All posts filed under: Italy

In Montpellier for Vinisud 2016

Last week I was at Vinisud 2016 in Montpellier for the Mediterranean wine trade fair. It was my first time at this event, and as far as locations go, you could not do better than tasting wines on the sunny coast of France in February. I was there as a Vinisud Ambassador, along with Charlie Arturaola (producer of the film, “The Ways of Wine” and other wine films), Denise Medrano (The Wine Sleuth), and Michelle Williams (Rocking Red Blog). The Ambassador team was a social media powerhouse, becoming a sounding board for the producers and presentations. In a single day, the TweetReach broke new records via the official #VINISUD2016 hashtag with nearly 1,500 twitter posts recorded. According to Sylvain Dadé of specialist agency SOWINE, which hosted the Vinisud Digital Hub, over the last two days of the show, 533,000 accounts were reached with 4.8 million prints. On Tuesday, we found #Vinisud2016 was trending on twitter alongside that other little event going on at the time, The Grammys (!).  Charlie, Denise and Michelle are true social media professionals at the top of their game; each of their presentations at …

On Berry Bros & Rudd blog: Marco de Bartoli’s Vecchio Samperi Ventenniale

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Marco de Bartoli winery in Marsala, Western Sicily. This is where I tasted one of Italy’s great wines: Vecchio Samperi Ventennale. When Berry Bros & Rudd asked if I could write about one of their Italian wines, I could not go past Marco de Bartoli’s famous Marsala. This is a story of one man (and wine) against the odds. Read the full story on Berry Bros & Rudd blog, “One man’s perpetual drive for quality” here >   

4 bottles of Rosso di Montalcino 2013 (and where to eat in Montalcino)

Even though it had been raining when we left Siena only thirty minutes ago, the strong heat in Montalcino burned away all the water until very quickly there was steam rising from the road. The grapes had a good drenching and now had a moment to ripen under the intense sun. I took my coat off and walked over to the other side of town, which was mostly in shadow. Like most of this renaissance landscape, for the vineyards on the hillside it is about light and shade. The vineyards follow down from the top of the hill from all sides, each face the sun from sunrise to sunset in their own way. Just from the change in weather from drenched to heat, it is easy to see how the grapes love this weather. When there is an exceptional vintage pronounced by the Consorzio it is worth taking notice. The recent release of the 2010 vintage is one of these exceptional vintages where perfect conditions were met across most of the vineyards – north, south, east and west. But how was …

After the rain: time out in Tuscany, part 1

Where next?  That’s the big question when you are on the road. Before I could answer, I had to go back to where I feel truly nourished on all levels. Earlier this year I left my job. Then I had a severe flu. Time for a change of scenery. We booked the cheapest ticket – to Bologna – and hired a silver Fiat Panda at the airport. This was not just some Under the Tuscan Sun schtick. All my life and work has been about taste and smell. When I don’t feel good, everything tastes bland – I seem to need flavour like a photographer needs light. On the road to Tuscany, avoiding the main roads, we stopped off at a worker’s bar for lunch and a carafe of wine. On the first day, the taste of the simple pasta with tomato sauce had tears well up in my eyes. It was then I realised how much I needed to be here. Driving along the autostrade with the windows down after an oversized lunch – pasta and ragu, a meat dish and then one course too many – the …

Last of the True Romantics: Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio DOC

Often my friend from Rome, perhaps while we are walking down the street to the supermarket on a grey Saturday morning, will abruptly stop, hold his hand over his heart, grab my elbow to jolt me back and say with eyes wide open in shock, “Did you see THAT? That’s IT! I AM IN LOVE!”   Meanwhile, of course, the “love of his life” walks by completely unaware of the near cardiac arrest just caused. To be honest, I often never see what all the fuss is about, but for a moment, at least, the day seems just a little brighter for it.   I have to be careful when we are tasting wine together. He is often in raptures. That’s why, to tone down his enthusiasm about the good wine we tried from the Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio DOC in Campania, I started to talk about rocks and soil types in vineyards.   In particular, the soil type of Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio – near the volcano Mount Vesuvius – which can often be found …

