Thursday, July 24, 2014

Reprising Avvoltore

~ The long Cypress lined white road to Moris Farms ~

Maremma is a special place.  Although it's unquestionably part of Tuscany,  it's untamed Tuscany and unlike the hilly central area of the province,  the Mediterranean Sea exerts it's influence notably here.  The air is perfumed with the sweet, briny aroma of salinity.  Cool breezes from the ocean lower night time temperatures and carry the smells of the scrub brush that is ubiquitous in this area.  My friend Emiliano Falsini crafts beautiful wines here at the estate of Moris Farms. 

~ We made Fiorentina with garlic spinach for the pairing ~

Moris Farms' Avvoltore has always seemed under the radar as far as Super Tuscans as concerned.  That's good for my readers as this is a superb bottle of wine and the price has remained stable over many vintages.  We recently enjoyed the 2009.  A comparable note on the 2007 is here.
Falsini ferments the wine in neutral cement tanks and then transfers the blend to French barrique for 12 months.  After 6 months bottle aging the wine is released to the market.  Although a blend,  Avvoltore is mainly Sangiovese, with 20% Cabernet and 5% Syrah rounding out the mix.  

~ Guarded Avvoltore, quietly resting ~

In the glass, the wine is a dark ruby with shimmering purple highlights.  Aromas are bountiful, with ripe, rich black cherry, Mediterranean herbs, smoke and fresh leather eminating from the glass.  On the palate, the wine is intense with black fruit flavors tinged with smokey meat notes.  The piney, sagey, rosemary underbrush traces are notable and the finish is ripe, long and tannic but balanced well with acidity.  Drinkable now, I see no reason to cellar this long term. It was delicious with the char on the meat and is quite a good value.  93 points, about $40. 

~ Avvoltore is 75% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet and 5% Syrah ~


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Pasta con Piselli e Prosciutto

~ Chiesa in Castellina ~

Castellina in Chianti is a beautiful hill town perfectly situated in the heart of Chianti Classico.  As I wrote earlier, we fell in love with this place and visited it often during our stay in Tuscany.  We had several excellent meals there and one of them involved an ethereal pasta that I was determined to replicate once we returned home. 
See, my wife® loves peas.  In almost any form.  So it wasn't surprising when she gravitated toward this primi on Trattoria La Torre's menu.  But pasta, like many other things,  is different in Italy.  I've made pasta with peas and prosciutto before,  but never had I seen it presented like this.  This was different and is now the new standard.  So what's the key?  Read on.....
Pasta con Piselli e Prosciutto 
There are two keys to this recipe that set it apart.  First, the prosciutto used in Castellina was well rendered and almost caramelized to the point where it had a crunchy exterior and a soft, tender, melty interior.  Second, the peas.
In addition to being tossed into the final dish,  the sauce for the pasta clearly contained pureed peas.  This was an idea I simply had never thought of.  It increased the pea flavor of the dish exponentially.  Plus, and this cannot be overstated, it contributed to the balance of the dish.  Here you get the sweetness of the peas, the saltiness of the prosciutto and the savory component from grated cheese - you have a masterpiece! 
1/2 cup frozen peas, plus more for plating
1 pint light cream
Extra virgin olive oil
4 oz. prosciutto, diced
1 pound (500g) Fettucine or Tagliatelle
Salt, Pepper, Grated Reggiano
Start by rendering the prosciutto.  I was determined to do this slowly in order to develop that level of crunch to the exterior but frankly,  I failed.  I think the result will be better achieved if the pieces are cut larger,  almost like strips so that there is more surface area touching the pan.  I used pre-packaged diced prosciutto and the result was ok,  but not ideal.

~ Diced Prosciutto.  Take your time rendering it ~

Next combine the peas in a food processor or blender.  Season with salt and pepper and add just a touch of cream and oil.  Pulse slightly to break up the peas.  As they start to come together, begin drizzling the cream until the peas take on the consistency of melted ice cream.  I used about 1/2 the cream.   Taste for seasoning and adjust.  Set aside.  You will thin the pea sauce with some of the pasta water before serving. 

~  This is the pureed frozen peas combined with salt, pepper, cream & a drizzle of olive oil.  Note the consistency ~

Cook the pasta until just short of al dente and drain to the pan where you've been rendering the prosciutto.  Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking liquid to thin the pea puree.  Combine the pasta, the pea puree and a handful or two of whole peas to the pot and stir to coat.  Drizzle the pasta cooking water a little at a time so that the dish doesn't become watery.  Toss the pasta thoroughly and allow to finish cooking a minute or two to absorb the flavor of the sauce. 

