Monthly Archives: February 2013

Sprinting Coastal Brown Bear

Sprinting Coastal Brown Bear (Ursus arctos)

Beside loving bears, which I find truly fascinating animals, I love Alaska: such beautiful country, most of which is still wild and pristine, notwithstanding human efforts to drill more oil out of it (will we ever get rid of so dirty an energy source?…)

I visited Alaska twice, and I hope I will be able to go back in not too long a time. The first time I went to Katmai National Park, and the second time back to Katmai (although in a different area) and then on to the Kodiak archipelago. Alaska and Katmai in particular are among the best places you may be at to observe and photograph coastal brown bears. These are often interchangeably called “grizzlies” but, although they both belong to the species Ursus arctos, coastal brown bears (as the name implies) prevalently live in coastal areas and tend to be bigger than grizzlies who are considered a distinct subspecies (Ursus arctos horribilis) and live inland, away from major bodies of water.

If you travel to Katmai in the Summer, chances are that you are going to witness one of the most exciting phenomena in the life cycle of a coastal brown bear: the salmon run. Around that time of the year, wild sockeye salmon enter their spawning phase, during which they somehow find their way back from the ocean to the very same river where they were born so that they can work their way upstream, reach the headwater gravel beds of their birth, lay their eggs and generally die within a couple of weeks (because when they return to their original freshwater environment, they stop eating and live off their fat reserves).

Clearly, brown bears are not indifferent to nature’s call that brings the salmon back to accessible waterways to reproduce. Since fall and then winter are fast approaching (and with them a long period of hibernation), brown bears enter a phase known as hyperphagia where they maximize their food intake (they can eat up to 90 pounds of food per day!) to build up sufficient fat reserves to survive the hibernation months. In this period, coastal brown bears congregate by the shore or next to river banks anxiously waiting for one of their favorite prey to arrive in huge numbers.

When salmon eventually comes, all hell breaks loose and bears start chasing salmon in shallow waters to catch them and eat them. Bears are especially fond of salmon eggs, so much so that, after a bear has eaten enough fish for a day, sometimes it keeps catching more salmon just to eat the eggs while discarding the rest (for the seagulls’ happiness).

While I was observing a group of about six bears chasing salmon in the estuary of a river in Katmai, this young bear started sprinting in my general direction in pursuit of a salmon (that eventually proved to be faster than the bear) and gave me a great opportunity to freeze the motion of the bear at the peak of the action. The low angle of the image (that I shot kneeling in the sand) accentuates the majestic nature of the bear and creates an eye-level connection with the animal. Hope you like it!

If you would like to see more images of mine, feel free to browse my Galleries.

As per my copyright notice, please respect my work and do not download, reproduce or use the image above without first seeking my consent. Thank you :-)

Advertisements

Tundra Lichens and the Sacred Geometry of Chance

Tundra lichens: the sacred geometry of chance

On an expedition to the beautiful and extreme barren lands of Nunavut (Canada), at some point I have become fascinated by the endless patterns, colors and texture of tundra lichens. So, an afternoon with overcast weather, perfect for macro photography, I set out on a journey to capture an image of the lichens that would hopefully do them justice and that would convey my aesthetics.

To me, macro photography can be spectacular and challenging at the same time. Spectacular because, if you succeed both technically and artistically in capturing the “right shot”, the results are extremely rewarding and lead the viewer to a trip to a mysterious and often overlooked miniature world. Challenging because macro photography confronts the photographer with several difficulties, from technical ones (e.g., attaining pleasing lighting as well as sufficient magnification while retaining enough sharpness and depth of field) to artistic ones (e.g., framing the subject so as to obtain a balanced and pleasing composition as well as convey a message that is immediately evident to viewers).

The answer to these challenges is patience, observation, method and experimentation. With my camera and macro lens on my tripod, I tried several different compositions and moved around to find just the right patch of lichens that would realize my vision. After several attempts, I found what I was looking for: a patch of lichens that were pristine in appearance, covered the entire field of view of my lens, leaving no empty spots, and conveyed a Zen-like “Yin & Yang” kind of message. In the above image, a slightly curved, strong diagonal line of neutral-toned white lichens visually separates the super-textured green plants and berries in the top left portion of the frame from a smaller reprise of colored and textured lichens in the bottom right corner of the frame.

In my view, quoting Mr Sting, this image reminds me of “the sacred geometry of chance“.  😉

If you would like to see more images of mine, feel free to browse my Galleries.

As per my copyright notice, please respect my work and do not download, reproduce or use the image above without first seeking my consent. Thank you :-)

An Overview of the ISA Wine Pairing Criteria

As promised a while ago to Suzanne, the gracious author of food and cooking blog apuginthekitchen, in this post I will briefly go through the core foundations of food-wine pairing, providing an overview of the main criteria conceived and recommended by the Italian Sommelier Association (ISA). This should hopefully offer readers a few guidelines that they may consider trying out the next time they will need to pair a wine with food.

Our discussion about wine pairing will utilize certain of the concepts and terminology that we have gone through in the context of our overview of the ISA wine tasting protocol: if you are not familiar with it, consider reading that post before continuing on with this one.

The first step in the wine pairing process is to assess the food you intend to pair a wine with: in so doing, you should consider (and ideally write down) which of the following characteristics are present to a noticeable extent in your food:

  • Latent sweetness (this is that sweetish feel that you perceive eating such foods as bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, carrots, certain seafood such as shrimps or prawns, most ham, bacon, etc. – note, this is NOT the full-blown sweetness of a dessert)
  • Fatness (this refers to the presence of solid greases, such as in most cheeses, salame, hard-boiled egg yolk, etc.)
  • Tastiness (it is given by the presence of salt in a food, such as for instance in most cured meats, salame or cheeses)
  • Latent bitterness (it can be found in such foods as artichokes, raw spinach, radicchio, liver, grilled food, etc.)
  • Latent sourness (it is generally found in tomatoes, seafood marinated in lemon juice, salads with vinegar-based dressings, etc.)
  • Sweetness (typical of a dessert, honey or most fruits)
  • Aftertaste (meaning, whenever the flavor of the food tends to linger in your mouth after swallowing it – for instance, venison meat generally has a longer afterstate than veal meat)
  • Spiciness (this merely indicates the moderate use of spices in the preparation of the food, it does NOT indicate a “hot” food – examples are the use of saffron, curry, pepper, vanilla, etc. in foods like cured meats, risotto, desserts…)
  • Flavor (this indicates a noticeable, distinct flavor that is typical of a certain food or ingredient, such as in the case of blue cheese or goat cheese, salame, foods complemented by herbs, such as pesto sauce or butter and sage ravioli, coffee, cocoa…)
  • Juiciness (there are three types: (i) inherent, which is that of foods that have noticeable quantities of liquids in them, such as a fresh buffalo mozzarella or a meat cut cooked rare; (ii) due to the addition of liquids, such as a beef stew to which some kind of gravy or sauce was added, a brasato, etc.; and (iii) induced, which is that of salty or relatively dry foods, which cause abundant production of saliva in the mouth, such as in the case of a bit of aged Parmigiano Reggiano cheese)
  • Greasiness (caused by the presence of oil or other liquefied greases that is still noticeable in the mouth at the end of the preparation of the food, such as in a bruschetta, seafood salad, grilled sausage, etc.)
  • Structure (this depends on the complexity or the extent of elaboration of a food – for instance, a cracker with cheese or a bowl of white rice shall clearly be considered foods with little structure, while a dish of goulash or a Sacher torte shall be considered foods with significant structure)

Now, the core of the wine-food pairing criteria preached by the Italian Sommelier Association is that certain of the aforesaid qualities of a food (to the extent of course they are detectable to a noticeable extent in the food you want to identify a good wine pairing for) shall be paired by contrast with certain qualities of a wine (see below), while certain others of such food qualities shall instead be paired by association with the corresponding qualities in a wine.

Having said that, let’s now move on the second step and see specifically which qualities in a wine relate to the food qualities that we have listed above and how:

Food Quality

 

Wine Quality

(A) Pairings by Contrast

Latent sweetness ==> Acidity
     
Fatness ==> Effervescence or Minerality
     
Tastiness    

Latent bitterness

==> Smoothness

Latent sourness

   
     
Juiciness / Greasiness ==> ABV or Tannicity (by contrast)

(B) Pairings by Association

Sweetness ==> Sweetness
     
Spiciness / Flavor ==> Intensity of nose/mouth flavor
     
Aftertaste ==> Aftertaste or Finish

Wherever per the above guidelines a food quality presents an alternative in the choice of the related wine quality, structure of the food can often dictate which of the alternative wine qualities should be picked. So, for instance, in the case of the greasiness of a delicate seafood salad whose dressing is olive oil-based, the choice in the related wine quality should fall on a white wine with good ABV over a red wine with noticeable tannins, which would have a structure that would overwhelm the much simpler, more delicate structure of the seafood salad dish.

A few side notes on some “special situations“:

  • Very spicy (as in “hot”) food is very difficult to successfully pair: the best thing one can do is to pick a wine with plenty of smoothness and intensity in an effort to compensate, but if the food is too spicy, it will always overwhelm the wine
  • Particularly sour dishes are another challenge, such as in the case of salads with significant vinegar- or lemon-based dressings
  • Ice cream, gelato and sorbet are also tough pairings, because their cold nature makes taste buds even more susceptible to wine acidity, tannins or minerality – sometimes, the best bet is to pair them with a spirit (such as in the case of Granny Smith apple sorbet with Calvados or lemon sorbet with Vodka)

One last comment: the above guidelines are just that, guidelines that should offer you some pointers as to “which way to go” in your choices of which wines to pair with a certain food, but they are certainly not carved in stone, nor are they not meant to be breached now and then if you think there is good reason for it: ultimately, the bottom line is that whatever wine pairing you choose ends up being a pleasant one for your and your guests’ mouths!

Now have fun and experiment!  🙂

Snow Monkey Business

Japanese Snow Monkey (Macaca fuscata) in thermal pool

When I traveled to Japan on a wildlife photography trip, one of the highlights was photographing the Japanese snow monkeys.

These monkeys (which are actually macaques – Macaca fuscata) are a species that is indigenous to Japan. On Japan’s big island (Honshu), they live in two main areas, one of which is a mountainous region in the center of the island, by the town of Nagano, at an elevation of about 850 mt/2,750 ft.

There, whoever is interested in observing or photographing the snow monkeys needs to hike to Jigokudani Yaenkoen National Park (which supposedly means “Hell’s Valley”) and then to the thermal pool, which is one of the monkeys’ favorite places to congregate in winter. This is because this region of Japan gets very cold in the winter, with temperatures that drop to -15 C/5 F, and therefore the monkeys seek comfort from the warm waters coming from natural hot springs that are heated by the underground activity of the Shiga Kogen volcano.

Actually, the whole use of the thermal pool by the snow monkeys started relatively recently and marked a discovery in the monkeys’ adaptive skills. While beforehand no snow monkey had been observed in the thermal pool, in the Sixties one monkey ventured into the hot spring waters to collect seeds that had been thrown in by the Park’s keepers. The monkey evidently enjoyed not only the free meal, but also the warm water and this led to imitation by the other monkeys in its troop and eventually by virtually the entire population of that area, that took on the habit.

