Tuesday, 20 December 2011

A biodynamic Burgundy Domaine

I have been really lucky in my life, having the chance to taste extraordinary wines, especially French.
The wines of Domaine Leflaive are on this list. But it was a while since I had tasted something (maybe due to the recession) from this multi-awarded historical producer of amazing Burgundy whites.
This is why my heart was filled of surprise and excitement when a very good friend of mine kindly decided to open for me a bottle of Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Le Clavaillon 2004. And that's why I decided to share this moment and a bit of information on the Domaine.

The wines are now produced by the third generation of the family. The business is managed by Anne-Claude, grand-daughter of Joseph, the man who decided to focus on the family vineyards, buy more hectares and replant the vines in the 20s. The winery has then converted to biodynamics since 1997 showing the world that even such big names can produce such big wines working in the most natural way. 2004 is a very important vintage from this point of view as it was a wet and cold season whit high risk of powdery mildew (oidium). But the Leflaive biodynamically cultivated vines were strong and the grapes healthy and the result is a nectar that will age very well.

The wine is a great example of extremely firm and elegant Chardonnay, with a good complexity of developing leesy aromas, toasted nuts and smokey notes. It has a clean, full and creamy structure balanced by a vibrant acidity and a mineral character. It is a great wine, even though I found it was not totally expressing itself: lacking a bit on the fruity side and not as long on the finish as I would have expected.

Then after browsing a bit on the net, I realised that I tasted it on a root day ....bad day to taste a wine especially a biodynamic one! But, hey...I don't have a second bottle...if you do, please let me know!!

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Damaschito 2007: elegance and personality.

 You will probably remember that I have already written about the wines from the Grifalco winery (Gricos, Grifalco and Bosco del Vulture) and already highlighted that the top line of production (Damaschito) will have needed a section on its own.

When I first tasted this wine, I suddenly thought that its name was a smart allusion to its silky tannins…Damaschito, as it was coming from Damascus, the ancient Syrian city whose silk it’s so prestigious.
It could have been, but most simply the name of this wine actually comes from the little town of Basilicata where the vineyard is based: Maschito at the base of the Vulture extinct volcano (Da Maschito: translation from Maschito).

Vines are over 40 years old at a height of around 500m. The soil is mainly clay, characterised by high concentration of skeleton deposits. These factors can be recognised in the wine distinctive aspects: a deep complexity of flavours, a good minerality and a lively acidity.

The nose is rich, elegant and extremely charming. Wild forest berries and notes of violet. Perfectly integrated hints of oak and subtle earthy notes.
In the mouth the wine is vigorous and self-confident with developing tannins, softened by the barrel ageing, and a firm structure. Acidity and fruity flavours are strongly present and perfectly orchestrated.
The finish is long and satisfying showing notes of liquorice and cocoa.
The wine fully shows the potential of the Aglianico grape, its stunning expressity and its aptitude for a quite long ageing (I guess around 10 years for this vintage).

Its full body will certainly appreciate some good and textured meaty dish, but in few years, with more mature tannins I am sure it will be extraordinary even by itself (or with a good book!).

Last but not least: for less than £15, it is a fantastic value for money.


Saturday, 3 December 2011

Peeping wine: How to read a label

I know. I had said that this wine-investigative column should have been weekly, but as you certainly realised it is definitely going to be monthly!Well, you have waited enough...here we go!

When buying a bottle of wine, unless it is something we already know, our choice will normally be based mainly on our knowledge,on the shop assistant's advices or on the wine label.
But understanding the labels can be a struggle especially when you are in front of old world wines with their categories and appellations.
This post would like to help you in having a deeper understanding of the information we can get from the label.

Let's start with the information that are universally used.
On a wine label (no matter where is it from) you will always find name and address of the producer and bottler (if different), country of origin, bottle volume and alcohol content. Sometimes you can find a fantasy name given by the producer to the wine.
Vintage is optional only in case of bulk wine (the lesser category) from Europe.
Also we will often find the note "contains sulphites". This is compulsory in most countries when the wine contains more than 10 mg/l of Suplhur Dioxide (and unfortunately this can happen quite easily as the compound is regularly used as antibiotic and antioxidant during fermentation and bottling).

For sure,the easiest-reading labels are the New World ones that displays country and region of origin and grape variety (that in most cases will be present and least in an amount of 85% -75% for USA- of the wine) or blend.
They are straight forward. So when you are buying a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, there will be no space for doubts. An easy and clear label will tell you what you are buying and will be drinking.

Things get more difficult when choosing an Old World wine.
The reason being that even if there is an European common wine qualification, there are also, for each country, different classifications and most of the times on the label you don't find the grape varieties but the name of the appellation.
In terms of legal qualification in Italy we have: Vino da Tavola, IGT, DOC and DOCG being the latter the upper classification.
Vin de table, Vin de Pais, Vin delimite' de qualite' superieure and AOC in France (even though things are changing next year). France ha also sub-qualification systems that may even vary from region to region. Plus classification names are different again in Spain, Portugal and other European countries.
And this is not the only confusing factor.

 The main difficulty for a simple consumer is actually how to recognise a wine without knowing all the appellations names. Most of you will have heard about Chablis, Sancerre, Barolo, Rioja and Chianti, but how many do really know their grapes names? Unfortunately there is no solution to this especially for French wines. Their labels, in most cases, will not tell you which grape they are made of: you have to know them.
For Spanish and Italian is a bit different as very often you will find these information on the back label.