~ This is the pasta in a serving platter.  The sauce clinged to the noodles very well and was a lot greener than this picture shows.  ~

This is very easy to make and essentially is a four ingredient dish if you count the cream.  The key is to drizzle the liquid into the pea puree slowly.  It was the first time I replicated this and it was trial and error but it came out very well.   The chef's plate....

~ In this close up, you can see the color of the sauce a bit more clearly ~

This dish was a hit - even among the kids who don't count peas among their favorite vegetables.  The prosciutto, and I suspect in Castellina they really used Guanciale which probably contributes to the difference,  needs some improvement but my wife gave this a hearty thumbs up, albeit with the caveat that it wasn't quite as good as in Italy.  
Well, duh. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Day at Monteraponi

It's a short, winding, dusty strada bianca that leads from Vagliagli center to Radda in Chianti,  but it's a lovely ride for it's untamed, serene landscapes that have seemingly remained unchanged for hundreds of years.  The backroads of Chianti lead to many a treasure and just outside Radda lies the beautiful estate of Monteraponi.   Although just a few minutes from the center of Radda,  Monteraponi is isolated in natural beauty.  Winemaker Michele Braganti sums it up nicely: 
"Monteraponi is an independant ecosystem, it's a village surrounded by the forest on all sides, like a monopole in France. The property is about 200 hectares stretching through a valley over passed by the Arbia river, with oak trees, and over 1,200 olive trees. Of the total area of land, only 10 hectares are vineyards and the rest semi-native and wild. There is a lake, where I go to fish from time by relax."

I arrived shortly after lunch, on a glorius Tuscan day - cool enough to enjoy being outdoors,  but warm enough to appreciate the nurturing dampness of the Monteraponi cellars.  Alessandra Deiana provided a brief orientation of the estate and then we headed to the cellars to barrel taste some of Monteraponi's recent vintages. 

~ In addition to a wonderful Chianti Classico,  Monteraponi produces two single vineyard Riservas.  In the picture above, centered just underneath the power lines, lies the Il Campitello Vineyard.  Some 40+ years old, Il Campitello is surrounded by forest on all sides ~

~ The top wine of the estate is widely considered to be the Riserva Baron Ugo.  Although difficult to tell,  this vineyard is among the steepest you will ever come across.  The vines spread across the hillside and harvest is only possible by hand ~

Off to the cellars to taste..........

~ Cement fermenters at Monteraponi.  Briganti prefers the inert aspects of cement for his Sangiovese ~

~ Large casks for Aging.  It's hard to tell, but these barrels are oval as opposed to the more traditional circular shape. Alessandra explained that the oval barrels take up less space in the cellar, and they increase the surface area of wine to barrel which further reduces the impact of the oak ~  

The first wine we tasted was the 2013 Chianti Classico.   The 2013 is a deep ruby in the glass.  Clear and vibrant, it's got vibrant fruit flavors and aromas of mouth watering tart cherry, minerality and spice. 
Next was the 2012 Il Campitello Chianti Classico Riserva.  This lovely wine, resting in barrel,  is glorius.  Absolutely glorius.  It's full of flowers, minerals and crushed vibrant fruit on the nose and palate.  It's amazingly pure.  It's my favorite wine from Monteraponi and will be my benchmark for the estate.  Seek this out when it's released. 

~ Alessandra drawing samples of the 2012 Il Campitello Chianti Classico Riserva ~

We then made our way to a pair of the Baron Ugo.  If  Il Campitello is the elegant, graceful Queen, then Baron Ugo is the more muscular, erudite King.  Alessandra explained that 2011 was a difficult vintage for Monteraponi because of the varying conditions which led to almost a 40% reduction in the grapes they used. However, this selectivity appears to have paid off. 
The 2011 Baron Ugo Chianti Classico Riserva  has lots of concentration and power behind its black cherry flavors. There's lots of minerality here and already a tiny trace of leather. Medium to full bodied and although I was impressed with this wine, the 2013 Baron Ugo will be even better. Vibrant and pure, with lots of power, tannin, acids and crushed fruit, everything is elevated with this wine. Full body and a long, long finish. When you taste this wine and stare at the vineyard, you can see the flavors.  This is beautiful Chianti. 

