Monthly Archives: March 2013

Clicks & Corks is Foodista’s Featured Drink Blog of the Day!


Foodista

Looks like the Easter Bunny came one day early here – something happened today that I found pretty cool and that I want to share with all of you: a couple of hours ago I received an email from an editor of Foodista – the cooking encyclopedia and food news source informing me that Clicks & Corks has been picked as Foodista’s Featured Drink Blog of the Day!

My post An Overview of the ISA Wine Pairing Criteria will be featured on the Foodista home page today (on the sidebar on the right) and will be included in their Drink Blog of the Day Archive.

I am excited and honored that this new blog has been picked by Foodista’s editors and featured on the Web site of that thriving food lovers’ community.

If you are interested, go check them out at www.foodista.com

Happy Easter everyone!

Foodista Drink Blog of the Day Badge

Portrait of a Red Fox

Red fox (Vulpes vulpes)

I like foxes: I took this photograph of a red fox (Vulpes vulpes) in Manitoba, Canada, not far from where I photographed the arctic fox that I posted about a while ago. This red fox stuck around for a little while, looking at me and my tripod with some curiosity, before moving on in search of prey in those barren, wintry grounds. I love how it really looks in its prime, with that wonderful fur and tail, in the soft, diffused light of a nice overcast day, just perfect for a portrait!

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 :-)

Black Bear Cub Climbing a Tree

Black bear (Ursus americanus) cub climbing a tree

Black bears (Ursus americanus) are proficient climbers. They use their curved claws to cling to the bark and quickly climb high into trees. Generally, they do it to escape danger (it is common behavior for cubs), to eat the nuts or fruit in the tree, or to rest or sleep at the juncture between branches and trunk. In this image, a young black bear is descending a tree after an excursion to the canopy. It is amazing to see how even little bears will climb quickly and with dexterity all the way to the top branches of tall trees and perch there for a nap, with no fear of heights.

By contrast, grizzlies have longer claws that are not as well suited for climbing, which makes them not as effective a tree climber as black bears. This does not mean, however, that grizzly bears cannot or will not climb a tree. They certainly can, they are only clumsier than black bears (given also their heavier structure) so to climb a tree they often resort to hugging the tree and pulling themselves up, using branches as if they were the steps of a ladder.

Anyway, should you experience a close encounter with a bear in the wild, follow sensible bear safety procedures and avoid climbing a tree because chances are that either species of bears will climb it at the very least as well as you can!

Some useful online resources about bears and their behavior can be found at:  

Bear Aware

Bear Country USA

Denali National Park and Preserve

National Geographic Magazine

North American Bear Center

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 :-)

A Horizontal Tasting of Eight 2008 French Pinot Noirs

In January I was in Milan and I attended another wine tasting event organized by the local chapter of the Italian Sommelier Association: whenever I can, I participate in these events because they are very well organized and the association often signs up producers or interesting personalities in the wine world, which make these gatherings entertaining and always educational.

This time the event revolved around an international grape variety and a wine that is the bread and butter of fellow wine blogger Jeff, AKA the drunken cyclist: if you know Jeff and follow his excellent and entertaining wine blog (and if you do not, I think you should) you know that I refer to Pinot Noir, a wine/grape variety of which Jeff is definitely an expert. On the contrary, I am no expert of Pinot Noir, although I like good Pinot Noirs from Burgundy, the US and Italy (Alto Adige) and I particularly like the grape variety in the context of a good Champagne or Classic Method sparkling wine such as a good Franciacorta. If Jeff reads this post, he may weigh in and share his thoughts on the subject.

Anyway, the guest of the event was Prof. Moio, an Italian agronomy professor who spent a few years in Burgundy (admittedly the “purest” region in the world for growing Pinot Noir) to research Pinot Noir and particularly its varietal (or primary) aromas and its fermentation and aging (AKA secondary and tertiary) aromas as well as their perception by the human brain from a chemical standpoint. It goes without saying that, considering the area in which it was performed, no research would ever be complete without a fair share of practical testing in the field! 😉

Jokes aside, he presented the findings of his chemical research which, leaving aside some very technical stuff, were pretty interesting. I will pass on just a few points that I found noteworthy (you will notice a few technical wine terms – if in doubt, please check out our Wine Glossary):