If you happen to travel to Japan, I wholeheartedly recommend you pay a visit to the snow monkeys, as they are very interesting (and often times downright funny) to observe, with their human-like behavior. Plus, they make for great photo subjects! The one captured in this image reminded me of Planet of the apes, as if it were crawling out of the pool thinking “I’m coming to get you!”

If you want to learn more about the Japanese snow monkeys, I suggest you start by checking this Web site out.

If you would like to see more images of mine, feel free to browse my Galleries.

As per my copyright notice, please respect my work and do not download, reproduce or use the image above without first seeking my consent. Thank you :-)

(Im)perfection

Dogwood Blossom

I just love dogwood blossoms: when they are in perfect conditions they are so beautiful and minimalist-elegant… I stumbled upon this particular blossom in Yosemite National Park and it immediately struck me, so much so that I felt I needed to stop to photograph it.

As soon as I saw it, I realized the image I would make of it would be a pretty strong metaphor. It would carry a message that beauty is fragile and transitory: the blossom appears perfect in its delicate beauty, but the twig that supports its very life is broken, like a stark premonition of the fate that is looming over the now perfect blossom. In my view, the somber mood of black & white complements well the message that this image intends to convey.

If you would like to see more images of mine, feel free to browse my Galleries.

As per my copyright notice, please respect my work and do not download, reproduce or use the image above without first seeking my consent. Thank you 🙂

Vertical Tasting of Marisa Cuomo’s Fiorduva

Marisa Cuomo, Costa d'Amalfi Furore Bianco During a recent trip to Milan, I participated in a pretty exciting (well, at least if you are into Italian wine!) event organized by the Milan chapter of the Italian Sommelier Association: a vertical tasting of six vintages of Fiorduva, the most awarded and acclaimed wine in the portfolio of coveted niche producer Marisa Cuomo.

About the Estate

Marisa Cuomo is a small winery controlling just 18 HA and producing about 109,000 bottles a year in an extreme and fascinating stretch of the Amalfi Coast in the Campania region in Southern Italy, near the towns of Furore and Ravello. Here the vines grow in narrow strips of land on the steep cliffs overlooking the Tirreno Sea, which make any kind of mechanical harvesting all but impossible. Commercially growing and harvesting vines here is an heroic challenge, with everything to be done exclusively by hand. Some of the older vines still grow horizontally instead of vertically, coming out of the stone walls that separate a strip from the one above it: this was an ancient local tradition that allowed land owners to have a vineyard and at the same time to grow vegetables in the narrow strips of land, shaded by the overhead vines. In those extreme conditions, every inch of land counts!

Marisa Cuomo, Vineyards in Winter

The team behind the winery is made up of Marisa, a strong woman who is in charge of the winemaking and bottling processes of their wines, Andrea, Marisa’s husband, who is the PR man of the winery and “Zio Luigi”, one of Marisa’s uncles who is in charge of maintaing the vineyards and harvesting the grapes.

About the Grapes and the Wine

Fiorduva is Marisa Cuomo’s flagship white wine, a blend of roughly equal proportions of three almost extinct grape varieties indigenous to the Campania region called Fenile, Ginestra and Ripoli.

Marisa and Andrea in their wine cellar

All three are white-berried grape varieties that are indigenous to and highly localized in the Amalfi Coast area in Campania. Fenile is said to derive its name from the Italian word “fieno” (hay) due to its straw yellow color. Fenile’s DNA profile is unique. It is an early ripening variety with high sugar levels. Ginestra draws its name from the homonymous Italian word which means broom, because of its dominant aroma. It is a late ripening variety with high acidity levels and with aging the wines made from these grapes may develop kerosene-like aromas similar to those that may be found in certain Riesling. Ripoli is a mid-ripening variety which is genetically close to Falanghina Flegrea and presents high sugar levels and moderate acidity (information on the grape varieties taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012).

It is noteworthy to mention that the average age of the vines devoted to the Fiorduva production is 80 years: you could certainly call them “old vines”! The appellation of Fiorduva is Costa di Amalfi DOC, subzone Furore. Among its many awards, Fiorduva has won the 5 clusters top rating in the ISA wine guide and the 3 glasses top rating in the Gambero Rosso wine guide.

Zio Luigi working in the vineyard

Our Detailed Review and Vertical Tasting

Now, let’s get down to the vertical tasting of Fiorduva: as I said, we have been offered the opportunity to taste six vintages, starting from the latest (2011) all the way back to 2006. I found Fiorduva (which I had never had before, despite being aware of all the praise it received) a very special and “seducing” wine, definitely worth investing in a bottle if you come across one. Incidentally, Fiorduva is available in the U.S. where it retails for about $50, certainly not an inexpensive buy.

Among the six vintages that I tasted, in my view by far the best, most intriguing one was 2006, the oldest in the range, which vouches for the good aging potential of Fiorduva for a white wine. The vintages 2007 to 2009 were also extremely good, with 2008 perhaps having a slight edge over the other two. Finally, 2010 was good, but would certainly benefit from at least one more year in the bottle, and 2011 was pleasant, but not entirely balanced yet, with acidity and minerality tending to overwhelm the smoothness of the wine: definitely too young to be enjoyed at its fullest.

Now, to make you understand a bit more what kind of wine to expect should you lay your hands on a bottle, below is my review of my personal favorite: Marisa CuomoCosta d’Amalfi Furore “Fiorduva” DOC 2006 ($50).

My review is based on a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting sheet (for more information, see my previous post that provides a detailed overview of it).

In the glass, the wine poured a luscious golden yellow in color, and it was thick when swirled, indicating a good structure.

On the nose, its bouquet was intense, fine and complex, with aromas of apricot, peach and banana coupled with minerals and hints of petroleum and nail polish (by the way, these last two descriptors are not to be intended as negative and do not signify any flaws in the wine, they just indicate certain peculiar aromas that can be found in the Fiorduva – hints of petroleum, for instance, can often be found in certain Rieslings).

In the mouth it was dry, with high ABV and smooth; acidic and tasty: definitely a balanced wine with a full body. There was also a good correspondence between the mouth flavors and the bouquet. It had a long finish, with the wine’s intriguing flavors lingering in your mouth for a long time. In terms of its life cycle, I would call 2006 mature, meaning that I think the wine is now at its apex and would not benefit from any additional aging.

The Bottom Line

Overall, Fiorduva is an outstanding, intriguing wine which is the heroic expression of a harsh land, human tenacity and a sample of Italy’s treasure chest of indigenous grape varieties. Certainly worth a try if you come across a bottle.

Rating: Outstanding and definitely Recommended Outstanding  – $$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

A Valentine’s Day Polar Bear Hug

Polar Bear Hug (Ursus maritimus)

As some of you know, I love bears, of any species, and I love it whenever I have the opportunity to see them up close (in a safe way, of course), observe their behavior and photograph them. They make for great photo subjects.

This image was captured on a trip to the Western shores of Hudson Bay in Manitoba (Canada) where in or around late October/early November large numbers of polar bears (Ursus maritimus) congregate after hibernation waiting for the sea water to freeze so they can venture out on the ice to try and capture one of their favorite preys: seals.

While they hang out by the shore and wait for the temperatures to drop so as to make the magic happen once again, younger polar bears often kill time play-fighting. Witnessing this “boys will be boys” kind of rough game is fascinating, and if you keep your eye in the viewfinder long enough, with some luck you may photograph them while they strike poses that can look awkward, funny, dramatic or… just shweeeet like the one in this image, which two years ago these days was published as a Valentine’s Day poster insert in the Italian magazine Focus Junior.

However, appearances are sometimes deceiving because, in the “play-fight” portrayed in this image, the bear on the right was actually biting the other bear’s ear while holding its victim steady with its strong paws. You might therefore say that this image would be more appropriate to illustrate an ear piercing ritual of sort or that infamous “if you cannot beat them, bite them” Tyson vs Holyfield moment… 😉

Happy Valentine’s Day to those of you who celebrate it!

If you would like to see more images of mine, feel free to browse my Galleries.

As per my copyright notice, please respect my work and do not download, reproduce or use the image above without first seeking my consent. Thank you :-)

Spirit Bear

Spirit (or Kermode) Bear (Ursus americanus kermodei)

This image is dedicated to gracious Sarah at diary of a house elf and Kimberly at WhiskeyTangoFoxtrot4, two friends that like to hang out at Flora’s Table and two blogs that if you are not following already, you definitely should because you don’t know what you are missing: great photography, a lot of fun and… lots of wisdom too.

The reason why this image is dedicated to them is because they both live in beautiful British Columbia which, among many great things, is also home to the Spirit Bear (AKA Kermode Bear), which is the bear depicted in this image. Spirit Bears (Ursus americanus kermodei) are rare black bears that were borne white due to a recessive gene present in the blood of both their parents, but they are not albino. Being able to see, and even more to photograph, one does not happen often and when it does, it is a real treat.

If you would like to see more images of mine, feel free to browse my Galleries.

As per my copyright notice, please respect my work and do not download, reproduce or use the image above without first seeking my consent. Thank you 🙂

Misty Tetons

Misty Tetons

I took this photograph of the Tetons at sunrise on an Autumn day that, when I got on location, did not look very promising.

I had woken up well before daybreak and I had driven to Schwabacher Landing in Grand Teton National Park so I would be there when it was still dark, I could secure a spot and I had time to set up and compose before dawn. But, when I got there the entire range of the Tetons was concealed behind a thick veil of fog which made any attempt to photograph the mountains all but useless. I considered turning the car around and driving back to the lodge to hit the sack for some more sleep, but fought the temptation, hiked to a place I had spotted the day before and set up, hoping for the best.

And as it sometimes happens, nature did cooperate and right when the first sun rays started hitting the summit of the Tetons, the top part of the fog veil dissolved, revealing the mountain peaks bathed in sweet alpenglow with a base layer of fog lingering at the bottom, which added a touch of eerie mystery.

If you would like to see more images of mine, feel free to browse my Galleries.

As per my copyright notice, please respect my work and do not download, reproduce or use the image above without first seeking my consent. Thank you 🙂

Vinitaly International/Slow Wine NYC 2013: The Full Story

Vinitaly

Vinitaly International/Slow Wine NYC 2013 was held in New York on January 28 and I have had the opportunity to attend, with the added bonus of meeting in person Anatoli, the author of the excellent wine blog Talk-A-Vino, and doing the walk around together. Anatoli is a remarkable man with a deep and broad knowledge of wines of the world and it has been a real pleasure spending a day together enjoying the fair, sampling many good Italian wines and comparing notes. If you have never visited Anatoli’s blog, please make sure to make time to check it out and explore the wealth of quality information regarding wines and spirits that he has amassed there because it is really impressive. Also, if you are interested in reading more about this event from a different angle than mine, check out Anatoli’s three-post series on it: Vinitaly and Slow Wine Tastings – Part 1, Just Some Numbers, Vinitaly and Slow Wine Tastings – Part 2, Wine Seminars and Vinitaly and Slow Wine Tastings – Part 3, Wine, And More Wine.

Slow WineSo, you may be wondering, how was it after all? Let’s cut to the chase: I very much enjoyed my visit at Vinitaly International/Slow Wine NYC 2013 and I found the event to be well organized, with one very annoying exception that is the organization of the restricted-seating seminars focusing on specific wines.