~ Larger circular barrels in Monteraponi's Cellars ~  

We then left the cellar and headed over to the office for a tasting of bottled wines.  
~ Monteraponi is as beautiful as the wine is good ~

Finished Wines
 The first wine we tried was the 2013 Trebbiano.   Michele explained that Trebbiano can not be a DOC when grown in Chianti so the wine bears the Toscana Centrale designation.   There's lots of wonderful extraction here.   Aromas are clean and classic with white stone fruit, lemongrass and citrus notes.  On the palate, the medium gold wine is viscous, with a solid medium body and crisp acidity.  Flavors for the nose and the finish is dotted with grapefruit.  Delicate and refreshing.  I brought a bottle of this home to the Villa and we enjoyed it poolside with some antipasto.  I can't imagine a better setting for it.  87 points. 

~ Monteraponi Trebbiano Toscana Centrale ~

One hallmark of Briganti's reds is clearly the minerality that is central to each wine he produces.  His winemaking methods allow this quality to speak,  but it's the soil that imparts this wonderful complexity to the wine.  Using the phrase a picture is worth a thousand words; voila! 

~ On the left is Galestro.  Galestro is all over Tuscany and makes up the soil of the Il Campitello vineyard.  It's delicate, and if you will, feminine.  Briganti grabbed a piece and snapped it in half with his fingers.  It's covered in powder.  To the right is Albarese.  This is harder and rounder.  Whereas Galestro extends into the ground like layers, Albarese appears to cover the surface of the ground like strewn river stones.  Albarese makes up the soil in the Baron Ugo vineyard ~

2012 Chianti Classico:
This wine is simply the soul of this estate and Chianti Classico in a bottle.  90% Sangiovese and 10% Canaiolo, it's full of vibrant ripe berry fruit, minerality, sweet tobacco and spice.  Front to back, top to bottom, this is a must buy vintage after vintage for lovers of Chianti.  88 points and fairly priced at about $20. 
2011 Il Campitello Chianti Classico Riserva:  I love this vineyard.  I've not had a wine from it yet that I did not think was spectacular.  The deep ruby color is sexy and alluring.   The aromas are redolent of flowers, bright red fruits,  and mineral.  The flavors follow the nose and add a savory, tart mouth watering sensation that compels another sip.  It stands among my favorite Chianti wines and a must purchase each vintage.  94 points. 
I took a bottle home to the villa and a few nights later we opened it with Penne tossed with boar sausage, basil and local fresh tomatoes.  Dined al fresco under the pergola and listened to the dogs barking below in the valley.  They were no doubt chasing some of the cinghiale that was on our plate.  A match made in heaven.  

2010 Baron Ugo Chianti Classico Riserva: 
A great vintage in the hands of a talented winemaker who gets great grapes from amazing terroir is about as close to a guarantee as you'll get.  Baron Ugo is Michele Braganti's child.  The blackish red Sangiovese has pronouced aromas of flowers, crushed red fruit, sage, and meat.  The full bodied wine is tannic, with masses of fruit on a large frame supported by mouth watering acids.  Long, savory, ripe finish.  Among the best 2010's I've had.  94 points. 

~  The Tasting Lineup ~

It's difficult to say more about Michele and his beautiful partner Alessandra.  They are humble, passionate people.  Alessandra and I clearly prefer Il Campitello to Baron Ugo,  but it's splitting hairs.  She jokingly patted him on the back for making the 2011 Il Campitello and Michele jokingly patted himself on the back for Baron Ugo!  They are friendly and graciously opened their home and cellars to me.  I can't wait to see them again.  Great people making great wine.  But don't take my word for it, try the wines for yourself!

~ Michele & Me ~
 Spero ci vediamo presto amici!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Bruschetta in Roma

~ Vittorio Emanuele Monument: Forza Italia ~

 It was hot, the streets were active with the buzz of life, tourism, even Governmental motorcades.  We were shopping, and although our primary quest may have been ceramics and leather goods, we were always mindful of eyeing an enticing place for a snack or cocktail.  It was mid afternoon and many Romans were enjoying the afternoon passegiata, that post lunch stroll before re-opening for dinner later that evening. 

We made our way down a tightly nooked alley and with the cobblestone road imploring our feet for a break - or maybe it was the other way around? - we found a wonderful little bar that was serving snacks and drinks.  They had tables in the shade and that sealed the deal.  

~ Perfect tomato Bruschetta.  I'm still convinced these were the best tomatoes of the trip ~

Originally we were planning on relaxing with a few Aperol Spritz and enjoying the complimentary bar food that in Italy, would shame many a buffet here in the US.   However, when I spotted an entire section of the menu dedicated to Bruschette, we had to change our  plans.  

~ Warm Mozzarella and Anchovy - simply ethereal ~

With these snacks being a bit more substantial and complex,  we moved beyond the Spritz.  I was thrilled to order a 2011 Arnaldo Caprai Rosso di Montefalco from the list at 28 Euro - so about $40.  That's a few dollars more than US retail.  