  • As you may know, the main part in a grape berry where primary aromas reside is the skin (hence some white wine producers nowadays make their whites undergo a short maceration phase so as to maximize the extraction of terpenes, the molecules that are mainly responsible for the varietal aromas of wine)
  • The research conducted by Prof. Moio isolated four molecules that are present in the skins of Pinot Noir grape berries and are responsible for the main varietal aromas of Pinot Noir: these molecules release scents reminiscent of cherries and red berries
  • The release of the aromatic molecules of wine (a specific type of esters is one of the main carriers of aromas) is faster in wines with lesser structure and conversely slower in more structured wines that have a greater dry extract: this is the chemical reason why Grands Crus (which tend to be more structured and therefore release aromas at a slower pace) tend to have a longer finish than generally less concentrated Appellations Communales
  • The human brain categorizes those molecules that carry one single scent (for instance, pineapple) associating them with a sort of “image” to be able to recognize that same scent on future occasions; however, when different molecules carrying different scents (for instance, pineapple and peach) are present at the same time (as is often the case in wine) then one of two things may happen: either the brain tells the two different scents apart correctly and associates them to the correct “mental images” or it combines the two scents together generating a third and different “mental image” (say, apricot) – according to Prof. Moio, this is why different people who sniff the same glass of wine may have different perceptions of its aromas.

But enough chemistry now, and let’s move on to the best part of the event, that was obviously the wine tasting part! What we did was a horizontal tasting of eight different Pinot Noirs of the 2008 vintage, all of which came from the Cote d’Or (the best area in Burgundy for growing Pinot Noir) and specifically four of them came from Cote de Nuits (the northern part of Cote d’Or) and the other four from Cote de Beaune (the southern part of Cote d’Or).

Clearly, this tasting had no scientific meaning, especially because different winemaking styles (and therefore the secondary and tertiary aromas that derive from the winemakers’ choices) influenced the final bouquets of the wines that we got to sample. However, it was a nice way to introduce us to certain producers and appellations and to show us a sample of Pinot Noirs coming from the two subzones of the best area in France (and admittedly the world) for that kind of wine.

Jumping to the, like I said, non-scientific conclusions of our tasting experience, it was apparent from the limited sample we got to try that, among the eight wines that we tasted, Pinot Noirs made in Cote de Beaune tended to retain more distinctly the varietal aromas of Pinot Noir compared to the wines made in Cote de Nuits where secondary/tertiary aromas of fur tended to be more evident and sometimes to overwhelm the delicate red berry varietal aromas. My personal ratings of the eight wines I tasted that night seem to by and large confirm that conclusion as the Cote de Beaune wines generally fared a little better than the Cote de Nuits ones.

Just for clarity, I am by no means implying that therefore Cote de Beaune Pinot Noirs are better than Cote de Nuits Pinot Noirs (where 24 out of 25 of the Grands Crus can be found): all I am saying is that, among those 8 wines that I tasted, I happened to personally like the Cote de Beaune Pinot Noirs a little better than their Cote de Nuits counterparts (although, as you will see, I liked the Gevrey-Chambertin Pinot Noir of the Cote de Nuits quite a bit).

To finish up this long post, these are my favorite wines among the eight 2008 Pinot Noirs that we tasted (along with their approximate prices in the US):

1. Volnay, Domaine Marquis d’Angerville (Cote de Beaune) ~ $70

By far the best of the eight, at least to me, with aromas of blackcurrant, red berries, cherry, and hints of tobacco and fur. In the mouth it had good structure and it was smooth and tannic, perfectly balanced and with a long finish. Outstanding Outstanding

2. Aloxe-Corton, Domaine Tollot-Beaut “Les Vercots” Premier Cru (Cote de Beaune) ~$50

Nice bouquet of blackcurrant, red berries, licorice, hints of menthol. In the mouth it had good structure and concentration and it was noticeably tannic. Very Good Very Good

3. Gevrey-Chambertin, Domaine Trapet Pere et Fils (Cote de Nuits) ~$55

Nose of blackcurrant, redcurrant, fur, soil, tobacco, violet. Tannic and balanced in the mouth. Very Good Very Good

4. Chambolle-Musigny, Domaine Bruno Clair “Les Veroilles” (Cote de Nuits) ~$90

In the nose this wine started very subdued and it took a while for it to open up nicely into a bouquet of blackcurrant, red berries, violet, slight hint of fur. In the mouth it had plenty of structure and concentration, along with tannins that still felt quite aggressive, suggesting that it would be best left aging a while longer. Good Good

5. Chassagne-Montrachet, Domaine Bruno Colin “La Maltroie” Premier Cru (Cote de Beaune) ~$75

The nose of this wine did not convince me completely, as tertiary aromas of oak and tobacco were predominant and tended to overwhelm the primary aromas of red berries. In the mouth, however, it proved to be a solid wine, smooth, tannic and with a long finish. Good Good

I will not mention the remaining three wines we tasted as honestly I was unimpressed and I would not recommend buying them.