According to the organizers’ Web site, one should have pre-registered on-line for every seminar he or she would be interested in and, provided that at the time of registration there were still seats available, a ticket would be issued to show at the entrance. Both Anatoli and I followed this process and successfully registered for two seminars, obtaining the respective admission tickets. Problem is that when we showed up with our tickets at the first seminar the person at the door tried to deny us access on the theory that the event was first come first served. This happened to a number of other people who had registered online and were being denied access as well. So, we got annoyed, pointed out the evident flaw in their system and eventually were let in, but the whole organization of the seminar was a huge flop.

Having said that, let’s take a quick look at some basic information about the event itself: the exhibitors’ area was divided into two zones: the larger one had tasting stations for the 78 wineries that were part of the Slow Wine portion of the event, while a smaller area was devoted to the Vinitaly part of the event with larger tables for 40 additional wineries as well as the representatives of 11 U.S. importers who had brought with them a selection of wines from 46 wineries that they represent. In both sections of the event many flagship bottles of the various represented wineries were available for tasting, generally coupled with a “second vin” and/or an “entry-level” wine. This worked out pretty well because in many cases it illustrated the various lines made by a certain winery and oftentimes showcased the very good quality/price ratio of certain second vins or entry-level wines even compared to the top-of-the-line wine(s) from the same producer.

Among the many very good wines that we got to sample at the fair during our wine tasting “marathon” (along with a few not-so-very-good ones), these are my personal top of the crop:

(A) PIEMONTE

  • VajraBarolo Bricco delle Viole 2008: this was my favorite Barolo among those I tried at the event. Super elegant, seducing aromas of lush red fruit and spices, with silky smooth tannins despite being still pretty young, and a very long finish. Spectacular Spectacular
  • Elvio CognoBarolo Ravera 2008: my second best among the Barolo’s: very different from Vajra’s, with a nice bouquet of red fruit, floral hints and tobacco; distinct but smooth tannins and plenty of structure. Very Good Very Good
  • DamilanoBarolo Cannubi 2008: third step of my personal podium for Barolo’s – complex in the nose with red fruit, spices and hints of soil, well defined tannins which can benefit from a few more years of aging and quite long finish. Very Good Very Good

(B) LIGURIA

  • VisAmorisRiviera Ligure di Ponente Pigato Verum 2011: without a doubt the best Pigato I have ever tasted so far – it undergoes a short phase of maceration on the skins in order to maximize the extraction of the aromas, which results in an intense and seducing bouquet of apple and herbs and a good balance in the mouth between its acidity and minerality on the one hand and its smoothness on the other. Outstanding Outstanding

(C) LOMBARDIA

  • Ca’ del BoscoFranciacorta Cuvee’ Annamaria Clementi 2004: there is only one word for this Classic Method spumante – wow! Seven years on its lees for a wine that is sleek, elegant, refined, with a wonderful superfine perlage, a complex bouquet alluding to several fascinating aromas, like peach, honey, croissant, hazelnut, minerals, and a very long finish. Spectacular Spectacular – the only problem is… its price tag!
  • Ar.Pe.Pe.Valtellina Superiore Sassella Rocce Rosse Riserva 2001: together with Fay (who was not present at the event) this is one of my favorite producers of Valtellina Superiore (a varietal wine made of 100% Nebbiolo grapes, locally known as Chiavennasca), and the Rocce Rosse was outastanding, with fine aromas of cherries, spices and tobacco, very smooth tannins and good structure with a long finish. Outstanding Outstanding

(D) VENETO

  • Trabucchi D’IllasiRecioto della Valpolicella 2006: oh man, this is a truly outstanding sweet red wine made from the same base grapes of Amarone (Corvina, Corvinone and Rondinella), perfect to be paired with chocolate or chocolate-based desserts – exquisite and intense bouquet of black fruit, black berries, licorice and vanilla, with a wonderful balance between sweetness and smooth tannins and a very long, seducing finish. Spectacular Spectacular
  • Trabucchi D’IllasiAmarone della Valpolicella Cent’Anni Riserva 2004: outstanding Amarone, with a superb bouquet of red flowers, wild cherries, plum, spices and dark chocolate; in the mouth it is warm and balanced with a great smoothness complementing good acidity and noticeable but smooth tannins, and a long finish. Spectacular Spectacular
  • PieropanSoave Classico Calvarino 2010: a very good Soave made of a blend of Garganega and Trebbiano di Soave grapes which literally hits you in the nose with an exhuberant minerality and aromas of apple, citrus and white flowers; in the mouth a lively acidity and distinct minerality are balanced by a good extent of smoothness. Very Good Very Good

(E) FRIULI VENEZIA GIULIA

  • Le Vigne di Zamo’Colli Orientali del Friuli Friulano Vigne Cinquant’anni 2010: wonderful Friulano with a pleasant and intense bouquet of citrus, apple, tropical fruit and minerals. In the mouth noticeable acidity and minerality countered by good smoothness. Spectacular Spectacular

(F) TOSCANA

  • Podere Il CarnascialeCaberlot 2002: first off, a note of gratitude to fellow blogger and wine connoisseur Laissez Fare who introduced me to the fascinating world of Caberlot. Regarding our tasting, actually the good people of Il Carnasciale made available a vertical tasting of Caberlot from vintages 2009, 2008 and 2002 – all were very good, but to me 2002 was truly outstanding, which should not come as a surprise for a wine that needs aging to be at its best (incidentally, Caberlot is not only the name of the wine, but also that of the grape, a rare cross between Cabernet Franc and Merlot). The wine offered a wonderful bouquet with aromas of berries, spices, soil, tobacco and dark chocolate, silky smooth tannins in the mouth, plenty of structure and a long finish. Caberlot is only available in magnum format, in an extremely limited production and for a hefty price tag. Spectacular Spectacular

(G) UMBRIA

  • TabarriniAdarmando 2010: an excellent white wine 100% made out of Trebbiano Spoletino grapes, with a pleasant floral and fruity bouquet, with aromas of citrus and peach, good acidity and structure. Very Good Very Good
  • TabarriniSagrantino di Montefalco Campo alla Cerqua 2008: intense aromas of red flowers, ripe plums, black pepper and licorice, noticeable tannins in the mouth that will benefit from more years of aging in the bottle and plenty of structure, with a long finish. Very Good Very Good
  • Arnaldo CapraiSagrantino di Montefalco 25 Anni 2007: my personal favorite interpretation of Sagrantino, with a complex bouquet of cherries, spices, dark chocolate and tobacco and then the quintessential sensory definition of the astringent mouth feel of tannins, with plenty of tannins that are not harsh but will be smoother with a few more years of aging and a very good smoothness to counterbalance them, and a long finish. Outstanding Outstanding

(H) MARCHE

  • Marotti CampiVerdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Salmariano 2009: nice bouquet of white flowers, peach, citrus and minerals; good acidity and a quite long finish. Very Good Very Good

(I) ABRUZZO

  • Cantina FrentanaPecorino Donna Greta 2010: a very good wine made of a blend of indigenous white-berried Pecorino grapes and Chardonnay grapes, with aromas of white flowers, citrus and vanilla, lively acidity balanced by a good smoothness, and a quite long finish. Very Good Very Good

(J) BASILICATA

  • Cantine del NotaioAglianico del Vulture Il Sigillo 2008: a wonderful Aglianico del Vulture, with a complex bouquet of plum, black berries, dark chocolate and tobacco; plenty of structure in the mouth, with smooth tannins countered by good smoothness, and a long finish. Outstanding Outstanding – in my view with a couple more years in the bottle it may become spectacular.

(K) SICILIA

  • PlanetaNoto Nero d’Avola Santa Cecilia 2008: if you have been following this blog for a while you know I love this winery, and the Santa Cecilia is one of my favorite red wines in their lineup – with fine aromas of ripe red fruit, plum, wild berries, dark chocolate, licorice and soil; in the mouth smooth tannins balanced by good smoothness and plenty of structure. Outstanding Outstanding
  • PlanetaCarricante 2011: very good white wine made out of 100% indigenous Carricante grapes, with an elegant bouquet of apple, citrus, honey and minerals; good acidity and noticeable minerality in the mouth balanced out by a good extent of smoothness. Outstanding Outstanding

Finally, one last note on my favorite seminar of the event: the Nino Negri Master Class, a vertical tasting of six vintages (2009, 2007, 2004, 2002, 2001 and 1997) of Nino Negri’s flagship wine, the Sforzato della Valtellina 5 Stelle Sfursat, a 100% Nebbiolo (AKA Chiavennasca) dry red wine from the mountainous region of Valtellina in Lombardia, made after a 3-month drying process of the grapes in small crates in ventilated premises to concentrate sugar and aromas due to the evaporation of the water present in the grapes, which leads to a 30% weight loss in the berries. This results in an extraordinary wine with plenty of structure and a jaw-dropping 15 to 16 degree ABV after regular alcoholic fermentation.

To me, the best vintage among those presented in the vertical tasting was 2001, a garnet red wine with hints of orange, with a phenomenal bouquet of ripe red fruit, spirited fruit, dark chocolate, resin, minerals, graphite. In the mouth, obviously warm, with very good smoothness balanced out by silky tannins, and finished off by plenty of structure and an endless finish. Spectacular Spectacular

Phew, that’s all! Apologies for the long post, but I hope it will tempt you to try out for yourselves some of these awesome wines. If you do, let me know how you like them.

Cheers!

A Wine Review Valentine: St Michael Eppan, Alto Adige Pinot Grigio “Sanct Valentin” 2010 DOC

St Michael Eppan, Alto Adige Pinot Grigio As a valentine to my wine enthusiast readers, in this review I will share my tasting notes for a quality Italian Pinot Grigio: St Michael EppanAlto Adige Pinot Grigio “Sanct Valentin” 2010 DOC ($30). As you may know, “Sanct Valentin” is the flagship line in St Michael Eppan’s wine offering.

The Bottom Line

Overall, a very good wine and a quality product of Pinot Grigio grapes.

Rating: Very Good and Recommended Very Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grape

Let’s start with some general information about Pinot Grigio, AKA Pinot Gris, as a grape variety. Pinot Grigio is a color mutation of Pinot Noir whose origins can be traced back to the XVIII century in both Germany and France. Pinot Grigio is said to have been cultivated in Northern Italy since the XIX century. Pinot Grigio is a grey-berried grape with generally high sugar levels and moderate acidity. In Italy, for some reason, Pinot Grigio came into fashion in the late Ninenties/early two thousands, a trend that has been fueled by booming exports especially to the UK and the US of mostly inexpensive and lackluster wines made out of an overproduction of this grape variety. This phenomenon somewhat tarnished the reputation of Pinot Grigio, which was often associated with a cheap, mass-production type of wine, until in the last few years it started falling out of favor. Fortunately, some quality Italian Pinot Grigio is still made, particularly in the regions of Friuli, Alto Adige and Veneto (grape variety information taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012).

Our Detailed Review

Having said that, let’s now move on to the actual review of one of such quality wines: St Michael-Eppan‘s Alto Adige Pinot Grigio “Sanct Valentin” 2010 DOC. As you may know, “Sanct Valentin” is the flagship line in the wine offering of Alto Adige’s solid winery St Michael Eppan. The Pinot Grigio Sanct Valentin is available in the US where it retails at about $30.