In the glass the wine was a pretty violet color with an expressive nose of red berries, flowers, meat, savory herbs and a slight hint of vanilla, this wine seemed to be firing on all cylinders.  It was refreshing served at the proper temperature, which I found not always the case in much of Italy, and the wine carried it's prowess through to the palate.  

Juicy red berries around with hints of mint, dark chocolate, and a savory, meaty component that was wonderful with the anchovy Bruschetta. The 2011 Caprai is 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino and 15% Merlot and spends a full year in a combination of cask and barrique before resting 4 months in bottle before release. This is a polished, delicious red whose acidity matched the perfect tomatoes wonderfully and whose forward fruit component from the Merlot really blossomed with the cheese. Maybe not textbook, but nevertheless, the perfect match.   90 points.  

~ Arnaldo Caprai Rosso di Montefalco ~

When in Rome.....  

Friday, July 18, 2014

Brunello: The Great Divide

In and around the quiet village of Montalcino, there is an undercurrent of discussion - in trattorias, bars and enotecas. You hear it often whispered in hushed tones and quieted sentiments of "you didn't hear it from me",  but it's hanging around like the 800 pound Cinghiale in the room.  There is a rising discourse to divide the Brunello zone into several separate subzones and depending upon who you speak to this would be the best thing in last 20 years for Brunello, or an unmitigated disaster in waiting. In short, producers are divided over division.
I visited Montalcino three times in the past month and had many opportunities to raise the issue with the winemakers I spoke to.  But to step back for a moment; what exactly is the issue?  Why are we even talking about it? 

The Brunello Zone extends over almost 24,000 hectares, of which a mere 2,100 are under vine.  24,000 hectares is about 100 square miles, or just slightly larger than three times the island of Manhattan. 

The highest elevation in the zone is principally centered around the village of Montalcino itself.  The wines produced closer to this area are naturally, stylistically different from those produced in other parts of the zone. 
Many producers argue that this is among the first reasons to subzone.  To help the consumers understand the subtle differences between the many wine styles. To allow delineated subzones to become associated with certain styles of Brunello so that the consumer knows what to expect when selecting a wine. As an educated writer and consumer, I'm not convinced.
Roberto Terzuoli, proprietor and winemaker at Sasso di Sole told me of a completely different, non-consumer related reason to support sub-zoning.  Sasso di Sole is a small estate with only a few acres of vineyards.  Direct to consumer, so called "Cellar Door" sales, are crucial to his survival.  Any subzoning project would also come with a detailed, government funded, Consorzio sponsored, mapping of the entire zone.  "With wineries accurately identified on a map, consumers will be better able to locate small wineries. Terzuoli says, the area is vast and confusing, even locals get lost." 
These may be the obvious reasons to subzone or they may be the hidden red-herrings.  Like many debates, there is also an undercurrent of hushed politics that permeates the discussion.  There's a North-South divide that is somehow manifested in a debate over styles. Many of the original Brunello producers are located very close to the town of Montalcino. They have a sense of pride, of purpose, that the Brunello they create is the original.  That their wines are "true" Brunello.  But is that accurate and will it really assist consumers?  Let's look at Brunello's northerly sibling, the Chianti zone, for  an analogy about the veracity of the supposition.
The Chianti DOCG is a large parcel of land that encompasses six separate sub-zones. In essence, it's what Brunello is using as a general model. Within the center of Chianti, is the delimited "Classico"  zone.  Over the years, the "Classico" designation has been important for the brand and for the wines bearing the zone name.  It's a geographic area that has been denoted as an exceptional place to produce Chianti because the soil, climate, and exposition of the vineyards are thought to be ideal.  In short, perfect terroir.

If that were the end of the equation, then such a designation would be very meaningful.  However, when you factor in variables like human intervention (when to harvest) vineyard management (pruning, green harvesting, canopy management) winemaking styles (cement, stainless steel, French barrique, large casks, new oak, used oak) and not the least of which the grapes in the blend (100% Sangiovese or blends including Canaiolo, Malvasia Nera, Colorino, or even Merlot and Cabernet) then what does "Classico" mean?  The average consumer will typically have no idea about any of this because none of it is required to be disclosed on labels.  It's simply a matter of knowledge.  Wine geeks know.  The average consumer doesn't.   Does the average consumer differentiate the Chianti Classico wines among the six other subzones of Chianti?  Ask around in your local wine shop and you'll quickly see. 
But let's get back to Brunello.  With the exception of the blending issue, because Brunello by law must be 100% Sangiovese, all the other variables that exist for Chianti will exist in sub-zoning Brunello.  And dirt is just the start! Recently, a group of independent producers mapped the various soil types that exist in Brunello and they've come up with 8 distinct but broad categories - many of which are combinations of each other.  Now factor in altitudes, varying clones of Sangiovese and the way they behave and grow in different soils and you've just scratched the surface. 