More confusion can come up when you read on the labels things like Classico, Riserva or Crianza.
These are legal definitions regarding the ageing process or the area of origin, not necessarily something connected with the quality of the wine.

In fine wines you can as well find names of the single vineyards or Crus (for the French); this means that the grapes are all coming from a specifically named and legally recognised vineyard.
Also sometimes you can find written on the label "old vines or vielles vignes" that should indicate that the grapes are coming from old vine plants, that normally are less vigorous and productive but can produce fruits with deeper and more complex flavours. Unfortunately there is no legal definition of the minimum age of the vine necessary to call them old, so this is a tricky definition.

Finally do never forget about checking the bottling information.
When the wine has been estate bottled it means that the producer has followed the whole process, from the vineyard until the moment the cork has closed the bottle and this is certainly the guarantee of a wine representing the winemaker's philosophy and normally also of a smaller size of the winery.
When the label says "bottled by..." it is because that company has bought the grapes from one or more grape growers and then just processed them. Not necessarily it has to be a bad thing, but I always tend to go for the first option.

As you can see reading a wine label can be as difficult as trying to understand hieroglyphics (and actually that could be easier sometimes). Sometimes even knowledgeable people can struggle with it.
So it is important to have a good memory of what we have drunk in the past and what we have read (maybe as well here!) and if this is not enough...well then ask the shop assistant!!

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Wine tambourine man

Some winemakers can only make wine.
Some of them can also tell stories and involve you in their passion and life. Charles Melton is one of the latter.
He is an handsome man with a cool and friendly expression, gaucho boots and a charming spontaneous smile. He truly believes in the historic value of Australian vines and wines and he is more than proud when he loudly talks about the experience of Australian producers.

Charlie is one of the most prestigious and well known producers in the Barossa Valley where he started his own activity in the '80s after long experiences in other parts of Australia and Europe. His small winery in Tanunda has the atmosphere of a family run farm. And this is exactly what it is.
Charlie and his wife Virginia, have 50 acres of vineyards and buy more grapes from neighbours growers. The same growers that he has supported when the trend in Barossa was to pull out the old vines of Shiraz, Grenache and Mourvedre ("the great vine-pull scheme" promoted by the Australian Government). He convinced them to keep those varieties for the importance of the viticultural tradition of this area. (Not so many know that some of these vineyards are among the oldest in the world -140/160 years old).
 At the time he was able to recognise the value and the potential of these varieties and the level of quality, concentrated flavours and deep complexity that only old vineyards can give especially when the people who's working in them have a long family tradition of wine making and know how to deal with the vines.

This is one of the reason why he is so proud of his work and of the Barossa Valley. And this is why he tries to promote the introduction of the a Barossa Valley qualification, form a legal point of view but even more because he truly believes in the sense of place that these wines recall.

That character of the Barossa Valley that you will find drinking for example the Nine Popes.
And this is a funny story. The name of this wine was chosen to celebrate the Chateauneuf du Pape after his experience in the Rhone Valley. Unfortunately the time spent in France was not enough to improve his French skills and he translated the "neuf" in nine instead that new!!
But the loss in translation is the only thing that this wine is lacking, being a great example of a juicy blend of  Grenache, Mouverdre and Shiraz that will wrap you up with its dark, deep fruit and plush spices.

Another story? He is still producing a Rose of Virginia because he is still married to the woman that gives the name to the wine. Not only for this reason to be honest but also because this is recognised as one of the best Rose of Australia, with its impressive pink the good crispness and delicate raspberry's aromas.

And to finish with a classic style Barossa Shiraz the Grains of Paradise. No anecdotes on this, as far as I know, but a full, luscious and intense wine. Mouth filling and rich. Deep aromas of red fruits, spices and violet. A wine that will surprisingly evolve in the cellar and that expresses at its best Charlie's interpretation of an Aussie classic.

No more comments or descriptions from me.
After tasting his wines, if you have the chance go and visit his cellar and let him tell you his stories!!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Nebbiolo: the bastard grape!

When you have the chance to follow a Masterclass on Nebbiolo with David Gleave (MW and huge expert on Italian wines)  you don't want to miss it.
And when the wines to be tasted are big Barolos from producers of great tradition and prestige, you don't want to spit.

Nebbiolo is a high maintenance grape: no doubts about it.
It's the first variety to bud but the last to be picked. It needs the right sites; it needs south facing slopes. It has to be produced in low yields otherwise the wine will result diluted and the tannins will not be ripe and soften enough. It needs to be treated the right way. It needs people that know how to handle it: how to make a great wine from a difficult and sometimes austere and unfriendly grape.
Finally in the right hands, in the right place (mainly Piemonte - even if it can be cultivated as well in other parts of the world) it will reward you with unforgettable wines such as Barbaresco and Barolo or the less famous appellations of Ghemme and Gattinara.

Nebbiolo has normally a quite light color and it can be strongly aromatic. When young it often has fresh red fruit and flowery intense flavors such as raspberry, cherries, plums, violets and rose petals. With the aging it develops tertiary aromas of leather and tobacco.
It is normally characterized by a lively, vibrant acidity, often balanced by intense fruitiness and a good body depending as well on the wine production and on its age.
But nothing will impress you more than its tannins. They can be harsh and almost unbearable. Young and explosive but under control or they can be extremely subtle and velvety. Once again this will depend mainly by the winemaker's touch and the cares that he (or she) gives to the vineyard.