Have you had a chance to try any of the Pinot Noirs mentioned above? If you did, what do you think about them?

Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri NYC 2013: The Top of the Crop

With some delay, I finally got to sit down and write my report about the Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri 2013 Italian wine fair that took place in New York City on February 15.

As was the case for the Vinitaly/Slow Wine NYC 2013 event, I have attended the Tre Bicchieri event with fellow wine blogger and friend Anatoli who authors the excellent Talk-A-Vino wine blog, a blog that you should definitely follow if you don’t already and are into wine. Doing the walk around with Anatoli was as usual a lot of fun and very helpful and stimulating in terms of sharing views and comparing notes about the wines we tried out. Anatoli has tons of knowledge about wine and is a pleasure to talk to and learn from. You can (and in my view you should) read Anatoli’s take of the Tre Bicchieri NYC event on his blog, where he published an excellent and very thorough post about it, complete with pictures of the fair!

Regarding the logistics of the event, the check in process was smooth and quick, thanks to the mandatory online pre-registration. The premises where the event took place (the Metropolitan Pavillion in Chelsea, NYC) were perfectly adequate for the fair which, with over 170 producers showcasing their wines, was a pretty big one. While it was helpful that the organizers provided everyone with a booklet with the names of each producer and exhibited wine and a progressive number for each, the layout of the event was unfortunately quite messy.

The wineries were not organized on a region-by-region basis, as would seem to make the most sense. Rather, they were organized by importer, which in my view is not helpful as importers may (and most of the time do) represent several different producers from completely different regions and with different styles. To make things worse, the physical layout of the tasting tables was such that, even by following the numerical progression of the booklet, from 1 to 173, whenever a row ended, it proved very difficult to understand where the next table number would be, which made our navigation of the event quite frustrating. The logistics of the Slow Wine part of the Vinitaly/Slow Wine NYC 2013 event were vastly preferable.

But let’s now get down the actual wine tasting experience. As was the case for the Vinitaly/Slow Wine NYC 2013 event, I will list below what in my view was the absolute top of the crop among the many great wines that I got to taste and, in an effort not to drive you insane, I will group them by region contrary to what the organizers did! 😉 It goes without saying that the list below is far from being complete, because (i) clearly we did not get to try out all of the 173 wines on display; (ii) certain of the wines that Anatoli and I were targeting were no longer available by the time we got to the relevant tasting table; and (iii) I made an effort to be extremely selective in my choices below in order to keep this post to a manageable length, so by all means there were many more very good wines that I tasted but did not “make the cut” to be mentioned on this post.

1. ALTO ADIGE

Abbazia di Novacella, Alto Adige Valle Isarco Sylvaner “Praepositus” 2011: an elegant bouquet of pear, apple, peach and citrus graces this pleasant and tasty medium-bodied white: Very Good Very Good

2. TRENTINO

Ferrari, Trento Extra Brut Perle’ Nero 2006: this fabulous, creamy Classic Method Blanc de Noirs is 100% Pinot Noir, ages 72 months on its lees and displays complex aromas of red berries, pineapple, citrus, toast and hazelnut: Outstanding Outstanding

Ferrari, Trento Brut “Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore” 2002: just the opposite of the previous one, this phenomenal Classic Method Blanc de Blancs is 100% Chardonnay, ages 10 years (!) on its lees and blesses the taster with complex aromas of butter, vanilla, toast, citrus, apple, pineapple… WOW: Spectacular Spectacular (the only problem is its astronomical price tag!)