It's been suggested that the creation of a "Brunello Classico" area - wines coming from the center of the zone, very near the town of Montalcino itself, might be the first step in a broader sub-zoning project. One look at the Chianti Classico analogy should be enough to convince them of the folly in that.

~ Fortezza Montalcino ~

The more I spoke to winemakers, the more I heard about highlighting the differences of the terroir.  It's a valid point.  I sat down over a glass of Brunello with Francesco Cinzano of the venerable producer, Col d'Orcia.  I first asked him straight away, is your estate in favor of sub-dividing the zone? 
"Yes, very much in favor of starting the work on this long overdue subject of recognizing the great many differences between the vineyards of Montalcino. The facts speak for themselves, he told me.  The height over sea level of the Montalcino vineyards goes from 300 feet, to over 1,800 feet.  The soil conditions vary from sandy former sea beds rich in fossils to heavy clay. The climatic conditions go from dry Mediterranean, very much influenced by coastal winds, to Continental with morning fog. As an example, you can take the Official Consorzio data at harvest from October 1, 2013. In the Canalicchio Zone, Sangiovese was still below 12.5% alcohol - still a couple of weeks from picking while in Tavernelle, the alcohol was at 14.% and quite ready for harvest."
So then, what is the most important reason for sub-zoning, I asked Francesco.  Is it quality, clarity of message or something else all together?

"It's mostly recognizing the reality and bringing all the producers together behind a common product. Informing consumers as to the great diversity that can be found in Montalcino. And when I say recognizing the reality, I also refer to the rule in the disciplinare of Brunello that allows producers to name their Brunello after the vineyard where it is produced.  The "Vigna" denomination recognizes single vineyards and is really a starting point of zoning."
So what's the problem then? What's standing in the way of making this happen?  Is there resistance from wineries that fear that as a result of zoning they'll be looked upon as a "lesser" Brunello if they're in a "lesser" zone?  
"Giovanni, I think it's ignorance mostly, along with prejudice and politics.  Concerning lesser zones, it is common knowledge in Montalcino that the heavier soils of the north east are considered more difficult from an agronomic point of view.  Well, that is the area where Casanova di Neri is located and his wine had the highest ever rating for a Brunello.  There is no lesser zone in Montalcino."

~ Il Palazzone's Due Porte Vineyard:  One of three vineyards from which they source fruit for their Brunello. The three vineyards are scattered about the appellation ~

Andrea Machetti of Mastrojanni agreed as well; that the issue is important and needs to be addressed and resolved. However, he stopped short of a full throated desire to see sub-zoning become reality. 

"Mastrojanni are members of the Consorzio del Brunello di Montalcino and the Consorzio is to start  a study comparing composition of different soils to different altitudes, longitudes and latitudes in order to map the whole area of the hill of Montalcino. A study that in our opinion will give a definitive view of subzoning."
Not everyone necessarily agrees.  When I spoke to Laura Gray and Marco Sassetti of Il Palazzone they viewed the issue as very complex and wondered if it could be resolved in a manner that would assist or confuse the consumer.
"Montalcino terroir is so diverse that almost every producer could make realistic claims to be in a separate subzone. The possible micro-terroirs that have been outlined still lump together some very different areas and don’t fully consider the effects of altitude. And then there are the producers like us and many others who blend wine from different subzones. So really the situation is more complex than it would seem at first. In the end, I am not sure that subzones on labels would be ultimately helpful for consumers or producers.”

The issue of producers who own vineyards scattered throughout the zone cannot be underestimated when they ultimately blend all of their fruit to produce one wine.  In fact, many producers prefer to blend fruit in this manner because it gives a wine that is more representative of the overall Brunello terroir. 
Gray went on further.  "For a perfect example of how sub-zoning might fall short of the desired expectations, think about the 2009 vintage in Brunello.  Don’t you think that this is a year where the human decisions – canopy management, harvest timing, fruit thinning, green harvesting etc. – totally influenced the quality of the wine?  Good 2009 Brunellos are spread across all the proposed subzones.  So yes, they definitely exist and we have tangible proof of terrior at every turn.  However, I do believe that the market confusion would likely be enormous."