The Pinot Grigio Sanct Valentin is made from grapes harvested from 15 to 20 year old vines at an elevation of about 500 mt/1,640 ft in proximity to the town of Appiano (near Bolzano). One third of the wine is fermented in new barrique (small oak) casks and two thirds in used ones, where the wine rest on its lees for 11 months, then 6 months in steel vessels.

My review is based on a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting sheet (for more information, see my post that provides a detailed overview of it).

In the glass, it poured a warm straw yellow, and it was thick when swirled, indicating good structure.

On the nose, its bouquet was intense, fine and complex, with aromas of pear, white flowers and citrus coupled with hints of butter, white pepper, flint and oaky notes.

In the mouth it was dry, warm and creamy, with pretty good acidity and noticeable minerality, which made it a balanced wine with good structure. The wine had a pleasantly long finish. In terms of its evolutionary state, it was ready, meaning that it can definitely be enjoyed now and can possibly evolve even more with one or two years of additional aging.

Happy Sanct Valentin, everybody! 😉

An Overview of the ISA Wine Tasting Protocol

StefanoOne of the key building blocks of the sommelier certification course offered by the Italian Sommelier Association (ISA) is their standardized wine tasting protocol. This is a protocol that has been devised over the years by the association with a view to uniforming wine evaluations and reviews as much as possible among ISA-member sommeliers through the use of a common procedure and a common vocabulary.

A few years ago I went through all of the three levels of the ISA sommelier certification course at the Milan chapter of ISA and I thoroughly enjoyed the great learning experience that such a course offered, so I hope that many of you will find this quick overview of the ISA wine tasting protocol an interesting read. Besides, the main reason why I want to introduce these concepts is that I intend to utilize a simplified version of this evaluation process in wine reviews that I plan on publishing in future posts on this blog.

An ISA-protocol wine tasting is divided into three main phases, as follows:

  • Visual Analysis
  • Scent Analysis
  • Taste-Scent Analysis

Each phase is divided into multiple steps, each of which needs to be addressed by the taster using the ISA standardized vocabulary and the ISA wine tasting sheet. For our purposes, we will not focus on each of the 116 wine tasting terms in the ISA vocabulary or this post would grow out of proportion, but the following overview should anyhow give you a pretty good idea of what the process entails. If you have doubts as to the meanings of certain of the wine terms used below, you may want to refer to our Wine Glossary.

(A) Visual Analysis

  1. Clarity: this is an assessment whether the wine looks clear or instead presents debris or insoluble particles (as it may happen in old wines or unfiltered wines) – standard term for red wines is “clear”, standard for still white wines is “crystal clear” and standard for quality sparkling white wines is “brilliant”
  2. Color: self-explanatory, based on codified color terms for each type of wine (e.g., for white wines: greenish yellow; straw yellow; golden yellow; amber yellow). To properly assess color, one should hold the glass tilted forward (i.e., away from you) at a 45° angle against a white backdrop and assess color by looking in the middle of oval made by the surface of the wine in the glass. After assessing color, one should focus on the top part of the rim made by the wine in the glass (where the wine is shallower) to assess whether there are any perceptible color variations or “hints“: for instance, for a structured red wine with a few years of aging, the color analysis could be “ruby red with garnet hints” or vice versa a red wine that is still fairly young could be “ruby red with purple hints”
  3. Viscosity: this step entails swirling the wine in the glass and observing how fluidly or viscously it rotates and then observing the shape of the “arches” and the velocity of the “tears” that the wine leaves on the inside of the glass – two indicators of the wine’s alcohol by volume (ABV)glycerol content and structure or body (the faster the wine to stop swirling after you stop rotating the glass and the slower the tears to fall, the more ABV/structure the wine will have). Viscosity is only assessed in still wines
  4. Effervescence: as opposed to viscosity, this is a quality that is only assessed in sparkling wines. Here the taster should assess three characteristics of the perlage of the wine: the number of bubbles (the more, the better); the grain of the bubbles (the finer, the better); and the persistence of the bubble chains in the glass (the longer they last, the better)

(B) Scent Analysis

  1. Intensity: here the taster swirls the wine in the glass once again and then smells its bouquet. This first step of this phase assesses how clearly perceptible the wine aromas are in the nose of the taster
  2. Complexity: here the taster should assess how many different aromas he or she can pick up from the wine through successive inhalations: the more perceptible scents, the more complex the bouquet of the wine
  3. Description of the Aromas: here the taster indicates what kind of aromas he/she felt (or thinks that he/she felt!) in the nose, like aromas of flowers, fruit, herbs, spices, animal, soil, tobacco, minerals, etc.
  4. Quality: this is an overall evaluation of the quality of the bouquet of the wine, based on the three previous steps

(C) Taste-Scent Analysis

This phase of the ISA wine tasting protocol requires a premise: this is (finally!) the moment when the taster gets to actually taste the wine in his/her mouth.

Before getting to evaluating its quality, the taster classifies the wine in light of its essential characteristics, which are divided into two macro-categories called “softness” and “hardness“. The former category comprises sweetness, alcohol by volume and smoothness, while the latter encompasses acidity, tannins and tastiness (see more about these terms below). This analysis is important because, depending on its outcome, the taster will later decide whether the wine is balanced or not. But let’s now get to the various steps of this phase:

(i) Softness:

  1. Sweetness: here the taster classifies the wine based on its residual sugar level: dry, off-dry, medium-dry, sweet…
  2. Alcohol: here the wine is classified based on the perception in the mouth of its ABV: a wine for which a high ABV is clearly perceptible (but not disturbing) is called “warm” because of the feeling of apparent “heat” that alcohol conveys in the mouth
  3. Smoothness: this quality of the wine is that sense of “roundness” or “silkiness” in the mouth that is generally more common to red wines than whites, although there are exceptions. It is mainly given by the glycerol levels present in the wine, as a result of the alcoholic fermentation process or the action of Bortytis Cinerea in botrytized wines

(ii) Hardness:

  1. Acidity: here the wine gets classified based on the extent of perceptible acids present in the wine. A wine with crisp acidity is called “fresh”. Good acidity levels are generally desirable in white wines and particularly so in Brut sparkling wines. One of the key indicators of a wine with good acidity is increased salivation in the mouth
  2. Tannicity: this assessment is made only for red wines, because white wines have negligible amounts of tannins (because the white winemaking process lacks the maceration phase that in the red winemaking process permits the extraction of tannins). Depending on the grape variety/ies that are used to make a wine, this will be more or less tannic
  3. Sapidity: here the taster assesses the minerality of the wine, that is the extent to which mineral compounds are clearly discernible in the mouth, in the form of a vaguely salty taste

(iii) Structure:

– Body: this is an assessment of the structure or body of the wine, which is given by its dry extract and alcohol by volume: wines with a higher dry extract and ABV are called full-bodied

(iv) Assessment:

  1. Balance: this is a very important call that the taster is required to make in light of the aforesaid classifications. Generally, a wine is deemed balanced when its “softness” and “hardness” components balance each other out, but this is not a rule that is carved in stone and there are important exceptions. For instance, when tasting a white wine, it is commonly considered desirable that its “hardness” side have an edge over its “softness” side, while the opposite is often the case for structured red wines
  2. Intensity: as in the Scent Analysis phase, this is an assessment of how clearly perceptible the flavors of the wine are in the mouth of the taster
  3. Persistence or Finish: here the taster is called to classify the wine based on how long its flavors linger in his/her mouth after having swallowed a sip of wine. The finish is deemed long if the wine flavors are still perceptible after 7-10 seconds of swallowing
  4. Quality: here the taster assesses the quality of the wine flavors that he/she felt in the mouth: a quality judgment of “fine” implies that the flavors are (or include those) typical for the grape variety/ies of the wine and are pleasant in the mouth
  5. Evolutionary State or Life Cycle: here the taster classifies the wine based on its aging potential. A wine that is classified as “ready” means that it can be pleasantly drunk today but it would benefit from a few years of additional aging in order to achieve its full potential. By contrast, a wine is deemed “mature” when it is already deemed at its top and additional aging would make its quality degrade
  6. Harmony: this is the final, overall judgment about a wine, that is defined as a coherent synthesis of the three phases of the ISA wine tasting protocol resulting in a outstanding quality level. A wine that did well but not outstanding would be deemed “not quite harmonious”.

One final word regarding the recommended type of glass to perform a wine tasting exercise: it needs to be made of clear glass (ideally, a crystal glass), it needs to have a stem (that’s how one is supposed to hold the glass, by the stem), and it needs to have a bowl that is larger at the bottom (to allow wine to deposit when the color analysis is performed and to permit smooth swirls in the assessments of fluidity and bouquet) and smaller at the top (to concentrate aromas in the nose, thus facilitating bouquet assessment).

This is all: I hope you enjoyed this overview – stay tuned for a few wine reviews to come!

Psychobubbles Part IV: Some of the Best Prosecco’s

Cheers!

There we go, at last our series of posts on Italian spumante is coming to an end, with this last installment focusing on a few recommendations for quality Italian Method spumante wines.

As we said on the second post of our series, the two most renowned Italian Method sparkling wines are Prosecco and Asti Spumante. Beside being made from different grapes (Glera for the former, Moscato Bianco for the latter), Prosecco is generally produced as a dry wine (as per the applicable specifications, it can be produced in any of the variants ranging from Brut to Demisec in terms of residual sugar), while Asti Spumante is a sweet dessert wine with over 50 gr/lt of residual sugar.

On this post, we will just concentrate on Prosecco because… I have to admit it: I am not a huge fan of Asti Spumante or sweet sparkling wines in general. Should any of our readers be interested in a couple of recommendations of quality Asti Spumante wines, feel free to leave a comment on this page and I will gladly oblige 😉

Montesel, Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore "Riva dei Fiori" Brut DOCGBefore getting to the actual recommendations, let’s just say a few words about Prosecco in general: Prosecco is made prevalently or exclusively from partly-aromatic Glera (also known as Prosecco) white-berried grapes in two Italian DOCG appellations and in one more loosely regulated inter-regional DOC appellation, as follows:

  • Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG in the Veneto region;
  • Prosecco dei Colli Asolani DOCG in the Veneto region;
  • Prosecco Spumante DOC, an appellation which stretches between the regions of Veneto and Friuli.

Prosecco is one of the main examples of a sparkling wine made according to the so-called Italian Method production process, although there are a few producers who also make some very good Classic Method Prosecco’s, such as Valdo‘s Prosecco Brut Metodo Classico Numero 10 DOCG (see, our full review of this outstanding Prosecco).

Bepin De Eto, Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut DOCGCompared to the Classic Method, the Charmat-Martinotti Method is a quicker and cheaper production process for sparkling wine, which is known to maximize primary (or varietal) aromas although it generally sacrifices the wine structure and the finest perlage. For more detailed information, please refer to our post on the Charmat-Martinotti Method.