3. FRIULI

La Tunella, Colli Orientali del Friuli Ribolla Gialla “RJgialla” 2011: a wonderful, super-pleasant, fresh medium-bodied white made of 100% Ribolla Gialla (a grape variety indigenous to Friuli) with an elegant bouquet of apple, Mirabelle plum, peach and white flowers: Outstanding Outstanding

Livon, Collio Friulano “Manditocai” 2010: a solid 100% Friulano (AKA Tocai) white wine with nice aromas of butter, tropical fruit, citrus and minerals: Very Good Very Good

4. PIEMONTE

Chiarlo, Barbera d’Asti Superiore “Nizza La Court” 2009: a very good, smooth Barbera with aromas of raspberry, spirited cherry and rose: Very Good Very Good

Elvio Cogno, Barolo “Vigna Elena” Riserva 2006: an excellent Barolo with a complex bouquet of violet, cherry, raspberry and licorice: Very Good Very Good but will benefit from a few extra years of aging to finish taming its tannic strength

Le Piane, Boca 2008: a great 85% Nebbiolo, 15% Vespolina full-bodied red, smooth and yet with tannic strength, offering complex aromas of berries, plum, violet, black pepper and minerals: Very Good Very Good

Baudana/Vajra, Barolo “Baudana” 2004: OMG, this was a fabulous treat “off the list”, that the very kind representative of the producer treated Anatoli and me to – it was the typical example of the reason why you want to buy a good Barolo and then forget about it for many years and eventually enjoy it in all its divine expressiveness: a complex nose of cherry, plum, blackberry and coffee complements supple tannins and plenty of structure: Spectacular Spectacular

Baudana/Vajra, Barolo “Cerretta” 2008: this younger vintage from a different “clos” presented a relatively subdued nose of licorice, leather and black pepper, while in the mouth it was smooth and had already fairly gentle tannins: Very Good Very Good but will need more years of aging to be at its top

5. LOMBARDIA

Berlucchi, Franciacorta “Cellarius” Brut 2008: with 80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir and 30 months of aging on its lees, this Classic Method sparkler is one of my favorite Franciacorta’s for its QPR, although I have to say the 2008 vintage appears more constrained compared to the excellent 2006 and 2007, but still plenty good – the only problem is that for some reason this wine is not imported in the US yet, but I will give you a tip: if you happen to travel to the US from the Milan Malpensa airport, you can buy the Cellarius in the duty free zone right after clearing the security check area: definitely worth a stop if you ask me! – Anyway, the Cellarius has elegant aromas of citrus, apple, bread crust and minerals, a lively acidity and a fine and long-lasting perlage: Very Good Very Good

Ca’ del Bosco, Franciacorta Extra Brut Rose’ Cuvee “Annamaria Clementi” 2004: WOW, if at the Vinitaly/Slow Wine NYC 2013 event Anatoli and I had already enjoyed (and let me add fallen in love with) the fabulous white version of this top of the line Classic Method sparkling wine label of the Ca’ del Bosco winery (which in Italy retails at about €80 a pop), the Tre Bicchieri event gave us the opportunity to also taste the Rose’ version of it, which moves up the price tag of this phenomenal sparkler to a whopping €140 a bottle! With 100% Pinot Noir and 7 years on its lees, this wonderful wine exhibits a complex bouquet of pastry, hazelnuts, chocolate, coffee and minerals complemented by a fresh, tasty and structured mouth feel: Spectacular Spectacular

Mamete Prevostini, Valtellina Superiore Riserva 2009: there is very good value in this 100% Chiavennasca (AKA Nebbiolo) red, with a nice nose of cherry, raspberry, coffee and cocoa, as well as already gentle tannins: Very Good Very Good

6. VENETO

Masi, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico “Mazzano” 2006: definitely not an inexpensive Amarone, but in my view Masi never lets down with an excellent top of the line label with a complex bouquet of black cherry, blackberry, vanilla, leather, licorice and chocolate as well as plenty of structure and warmth in the mouth and noticeable but supple tannins: Outstanding Outstanding

Viticoltori Speri, Amarone della Valpolicella Classico “Vigneto Monte Sant’Urbano” 2008: a very good Amarone with a decent QPR and subtle aromas of wild berries, soil and coffee; in the mouth, plenty of structure coupled with gentle but noticeable tannins and a long finish: Very Good Very Good

7. LIGURIA

Cantine Lunae, Colli di Luni Vermentino “Cavagino” 2011: a very good Vermentino that is partly fermented in barrique casks  and has pleasant aromas of apricot, peach, hazelnut and mint: Outstanding Outstanding