~ Vineyards at La Fiorita's Estate near Castelnuovo del'Abate.  La Fiorita owns vineyards in two separate parts of the zone and they blend both terroir to produce a singular expression of Brunello ~

And perhaps one of the most significant issues of all, that no one seemingly mentioned,  is that Brunello is an international brand.  Consumers the world over want a certain degree of expectation to be realized when they buy a bottle of "Brunello di Montalcino".  From China to Russia to the United States and at all points between,  the Brunello brand is a significant asset that should not be risked by creating a myriad of identities that consumers will need to understand.
The following map, published by the Consorzio, gives a certain insight to the varying altitudes within the zone and illustrates how the zone might be bifurcated during any sub-zoning project.

Unofficial Zones
On the right side of the map, the Consorzio has broadly marked "Northern", "Central" and "Southern" as a potential starting point for zoning.  Within that framework are the loosely discussed zones that are most often mentioned:  Montalcino - Bosco - Canalicchio - Tavernelle - Camigliano - Sant'Angelo - and - Castelnuovo dell'Abate.

~ Generally, the areas in the northern portion of the zone yield wines that are more austere, more aromatic and perfumed and come from some of the zones oldest soils and highest altitudes.  As you fan out from there, and especially as you move south, the wines tend to be fuller, and rounder with bigger fruit and more pronounced tannin structure ~

It's easy to imagine how difficult it may be for a winery to label their Brunello  if they own vineyards in 2 or 3 suggested sub-zones. Which do they choose?  It's conversely very easy to imagine the trepidation a producer may feel by being forced to label their wine simply as "Brunello" when others are seemingly using more prestigious wording on their labels solely because their vineyards are located in only one zone.  Is that fair? Does it matter?  If you agree with Francesco Cinzano, maybe it doesn't.  Ultimately, it's up to the wineries to communicate effectively with consumers.

Ezio Rivella, who was Castello Banfi's Chief winemaker for almost 25 years told me simply,  “Even within single parts of a smaller area, the portion of a vineyard that sits at a slightly lower altitude will give wines of deeper color that are richer in tannins than wines made from grapes from higher altitudes. Furthermore, you have to realize that a large number of producers are deliberately blending Brunello wines from different zones and varying altitudes. The reason for this is obvious.  In this way they obtain more complete Brunellos than if they used grapes from a single zone only.”

~ Poggio Alle Mura Castle at Castello Banfi ~

So where does all  this leave us?  I suggest that it's a matter that must be addressed by the Consorzio. There has to be a degree of leadership and initiative in moving the process forward; even if it comes with bruised egos, and a degree of criticism from its members that is all but certain. 

The data clearly supports the notion that microclimates exist within the overall zone. Whether it's from altitude, soil, exposition, or vine clone, ultimately that doesn't matter.  What matters most is the value of sub-zoning to Brunello.  Will undertaking this complex project add a commensurate level of value to the brand that is worth the effort?  Will it hurt the brand by adding confusion and creating a sense of apathy among consumers? 

Perhaps the Consorzio should answer those questions first.  Instead of debating the how, when and why to implement sub-zoning, they should be asking:  Should  we be doing it?   I suspect the answer to that has more variations than the subzones being proposed.

As a somewhat final postscript to this piece, one Brunello producer that prefers their anonymity provided a unique perspective on the entire discussion.  He told me...

"Italians typically don't want to lead. They want to be lead.  In this fashion, they are free to criticize the leader."

My sincere thanks to the producers that contributed to this article.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Frascati and ..........

~ St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, Rome ~

It's been said before that Frascati is the Wine of Pope's and People.  I don't know why, but I think of that lore every time I open a bottle of this delicate white from the Roman Hills. 
It's been hot recently - the type of weather that is reminiscent of the last few days I spent in Roma, so it was time to cool off with a refreshing bottle of Frascati.  
Over the last several weeks, I've been making a few meatless meals each week and my family has requested that today's recipe become a repeating staple of that philosophy.  It was the perfect foil for the wine.  The dish, as the title of today's article implies, has no name.  I simply call it:  Shrimp with beans and greens. 
Recipe (Serves 4)
18 Shrimp - I use good quality frozen that are uncooked & cleaned
1 bunch broccoli rabe  (I've also used arugula and spinach)
2 cups cooked beans   (I used Roman and Cannellini for this) 
2 cloves garlic diced
3 pats butter
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Salt & Pepper
Soak the beans overnight or at least all day.  Drain them and return to the pot. Cover with fresh water and boil slowly for 45 minutes.  Fresh beans impart a superior product.  In a pinch, you can use canned beans but be careful not to overcook them. 
Thaw the shrimp and cook them in the butter and garlic.  Chop and blanche the broccoli rabe and combine with the shrimp - toss to coat.  When the beans are cooked, drain them and combine them with the shrimp and broccoli rabe.  Adjust seasoning, add the lemon juice, stir and serve. 

