter side but still had sufficient structure to transition nicely into our next wine and our dinner.

With our final wine decanted, I opened and poured everyone Aldo Conterno's Quartetto Langhe Rosso 2000. For anyone who has never experienced a "Super-Piemontese" wine, look no further. A blend of equal parts Nebbiolo, Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, this modern styled wine is a blockbuster. Aged in French oak barrique, the Quartetto's blend begs contemplation and constant swirling to fully admire the beautiful bouquet and its endless evolution. While certainly a traditionalist in nature, this modern gem of wine never ceases to amaze me and could convince anyone as to the sucess of blending international varietals with Piedmont's great red grapes.

With the drink-now 2000 vintage having set the stage, it was time to unleash the fruited monster inside Gianni Gagliardo's Barolo 2000. Combined with the vintage and the producers's modern style, the Tortonian soils of La Morra yield the softer, richer, and more opulent characteristics amongst Barolo wine's many faces. Not to say there wasn't ample tannicity and structure to this wine, because there certainly was. Big and chewy with wafts of dried fruit and earth, this wine probably deserved cuisine more typical of its origin, but we suffered through its magnificence nonetheless. If you ever want to try amazing Barolo, check out Gianni Gagliardo.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fall Trade Tastings

As a professional in the food and wine industry, we tend to spend way too much time "on premise" or simply working at the restaurant. It is always a pleasure to step out and attend a wine tasting, or perhaps two. This past week I was lucky enough to attend two wonderful tastings: one at an establishment overlooking Lake Champlain featuring the VIAS portfolio and "Il Professore" George Schwartz and the other out on the lake featuring several importers including Winebow. I had the opportunity to taste several wonderful wines.

From the VIAS portfolio I particularly enjoyed:

Suavia Soave Classico 2006- a nice crisp quality and set apart stylistically from some of the big names like Pieropan

Castello di Luzzano Malvasia "Tasto di Seta" 2006- apricots and mint, slightly frizzante, always wonderful

Castello di Rampolla Chianti Classico 2004- traditional, earthy, barnyard qualities from an established Panzano property

Camigliano Brunello di Montalcino 2001- saddle leather, coffee, huge, foreboding, and wonderful, very ageworthy

Terredora di Paolo Taurasi 2001- tar, pepper, tobacco, and tannic, big and chewy, great vintage

La Poderina Moscadello di Montalcino 2003- Tuscany's moscato, beeren-auslese nose, peach and apricot, fabulous finish

From the Winebow portfolio I particularly enjoyed:

Argiolas Perdera 2005- big but elegant, from Monica, Carignano and Bovale Sardo, well made, great value

Renieri Rosso di Montalcino 2003- great things are happening from Marco Bacci's "other" Tuscan property, ripe cherries,
cedar, leather, and fruit forward

Tasca d'Almerita Regaliali 2003- perhaps Sicily's best cooperative, great wine, great value-check out their Rosso delConte

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Toscolo Chianti Classico 2004

Ruby red in color. Ripe cherries and plum skins on the palette with hints of black pepper and tobacco. Medium-bodied and well balanced with bright acidity showing all of the elegance of the '04 vintage. A well made Chianti.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Modern vs. Traditional: What does it mean?

Nowhere else in the wine world are descriptions, reviews, and love or loathing of liquid so often set in the context of "modern vs. traditional" as in Italy. What does this paradigm of taste really mean and why is it used so often?
Simply put, a wine is modern, traditional, or a little of each based largely upon three things: 1) the use of indigenous/native varietals vs. the use of so-called international varietals (cab, merlot, syrah, chard, etc.); 2) the use, re-use, type and size of cooperage used for aging (what type of wood is the wine aged in, how big is the barrel, how long was it aged, was the barrel used before, was it toasted, etc.?) Generally, wines aged in French Oak barrique (small vessels = greater surface area), especially if it's a long time, used only once, and toasted are considered modern. In contrast, wine aged in larger vessels, made of less influential wood such as Slavonian Oak, that are used several times are generally considered traditional. A purist might suggest that traditional methods allow for the true expression of the fruit, as opposed to tasting wood or characteristics thereof, such as vanilla; and 3) vinicultural and/or viticultural practices (what practices are being employed during vineyard management and what practices are being employed after harvest and during maceration, fermentation, etc. that influence or expedite a wine's character or flavor profile?). This last reason is the most technical, the least referenced, and the most beyond my expertise.
Why is Italian wine often described and sold in the context of "modern vs. traditional?" Most importantly, it makes sense as a way of helping consumers understand the complicated world of Italian wine and where their palettes may fit into it. Do you like soft, round, and fruit forward wines or angular, slow to open, contemplative wines that are most appropriately consumed with food? Perhaps an over-simplification, but I have a dozen more questions just like that. Italy 's known varietals are greater in number than the rest of the world combined and its history of winemaking rivals any country or civilization in the world. Modernity, particularly regarding oenology, was late to hit Italy. As a result, Italian winemakers have had the opportunity to pick and choose which modern methodologies they wished to employ and to what degree. And we all know that, with possible exception of France and India, no other country's people so selectively and creatively employ and combine modernity with antiquity. Through their wine, Italian producers can express their personal philosophies and we in turn can share them with consumers. That is what is magical about Italian wine- it's simultaneously a living, changing agricultural product and a winemaker's story, culture, and philosophical expression. So- are you a modernist or a traditionalist?

Scagliola Dolcetto Monferrato "Da Sempre" 2005

From one of my favorite producers comes this perfectly simple and quintessential example of Dolcetto. "Da Sempre" means "as always" reflecting the everyday drinkability of the wine as well as the historical character of the wine - as represented by Maggiorino and Mario's grandfather (who founded the estate) riding his old school bicycle on the label. 100% stainless steel; deep purple-violet in color; aromas of violets and dark fruits; ripe plums, blackberry jam, and a hint of licorice on the palette. All held together masterfully by sweet tannins and surprisingly bright acidity for a Dolcetto. A phenomenal value!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Renato Ratti Nebbiolo d'Alba "Ochetti" 2005

A beautiful example of Nebbiolo from well-oriented vineyards nestled in the hills of La Morra. Delicate floral aromas of violets and roses, as well as vanilla; a palette of red cherries, dried fruits, tobacco, earth, and camphor. Finishes with hints of black pepper spice and soft tannins. Medium bodied, extremely elegant, and an exceptional value.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Tedeschi Capitel dei Nicalo Valpolicella

A partial (10%) "ripasso" style wine which has undergone abbreviated "appassimento." Interestingly, it is a blend of Corvina, Rondinella, and Sangiovese. This is a refined wine with aromas of cedar, chocalate, and flint and a palette loaded with ripe dark fruits, currants, raisins, and forest berry jam. With nice structure, a little spice, and a soft finish, this wine is very approachable and deserving of some contemplation, all making it a great value from one of the Veneto's top producers.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico "RS" 2004

The "Abbey of the Good Harvest" is one of Tuscany's oldest cellars dating back to the 11th century. RS stands for Roberto Stucchio, the winemaker-oenologist-owner. 100% Sangiovese aged in small oak barrels. Hallmark Sangiovese characterists define this wine: ripe red cherry-berry fruit, tobacco, leather, bright acidity, and a little spice. Traditional in style but very accessible and well-balanced.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Aldo Marenco Barbera d'Alba "Pirona" 2004

Purple in color; violets and anise on the nose; medium bodied with raspberry and dark berry fruit on the palette; well-balanced with nice acidity. Eight months in French Oak tonneau, organic, and unfiltered. A beautifully styled Barbera sure to be a crowd pleaser.