8. TOSCANA

Poggio di Sotto, Brunello di Montalcino 2007: a wonderful Brunello with a hefty price tag, but an elegant bouquet of red berries, plum, herbs, soil and licorice, for a wine that feels warm and with noticeable but already gentle tannins in the mouth: Spectacular Spectacular

Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Bolgheri Superiore Ornellaia 2009: a typical Bordeaux-style blend for this vintage of one of the archetypical Super Tuscans, with 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc and 5% Petit Verdot – in spite of its elegant nose of wild berries, herbs, black pepper and minerals, I think opening a bottle of so fantastic a wine so early in its life is almost a sin, as it is somewhat like driving a Ferrari only in first gear… The tannins are still young and need time to harmoniously integrate: should you spend the small fortune necessary to buy a bottle of this great wine, store it properly in your cellar and leave it there for several years before drinking it, it will pay you back big time: Outstanding Outstanding

9. MARCHE 

Fazi BattagliaVerdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico “San Sisto” Riserva 2009: an excellent Verdicchio with a complex bouquet of citrus, peach, pineapple, almond and minerals, smooth and tasty in the mouth and with a long finish: Outstanding Outstanding

10. UMBRIA

Castello della Sala“Cervaro della Sala” 2010: a blend of 90% Chardonnay and 10% Grechetto aged in barrique casks for 6 months for this excellent, smooth wine with fine aromas of citrus, pineapple, butter, honey and hazelnut: Outstanding Outstanding

Tabarrini, Sagrantino di Montefalco “Campo alla Cerqua” 2008: a wonderful Sagrantino with fine aromas of rose, violet, plum, soil, licorice and black pepper, which in the mouth is full-bodied, warm and with noticeable but supple tannins: Outstanding Outstanding

11. ABRUZZO

Torre dei Beati, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Cocciapazza” 2009: an excellent Montepulciano with aromas of cherry, wild berries, chocolate and licorice, which in the mouth is warm and has substantial but smooth tannins and plenty of structure: Very Good Very Good

12. CAMPANIA

Marisa Cuomo, Costa d’Amalfi Furore Bianco Fiorduva 2010: well, I think I have said enough about the Fiorduva in my recent wine review – with a fine bouquet of peach, apricot and Mirabelle plum, it is balanced and has a long finish, although it would benefit from one or two more years of aging before enjoying it: Outstanding Outstanding

Mastroberardino, Taurasi “Radici” 2008: a great 100% Aglianico wine with an excellent QPR and fine aromas of blackberry, blueberry, soil and black pepper; it is warm in the mouth and has abundant yet gentle tannins: Outstanding Outstanding

13. BASILICATA

Basilisco, Aglianico del Vulture “Basilisco” 2009: a fantastic Aglianico del Vulture  with a fine bouquet of cherry, herbs, soil, minerals and oaky notes, along with noticeable but gentle tannins in a full-bodied structure: Outstanding Outstanding

14. SICILIA

Cusumano, “Noa'” 2010: a blend of 40% Nero d’Avola, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot for an immediately enjoyable wine with aromas of rose, blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, graphite and cocoa, good structure and supple tannins: Very Good Very Good

Donnafugata, Contessa Entellina Rosso “Mille e Una Notte” 2008: a wonderful blend of 80% Nero d’Avola, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah that results in an inky wine with a fine nose of plum, spirited cherry, sweet tobacco and vanilla, plenty of structure and gentle tannins: Very Good Very Good

Donnafugata, Passito di Pantelleria “Ben Rye'” 2010: WOW, this 100% Zibibbo (AKA Moscato d’Alessandria) gem is one of my favorite dessert wines (I plan to post a full review of it later this year), always dependable and seducing, with a bouquet that goes beyond your wildest dreams with aromas of dried apricot, honey, herbs and saffron, plenty of acidity and tastiness to counter its sweetness in an enviable balance that will keep you sipping and sipping and sipping…: Spectacular Spectacular

Firriato, “Ribeca” 2010: a solid 100% Perricone (an indigenous black-berried variety) full-bodied red wine with fine aromas of cherries, red berries, herbs, soil and chocolate, as well as gentle tannins: Very Good Very Good

Graci, Etna Bianco “Quota 600” 2010: a fine 70% Carricante, 30% Catarratto volcanic white wine with a pleasant bouquet of apricot, herbs and minerals complementing a fresh, smooth and tasty mouth feel: Very Good Very Good