Love it or hate it but Nebbiolo is a grape that gives wines with strong personality.
Wines that need their time to be waited and their occasions and company to be tasted.
For sure food is probably the best companion, but try it with a book: I am sure it won't disappoint you.

Personal pick of the night was the Vajra Bricco delle Viole 06 a deep, full on, vigorous Barolo with intense and ripe forest fruit aromas and a perfectly integrated smokey hint from the oak aging. Extraordinarily elegant, you would struggle to keep in the cellar!

Thanks to David Gleave and Liberty Wines for the inspirational masterclass and the outstanding wines tasted (Massolino, Conterno, Vajra, S.C.Pannell)

Monday, 7 November 2011

Italian grand-ma memories...

Being Italian when I was a child I used to spend most of my Sundays with my grandparents. Often  I was sitting in the kitchen and staring at my grand-ma preparing home made lasagne, fettuccine or gnocchi.
With those memories in my mind my personal amateur chef (once again Italian) and I decided to challenge our cuisine skills and to make gnocchi at home trying to remember our grandmothers’ moves.

To be honest the preparation is quite simple but it takes long and it is extremely tiring.

It is important to choose the right kind of potatoes. Go for the best for boiling or mash, it will give you a smooth texture; we chose Desiree.
We boiled the potatoes (2 Kg) and mashed them.

Then we mixed the potatoes with flour (500 grams), eggs (2), a little piece of butter and a pinch of salt.

 Be careful with flour, a bit too much and your gnocchi will be hard, not enough and they will break in the water.

We gently worked the mixture, then divided it in 8 parts and with each portion we prepared the little gnocchi.

 We left them resting on the table for a while and then divided them in groups, the ones to be frozen and the ones to be eaten on the day – we prepared 2Kg of gnocchi, probably the same amount that our grandmas would have prepared for a big family reunion!!!

Once you finish you will need to choose a dressing. We decided to go for quail sauce, prepared cooking the whole quails with wine, chicken stock, rosemary, thyme, garlic and onion, a spoon of flour.
Our final decision had to be the matching wine…and I chose a Rosso di Montalcino (Palazzo Comunale Cantina di Montalcino '07) a lower level of appellation than the Brunello, less deep or intense but still powerful and strongly fruity flavoured, with an lively acidity and a good structure.

Great satisfaction at dinner time.
Gnocchi were rich smooth and tasty and the sauce was great. Not sure if we have to thank our Italian genes or all that patient attention given to our grandmothers when we were children but the result was absolutely exquisite!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Picks from the Gang

I have always thought that London is the capital of wine business. Not only because it is one of the best place to have a wide choice of wines coming from all over the world but also because the calendar is every year busier with wine events especially consumers oriented. The Wine Gang Christmas Fair was the most recent one. Not only wine merchants but big retailers suck as Waitrose, Marks and Spencer & Sainsbury's were present with a selection of hot buys!
I have been there walking around the tables for a while, looking at people and quite randomly tasting wines. I say quite randomly as I have actually focused my search on the big retailers just looking for good buys
And here is what I've found...in good and bad...

Cave de Lugny Macon Villages 2010 Waitrose £6.99
An extraordinaire value for money for this fair Burgundy Chardonnay with simple ad fresh apple and citrusy flavours. Light in body and relatively short in its finish but with a good acidity it can be a very pleasant aperitif or a gentle company with a delicate fish.

Moonvine Biodynamic Shiraz/Cabernet/Merlot 2009 McLaren Vale Australia Waitrose £9.99
Deep colour for this rich, strong wine that is all red fruits,plums and spices at the nose. I found its acidity was overpowering the fruits in the mouth. Probably too young or just in need of some food to balance it and keep it quiet!

Falanghina Guardiolo 2010, Campania Italy The Wine Society £6.95
Very good example of Falanghina for a great price. Fresh, mineral with aromas of flowers and citrus fruits. Quite light with a medium long finish. Great as aperitif , you would love with seafood.

Chateau Argadens 2010, Bordeaux Blanc, France The Wine Society £8.95
Predominant green flavours of Sauvignon Blanc and a gentle (luckily) touch of oak. Warm and rounded in the mouth.  Not extremely remarkable.

Barbera d'Alba 2008 Bruno Giacosa, Italy Armit £21.67
Elegant Barbera characterised by herbal notes and intense cherries flavours. All freshness and lively acidity in the mouth. Price probably affected by the producer's name but if you can afford it you won't regret it. Can be chilled.

La Metropole Blanc 2010, Languedoc ad Roussillon, France The Co-operative £6.99
Easy wine with a nice mix of sweet exotic fruit (mango, melon mainly) and pear, lively acidity and a balanced richness. No complexity, but it doesn't need it to be so pleasant for this price.

Chateau de L'Etang 2008, Bordeaux France The Co-operative £8.99
Soft tannins and lively acidity. Blackcurrant and dark cherries. This wine needs food company.

Heartland Dolcetto Lagrein 2009, Limestone Coast Australia, Great Western Wine £11.95
Weird meeting of a Piedmont indigenous grape with one from Trentino...in Australia. Red intense fruit, fresh at the nose, jammy in the mouth. Lively acidity. Light tannins, warm.....you may like it, I am still not sure!

Blanc de Noirs Champagne NV Sainsbury's £17.69
Fairly priced Champagne from Pinot Noir. Lightly yeasty, freshly fruity, pleasantly dry. Not a great personality but a good balance.