The Mystery of Monfortino Barolo

A vertical of Giacomo Conterno is a prime piece of classic Barolo-ology to get the teeth into… to uncover the mystery of Monfortino Barolo. Turning up on a sunny Spring morning at the Corney & Barrow offices near the Tower of London, around the same time as Antonio Galloni was in town for his Giacomo Conterno dinner (and I, without a spare £1500 for a ticket) this was a dreamlike vertical. Sadly I arrived too early to meet Roberto Conterno. If I had met him, I had a lot to ask, especially about some of the ideas his father had about style and also some facts that seem to be different everywhere I search. Giovanni was quite demanding from all accounts – many vintages, which were good enough for most, were not deemed good enough to carry the label of Conterno and sold sfuso. The aromas produced by these wines, especially Monfortino, are understated and robust and the younger vintages flicker with seduction. They draw the taster in with elegant and classic flavours only to hint at …

Barolo 2010 at Fine + Rare

There are many buildings from the 1970s that I would want knocked down, but one called la Maison de la Celle Saint-Cloud is not one of them. Opened in 1974 in Paris and designed by Jean Pierre Raynaud, the place is completely tiled, an endless black and white grid. As ornate Persian tiles hint at the wonders of the universe beyond, this is a monument to the modern world. For me, it would be a struggle not to take some colouring-in pens. Unfortunately, it was closed in 1988 and demolished in 1993. The building is no longer, but the modern world lives on. Despite the dissection and analysis, Barolo will defy attempts to be put in a box. But what happens when you try? There is a rebellious spirit to this fine wine region, so that many producers end up singing, as Sid Vicious did, “I did it my way.” So it was with some trepidation when I went to the first Barolo tasting of the year at Fine + Rare where I tasted 90 + …

Back to Barolo School with Berry Bros & Rudd

The fine wine flavour of the month – of the year – is Barolo 2010. You would think this would make me happy. Instead, what I see is a missed opportunity to introduce more people to these great wines. Take Burgundy-level vineyard complexity plus Italian labels multiply by long cellaring time to the power of Italian wine laws. Copy and paste into an old Bordeaux en primeur spreadsheet. The result? A wine wrapped in more of a disorientating fog for customers than a drive in a minibus around hairpin bends in the Italian Alps in winter. Time to get back to basics. Time to go back to Wine School! You can never know too much when it comes to Barolo. So when I saw a Berry Bros & Rudd Wine School tasting of 2009 Barolo and Barbaresco at their cellars in St James’s Street, I put my hand up. Hosted by David Berry Green (DBG), who moved to Barolo in 2009. He lives and breathes nebbiolo. He can make the subject come to life with little tidbits …

What is deliciousness?

This is a working philosophy. But it is also a work in progress. Something I think about a lot during my day to day especially when tasting for many hours. What is deliciousness? Deliciousness is a state of ease, along with companionship (with wine and others) and most importantly (I agree with Thierry Thiese) charm. It does not try to blow you away with its amazingness. To paraphrase Thiese, it can be found in the big, medium and small wines. So it is not about points or trophies. Re-tasting Cascina Fontana Barolo 2010 – the last time I tasted this it was in the barrel in his winery in Piedmont. I remember it clearly because the wine jumped out of the barrel! A sign of things to come for the 2010 vintage? Really, if a Barolo like this doesn’t make you happy, what will? While some single cru wines’ non-fruit flavours, tannins and prices can be extreme, to the point of discomfort for some more sensitive palates, the blend of plush La Morra and serious …