15. SARDEGNA

Cantina di Santadi, Carignano del Sulcis “Rocca Rubia” Riserva 2009: a fine 100% Carignano red wine with interesting aromas of raspberry, cocoa, graphite and fur that is warm, mineral and tannic in the mouth: Very Good Very Good

Painting with Light: Incense Cedar Tree at Night

Incense cedar tree at night in Yosemite Valley, CA

This image was taken at night in Yosemite Valley, CA, where I set up my tripod before dark, focused my wide angle lens on this gnarled incense tree in the background, set a base exposure, composed my shot paying attention that no branches of the tree intersected the top of the surrounding mountains and waited for darkness to descend. Then it was just a question of taking several shots at different times at night, with the sky taking on different hues, and sometimes experimenting with “light painting”, as in this image.

Painting with light is a hit and miss technique that may be performed in night photography situations, and that is achieved by shining a flashlight on the foreground subject, or anyway a foreground element, to accentuate it and give it some texture in the final image. There are no hard and fast rules for how long to light your subject, and the photographer is best advised to take several shots with different intensities of lighting, as there is no way of telling which one will turn out to be the most pleasant one. On those circumstances I always take a few shots in full darkness too, with the tree that is completely silhouetted against the lighter sky, because sometimes those may turn out to be the best option.

In this case, however, I think the moderate amount of “light painting” on the incense tree works to the benefit of the image as it gives kind of an eerie feel to the gnarled tree, accentuating its tortured limbs that stretch out in all directions and one of which points to Yosemite Falls.

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 :-)

Bugling Elk

CANADA, Jasper National Park - Bugling elk (Cervus elaphus)

The image above shows a bugling elk in Jasper National Park, Canada, with traces of fresh wounds that it probably suffered in a fight with another bull.

During the mating season in the Fall, bull elk (Cervus elaphus) are used to bugling, that is sending out long, high-pitched rutting calls that can be heard for miles to attract cows or threaten other bulls. Bugling is often associated with the opening of the elk’s preorbital gland to release a scent that should further attract cows.

At that time of the year (September/October), bulls are nervous and aggressive, and this often reflects in their behavior, such as when they stick the tips of their antlers into the ground to dig holes, spray urine or even engage in battles with other bulls over cows or to establish dominance.

Especially during mating season, it is important to be cautious approaching elk because getting too close may (and often will) result in becoming victims of an elk charge or even worse being gored by elk. Photographers and wildlife enthusiasts should not invade the animal’s comfort zone and be watchful for body signs that may signal stress in the animal and the risk of an imminent attack, such as stomping the hooves on the ground, lowering the ears, strutting, etc.

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 :-)

Pan Blur Technique and Barren-Ground Caribou

Pan blur of barren-ground caribou (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus)

Before getting to the point of this post, let me just quickly say thank you to all of you who have been reading and following Clicks & Corks so far: this new blog was officially launched on February 10 and less than a month later it has had over 1,000 views, 210 comments and 71 followers. Your support and your active contributions to C&C are nothing short of exceptional and they are a phenomenal reward to the effort that goes into trying to publish quality content that hopefully many of you may find interesting and worth reading or viewing. Once again, thank you.

But let’s move on to today’s subject: pan blurs. Pan blurs are fun to do and sometimes they may offer a solution when freezing an action shot either is not an option or would not yield an interesting enough visual result (as would have been the case with the running barren-ground caribou cow and calves (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus) that are portrayed in the image above).

Successful pan blurs convey a sense of motion in a painterly, sort of impressionistic way, as if the “light painter” behind the lens (all photographers are essentially painters who rely on the qualities of light instead of paint and paintbrushes!) had chosen a quick, thick and essential brushstroke style.

The situations in which I find myself using the pan blur technique the most are those when my subject is in motion and either light levels are so low that attaining a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the action would be impossible or impractical (as is often the case when photographing at the fringes of the day in the outdoors or in dark indoor contexts, such as a poorly lit gym or ice rink) or the subject and the context the subject is in are not interesting enough to be captured in a crisp, detailed shot that freezes the action. In these instances, instead of not taking any shot at all, I switch to pan blur gear and see what I come up with. A desire to convey a strong, visual sense of speed when photographing a fast living thing or object in motion may be another very good reason to resort to a pan blur.