Plan de Dieu 2009 Domaine Durieu, France Majestic £10.99
Juicy, jammy fruit and spiciness with soft tannins and a medium structure. Rustic, good French wine. One of my favourite of the day.

The Ned Black Label Waihopai River Sauvignon Blanc 2011, New Zealand Majestic £9.99
Intense gooseberry, green and tropical aromas. Refreshing and dry, deep and warm. Very good quality.

Chateau de Chambert Cahors, Malbec 2008 France, Le Marche' du Quartier £16.99
A wine for a steak. It is juicy, has vegetal and spicy notes mixed cherry flavours. Strong but velvety tannins that require food.

Pieropan La Rocca Soave Classico 2009 Italy, Majestic £23.99
Elegant and serious white wine from Veneto. Apple, pear, white flowers and a gentle touch of oak. Gracefully intense. The ripe fruit of this still young vintage is balanced by a good acidity. A long charming finish. This a treat more than a wine. Expensive but a good idea fr a present...for yourself.

Now you should have enough to drink until Christmas...well at least until the end of the week!

Friday, 28 October 2011

Peeping wine (How to taste wine)

I decided to start a weekly section on generic information on wine. Something that, hopefully, will help the simple consumer and the wine curious to get deeper into this subject without necessarily becoming an expert. My aim is just to give you the tools to better understand and enjoy your glass (or glasses) of wine.

The first thing to do, of course, is to introduce you to the tasting process. It is very important to say that tasting (and let me underline "not drinking") wine is not something restricted to sommeliers or wine geeks (and it is not all about swirling, sniffing and spitting). It is actually fun and interesting to understand what you are drinking and learn why you like it or not, as this will be extremely helpful next time you will be buying a bottle!
Three of your senses will be involved in the process: sight, smell and taste to be used following this order to follow the systematic approach and get the most from your assessment.

The first thing to do, when firstly looking at your glass, will be to trying to spot any faults. If the wine is cloudy or dull, there could be something wrong. In the best case it is going to be just a bad decantation but it could also be the result of a major problem during vinification (even though quite rare nowadays). It could even be normal for some byodinamic not filtered wines. If your wine is bright and clear, you can look at its color. The best way to do it is by tilting you glass against a white surface. It will give you an indication of its age. For a young white wine the color is normally light yellow-greenish and it will slowly turn into deeper yellow, gold and finally almost orange. A red wine starts its life with purple tones and can then develop into ruby, dark red, tawny, garnet and finally brown. The other information you can get just by looking at your glass is the alcohol content. Swirl your glass and then if you look at it you will see little drops falling on the internal surface....more drops more alcohol, the slower they are the more intense texture the wine will have (try it with sherry, port or a sweet wine and you'll see!).
So just by looking at the wine you can have information that you were probably not expecting .

Second step...let's sniff it! Once again on our first approach we should look for faults. The most common fault detectable by your nose is cork taint, a fungus that affects the cork tree and cannot be identified until it has already contaminated the wine. It is quite easy to find. You wine will smell of mould, dirty socks, dump cardboard. In this case, there is nothing you can do except for finding your receipt and taking your bottle back to the shop. But if your wine is not corked you can carry on with your analysis and try to discover the aromas of your wine. Normally these aromas are classified in main groups: fruit, flowers, spices, vegetal, animal and various. Whites and reds have different kind of aromas, and each wine can be different. It is not easy to get them or to identify them, the best thing is to exercise your nose. Put your nose in the glass each time you are tasting a new wine. The more you'll sniff the better you'll become! A good trick is to have a sniff, and the swirl the glass and sniff it again. The oxygen will react with the wine that will release more aromas.

Now if you have been so patient, and you have waited so long to taste your wine....the best step of the process has finally arrived. Have a sip. Have you ever seen how the 'experts' do? Those strange noises with their mouth? It is not difficult. You take a sip of wine and breathe, take some air like your were whistling backwards or sucking a spaghetto like a child. Try to do it without spitting and I'll explain you why you are doing it. Two reasons. First of all by doing that the wine will react with the oxygen. It will breath and it will reward you with its full intense flavours.Second: the wine will spread all over the tongue and this will help to analyse your sensations. There are several things that you should consider.
Flavours: are they the same you got on the nose? How intense are they?
Acidity: is your mouth watering? That's the clue that will show you the level of acidity of a wine...the more your mouth is watering the more intense is its acidity.
Tannins (in red wines): they are present in the grape skins and will be present in a red wine because the vinification happens with skin contact. They are detectable as an astringent sensation although the most elegant wines have soft velvety ones.
Body: can you feel the texture of the wine? Is it watery? Does it have a structure?
Alcohol: you will feel it burning in your throat and warming your mouth. Try to understand how much you can feel it.
Finally after taste....once you have swallowed your wine, for how long can you taste its aromas? How is it finishing? The longer the better of course!

Now you have systematically tasted a glass of wine for the first time; you can carry on with the rest of the bottle. No need analyse each glass. But hopefully this long but simple and maybe even inaccurate post will give the chance from now on to experience your wine more intensely, and possibly it has taught you something useful.