~ Vibrant, hearty and fresh without being heavy  ~ 

We opened the 2012 Fontana Candida Frascati.  Pale gold in color, the wine gives off classic aromas of limestone, mineral, grapefruit and lemon peel.  There's a slight hint of flowers.  On the palate, the wine is crisp and refreshing with palate cleansing acidity.  The flavors follow the nose with lemon and citrus dominating but there is also a pervasive mineral streak throughout.  Very much the sibling of the 2011 I reviewed last year.  Good persistence on the finish, this was wonderful with the dish and perfect for a summer evening.  89 points.  About $10.

~ By law, Frascati must be at least 70% Malvasia or Trebbiano with the balance comprised of the Greco grape. ~
This dish chased away the early summer heat.  I keep a bottle chilled in the refrigerator all summer.  Do yourself a favor and break away from your stale Pinot Grigio and get familiar with Frascati!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

La Fiorita: Exclusive Tasting & Interview

Precision. Singular focus.   That is the drive at the Brunello wine estate of La Fiorita.  In a time where most wineries in Montalcino produce, seemingly at a minimum,  a Rosso di Montalcino and some form of IGT,  La Fiorita remains steady with its production of Brunello and Brunello alone. 
This past January, I had the pleasure of meeting winery owner Natalie Oliveros at Benvenuto Brunello and we began discussing her Calabrian roots and her dream of making her own wine.  As a little girl, she crushed the grapes in her grandfather's basement for his homemade wine.  Time and technology have been kind to Oliveros and in 2006, she purchased the La Fiorita Estate in partnership with winemaker Roberto Cipresso.

~ One of La Fiorita's two estate vineyards:  Pian Bassolino ~
La Fiorita's story begins in 1992 when Roberto Cipresso harvested a tiny 1/2 hectare vineyard in Castelnuovo dell'Abate that yielded a mere 1,000 bottles of Brunello.  The famed Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence bought the entire production of the estate for their Ristorante.  Slowly, as new vineyard plantings came online, production has increased to about 25,000 bottles. 

Selected Tastings

Over the past few weeks, we were able to sample some of the fine Brunello from this estate

2006 Brunello:  This is a dark garnet color with just a faint fade to violet at the rim.  We let this sit a full 60 minutes in the decanter after removing a fine silt like sediment.  The time seems to have helped the wine because the aromatics were very expressive.  Crushed red fruits are joined by freshly shredded flowers, a slight hint of espresso, rich tobacco and exotic spices.  Wonderful to smell.  On the palate, the wine is slightly more austere than I expected given the profile of the nose.  There is a large core of ripe berry fruit that is joined with smoke, leather and a fine sense of minerality.  This still needs some time in this classic vintage but I think in two or three years time, this will blossom.  Tannins clamp down on the finish.  Served with grilled NY Strips.  91 points, about $36. 

~ The 2006 sports the old label.  The estate made a good decision with their re-design as this motif is difficult to read ~

Next up was the 2006 Brunello Riserva.  Served alongside Osso Bucco,  this wine was perhaps more expressive than the 2006 estate Brunello and that surprised me a little.  Darker black in the glass and decanter, the fruit aromas are intense and focused with fennel, tobacco and worn leather combining nicely.  Rich and powerful on the palate, everything is dialed up a notch here.  There's a full bodied, viscous mouthfeel that is sensual, sexy.  Loads of ripe tannins still assert themselves on the finish but this is outstanding and very much like I remember it at Benvenuto Brunello. Wow.  95 points.  About $90.  Disclosure:  This bottle was an importer provided sample.

~ The intense 2006 Riserva sports the new label ~

Finally, we tasted the 2007 Brunello.  This is a deep ruby color and doesn't have the concentration of color that the 2006s exhibit.  However, the nose is spicy and exotic with bright cherry, fresh meat, smoke and spices mingling nicely.  Wonderfully ripe and long on the palate, this has lots of pure, juicy, ripe primary red fruit to which fresh fennel and sweet pipe tobacco are added.  Peppery spice livens up the finish where silky tannins and acidity remain balanced.  This is one of the best 2007's I've had.  Really wonderful.  93 points.  About $36  Disclosure:  This bottle was an importer provided sample.