Now, let’s move on to a few recommendations of quality Prosecco’s:

  • Adami, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut “Bosco di Gica” DOCG (95-97% Glera grapes/3-5% Chardonnay grapes, with aromas of wisteria, pear, apple, peach, Mirabelle plum and herbs);
  • Astoria, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore “Cuvée Tenuta Val de Brun” Extra Dry DOCG (100% Glera grapes, with a bouquet of white flowers, pear, apple and citrus);
  • Bepin De Eto, Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut DOCG (100% Glera grapes, with scents of rose, wisteria, apple, pear, peach, bread crust and minerals – commendable is the investment made by the owners to achieve a very good density of 4,000 vines/HA);Adami, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut "Bosco di Gica" DOCG
  • Le Colture, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze Dry DOCG (100% Glera, with a bouquet of white flowers, peach, citrus and herbs);
  • Marsuret, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore “San Boldo” Brut DOCG (100% Glera grapes, with aromas of mint, broom, elder blossoms, apple, citrus and minerals);
  • Montesel, Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore “Riva dei Fiori” Brut DOCG (100% Glera grapes, with scents of elder blossoms, wisteria, pear, apple, lime and minerals);
  • Nino Franco, Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG (100% Glera, made in the finest sub-zone of the appellation known as Cartizze and displaying fine aromas of jasmine blossoms, passion fruit, citrus, herbs and minerals);Valdo, Prosecco Brut Metodo Classico Numero 10 DOC
  • Nino Franco, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene “Grave di Stecca” Brut (100% Glera, with scents of wild flowers, almond, apricot and citrus).

Hope you have an opportunity to enjoy some of these wines and, if you do, feel free to share your opinion here.

Winevent – Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri USA Tour: February 7-15, 2013

Gambero Rosso's Tre Bicchieri USA Tour 2013

After the Vinitaly International/Slow Wine event that took place in New York on January 28 (for more information and other dates/cities, see our Winevent post on Flora’s Table), Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri World Tour will make three stops in the U.S., as follows:

  • February 7: San Francisco, CA
  • February 12: Chicago, IL
  • February 15: New York, NY

This event is open to media, trade and “Italian wine collectors” (sic) only – links to register for any of the three locations above are available on Gambero Rosso’s Web site. Tre Bicchieri USA 2013 is an event that is not to be missed for those who qualify and are into Italian wine, as the organizers will showcase a selection of only those Italian wines and producers that have been awarded the coveted top “tre bicchieri” (i.e., three glasses) recognition by reputable Gambero Rosso wine guide.

Just to give you an idea,  in an imaginary tour of Italy from North to South, the list of the wines that won the prestigious tre bicchieri includes, limiting ourselves to just one wine per region and trying to avoid the most obvious among the “usual suspects”:

  • Northern ItalyLes Crêtes‘ Chardonnay Cuvée Bois (Valle d’Aosta); Cogno‘s Barolo Vigna Elena Riserva (Piemonte); Bio Vio‘s Riviera Ligure di Ponente Vermentino Aimone (Liguria); Berlucchi‘s Franciacorta Brut Cellarius (Lombardia); Ferrari‘s Trento Extra Brut Perlé Nero (Trentino); Muri Gries‘s Alto Adige Lagrein Abtei Muri Riserva (Alto Adige); Masi‘s Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Mazzano (Veneto); Vie di Romans‘s Isonzo Sauvignon Piere (Friuli); Chiarli‘s Lambrusco di Sorbara Del Fondatore (Emilia Romagna);
  • Central ItalyFonterutoli‘s Mix 36 (Toscana); Oasi degli Angeli‘s Kurni (Marche); Caprai‘s Sagrantino di Montefalco 25 Anni (Umbria); Cataldi Madonna‘s Pecorino (Abruzzo);
  • Southern ItalyMastroberardino‘s Taurasi Radici (Campania); Basilisco‘s Aglianico del Vulture Basilisco (Basilicata); Planeta‘s Chardonnay (Sicilia); Argiolas‘s Turriga (Sardegna).

For the entire list of awarded wines, check out Gambero Rosso’s Web site.

We plan on attending the Gambero Rosso event in New York City and reporting on Clicks & Corks thereafter.

Psychobubbles Part III: Some of the Best Franciacorta and Trento Spumante’s

Cheers!

After discussing the Classic Method production process and the Charmat-Martinotti Method production process in the previous two posts, our series of posts on Italian spumante is coming to an end: today, I will pass on a few recommendations of some among the best Italian Classic Method spumante wines, at least in my view, while the next and last post will focus on recommendations specific to Charmat-Martinotti Method wines.

Before we get into the actual wines, just a few words about the best Italian appellations for Classic Method sparkling wines. In Italy there are four appellations that are exclusively reserved to the production of Méthode Champenoise wines, as follows:

  • Franciacorta DOCG, in the Lombardia region (permitted grapes: at least 50% of Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir, along with up to 50% of Pinot Blanc – minimum aging on the lees: 18 months, with the “Riserva” version requiring a minimum of 60 months);
  • Trento DOC, in the Trentino region (permitted grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and/or Pinot Meunier – minimum aging on the lees: 15 months, with the “Riserva” version requiring a minimum of 36 months);
  • Oltrepo Pavese Metodo Classico DOCG, in the Lombardia region (permitted grapes: at least 70% Pinot Noir, with the remaining maximum 30% coming from Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and/or Pinot Blanc – minimum aging on the lees: 15 months); and
  • Alta Langa DOCG, in the Piemonte region (permitted grapes: at least 90% of Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir).

Berlucchi, Franciacorta Brut '61 DOCG

Beside those four appellations that are reserved to the production of Classic Method spumante wines, several other Italian appellations permit the production of Classic Method sparkling wines among other permitted wines (a few examples being Veneto‘s Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG or Piemonte‘s Cortese di Gavi DOCG or Sardinia‘s Vermentino di Gallura DOCG).

Very broadly speaking, the best Classic Method Italian spumante wines can be found in the Franciacorta DOCG and in the Trento DOC appellations. Below are a few recommendations of very good Classic Method wines with good quality/price ratio from those two appellations that, should you come across them, you should definitely consider trying out:

(A) FRANCIACORTA DOCG

  • Berlucchi, Franciacorta Brut ’61 DOCG (85% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Noir; 18 months of aging on the lees): a solid Francicaorta with hints of citrus, pineapple and pastry.
  • Ferghettina, Franciacorta Brut DOCGBerlucchi, Cellarius Brut DOCG (80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir; 30 months of aging on the lees): this is simply delightful, one of my favorite Franciacorta ever. It is a little more expensive than the ’61, but in my view well worth the little extra for what it gives you back: freshly baked bread crust,  apple and citrus, with a mineral note, just wonderful. Unfortunately, it is not imported in the United States yet, but it sounds like the guys at Berlucchi are seriously considering whether this choice should change in the future: I sure hope it will some time soon!
  • Ferghettina, Franciacorta Brut DOCG (95% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Noir; 24 months of aging on the lees): an excellent choice for the money, with pleasant aromas of wildflowers, citrus, bread crust and peach.
  • Ferghettina, Franciacorta Pas Dosé Riserva 33 DOCG (100% Chardonnay; 72 months of aging on the lees): magnificent and more expensive, one of Ferghettina’s top of the line wines, with scents of bread crust, pastry, citrus, pineapple, hazelnut complemented by mineral and slightly toasty hints.
    Cavit, Trento Brut Altemasi Graal Riserva DOC
  • Bellavista, Cuvée Brut DOCG (80% Chardonnay, 18% Pinot Noir, 2% Pinot Blanc, 36 months of aging on the lees): very pleasant, with aromas of citrus, bread crust and peach.
  • Bellavista, Gran Cuvée Brut DOCG (72% Chardonnay, 28% Pinot Noir; 48 months of aging on the lees): wonderful albeit quite expensive wine, with a complex bouquet of wildflowers, pastry, citrus and pineapple and lingering aftertaste.
  • Ca’ del Bosco, Franciacorta Brut Cuvée Prestige DOCG (75% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Noir, 10% Pinot Blanc; 25 months of aging on the lees): very good choice with aromas of wildflowers, bread crust, peach and almond.
    Dorigati, Trento Brut Methius Riserva DOC
  • Ca’ del Bosco, Franciacorta Cuvée Annamaria Clementi DOCG (55% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Blanc, 20% Pinot Noir; 84 months of aging on the lees): okay, this is really expensive, but it is also sublime: the finest perlage along with a complex bouquet of peach, honey, almond, dried nuts and subtle mineral hints of gunflint – a delightful sin.

(B) TRENTO DOC

  • Cavit, Trento Brut Altemasi Graal Riserva DOC (70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir; 72 months of aging on the lees): quite expensive, but of excellent quality, with aromas of pineapple, citrus, bread crust coupled with a touch of incense and mineral hints.
  • Maso Martis, Trento Brut Riserva DOCDorigati, Trento Brut Methius Riserva DOC (60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir; 60 months of aging on the lees): yet another great choice, with aromas of magnolia blossoms, citrus, pineapple, bread crust, vanilla.
  • Maso Martis, Trento Brut Riserva DOC (70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay; 52 months of aging on the lees): an exquisitely refined wine, with a wide bouquet of bread crust, wildflowers, apple, citrus, banana, butter and slightly oaky due to partial aging in barrique barrels. Wonderful.
  • Ferrari, Trento Brut Perlé DOC (100% Chardonnay; 60 months of aging on the lees): an excellent wine, with aromas of magnolia blossoms, citrus, apple, melon and pastry.

That’s all for now – stock up and drink good wine!  🙂

“Tasting Chateau Margaux 16 Ways”: An Excellent Post on Dr Vino’s Blog

StefanoJust a very quick note to give heads up to our wine enthusiast readers as to an in my view excellent post that got published yesterday in Tyler Colman’s wonderful wine blog, Dr Vino.

In the post, Tyler gives a full account of a one-of-a-kind wine tasting experience he had the good fortune to attend where Paul Pontallier (the man who has been the managing director and winemaker at Chateau Margaux for the last 30 years) led selected few to taste the base wines of the various grape varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot) that will create Chateau Margaux’s 2012 Grand Vin, pre-blending, as well as samples from the Chateau’s organic, biodynamic, and conventional test vineyards and more samples illustrating the Chateau’s experimentation with, and position on, wine fining, filtration and closure (with a very interesting perspective about the debate among cork, screwcaps and synthetic closures, especially from a Premier Cru maker’s standpoint).

As you may know, Chateau Margaux is one of the five Premiers Grands Crus Classés wines that rank at the top of the 1855 classification of the best Bordeaux wines from the West Bank that was ordered by Emperor Napoleon III of France in view of the then forthcoming Second Universal Exhibition in Paris, which still stands almost unmodified as of today (the only change in the top ranking being the addition of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild in 1973 as the fifth Premier Cru).

By the way, if you are interested and want to learn more about the fascinating history behind the 1855 classification of the Grands Crus Classés of the West Bank region of Bordeaux, I suggest you check out the excellent Official Web site of the Grands Crus Classés in 1855 and download their “History of the Classification” PDF file: it is definitely worth reading!

I found the post extremely interesting, educational and enriching, and I wholeheartedly recommend that you check out the full account on Dr Vino’s blog.

Enjoy the read!

Psychobubbles Part II: An Overview of Méthode Charmat-Martinotti (or Italian Method) Spumante

Cheers!

