For decades the Cerulli family has owned a small farm in the picturesque hill country of Abruzzo. Although the family always made wine for local sale and their own consumption, farming and sheep herding were the means of survival. Eventually the family turned primarily to wine production and today the company is producing quality wines from a region mostly noted for producing wine in quantity at the expense of quality. That's slowly changing though, and Cerulli Spinozzi is among those leading the way.
I recently attended a quiet, casual dinner with winemaker Enrico Cerulli and we tasted through some of his recent releases. The food at Paola's in Manhattan was spectacular and the wide range of plates only further illustrated the versatility of these wonderful wines.
|~ Family Proprietor & Winemaker, Enrico Cerulli ~|
We started dinner with an array of appetizers: Carciofi alla Judea, Mozzarella "al minuto" with heirloom tomatoes, calamari sauteed with seasoned bread crumbs and herbs and a delicious primi of homemade ravioli stuffed with fava beans and fresh mint. With these, we opened a wine that tasted as unique as the story behind it's name.
The 2012 Pecorino Cortalto is truly unique. The last time I looked, Pecorino was a cheese. A sheeps's milk cheese in fact since it comes from the word "Pecora" which means sheep. So what's going on here? Enrico tells the story.....
"Giovanni, years ago, the people in Abruzzi were mostly sheep farmers and herders. There is an open valley from L'aquila near Rome, that runs east all the way to Abruzzo. Farmers used to herd sheep through these mountain passes and of course, they carried vine cuttings with them on their trips. Eventually as the vines were planted, the shepherds noticed that the sheep loved the grapes and would eat them all the time. Thus came the name, Pecorino...."
The 2012 Pecorino is a very light golden color. It's almost clear. On the nose, the wine has abundant mineral and citrus character. There's an attractive hint of fresh mint. Don't let the color fool you either. This is not a delicate wine. On the palate the wine is viscous and medium to full bodied. It's got lovely crisp refreshing mineral and slate aromas with mint and citrus tones. It almost feels as though it was fermented in oak but Enrico tells us that character comes from the grape itself. The wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks and immediately bottled before release. The mouthfeel of the wine reminds of classic White Burgundy. This is unique, elegant and delicious and was incredible with the ravioli. 92 points. About $16.
|~ Cerulli Spinozzi Pecorino Cortalto 2012 ~|
With appetizers behind us and the evening off to an amazing start, we were treated to a variety of entrees to pair with the next two wines.
Many of you are probably familiar with Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. It's a classic red from Abruzzo and makes wonderful wines that are easily consumable. Montepulciano d'Abruzzo are DOC wines. They're not DOCG. Right? Wrong! File this one under "we learn something new every day".
|Dinner - Clockwise from Bottom: Rack of Lamb with spinch and roasted potatoes, Wagyu Skirt Steak with Rocket and Reggiano, and Seared Duck Breast with Red Risotto. Stunning food by Paola's NYC|
Within the large DOC for Montepulciano d'Abruzzo lies a tiny zone where the Italian government has recognized a superior climate, but more importantly superior soils and has elevated that area to DOCG status. Cerulli Spinozzi is one of the few producers making DOCG Montepulciano from this little slice of land in the Abruzzo mountains called Colline Teramane.
With the delicious food mentioned above, we tried two vintages of the Torre Migliori Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. The wine gets it's name from two interesting anecdotes and again, in Enrico's own words.....
"Torre means Tower in Italian and Migliori is my maternal Grandmothers name. My Nonna still has a house on the estate that overlooks some of the vineyards and stands like a Tower watching over the land. So, it's just a little tribute to her."
The 2007 Torre Migliori displays an inky purple color with a pretty violet hue to the rim. Montepulciano is very seductive to look at. I was immediately struck by the aromas of this wine. There is a pronounced smoked/cured meat character to the nose featuring soppresatta, salume and bacon. When not overblown, I dig it. And this was well done. Underneath this were layers of crushed black fruit and plums with slight fresh mountain herb notes. On the palate, the wine is concentrated and ripe with lots of freshness. The silky black plum fruit is accented with spice, new leather and a slight meaty character. This is really wonderful stuff and a steal at the SRP of $15. Paired well with all three meats, but excelled slightly more with the lamb. 92 points.
|~ 2007 Torre Migliori Montepulciano d'Abruzzo ~|
Next up was the newer vintage, the 2008 Torre Migliori. Similar in color to the 2007, but perhaps a shade lighter, this Montepulciano was distinctly different than it's 2007 brother. I don't know whether it's characteristic of the vintage, or the additional year in bottle, but I suspect a little of both. Absent here was the cured meat character and prominent on the nose were fresh minty herbs, flowers, and crushed plums. The nose is very "vertical" with lots of "lift" to the aromas. It's hard to describe but the freshness is evident. On the palate, the wine is elegant and fresh with lots of plum and black fruit flavors accented by mineral, shale and leather. Much more feminine than the 2007 but excellent in it's own style. "Comfortable in it's shoes" someone at the table said, and I'd have to agree. 91 points, SRP $15.
|~ The 2008 Torre Migliori Montepulciano d'Abruzzo ~|
These wines are no brainers. They are fabulous QPR examples that over deliver for the price. They are worth the search and when you find them, they are potential case purchases. The Cerulli Spinozzi Estate is a tiny 1 1/2 hectares, and the wines are handcrafted in small quantity but despite that, ample amounts are imported so finding them should not prove to be too daunting. Let the search begin.
Finally, I am pleased to say that Enrico Cerulli will be the subject of an upcoming interview on TuscanVines when we'll learn more of his winemaking philosophy, his vineyard practices, the family and the pride at being one of the only DOCG producers from Colline Teramane.