Any questions? Doubts? Email me at winehippie@gmail.com 

Friday, 23 September 2011

This is not a proper post

Maybe most of you have thought that this blog had been abandoned or that I had left it for more important and glamorous pages(yeah I wish!). Well that's not the case.
I need to apologise: I should have written this before.
But the reason for my lack of activity is that unfortunately I have been very very very very extremely busy with my other occupation (the one that pays the bills) and even though my business was wine focused I had no time or energies left over to share my experiences on these pages (but I'm still keeping my notes!).
The bad news have still to come....I will be away for a little bit longer but this time it is going to be for fun (not that any of you would really care!)
I will be back in 3 weeks, with new adventures in wine, so please don't cheat on me with any other blogger.
...stay wine tuned!

Sunday, 28 August 2011

History of wine...

I apologise but this is not going to be a real dissertation on the history of wine.
No big thoughts or words on this lazy Sunday. ...just few pictures taken during a nice walk into the amazing British Museum. Images of ancient wine instruments coming mainly from Italy even though it is now quite well known that first traces of vine cultivation as well as the most ancient reperts are from the Caucasus area. But indeed we (we as for Italians) learnt how to enjoy it quite quickly and were doing it with classy objects!

Some wine instruments from the Etruscan civilization...

And a cup from Southern Italy....

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Rapture...sweet rapture.

By luck I recently (virtually) met Franco DiFilippo. And it was good luck. He introduced me to his wine, his little gem…his ‘Estasi’(ecstasy).
It is a sweet wine, produced in Apulia, the heel of Italy around the city of Bari on limestone soil. The grape is white Muscat a very old and noble variety originally from the Mediterranean area.
Unfortunately few winemakers are still producing it and Franco is one of them. He works in his vineyard with passion to produce this delicious nectar and leaves the grapes getting dry and shrinking on the plant until October and harvest them manually to choose only the best bunches.
Just by pouring it in your glass you’ll be surprised by its intense golden shining colour. But that’s not it. At the nose you will discover the enchanting aromas typical of the Moscato grape but also a fine complexity of honey, dry white flowers, apricot jam and a gentle almond finish.
In the mouth the wine will complete its seduction with the harmonious balance of the flavours already present at the nose (apricot, honey white flowers) with the addition of citrusy and tropical fruits. The acidity is lively but is not overpowering the residual sugars and creates a perfect balance with the alcohol (14 degrees). The wine is rounded and soft and has a long persistent finish.
It is a wine that goes very well with fruit cakes or typical South Italian ‘pasticceria secca’ but you will enjoy it as well with foie gras or blue cheeses and (as the producer suggests) with oysters.
And most of all it is a charming elegant wine, the perfect end to a great meal….but also the perfect start.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Mum used to say.....

My mother used to be very strict about the wine match. Red with meat and white with fish. This was the rule and no exception was allowed! Since I got deeper in wine knowledge then her (and moved out) I experienced that this rule is totally wrong. Not only you can drink white with meat and red with fish but most of the times what would sound outrageous to my mother, would give great pleasure to my palate.

Today I decided to celebrate the sun with a fishy BBQ and couldn't resist to treat myself with a special bottle: Jean Claude Boisset Savigny Les Beaune - 1er Cru Les Hauts Jarrons 2003. To be honest probably my fish, a wild rainbow trout was not as elegant as my wine, but they worked very well together and confirmed my theory against my (beloved) mother's one.

The deep red colour of the wine made me realise straight away that even if 8 years old the wine was still young and strong. Its perfume was an elegant mixture of red fruit, especially strawberries with a lightly perceivable touch of wood. In my mouth it was lightly fresh and had extremely gentle tannins and a delicate texture. The distinct but not too strong flavour of the fish was not overwhelmed and actually made a great partner to the fine fruit flavours of my wine.
A successful match and a fantastic lunch...I must remember to prepare it for my mother next time she is visiting me!.....Ops I need to buy another bottle then!

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Masculine wines...

Once upon a time Southern Italy was producing wines more on a  quantity base than quality. Some of them were used to fortify and give structure to those from the North and maybe sometimes this is still happening but the wind of changes is blowing strongly there and even if few of us would have ever thought about the return of the South ten years ago this is exactly what is happening now. Regions such as Campania, Puglia, Sicily and (last but not least) Basilicata are making a big step forward in terms of quality progress re-discovering local traditional grapes cultivated and vinified with modern techniques by knowledgeable people who knows how to do a great wine and where to do it!

One of these is Fabrizio Piccin, that after working as a winemaker in Tuscany with Sangiovese for several years, has finally found his elective grape, bought his own 16 hectares of vineyards and moved to Basilicata. His wines  (Gricos, Grifalco, Bosco del Falco, Damaschito ) are all 100% Aglianico, a grape mainly distributed in Campania and Basilicata, that is getting more and more international attentions and that I am sure will increase in popularity in the years to come (and let’s hope that this will not result in increasing prices). This variety can produce intense flavored wines with a strong personality. Its tannins can be harsh and rough sometimes, especially when young but it ages wonderfully and has a full bodied masculine character that can totally make you fall head over feet.
I am going to tell you about the first 3 wines that Fabrizio does as the Damaschito needs and deserves a chapter on its own!

The first thing that comes to my mind when thinking about Gricos is that the wine is an exceptional value for money. This is the bottom line production and it is between 5 and 10€. The 2008 vintage shows a ruby intensely bright color, a nose of forest berry fruits, a hint of pepper and vegetal. It has a medium structure, vibrant acidity and young tannins that certainly need time to get softer. It is quite simple in flavors but it is powerful and, in my opinion, it will be perfectly balanced in a couple of years. In the meantime it can work fantastically with some pasta and meaty sauces...something like a tagliatelle with hare or even wild boar sauce.