On our previous post we started our journey into the world of Italian spumante by covering the basics, very briefly touching upon Champagne, introducing the two main processes to make a natural sparkling wine, the Champenoise or Classic Method and the Charmat-Martinotti or Italian Method, and finally going through the main steps of the Classic Method production process. So, if you missed that post, you may want to go through it first and then dive into this second chapter of the “spumante saga” 😉

On today’s post we will briefly discuss how and when the Charmat-Martinotti Method came to be, we will then point out the main differences between the production processes for the Italian Method and the Classic Method and finally we will go through the main steps of the Charmat-Martinotti Method, including its variant used in the production of Asti Spumante.

Let’s therefore start with some history. The development of the most commonly utilized alternative process to make a sparkling wine, the so-called Martinotti Method or Charmat Method or even Italian Method, took place at the end of the XIX century, precisely in 1895 when Federico Martinotti, who was in charge of the Royal Enological Station in Asti, invented a steel pressurized and refrigerated vessel known as “autoclave” that is used to make Italian Method spumante wines. This alternative process is also known as “Charmat Method” because a French engineer by the name of Eugéne Charmat adapted the design of Martinotti’s autoclave to suit industrial production of sparkling wine and rolled out the product in 1907. Considering the contributions made by both such gentlemen to devising such alternative production process, I think the proper way to identify it would be “Charmat-Martinotti Method.”

Now, let’s get a little more into the specifics of how the Italian Method differs from the Classic Method and what this means to you if you want to buy a bottle of wine made according to one versus the other of such production processes.

First of all, let’s start by saying that two of the most renown Italian Method spumante wines are:

  • Prosecco (although there are a few producers who also make very good Classic Method Prosecco’s, such as Valdo‘s Prosecco Brut Metodo Classico Numero 10 DOCG). Prosecco is made prevalently or exclusively from partly-aromatic Glera (also known as Prosecco) grapes in either one of the following two DOCG appellations of the Veneto region: Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG or Prosecco dei Colli Asolani DOCG as well as in the more loosely regulated DOC appellation Prosecco Spumante DOC, which stretches between Veneto and Friuli; and
  • Asti Spumante, which is made exclusively from aromatic Moscato Bianco grapes in Piemonte’s DOCG appellation Asti Spumante.

Generally speaking, Prosecco is made as a dry wine: according to applicable regulations, it may be produced in all variants between Brut (less than 15 gr/lt of residual sugar) and Demi-Sec (33 to 50 gr/lt of residual sugar, which would make it fairly sweet tasting), but your best bets are in the Brut, Extra Dry (12 to 20 gr/lt of residual sugar) or Dry (17 to 35 gr/lt of residual sugar) versions.

Asti Spumante, instead, is typically a sweet dessert sparkling wine, with over 50 gr/lt of residual sugar. So, do not serve Asti Spumante with appetizers – just keep it chilled until the end of your meal and pair it with a dessert.

On our previous post, we saw how two key features of the Classic Method are its in-bottle refermentation process of the base wines and then the generally long period of time spent by Classic Method wines aging on their lees before their being shipped off to wholesalers and retailers worldwide.

What makes Italian Method sparkling wines generally less expensive than Classic Method wines and different in terms of aromas and taste is mainly their different production process. For Italian Method wines, this is much shorter because refermentation of the base wine(s) takes place in a pressurized autoclave instead of in-bottle and so does their much shorter aging time on their lees. Essentially, after the production of the base wine(s), the entire refermentation, aging and bottling phases of an Italian Method spumante all take place in an isobaric, refrigerated environment inside an autoclave, which dramatically shortens production time.

In real life, what does this mean to you? Well, for starters it means that if you buy an Italian Method spumante (like Prosecco, for instance) it will feel different both in the nose and in the mouth compared to a Classic Method sparkling wine (such as a Franciacorta or a Trento). This is because, by aging often for years on their lees, Classic Method wines develop a number of intriguing secondary and tertiary aromas, such as the quite notorious bread crust or “just baked bread” aroma.

Because of the different production process and the much shorter aging time, most Italian Method wines have fewer (or less distinct) secondary and tertiary aromas, but make up for it by being generally made from aromatic grapes (as is the case for Asti Spumante, which is made from aromatic Moscato Bianco grapes) or partly-aromatic grapes (such as Glera, also known as Prosecco) and therefore emphasizing the primary or varietal aromas of the grape(s) their base wine(s) are made out of.

In other words, chances are that if you pop a bottle of Classic Method sparkling wine you will get a broader, more complex aromatic palette and mouth feels while if you pour a few glasses of a quality Italian Method spumante you will likely get a fresher, simpler wine with quite distinct flowery and fruity aromas.

Other differences between a Classic Method wine and an Italian Method one are that the former generally has a color that is warmer in hue, a finer perlage and more structure than the latter. Regarding structure, this is a bit of a generalization as it is essentially dependent on the grape varieties that are used for making the base wines, so the point holds true especially for Classic Method wines that have Pinot Noir in their cuvée (a grape variety that is known to confer structure to the wine) and, even more so, for Blanc de Noirs.

Let’s take a little detour here: on our previous post we said that the base wines of a Classic Method sparkling wine are made from all or some of the following grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (as far as Champagne is concerned), which last grape variety in Italy is generally replaced by different grapes, such as Pinot Blanc (as far as Italian Classic Method spumante is concerned). So, what we could call the “kosher” version of Champagne or Classic Method wines is made out of a cuvée produced from all three of such base grapes. However, there are two main variants from the “kosher” version, that are known as Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs.

The former is a wine made exclusively out of permitted white-berried grapes (in the case of Champagne, this means a Chardonnay-only wine), which is generally fresher, gentler and of lighter body, very suitable for instance as an appetizer or paired with delicate flavored seafood.

The latter is just the opposite, that is a wine made exclusively or prevalently out of permitted black-berried grapes (again, in the case of Champagne, this means Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier), which is generally a more structured, more complex wine that is more suitable to be served with an appropriate pasta dish or even main course.

Although we will provide a more in depth overview of what a proper wine tasting should entail in a future post, I think it is important to point out certain distinctive features that everyone with an interest in wine can have fun identifying and assessing in a sparkling wine:

  1. Color: this varies depending on the grapes used in the base wines, but it is one of the characteristics that should always be appreciated, be it a warmer straw or even golden yellow color of a well-aged Classic Method wine or a paler straw yellow, sometimes with greenish hints, of an Italian Method wine;
  2. Perlage: this is the key feature to be assessed in a sparkling wine, which oftentimes either makes or breaks the wine – what you are looking for here is the three distinct characteristics of a quality perlage: (i) fine-grained bubbles; (ii) abundant bubbles forming uninterrupted chains from the bottom of the glass to the surface; and (iii) long-lasting formation of new chains of bubbles;
  3. Bouquet: although fine-nosed wine tasters can go wild identifying the slightest hints of this or that, anyone can take pleasure in picking up the scents of a good sparkling wine and trying to identify some of the more distinct aromas, such as bread crust or yeast, apple, almond or wild berries that may be present in a Classic Method wine or the flowery, fruity notes of a Prosecco, often reminiscent of white flowers and pear or again the sweet aromas of sage and peach of an Asti Spumante.

Before we get to the description of the main steps of the Charmat-Martinotti Method, a few practical pieces of advice to maximize your sparkling wine tasting experience (by the way, these apply to any sparkling wine, regardless of its being a Classic Method or an Italian Method wine):

  • The proper glass to serve a sparkling wine (except only the sweet ones, on which see below) is a flute, not a cup: this is because the elongated and narrow shape of the flute both emphasizes perlage and concentrates the fine aromas in the nose;
  • While we are at it, much to Francesca’s dismay (she just loooves her tinted glasses), all glasses you serve wine in, regardless of it being sparkling or still, red, white or rosé, must be made of clear glass or crystal: no matter how “cute” the tint of those pretty glasses you have sitting in that special cupboard, tinted glass is a no no because it kills right away one of the most important features of a wine: its own color!
  • Ideally, your flutes should not be washed with soap, you should just use hot water instead and they should be dried using a natural fiber cloth (such as cotton or linen): this is because, in order for perlage to be at its best, those chains of bubbles need to hang on to something inside the glass, so minuscule lints of cotton or linen are just perfect to maximize your favorite spumante’s perlage, while an ultra-clean, super shiny inside of the flute is going to penalize it.
  • Finally, the proper glass to enjoy an Asti Spumante or any other sweet sparkling wine is instead a cup with a wide, shallow bowl, because its larger opening tames a little bit the generally exuberant varietal aromas, while its shallower depth is not so detrimental to the often coarser, less refined perlage of that kind of sparkling wines.

Main Steps in the Charmat-Martinotti Method Production Process:

  1. Soft pressing of the base wine grape(s)
  2. Treatments of the must (e.g., clarification and application of sulfur dioxide)
  3. Fermentation of the base wine(s) by the addition of selected yeast
  4. Where necessary, blending of the base wines
  5. Transfer of the base wine(s) into a pressurized, refrigerated autoclave with the addition of sugar and selected yeast
  6.  Refermentation in autoclave, which makes the wine bubbly because the carbon dioxide created by the yeast as a byproduct of alcoholic fermentation remains trapped inside the pressurized autoclave and dissolves into the wine
  7. Brief period of aging on the lees in autoclave (generally, just a few months)
  8. Isobaric stabilization and filtration, to remove the lees
  9. Isobaric bottling and closure

The production process of a sweet Asti Spumante is basically the same as that described above, except that Asti Spumante undergoes one single fermentation phase, directly in autoclave, where yeast activity is inhibited by dropping the autoclave temperature when the wine has reached the desired low alcohol by volume and high residual sugar levels.

That’s all for now. On the next post, we will chat about some of what we believe to be among the best Classic Method spumante wines made in Italy that are available on the market, especially for their price/quality ratios.

Cheers!

Psychobubbles Part I: An Overview of Méthode Champenoise (or Classic Method) Spumante

Cheers!

This post was originally published in Flora’s Table in anticipation of the 2012 end of the year festivities, and with those of the tradition that is common to many to pop some kind of bubbly wine to celebrate, be it a Champagne, a Crémant, an American sparkling wine, a Cava or… an Italian spumante.

But leaving veteran connoisseurs of Italian wine aside, how many have it clear on their minds what the offering of Italian spumante really is? How many know what a Franciacorta is and how it differs from Prosecco? And how about Trento? Or Oltrepo Pavese Metodo Classico? And Alta Langa? Or even Asti Spumante? If by now your head is slightly spinning it is neither you nor the wine, but it is most likely due to the fact that, in my opinion, not much has been done to explain to consumers in the first place that there is such thing as quality Italian sparkling wine and in the second place that no, it is not Champagne nor is it just Prosecco. It is so much more.

So, I will do my best to shed some light on the quite mysterious topic of Italian spumante. Since there is much to say, I will try not to bore everyone to death and therefore will break this discussion into four separate posts: today’s will focus on the basics: what is spumante and what is spumante’s traditional production process: the so-called “Classic Method”; the second post will focus on the main alternative process to produce spumante, the so-called “Italian Method”; the third post will focus on a selection of the best (in my view, of course!) Classic Method spumante; and the fourth and last post (phew…) will focus on a selection of the best Italian Method spumante (again, in my opinion). So, if you are interested and want to know more, stay tuned.

Let’s start from the very basics:

1. “Spumante” (pronounced “spoomantay”) is an Italian word which translates into sparkling wine in general.