Brilliant Grillo

One of the most exciting things I saw in Marsala at the government’s nursery vineyards were the experiments that crossed native Sicilian varieties with ancient Georgian Saperavi. Anticipating environmental change in the next 10 years, it is a forward thinking approach by the oenologists (then again, wineries take at least a generation to develop). The vineyards are part of a desire to return to the local grapes, to understand their natural expression, rather look at others for a style. Or have a style foisted on them. So much of Sicilian history has been this story. It is an island where the conquerors have left their mark, even in the wines – for example, Zibibbo is Arabic for grape. The conquerers have been Greeks, Spanish, Arabs, Italian, and in the case of Marsala, the British. For the wine lover, the market forces of the supermarket and EU have too often conquered Sicilian wines. There was not much incentive other than to make cheap wines in co-operatives. Now we saw a different story. In West Sicily, there …

2009 Occhipinti SP68 Bianco Sicilia

Future shock. There was an idea floating about a few years ago that mobile phones would develop an intelligence to predict your next purchase while walking down the street. The utopian marketers did not see it as 1984-style surveillance, nor as an over-enthusiastic vision from an IT consultant, but as a new form of enlightened self-interest moving at warp speed. If you liked a certain brand, and wanted it at a certain price, your phone would alert you as you are walking past a shop. Just think how easily I could stump the system: all I would have to do is put in my recent ten wine purchases. My phone would melt walking past my local delicatessen – where I have found some amazing wines recently.

Piedmont Report: 2009, 2008, 2007 Nebbiolo

With 2008 and 2009 in the market now, I dug up my 45 notes tasted in Serralunga d’Alba in 2011 and have included notes where re-tasted since then. I had always learned Nebbiolo derived from the word, “Nebbia”, meaning “fog”, alluding to the fog that sets in on the hills in Piemonte during harvest. The true meaning I am told, by every winemaker I met from Piedmont, is that Nebbiolo was named after the Piemontese word “Nebieu” meaning Noble. This may be the case, but these great wines made from Nebbiolo grape in Piemonte seem to be shrouded in fog – the fog of Italian classification laws. “We are very complicated in Piemonte,” said Pietro Ratti at the Symposium after the Nebbiolo Nobile tasting, almost as an apology. Most know Barolo and Barbaresco, some may even know they are made from Nebbiolo, but there are also other wines: Nebbiolo d’Alba, Nebbiolo from Roero and Nebbiolo Langhe. They are made from the same grape but are different classifications of Nebbiolo, some that cross over the same territories, even the same …

What’s so funny about Oltrepò Pavese

With a name like this (“umore nero” means black humour), you’d expect it to make light of its Pinot Noir clones from Burgundy, and sure enough, what you get is a deliciously dark and slightly disturbing rendition of a Beaune. Umore also happens to mean the juice from the grapes but there is nothing too funny here about the winemaking, it is fairly straight up: grown on limestone marl in Oltrepo Pavese at an altitude of 200-250 metres, this is a region in south-west Lombardy (just south of Milan), where when on the right soils, produces light mouth-watering reds but with a serious depth of macerated cherries and wild strawberries. It keeps developing in the bottle, and in the glass, making it more than a vinous one-liner. A speech bubble? Everyone is a comedian. But Curb Your Enthusiasm, the only funny thing is it is almost impossible to find Oltrepo Pavese in the UK and most of it is drunk locally. As comedian Larry David would say, it’s pretty pretty pretty pretty pretty good. 5 …

Vignaioli Naturali di Roma 2013

“I have a great appetite for splendour, but at the same time very simple tastes,” says the Valentino quotation at the entrance of his recent exhibition Valentino: Master of Couture in London. The Roman fashion maestro could have also been talking about Italian wine. On the weekend of February 9-10, I was in Rome for the Vignaioli Naturali di Roma. It was not the normal natural wine tasting (if there is such a thing as a normal natural wine tasting).

Go tell the volcano

Just a little note from Sicily as I was determined to have a holiday – visit friends, eat and drink without analyzing, and climb Mount Etna. But as this meal was so brilliant, and simple, it is worth a little post. It also made me think about wines on holidays in general. Why does a wine often not taste as spectacular at home as it does on holidays?