One of its more mature brothers, Grifalco (even if actually we are still talking about the 2008 vintage) is made with grapes selected in the same vineyards but from older plants and fermented for a slightly longer period. This is clearly resulting in more complexity. The color is very similar to the Gricos, with a great ruby tone but a little bit deeper. The nose is more intense and developed showing the same berry fruits, but also sour cherries and leather, and I could get a hint of chocolate as well. In the mouth the tannins are still young but more integrated with a lively acidity that will make this wine a long-ageing one. Again it is powerful, strong, it has a big personality and it is not afraid to show it and more than that it does it for a very competitive price (5-10€)!
A longer and more layered finish than its 'smaller' brother to end.
Slightly more expensive (10-15€) but definitely worth the difference is the Bosco del Falco ('06).The grapes are selected from at least 40 years old vines and the wine spends 18 months in wood before resting longer in the bottle. Dark red, deep and rich with a charming and elegant nose of ripe red forest berries especially blackberries but also black cherries and dry flowers and leather. In the mouth you will be firstly impressed by the intense tannins,young but clearly developing. Then your senses will be seducted by a well balanced minerality, due of course to the Vulture volcano, and a vigorous acidity, plus the finesse of the foresty flavours coming back.  The aftertaste has a good and enjoyable lenght. I wouldn't define it a smooth wine, It is an elegant Aglianico, but always big, strong, structured, powerful. It needs time to mature and to show its best potential, and probably in few years it will be terrific, but...after tasting it I am not sure that you will be able to resist from opening another bottle!
With wines like these, with firm personality, great value for money and perfect fellows for food and finally considering the great reviews given recently by Jancis Robinson my only wonder is...what are the UK merchants waiting to get them here?

Pictures are courtesy of Cecilia Naldoni and Grifalco winery

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Wine snobbism & winehippie...sm!

I remember clearly first time I tasted a very expensive wine. It was an Echeuzeaux Domaine de la Romanee' Conti vintage '82. It was a present, not for me of course, but for the owner of the Angelus restaurant where I used to work as a sommelier, by a weird and very funny old man that used to be Ringo Starr's agent...but that's another story.  At the time I was told that its price would have been around £2000 in a restaurant and my first thought when I was offered to taste it was.....how will something so expensive taste?  Will I really be able to understand if it's worth its price or not? Will I really taste the value of £2000?

Few years have passed since then and during this time I have been very lucky working with amazing wine lists and having the responsibility to taste wines such as Chateau Margaux '59, Chateau Angelus (several vintages)...even a very cloudy Chateau Cheval Blanc '19 and much more, before bringing them to the tables and serve them. Of course I was not paying for those bottles and maybe this made me enjoy even more these wines but every time I was opening a bottle I was always deeply wondering what was its real value.
I know this is a very tricky subject as the price of the wine is not only influenced by the market request (and of course it is unfortunately) but also by the work that lays behind; the work of the people in the vineyard and in the cellar and also the time that the bottle is spending waiting to get ready. All these factors will have a result on the price because they are involved in the winemaker's investment. Even if not all of us would firstly think about it I am sure that once we are explained for example what is the cost of manual work in the vineyard or how long a Barolo producer would have to wait before selling his wine and have an economical result, they would probably agree that not all wines can have the same price.
I suddenly find myself talking here about the price of wine after reading a couple of articles that recently impressed me. One about a bottle of 1811 Sauternes Chateau d'Yquem sold for £75.000 and another about considerations on whether it is possible or not buying a decent wine for a fiver.
Calling myself a winehippie I meant to underline that I don't like snobbery and that I strongly believe that a wine can be good no matter what's the price or the name on the label and it certainly shouldn't be judged on the base of that but of course there are exceptions. I am not sure that the minimum limit for a decent wine would be £5. Maybe the right person to answer to this question would be an honest winemaker but I am pretty sure that it is not that easy to find a decent wine for £5 because,as I said, the wine has production costs that are connected to its quality. And the whole wine market/wine business is having too much negative effect on this.
But as for everything on this world more than the price what you should really consider is the value.
The price should be balanced by the quality and by how much you can afford.
So sometimes a £10 wine can be your best buy of the year and a bottle of 200 years old sweet nectar from botrytized grapes, costing you a life savings, could be corked or just nothing special.

I am not trying to develop a wine philosophy, I am just saying: drink and enjoy whatever you can afford always remembering the work done by the people who have made that wine.
Whatever will surprise you will be worth its price.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

S.P.Q.R. (or the rice balls on the phone...)

When I am feeling home nostalgic and the only place I would like to do is walking on the river bank or enjoying the little wine bars and trattoria of Trastevere, or a grattachecca in front of the Tiberina island, the only way to face the blue is to cook something traditional and bring my mind back home with Roman flavours.
This is why once again here I am writing about some Roman local recipes. Most of the time the result will be extremely tasty and quite fat, but that's how we like it, sometimes!
This time is going to be a starter whose name will be difficult to pronounce and also slightly weird: suppli' al telefono(on the phone).