Should you be wondering how to make a pan blur, just follow these steps:

  • Stick a telephoto lens on your camera;
  • Set your exposure using the M or S modes and pick a fairly slow shutter speed (how slow depends on how fast your subject is and how “streaky” you want your background to be, but somewhere between 1/8 and 1/60 sec should get you in the ballpark most of the times);
  • Set your AF system to an active tracking mode;
  • Position yourself such that your moving subject will be in front of you and its trajectory will run from one side to the other (left to right or right to left);
  • Stand still and, by rotating your torso/arms, aim your camera to the side your subject is supposed to come from;
  • As soon as your subject is in sight, lock focus on it and start tracking it by panning your camera in a fluid motion in sync with your subject and keeping it in the frame;
  • When your subject is by and large in front of you, without stopping your fluid panning motion, trip the shutter to expose one or more frames;
  • Keep tracking your subject for a few more moments just to make sure not to interrupt your panning when the shutter is still open.

The whole point of this technique is to blur the background and the moving parts of your subject (e.g., the limbs of a living thing, the wheels of a vehicle…) while retaining some key part of your subject relatively in focus (such as the head of a living thing or some distinctive feature in a vehicle).

Variants of this technique include the use of a flash set to rear curtain sync, which accentuates the sharpness of the subject while retaining the streaky background, or extreme pan blurs. Extreme pan blurs call for even slower shutter speeds so that not only the background but also the subject is blurred, although to some lesser extent than the background: when successfully performed, these shots may yield even more artistic, painterly abstract results, which can be equally rewarding.

Pan blurs are kind of hit and miss by definition, especially with fast moving subjects, so be prepared to take several practice shots to master this technique before using it in any important situation.

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 :-)

Wine Review: Oasi degli Angeli, “Kurni” Marche Rosso IGT 2008

Oasi degli Angeli, "Kurni" Marche Rosso IGTA few nights ago, I was in Milan (Italy) and I went to dinner with a friend of mine to an excellent restaurant that I will review in a future post.

Beside eating wonderfully, my friend and I decided to treat ourselves to a very special Italian red wine that I had noticed on the wine list, had never had before but had heard and read excellent things about: the fabled, divisive, extremely rare to find Oasi degli Angeli, “Kurni” Marche Rosso IGT ($100) from the Marche region.

The Bottom Line

Overall, the Kurni is a great wine and a very special one, one which in my view does not leave whoever is fortunate enough to get to taste it indifferent: it is a wine that forces you to pick a side, either you like its style or you do not. Personally, I liked it a lot, I am glad I got to enjoy it and I found it a pleasure to drink, worth seeking out if you come across it and want to treat yourself to something really special.

Rating: Spectacular and Special Spectacular – $$$$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Estate

A few words about Kurni and the vineyards it comes from: it is a wine made of 100% Montepulciano grapes harvested from about 10 hectares only of Montepulciano grapevines trained as free-standing plants (according to the bush vine training or “alberello” style) with an average age of 65 years and an astounding density of up to 22,000 vines/HA(!) which allow an annual production of just about 6,000 bottles. The Kurni ages for 20 months in new oak barrique barrels.

About the Grape

Before we continue, let’s focus for a moment on the Montepulciano grape variety. First off, let’s dispel a possible source of confusion: although the name refers to the Montepulciano area near Siena (Tuscany), the Montepulciano grape variety is an Italian indigenous variety that originates from the Abruzzo region.  Consequently, it is important NOT to confuse Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG (which is a Tuscan appellation whose wines must be made of 70% or more Sangiovese grapes) with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC or Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG (which are two appellations from Abruzzo whose wines are required to be made out of at least, respectively, 85% or 90% Montepulciano grapes).

Montepulciano is a grape variety that is widely planted across central Italy (about 30,000 HA), especially in the regions of Abruzzo, Marche and Molise. Beside Italy, it is also grown in California, Australia and New Zealand. It is a grape variety that results in deeply colored wines with robust tannins, that are often used in blends. On account of the wide diffusion of Montepulciano grapes, the quality levels of the wines made out of them varies considerably – hence, caveat emptor: you need to know which producers to trust and buy from. (Note: information on the grape variety taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012)

Our Detailed Review

But let’s get back to the wine that we are going to review in this post. Retailing in the US at about $100 a pop, the Kurni is by no means an inexpensive wine, nor is it an easy to find one, but let me say it up front in my view it is one that is worth the investment if you come across it and have the inclination to “invest” that kind of money in a bottle of wine. But let’s get down to it using a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher.