Handle on Calabria

A wine from a 2100-bottle production of red Ciro from Sergio Arcuri in Calabria is a revelation. Apart from finding a Calabrian wine at Berry Bros & Rudd tasting, what makes it a miracle is that it is not baked to jam under the hot southern Italian sun: perfumed and with a fine structure, very pale in colour, delicate and crisp. It had the same sensation of holiding a baby sparrow in the hand and feeling its beating heart in your grip. Fragile but with a strong sense of life.

Beautiful Gestures in Campania

After paying for a ticket to see the Palace in Caserta I asked, why is the main entrance in darkness? To give you an idea of the opulence and amount of marble of this entrance, this is the same place that is used as stand-in for the Vatican in films and also used as a set for Star Wars. Yet when we arrived, we had to climb the marble stairs in darkness, reducing the grandest staircase I have ever seen to a hollow echo-chamber. The fabulous silk curtains were almost threadbare and sun-damaged, the walls cracked and scuffed.   Despite this neglect, every room overwhelmed, as if outdoing the previous room in their lavish praise to gold. My calves ached from the amount of walking on marble; it must have been kilometres.   There is also something of this forgotten glamour and grandness to the wines here. I tasted some true greats in Campania. They are unquestionably brilliant but… it is like talking on a radio in a power cut. And just as frustrating. It’s …

Sparkling Squared

Imagine the bubbles of Franciacorta are not spherical but square and you’ll have the true idea of Italy’s premier sparkling wine. This is one of the most disciplined DOCG regions in the North of Italy, between Milan and Venice, and has a super-commitment to quality that is almost frightening if you expect Italy to be a fun babyshambles. This makes a difference. But what is the difference from Champagne? The grapes are the same (although where there would be Pinot Meunier you will find Pinot Bianco) but the sparkling wines of Franciacorta have the same assertive acidity as in Champagne and more defined than most Prosecco, other than very best.  Generally, Franciacorta spends longer on lees than Champagne and is softer and more generous in the mouthfeel. A couple of weeks ago I had lunch at L’Anima with the incomparable Maurizio Zanella of Ca’ del Bosco. One of the leading winemakers in the region, this was an incredible introduction. Michael Broadbent reminisced on the first time he met Zanella, in the 1970s on the Champs …

Italian bubbles hero

Today I met a hero of mine over lunch, Michael Broadbent. For someone who has read his Decanter column for over 15 years, this was a real pleasure. I had a fabulous chat about his love of Italian bubbles at a lunch with Ca’ del Bosco from Franciacortia. He entered the room of this sensationally top-quality sparkling wine producer at L’Anima – the king of understatement – “I rather enjoy your bubbles!” What we are talking about in this photo is his love of Moscato d’Asti and how it is such a pleasure to everyone and makes a brilliant house wine! What a real treat, I just want to share this moment with you X More about fantastic Ca’ del Bosco sparkles from Italy in next post. photo taken by @walterspeller – with whom I equally adore, and an excellent observer of Italian wine.

Tar and Roses

Last week I met with two giants in Barolo in the space of a few days: Elio Altare and Maria-Teresa Mascarello. Their espressione of Nebbiolo are as starkly different as tar and rose. Tar and rose are the signature aromas of Barolo. I like the dissonant images that come to mind of thick, black gooey tar joining with delicate, velvet, pastel roses. There’s something about this wine that resonates with me on a primitive olfactory level: perhaps, it’s the realization that the best is not always sweetness and light. This also holds true for the people making the great Barolos of today, or anyone who decides to go against the grain. Yet there could not be two more different producers of Barolo. Altare uses French barrique; Mascarello is dead against it – using traditional large botte – and famous for the label “No Barrique, No Berlusconi”. Altare makes single-vineyard Barolo; Mascarello makes Barolo the traditional Piedmontese way from three to four cru vineyards. Altare visits Burgundy twice a year since 1976; Mascarello insists on traditional Piemontese spelling …