Before explaining why are they called this way here is the recipe…
You will need to prepare a light ragout, with onions, carrots, olive oil and minced beef. Suppli could be done with a simple tomato sauce as well but personally I prefer the meaty ones. It is important though not to exceed with the ragout…it has to colour and lightly dress the rice, nothing more.
Boil the rice, mix it with the ragout and leave it on a side. Originally suppli' were done with the rice left over from the day before but this was when people was not wasting food as there was not that much available.
When the rice will be cold, then mix an egg and whisk another one in a bowl to use later. Make some balls with rice sized and shaped like a big egg and put 2 mozzarella cube in the middle. Then pass the rice balls in the whisked egg and in breadcrumbs and finally deep fry it in hot oil.

Golden rules:
- do not fry them for too long, their colour should be golden brown, not too dark.
- eat them when still hot…when you bite it the mozzarella inside should melt and follow you creating a white line between your mouth and the rest of the suppli…like a phone wire….and that's why "on the phone"!
- have a glass of wine from the Castelli Romani…a Frascati or a Marino, something simple and light but with a lively acidity to clear your mouth.

PS: If you are in Rome you will be able to find them in any Pizzeria al taglio or Rosticceria, those typical kind of takeaway places, but the best in town are for sure the ones from the Pizzeria Ai Marmi in Trastevere, also locally called Obitorio (mortuary) for its marble tables without table clothes…you will have to queue for them but you'll be highly rewarded!


Thursday, 28 July 2011

Celebrating wine for 15 days!!

In the middle of Italy, south of Tuscany, in a small city called Montefiascone a 15 days long wine festival is about to begin.

The town is in a dramatic position on a hill overlooking Bolsena volcanic lake and it is very rich in history being in a area where Etruscans and Romans used to leave and where during the more recent centuries popes and important ecclesiastic personality stayed.
The festival is going to start next Sunday and will consist of concerts, meetings and processions with ancient traditional costumes but most important it will celebrate the most important wine of the area: the white Est! Est!! Est!!! 
The wine's name has a curious and legendary origin. It is said that a German bishop on his way to Rome had sent his servant ahead in order to find the best places to drink good wine. The servant used to stop, try the wines and if they were worth he used to write with chalk on the door Est (Latin translation for  "it is"). But when he got to Montefiascone (couple of hours away from Rome) he was impressed by this light and refreshing blend of Trebbiano and Malvasia Bianca and wanted to highlitght the pleasure of his experience with an enthusiastic triple Est! Probably this is just a legend, but someone says that when the bishop arrived he decided to stay and lately died here, and his tomb is in the Basilica di San Flaviano on the Route Franchigena.
I am not sure if the story is fiction made up to attract interest over a wine that it's considered by 2 of the main wine personalities (Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson) "the dullest white wine with the strangest name in the world" but I know the festival and the wine….It's true the wine is very simple, quite plain with a light aromatic flavour of green apple and a good acidity, and it lacks of structure and complexity but the festival is great fun.
So if it happens you to be in the area in the next 2-3 weeks have a tour and for 15€ you could have a walk in the historical cellars in the centre of the city and taste all wines from around 10 producers…and trust me it will be fun!!!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Are you drinking Glera or Prosecco?!

Has anyone ever heard of Glera? Certainly not that many, at least not before 2009. This is the year when names and appellations have slightly changed in Prosecco.
To legally protect this wine from the venturous productions coming from countries such as China or South America, and to defend its origins, the name of the grape, since then commonly referred as Prosecco, has been changed to Glera.
Prosecco is actually a clone of Glera. And Glera is a really ancient grape variety grown mainly in the area around Trieste in Friuli Venezia Giulia and more specifically around a little town called Prosecco and later spread in Veneto. I know that now the story could sound confusing, but it's not.
The good thing is that the name of the wine has not changed and of course neither its taste. But now when you will be buying a bottle of Prosecco you will be sure that it will be coming from Italy. Two top appellations (DOCG) have also been created: Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene and Colli Asolani produced in Veneto in the heart of Prosecco evolution and development, and one minor (DOC) in an area in between Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia, where the grape has its origins. But on the back of the label as it happens for a lot of Italian wines, you could find Glera grape specified.
Once said that and leaving the boring legal part on a side, either if you call it Prosecco or Glera what you will have a light, fruity and refreshing aperitif. And please do not even try to compare it to Champagne. This is a totally different thing. Better or not it depends mainly on taste, but totally different.
Champagne is champagne. It is made from 3 grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. It is produced in Champagne region only. And the second fermentation takes place in the bottle. Finally a long ageing period on the lees gives the wine a deep complexity and buttery and yeasty notes.
Prosecco is Prosecco. It is made from Glera. It is produced in North of Italy. The second fermentation happens following the Charmat method in bulk tanks to finally being bottled under pressure. The resulting wine is fruity, fresh and aromatic.
The only common thing is the presence of bubbles, and even the bubbles are different!!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

A night in Italy or on your "Italian" sofa

If you are dreaming of a trip to Italy to discover the beauty and flavours of what it's called the Bel Paese (the beautiful country), well I can help you to do that staying on your sofa. I know it is not going to be exactly the same, but trust me: following my suggestions you will taste a bit of Italy. And those sensations, perfumes and flavours will bring your mind directly there!
You will have to buy some "magic" ingredients that are quite rare, but not totally impossible to be found.