2. Commercially, a sparkling wine may be produced either (i) through the artificial addition of carbon dioxide to a still wine (so-called “artificial process”) – this is the cheapest and least prestigious (to use a euphemism) sparkling wine production process, which we will not consider for the purpose of this article or (ii) through a second, natural fermentation of the base wine (or the fermentation of a must, as is the case for Asti Spumante) – this is known as the “natural process” and is performed by following either one of two main production methods: the Méthode Champenoise (or Classic Method) or the Méthode Charmat or Martinotti (also known as the Italian Method).

3. One cannot meaningfully speak about sparkling wines without having at least some extremely basic information about Champagne, the king of wines and the wine of kings. In this case, I will take the liberty to quote myself (see, our Wine Glossary): it is the epitome of sparkling wine, it has been around since the XVII century, when it started being served at the crowning ceremonies of the Kings of France in Reims, therefore gaining worldwide popularity and repute. It is the wine for which the Méthode Champenoise refermentation process was invented. This magical name, which is the same as the homonymous AOC appellation created in 1927 (although an area had already been defined in 1908 as “Région de la Champagne délimitée viticole”), is reserved to sparkling wine that is made exclusively from all or some of the following grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grown in the Champagne region of France.

Until well into the very end of the XIX century, the Classic Method was the only known process to produce a sparkling wine. In Italy, the first sparkling wine ever produced, which therefore coincides with the date of birth of spumante, was a Classic Method wine made in Asti (Piemonte) by famous Italian winemakers Gancia (pronounced “Gancha”) in 1865.

The development of the most commonly utilized alternative process to make a sparkling wine, the so-called Martinotti Method or Charmat Method or even Italian Method, took place at the end of the XIX century, precisely in 1895 when Federico Martinotti, who was in charge of the Royal Enological Station in Asti, invented a steel pressurized and refrigerated vessel known as “autoclave” that is used to make Italian Method spumante wines. This alternative process is also known as “Charmat Method” because a French engineer by the name of Eugéne Charmat adapted the design of Martinotti’s autoclave to suit industrial production of sparkling wine and rolled out the product in 1907. Considering the contributions made by both such gentlemen to devising such alternative production process, I think the proper way to identify it would be “Charmat-Martinotti Method.”

Very broadly and generally speaking, sparkling wines made according to the Classic Method are more expensive (due to the greater complexity and the longer duration of this production process – see below), convey more complex aromas and are more structured in the mouth compared to those sparkling wines that are made according to the Italian Method. In Italy, about 90% of the annual production of sparkling wine is made according to the Italian Method while only 10% is made according to the Classic Method.

To wrap up this post, we will now briefly go through the main steps to produce a Classic method spumante (which are essentially the same that are used to make Champagne).  One interesting difference between Champagne and Italian Classic Method wines is the grapes: if we said that Champagne can only be made from all or some of the following grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (the first being a white-berried grape variety, while the second a the third being black-berried grape varieties), the use of Pinot Meunier in the production of Italian Classic Method spumante is extremely rare and such grape variety is often replaced with Pinot Blanc (a white-berried grape). Certain Italian producers have also been experimenting making Classic Method spumante out of “unconventional” grape varieties, such as Cortese, Glera (aka Prosecco) and lately Carricante (a white-berried grape variety indigenous to Sicily), as you may recall if you read our recent post regarding Sicilian winemakers Planeta. We will talk about this more in our third post of this series.

Main Steps in the Classic Method Production Process:

  1. Soft pressing of the base wine grapes (separately for each grape variety)
  2. Treatments of the must (e.g., clarification and application of sulfur dioxide)
  3. Separate fermentation of each of the base wines by the addition of selected yeast (so-called “pied de cuve”)
  4. If appropriate, malolactic fermentation of the base wines (whereby lactic acid bacteria  convert the tart malic acid that is present in grape juice into sweeter lactic acid and carbon dioxide, thus making the wine “rounder”)
  5. Proprietary blending process of the varietal base wines to produce the so-called “cuvée” (pronounced “koovay“), that is the still wine resulting from the blend of the base wines
  6. Bottling of the cuvée, addition of the liqueur de tirage (a mix of wine, sugar and selected yeast that is used to start the in-bottle refermentation process typical of the Classic Method) and sealing of the bottle by using a crown cap known as “bouchon de tirage” to which a so-called “bidule” (see below) is attached
  7. In-bottle refermentation of the cuvée (so-called “prise de mousse”) that makes the wine bubbly because the carbon dioxide created by the yeast as a byproduct of alcoholic fermentation remains trapped inside the bottle and dissolves in the wine (roughly, every 4 gr of sugar present in the liqueur de tirage create 1 atm of additional pressure: generally, the liqueur de tirage contains 24 gr/lt of sugar, which at the end of the refermentation phase results in a 6 atm sparkling wine – however, in Crémant or Satén wines the liqueur de tirage contains less sugar thus producing a gentler pressure)
  8. Sur lie” (pronounced “soor lee”) aging phase: it is the period of time (which, depending on the applicable regulations of the producing country and relevant appellation, may range from 12 months to several years) that a Classic Method sparkling wine spends aging in the bottle on its lees (i.e., dead yeast cells) after the refermentation phase is completed
  9. Remuage: at the end of the aging phase on the lees, the bottles are placed in a pupitre (a wine rack that holds the bottles bottoms up at an angle) and are manually or mechanically rotated at regular time intervals along their axis so as to cause the lees to precipitate down the bottleneck and deposit into the bidule, that is a small receptacle attached to the inside of the crown cap of the bottle
  10. Dégorgement (or disgorgement): it is the removal process of the lees sediment after the remuage step is completed. Dégorgement was once performed manually by removing the crown cap so that the top portion of the wine (which, as a result of the remuage contains the lees sediment) would be ejected from the bottle. Nowadays it is generally a mechanical process that entails, after the remuage phase is completed, partially submerging the neck of the bottle (which is kept upside down) in an ice-cold solution (-25 C/-13 F) which freezes the portion of wine next to the crown cap and therefore also the lees sediment contained in the bidule so that the crown cap and the iced bidule containing the sediment can be easily removed
  11. Dosage: it is the phase following the dégorgement, when the liqueur d’expédition (a proprietary mix of wine and sugar) is generally added to finish off the sparkling wine restoring the desired amount of residual sugar – winemakers may decide, however, not to add any liqueur d’expédition (and therefore no additional sugar) to certain of their sparkling wines, which are known as “Dosage Zéro” or “Pas Dosé” and which as a result have extremely low residual sugar levels (around 0.5 gr/lt)
  12. Final sealing of the bottle with the typical “mushroom-shaped” cork and wire cage closure.

That’s all for now: we will continue our discussion in the next post, which will focus on the Charmat-Martinotti Method.

WineNews from Planeta Vino ;-)

I am glad to share with you a few interesting pieces of news that I have received from the guys at Planeta, one of the truly outstanding Sicilian producers who have marked the rebirth of quality winemaking in Sicily since the Nineties. Planeta has quite a differentiated offering of wines, with traditional peaks of excellence in their Sicilia IGT Chardonnay and Cometa wines (the latter being made out of 100% Fiano white-berried grapes) and very solid performers in their Noto Nero d’Avola “Santa Cecilia” DOC (on which, see our Veal Skewers – Recommended Wine Pairing post on Flora’s Table) and Syrah “Maroccoli” Sicilia IGT, to name a few.

Well, on to the news:

  1. Planeta’s latest addition to its array of wineries just became fully operational this year: it is called Feudo di Mezzo and is located on the slopes of Mount Etna (Sicily’s notoriously active volcano). This latest property complements Planeta’s four pre-existing Sicilian wineries: Ulmo in Sambuca (1995), Dispensa in Menfi and Dorilli in Vittoria (2001), Buonivini in Noto (2003).
  2. The 2012 harvest from Planeta’s Mount Etna vineyards is the first one to be processed at the new Feudo di Mezzo winery, where four of Planeta’s wines will be produced: (i) two Sicilia IGT wines, a Carricante IGT and a Nerello Mascalese IGT, from the Sciara Nuova vineyard (which features an excellent density of 5,000 to 10,000 vines/HA and lies outside of the Etna DOC area), in which Planeta’s enologists have been experimenting by adding small quantities of Riesling and Pinot Noir (respectively) to the base grapes; as well as (ii) an Etna Bianco DOC wine made from white-berried Carricante grapes and an Etna Rosso DOC wine made from black-berried Nerello Mascalese grapes.
  3. A first “pilot” batch of just 6,000 bottles of the 2010 Nerello Mascalese Sicilia IGT, the first vintage from the Sciara Nuova vineyard, has recently been released. It is made out of 100% Nerello Mascalese grapes (unlike future releases which might be blended with Pinot Noir), it has 13.5% VOL and it is supposed to have an “intense and elegant aroma” coupled with well-defined tannins: I hope I will be able to lay my hands on a bottle of it and get to try it for myself next year, when hopefully volumes will be greater.
  4. The first vintage of Planeta’s first Spumante Metodo Classico has also been recently relased: Planeta’s first attempt at a Classic Method sparkling wine is a Sicilia IGT wine made out 100% Carricante white-berried grapes from their Montelaguardia vineyard on Mount Etna, rests on its lees for 15 to 18 months and is available only in the Brut variety. It is supposed to give out fine pear, grass and mineral aromas and to be “vibrant and lean on the palate“: I would certainly be interested in giving this very peculiar wine a try, if I can get hold of a bottle.
  5. The guys at Planeta reported that the recently completed 2012 harvest had peaks of excellence in the Menfi and Sambuca vineyards, yielding amazing quality in their red wines, especially Nero d’Avola, Syrah and Cabernet Franc, which are rich and varietal with an excellent tannic structure. In the Noto and Vittoria vineyards the harvest was also memorable for Nero d’Avola, thanks to the dry and cool month of September. Planeta’s 2012 Nero d’Avola is said to exhibit structure, balance, bright colors and exuberant nose accompanied by high alcohol, which makes them “expect unique Cerasuolo and Santa Cecilia wines.” Definitely something to be looking forward to!

For more information, please refer to Planeta’s Web site or contacts.

As always, let me know if you get to try any of these wines and want to share your views on them. Cheers!

Wine Spectator’s Top 10 Wines of 2012

On November 16, 2012, venerable Wine Spectator magazine published their Top 10 Wines of 2012… according to them, of course! 🙂

In a nutshell, these are the comments I would like to share with you about their 2012 top rankings:

  • Shafer Vineyard‘s Relentless Napa Valley 2008 (a blend of Syrah and Petite Sirah grapes) is Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year 2012
  • Only 3 U.S. wines made it to the top 10 (2 from California and 1 from Oregon), down from 4 last year, although one of them was picked as Wine of the Year 2012
  • Only 1 Italian wine made it to the top 10 scoring the ninth place and 94 points (Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona‘s Brunello di Montalcino 2007 DOCG) compared to 2 last year
  • France put 4 of their wines in the top 10, up from 3 last year
  • Just like in 2011, 9 of the top wines are red and only one is white (and, just like last year, the only white wine in the top 10 is a sweet wine)
  • Syrah is present in variable percentages ranging from 100% down to 10% in all of the top 4 wines, with the Wine of the Year being a blend of Syrah and Petite Sirah (note that, despite the name, the latter is a separate grape variety from Syrah, which comes from a cross between Syrah and Peloursin vines) and in the third place there being an Australian Shiraz (100% Syrah grapes)

For more detailed information, please refer to Wine Spectator’s Website. I hope you are fortunate enough to get to enjoy one of the top 10 wines of this year!