First off, the bottle of Kurni we had was a 2008 vintage with a whopping 15% VOL ABV, so it is no wine for the faint of heart. 😉

In the glass, the wine was ruby red and (as you may expect) thick.

The nose was intense and fine, with complex aromas of ripe cherries, raspberries, plums, roses, vanilla, sweet tobacco, licorice and cocoa.

In the mouth the wine is between dry and medium-dry (see more on this below), definitely warm and super silky smooth; fresh, with tame but very present tannins and quite tasty. The wine is full-bodied and balanced (although certainly leaning toward the “softness” side), intense in the mouth (you truly have to taste it to believe this: its concentration is incredible, it is just like an explosion of ripe, sweet red fruits and cherry jam in your mouth!), fine with corresponding mouth flavors and a long finish; its evolutionary state is ready (which means that you can certainly drink it now, but it will get even better with a few more years under the belt – if you can wait!)

As a side note to the tasting, I think it is important to underscore that a notable characteristic of a relatively young vintage of this wine (such as 2008) is the discernible mouth feel of latent sweetness of the Kurni, which (as indicated in the tasting notes) places it somewhere in between a dry a semi-dry wine. In the Italian wine aficionado world, there have been endless discussions as to whether this latent sweetness is due to fairly high residual sugar levels or instead the significant extent of smoothness and explosive fruit flavors of the wine.

In an interview, Kurni’s enologist defined his wine as a dry wine, therefore supporting the latter of the above two theories. Also, vertical tastings of several vintages of Kurni have reportedly confirmed this interpretation in that older vintages would taste drier than younger vintages (which would not be possible if the wine’s latent sweetness were due to higher residual sugars). Having said that, I think it would be helpful if Oasi degli Angeli made the official residual sugar level of the Kurni publicly available (I have not been able to find this information anywhere online), as this could put an end to the debate.

Oh and by the way: should you not trust my opinion – would you? really? 😉 the Kurni 2008 was awarded the top rating by both the ISA Duemila Vini wine guide (5 bunches) and the Gambero Rosso wine guide (3 glasses).

If you have had a bottle of Kurni before, let me know which side you are on! 🙂

The Sky on Fire

The Sky on Fire

After one day of shooting in Yellowstone National Park, I was heading back to the car when I noticed that some nice sunset color was starting peeking out from a rip in the thick cloak of dark clouds that had been lingering for the entire afternoon.

I quickly looked for a nice way to frame that sunset just in case things were about to get even better when the sun would be lower in the sky. I knew I had to act quickly because there would likely be only a very limited time window to photograph it and I needed to set up my camera and tripod and then expose, focus and compose my image. Fortunately, there was no shortage of trees where I was, so I decided to go tight to  really accentuate the color in the sky while silhouetting the trees: hopefully this would create  a nice framing for the main subject of my image (the warm sunset hues) and a pleasing color contrast between that and the blackness of the trees and the ominous clouds above.

A few minutes later magic did happen and the sliver of sky that was unobstructed by the darkest clouds suddenly became painted in incredibly intense reds and yellows, as if the sky had caught on fire. It only lasted maybe a minute or two, but fortunately enough to take a few frames of that raw beauty.

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 :-)

Environmental Portraits and Arctic Fox

Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) in its environment

Up until a while ago, the dominating trend in wildlife photography was shooting tight, delivering images that showed the animal up close, whether they were portraits or action shots. While tight shots are by all means still relevant and utilized by photo editors, a more recent trend has been that of the so-called environmental portraits, that is photographs that show the animal not in isolation but in the broader context of the ecosystem it is a part of.

There certainly is merit in this trend, in that through such images viewers take in much more about the animal than they could from a tight shot. Viewers have a better and more visual idea of the conditions and the geography the animal lives in: in other words, they get a more complete story about the subject.

The above image of an arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) in the barren lands in proximity to the shores of the Hudson Bay (Canada) exemplifies the notion of an environmental shot. I will post in the future closer images of the same species that show the animal’s body features from up close (if you are interested, you can view a selection of them right away on my Web site), but this photograph immediately tells you what animal we are talking about as well as something about the environment it lives in and its camouflage ability.

So, if you are pulling together your wildlife photography portfolio, it is a good idea to include both tight shots and environmental portraits, so as to add some variety and tell a more compelling story about your subjects.

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 :-)