First ingredient is a cheese. But it is not a normal,common cheese.It's called Pecorino di Fossa, it is  mainly from sheep milk but the recipe allows as well some cow's or goat's and it is originally from Sogliano al Rubicone a little city in Emilia Romagna, not that far from the Adriatic coast.  It has ancient origins and goes for a particular and long (around 10 months) ageing process that gives it intense and singular aromas. When ready, the cheeses are kept in cellar conditions till the beginning of August when they are going to be wrapped with leaves, put in large cotton bags and  stored in tufaceous hollows (fossa), closed with wooden lids. The cheeses will then stay there for 90 days and will be taken out on November the 25th, Saint Catherine day, with a large traditional feast in the city. This process is responsible for the unusual and poignant flavours of the Pecorino. It is rich, pungent, vegetal, spicy ad has complex aromas of musk, truffles and wood.

Second ingredient is arbutus (corbezzolo) honey. Of course this is not an ordinary honey. It is actually quite rare and produced mainly in Sardinia and Tuscany. It is very healthy, it has antiseptic properties and it is supposed to be a very effective natural remedy for asthma. But these are not the reasons for my choice. This honey has a nutty colour and herbaceous aromas, but also a particular perfume of untoasted coffee beans. It is sweet only at the beginning, then slightly astringent and has a final, persistent and surprising bitter twist. Its intensity will make a perfect match with our Pecorino and it will sharpen its fragrances, balancing the spiciness. 
If this in still not enough to bring your senses miles away and make you feel like sitting in an traditional trattoria...maybe you need a  good bottle of red! In this case there would be plenty to suggest but my personal choice tonight is going to be Aglianico. This deep and masculine red from Basilicata (or Campania) with its strong, powerful tannins will finally clear your mouth and will leave you with a persistent desire of turning this dream into reality.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Surprise: you can even drink red wine in Summertime!!

Maybe you are not a white wine drinker. And even if you are certainly missing the chance to taste amazing wines, there is nothing wrong with it. But in summertime when magazine's columns are all about "refreshing, crisp and cool" white wines, I am sure that your only desire is to find the right red to drink in a park under the sun!
You will then probably be surprised to know that there is plenty of choice to relive your thirst! Possibly you don't even know that most of these wines can be even slightly chilled. And no sommelier or wine expert would be shocked about that (and if they are...well then don't trust them!!).
If your first thought of good red wines for the summer days is Beaujolais,well, you are not wrong but I can tell you there is much more than that out of there! Keeping your choice in France but moving Western in Loire Valley you can enjoy the refreshing, crisp, light to medium bodied Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil, Chinon and Saumur Champigny all made mainly from Cabernet Franc and all characterized by fruity aromas and good acidity. Particular scents of lead pencil (graphite) can be smelled in the first two. It is a must for people from Loire valley to serve these wines chilled in summer.
Leaving France for Italy, you can taste different things from various Northern regions. In Piedmont you can choose between a crisp and dry Barbera and a more tannic and less acidic Dolcetto. Both can be easy drinking wines especially in their youth. Dolcetto is full of ripe berries such as black cherry but can show liquorice aromas sometimes, while Barbera is definitely more about red fruit and plums. Moving further in Trentino Alto Adige there is a cheerful, unpretentious local wine called Marzemino that is extremely enjoyable. It is light, fruity with hints of violet and has a light body. Again I would chill a bit before drinking it! Same region but different wine: Lagrein. In this case you could actually choose to go lighter in colour and taste the great pink version. But if you'll go red then you will find forest fruits and vegetal flavours, a medium body and a fine bitter twist.
And there would be much more to list...Grignolino, Bardolino, Freisa....but I cannot list only Italian wines, so let's move to Bierzo. Mencia is the grape used in red wine production in this region of North -Western Spain, and can give very different wines depending on the producer and the style they choose. Most of them are subtle and original with an interesting complexity, a refreshing acidity and medium intensity of dark berries.
Last but not least...an unusual Austrian wine: St Laurent.The grape is originally from Alsace and probably related to Pinot Noir and very similar to this even if  more robust. It is characterized by a lively acidity and red fruit aromas especially fresh sour-cherry. It is a very elegant wine and can age well if produced in low yields.
And now finally, just to be sure that you will enjoy your wines at their best, please make sure you keep them in fridge for not more than half an hour....we don't want to loose their perfumes.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Bites of pleasure

Cheese and wine is a classic match. A never ending, successful relationship that will always give you pleasure and sometimes can intensely surprise.

Most sommelier know that sweet wines enhance the sharpness and saltiness of blue cheeses. This is why matching an English Stichelton from Nottinghamshire with some Muscat de Rivelsates from Cazes (Roussillon - France) can be such a great combination. Stichelton is very similar to the most famous Stilton but the unpasteurised milk gives it a creamier, more delicate and fruitier taste that match perfectly with the fine sweet aromatic flavours of exotic fruits, apricot and peach of the Muscat. The well balanced natural acidity of the wine will then finally clear the buttery texture of the cheese leaving a long and intense sensation in your mouth.
A less usual and very interesting food and wine marriage would come out pairing an aged Comte' with a Chablis Premier Cru such as the Laroche 1er Cru Les Clos.  

Comte' is an aristocratic, elegant and voluptuous cheese especially if long aged. A 24 months is outstandingly aromatic and rich and the stoney character and fine flower aromas of the Chablis 1er Cru Les Clos are going to be a great partner for it. The wine will enhance the nuttiness of the cheese and will extend the flavours in your mouth with a very long finish balancing the richness of the cheese with its powerful minerality and fine complexity and structure.This is a noble and sensual match.
It is a tasting experience that will open your senses and will leave you memories of pleasure.

Pictures taken at Liberty Wines stand at Imbibe