Sulfites and Wine: an Inseparable Couple?

On October 17, 2012 I came across an interesting post that appeared yesterday on Dr. Vino (Tyler Colman’s excellent wine blog) regarding the legend “contains sulfites” that is required to be affixed to most bottles of wine that are sold in the U.S.

This gives me the opportunity to share some information regarding which sulfite disclosure requirements are in force in the European Union and more in general why wines contain sulfites.

Not unlike in the U.S., EU regulations (see, Article 51 of Commission Regulation (EC) 607/2009 and Article 6 of Directive 2000/13/EC) require that wine labels indicate a “contains sulfites” legend whenever a wine contains “sulphur dioxide and sulfites at concentrations of more than 10 mg/kg or 10 mg/liter expressed as SO2.”

Which now leads us to briefly discuss the reasons why the addition of sulfites is an oenological practice that is generally used in the winemaking process.

Technically, sulfites are chemical compounds (anions) formed by the reaction of a sulfur dioxide molecule (SO2, which is acidic) with basic oxides or an aqueous base.

Sulfur dioxide (or SO2) is a gas that is the product of the burning of sulfur and is broadly used in winemaking as one of the main treatments of must. The purpose it serves is essentially threefold:

  • It is an antiseptic agent that fights germs and inhibits undesirable microorganisms (however, its use in the fermentation phase must be controlled because, if certain limits are exceeded, it also inhibits the yeast action);
  • It is an antioxidant which helps stabilize the original color of a wine and fights oxidation, thus helping to preserve the organoleptic characteristics of a wine;
  • In the maceration phase of the red wine making process, it facilitates the dissolution of anthocyanin pigments from the grape berry skins, which are responsible for the color of red wine.

EU legislation (see, Article 3 of Commission Regulation (EC) 606/2009) sets limits to the maximum SO2 content of wines, which shall not exceed, subject to certain exceptions:

  • 150 mg/lt for red wines; and
  • 200 mg/lt for white or rosé wines.

As such two different thresholds show, generally speaking white wines contain more SO2 than red wines. This is because in the winemaking process of the former grape skins and seeds are removed right after pressing and before fermentation, while these are retained in the fermentation of red wines. This means that polyphenols (i.e., tannins and natural pigments such as anthocyanins) that are found in grape skins and seeds and that naturally act as antioxidants only get extracted in the red wine fermentation process: hence the need to use more sulphur dioxide in the white wine fermentation process to compensate for such absence.

One thing to be aware of is that, among the exceptions to the maximum SO2 limits indicated above, sweet raisin wines (including Sauternes, Barsac, Tokaji, Trockenbeerenauslese, Albana di Romagna Passito, and ice wines) are permitted to contain up to 400 mg/lt of sulfur dioxide, double the maximum amount permitted for white/rosé wines: this leniency is justified by the high sugar content of such wines, which could trigger natural re-fermentation processes were these not inhibited by SO2. So, be aware that, when you drink that kind of wines, you will likely be assuming more SO2 than with “regular” wines.

One last remark: recently certain producers and organic wine makers have started marketing “no added sulfite” wines. Regardless of how you feel about this emerging trend, one should note that this does not mean that “no added sulfite” wines do not contain sulfites: it only means that none were added to the wine. All wines, in fact, contain some extent of sulfites because these are a natural byproduct of the yeasts that are used to cause the alcoholic fermentation.

Hope you found this informative: feel free to share your opinion by leaving a comment below!

In Homage to Christopher Columbus: An Overview of the Best Wines from Liguria, Italy

NOTE: this post was originally published in Flora’s Table on October 12, 2012, hence the historical references below.

On October 12, 1492, precisely 520 years ago, Italian world-known explorer and sailor Christopher Columbus and his expedition set foot in the Americas (on the island of San Salvador in the Bahamas) in Columbus’s first voyage to the New World.

Since Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy (which, coincidentally, is also where I was born, “just” a few centuries later!) I think it makes sense that I honor the memory of that event by providing our readers a quick overview of the best wines from the Italian region of Liguria (of which Genoa is the capital).

Liguria is a narrow strip of mostly mountainous land in the Northwest of Italy facing the Ligurian Sea. Because of its geography and its relatively small size (about 2,100 sqm/5,420 km, which makes it the third smallest region in Italy), agriculture in general and viticulture in particular have traditionally been challenging for its residents – so much so that in the coastal areas of Liguria vines are grown on artificial terracing, a typical method of cultivation. Nowadays, Ligurian wine grape acreage is about 3,645 acres (1,475 HA), approximately 50% of which are part of the eight DOC appellations of Liguria, and total production of wine stands at about 2.64 million gallons (100,000 HL).

On average, quality of Ligurian wines has not been outstanding. However, over the last decade or so there has been a serious effort on the part of select producers to invest the required energy and resources to produce top quality wines and, as a result, there are now a limited number of commendable wine makers who attained excellence in at least one of their wines. Let’s take a quick look at a sample of just a few of the top wines that are part of these “best of the crop” wineries (incidentally, all of the wines in our overview earned the prestigious “5 bunches of grapes” top rating in the 2,000 Wines Guide made by the Italian Sommelier Association).

Two of the best grapes that have traditionally been grown in Liguria to make white wine are Pigato and Vermentino, the former being cultivated exclusively in Liguria and the latter being the most planted white-berried grape in such region. Vermentino originated in the Middle East, was brought to Spain and from there made its way to Italy where, among other places, it was widely planted in Liguria and Sardinia.

An outstanding winery for Pigato is VisAmoris, whose Riviera Ligure di Ponente Pigato Verum 2011 DOC is without a doubt the best Pigato I have ever tasted so far – it undergoes a short phase of maceration on the skins in order to maximize the extraction of the aromas, which results in an intense and seducing bouquet of apple and herbs and a good balance in the mouth between its acidity and minerality on the one hand and its smoothness on the other. Another producer of excellent Pigato wine is Bio Vio, whose top wine is the Riviera Ligure di Ponente Pigato “Bon in da Bon” DOC. This is a dry white varietal wine made of 100% Pigato grapes, with good acidity and pleasant scents of peach, sage, mint and minerals.

One outstanding Vermentino is the Colli di Luni Vermentino “Boboli” DOC from wine maker Giacomelli. The Boboli is a dry white wine made of 95% Vermentino and 5% Malvasia di Candia grapes, with delicate aromas of citrus, grapefruit, algae, honey and pine resin, as well as good acidity.

In the best Ligurian tradition, both the Pigato and the Vermentino are wonderful pairings for fish/seafood dishes, typical cheese focaccia or trofie or trenette pasta with pesto, potato and string beans. Also, both wines that we just recommended have a very good price/quality ratio.

Probably, the best Ligurian black-berried grape is Rossese, whose origins date back to at least the XV century, but other than that remain fairly obscure.

A very good Rossese that is certainly worth a try should you come across a bottle, is the Rossese di Dolceacqua Superiore “Poggio Pini” DOC from producer Tenuta Anfosso. This is a dry varietal red wine made of 100% Rossese grapes with fairly noticeable tannins and nice scents of rose, blackberry, strawberry jam, pepper and cinnamon. It pairs well with meats, such as lamb chops or goat dishes, and for a quality wine it is surprisingly quite affordable.

Finally, in the Ligurian appellation Cinque Terre DOC one can find one of the least known and most delicious sweet white raisin wines in Italy, the Sciacchetrà (this is pronounced something like “Shackaytra”).

One of the best Sciacchetrà you can have the delight to enjoy is the Cinque Terre Sciacchetrà Riserva DOC of the Capellini winery. This sweet, golden raisin wine is made out of 80% Bosco, 10% Vermentino and 10% Albarola white-berried grapes and gives out pleasant scents of honey, dried apricot, citrus, rosemary and dates. It can be enjoyed by itself, as a meditation wine, or coupled with a traditional Ligurian dessert, such as pandolce (the Ligurian take of panettone) or canestrelli (a kind of flower-shaped cookies). Given the very limited yield of this wine, its price is pretty steep, but if you can afford it, you will not regret paying it once you have a sip of Sciacchetrà in your mouth!

As usual, any remarks or experiences you want to share with all of us on the wines of Liguria are very welcome: just leave a comment below!

An Unusual Italian Red Wine: Tintilia del Molise DOC

What a pleasant surprise! In October 2012 I was in Milan, Italy, and went to a restaurant with a friend. While I was browsing their wine list, a very peculiar wine caught my eye: they had a bottle of Tintilia in the cellar!

Now, unless you are REALLY into Italian wine, you will most likely be like, what the heck is Tintilia? Which is a fair question as it is one of the least known wines in the vast Italian repertoire, but it also gives me the opportunity to tell you something about it – so, if you are interested, read on!

Tintilia is the name of a red grape variety that is indigenous to the small region of Molise, in Southern Italy. Tintilia is often mistakenly believed to be the pseudonym in Molise of the Sardinian “Bovale Grande” grape variety. This is a red grape which is widely grown on the island of Sardinia, Italy, and is generally used in blends. Bovale Grande is the same clone as the Spanish grape Bobal, which had been brought to Sardinia by the Spaniards at the time of their domination back in the XV century.

However, genetic testing performed at the University of Molise on 22 samples of Tintilia coming from 21 vineyards in Molise conclusively proved that Tintilia is actually a grape variety that is genetically different from Bovale Grande and is indigenous to Molise.

Because of its low productivity, many Tintilia vineyards had been abandoned and this peculiar grape variety risked falling into oblivion, until recently a select number of quality producers from Molise invested in growing Tintilia grapes and in making quality varietal wines from such grapes. Just a few of these commendable producers (with their best Tintilia wines in parentheses) are: Catabbo (Tintilia del Molise Riserva DOC), Cantine Salvatore (Tintilia del Molise Rutilia DOC) and Angelo d’Uva (Tintilia del Molise DOC, the one I got to try that night).

From an appellation viewpoint, Tintilia is one of the red grape varieties allowed for the “Molise DOC” appellation, which was created in 1998 and encompasses an area in Molise surrounding the towns of Campobasso and Isernia.

From a wine tasting perspective, Tintilia wines are generally ruby in color, have fine red fruit (mainly cherries, strawberries, raspberries) and/or black fruit (mainly plums, blackberries, blueberries) aromas and, depending on the aging choices made by the producers, they can give out pleasant spice scents, such as licorice, tobacco and pepper. In the mouth they are pleasantly fruity, with good acidity, defined tannins and a relatively long-lasting aftertaste.

Tintilia is certainly not the king of Italian red wines, but, if you pick a bottle from a quality producer, it is an enjoyable red wine at an affordable price point. Suggested pairings would essentially be meats, from veal to pork to game.

If you want to know more about Tintilia, you may want to read a very interesting and informative article on the Website of Catabbo, a very good producer of Tintilia in Molise, and an article on the genetic testing of Tintilia samples that was published in The Journal of Horticultural Science & Biotechnology.

So, that’s all folks as far as Tintilia is concerned: if you happen to come across a bottle of Tintilia, just give it a shot and let us know how you like it! And by the way, is there anybody out there who has already tried Tintilia out? If so, how did you like it?