~ The 2007 also sports the new label ~

Discussion with Owner Natalie Oliveros & Winemaker Roberto Cipresso

~ Owner Natalie Oliveros in Poggio al Sole ~

~ Winemaker Roberto Cipresso ~
Recently I had the chance to sit down with the owner and winemaker of La Fiorita and discuss the pair's philosophy and the direction of the winery.  La Fiorita is a baby by Italian winemaking standards, but despite that, the wines already show a profound sense of richness and finesse. Production is slowly increasing and as you'll see, the new changes afoot at La Fiorita promise exciting wines in the future.


Thank you both for being with me today.  Let's get started. 
Giovanni, il nostro piacere, grazie.
It's noteworthy that La Fiorita only produces Brunello. Most estates produce a Rosso and some sort of IGT. Why the focus solely on Brunello?
Our major concern is that we want to process grapes only from our own vineyards to be adherent to our philosophy and express their terroir. We don’t have enough vineyard space to produce  a Rosso di Montalcino but we do produce an IGT  Toscana wine in very small quantity from purchased grapes.  However,  in this case the target is the price to quality ratio.  The IGT is not an expensive wine, but rather for easy accessibility.  But for our Brunello, we only wish to use estate grapes.
~ Sangiovese Grosso for Brunello during veraison at La Fiorita ~
I see, ok.  So the current estate comprises two vineyards: Poggio al Sole and Pian Bossolino, both of which have differing aspects. Can you describe the general characteristics they each lend to the fruit they bear? 
Poggio al Sole lends juice and extraction, softness, low acidity, and a spicy aromatic make up.  Pian Bossolino instead lends pronounced acidity, firm tannins, aristocratic elegance,  rich concentration and high aromatic complexity.

So in essence, differing but complimentary aspects which are blended for a more harmonius end product.  

That's correct, the sum of our terroir.

It's interesting that you blend fruit from two vineyards that have very different terroir.  When I was recently in Montalcino there was lots of debate about sub-dividing the Brunello DOCG into separate zones. What is La Fiorita's opinion on this?
We make single vineyard wines in the best vintages; we blend the fruit when we believe the final result will be more significant than the single vineyard wine. We support “zonazione” (subzones) because that is the only way for the average Brunello consumer to make it’s way through all the Brunello available on the market and understand the price and quality differences between the wines. 
But don't you think that could ultimately lead to more confusion on the part of the consumer?

Of course that's possible.  But we prefer to have more information available to those that want it. Our terroir is important and we like to highlight that fact.

~ Manicured vineyards in Poggio al Sole ~

You are developing a new vineyard called Podere Giardinello. When will that be in production?
Full production will not be achieved until 2018, but there will be some usage before then.
You've stated that  "Our philosophy is to exalt the expression of our estates' terroir" - this seems to indicate that you believe great wines are made by the vineyard, yes?   If so, what is the role of the winemaker?  Roberto, are you merely a custodian of nature?

Yes, it’s true. To make a great wine the grapes must be authentic and consistent with the oenological goal. They must be reflective of their terroir.  Techniques and technologies should not compromise their personality. The role of the winemaker isn’t simply to be a custodian, but to exalt the characteristics of the different cru through appropriate practices. We want people to be able to tell where our wines were grown. We don't want to cover that with excessive handling or wood application.

Roberto, your bio is impressive indeed.  I note that you began your career at Soldera and Poggio Antico. Those are two very different estates with vastly differing philosophies. What did you learn from each that you rely on today?

Good question Giovanni! As you know, G. Soldera is not the easiest person to work for. He is strict in the sense that he has a clear vision and a very coherent mission. Those are qualities I remember  from Soldera. From Poggio Antico I took more the sense of modern techniques and operations, improvements in the operations both in the cellar and the vineyard.  

~ Aerial view of the Poggio al Sole Estate ~
In 2000, Roberto created a special cuvee for the Pope's Jubilee Celebration. How did that recognition feel? What was the wine like?

It was a great opportunity and I worked at it with great respect, thanks to my Christian education. I mixed white grapes usually used for drying and was able to source them from the most prestigious lands of Italy. The result was a Vin Santo wine that was authoritative and original, but at the same time the synthesis of our country. It was an unique edition, just for that event.
That's interesting. I just presumed it would have been a Brunello, but what other wine than the "Wine of Saints" for the Pope, eh? 
So what's next for La Fiorita? What should fans of the winery look forward to in the future?

The arrival of new members in the company’s team opened a new chapter for us. We are making significant progress toward improving the quality of our wines. The first one is the new vineyard called Il Giardinello. It will be in production in two years and we have great expectations for it. It’s the third expression of terroir in the territory of Montalcino and we are sure it will enrich our wines.
Alright, it is definitely something to look forward to.  Thank you both so much and we'll chat again soon!
Grazie a lei, Giovanni.

You can learn more about La Fiorita at