Branko, Collio Pinot Grigio 2009

Don’t tell me this is a Pinot Grigio. Apart from just learning the Collio region has recently been wiped out by violent storms; this wine is proof that we have accepted a feeble lie about the Pinot Grigio grape for far too long. This is the real deal… click here for more on Vinissima

Notes from Parma

Emilia-Romagna is strange. The train departure board could be a poster announcing a stadium tour of gastronomic rockstars – Parma, Bologna, Modena – and yet… as far as wine goes, the region is mostly known for its sweet fizzy Lambrusco… click here for more on Vinissima.net

Giacomo Conterno – A Tale of Two Vineyards

When one of the oldest Barolo house changes guard, it is worth sitting up and taking notice. Cantina Giacomo Conterno is a great name in Barolo wines and was established in 1908. With the passing away of the formidable Giovanni Conterno in 2004, his son Roberto took the helm. There have been a few changes since then… click here for more on Vinissima.net

Pure Pleasure State: Vermentino! (Amore, Amore, Amore)

  The state of Vermentino is pure pleasure. So I raised my eyebrows to the challenge to show there were different styles of the vermentino grape. To me it is obvious: all vermentino seems to show a wave of glamourous flavour which ends in a quiet shhhh of reaching the shore. Whether the Vermentino is from Liguria, Tuscany, Sardinia or the emerging areas in Australia. But there are differences.    Solosole, Poggio al Tessoro, from Maremma is quite simply the taste of licking warm, bronzed skin after a swim in the ocean ending in the quiet of an acidic kiss. Australian vermentino, from Chalmers in Mildura in Australia, also shows the very lean, citrus mineral style after an exciting display of flavours (smoky, herbs, orange/lemon). If you know the superb Rieslings from Eden Valley you will know what I mean by the eventual leaness.   But it is Sardinia that takes the award for pure fabulous beach style; but, is it really surprising? There’s no other way of saying it – this is rich for …

Sicilia Report – Nero d’Avola Qualità

16% of Sicily’s total vines are devoted to Nero d’Avola and it is considered Sicily’s most important red grape. It has a full-bodied flavour, closer in style to Shiraz than Pinot Noir, with the ability to keep its refreshing quality despite the soaring heat…. click here for more on Vinissima.net

Donnafugata Dress Code Black

The skills for making handmade lace are nearly all replaced by the factory. Except in Sicily. Donnafugata Mille e una Notte is a red wine from Contessa Entellina DOC that has a tight grip on its joyous Nero d’Avola fruit like a short, sharp slap from a woman in mourning. Unashamed Italian austerity, with deep balsamic herbs and black-lace tannins with round Nero d’Avola berries saved from complete voluptuousness by cool harvesting the grapes in the middle of the night. If your idea of black is easy-wearing, wash n’ go then you may not be ready for the young widow with eyes of coal dressed in black lace; this is a traditional wine, yet made in a highly technological way, that seethes tension and speaks the vocabulary of the volcano. Brava.   Tasted at London International Wine Fair, 18 May at Nero d’Avola Qualita masterclass. Image: Michael Roberts

Leap into Luxury: Super-Tuscan 2007 Messorio from Le Macchiole

Some Super-Tuscans scream luxury but the 2007 Messorio from Le Macchiole is a quiet wine that opens before you as you taste it, to give the feeling of falling forward into space: like a confident step from a plane into silent velvet-dark below, the fruit billows outwards on the palate like a slow-glide on a silk parachute. Afterwards the tongue is literally left frozen in shock from hundreds of tiny pin-pricks of acidity, which may sound bad, but tasting at this very young stage (en primeur/anteprima), it is only the tingle of expectation for a profound experience in the long-term.   The 2007 is considered a “tropical vintage” in Tuscany, which may explain the richness in the fruit, but this Merlot from Bolgheri has all the hallmarks of developing well and is completely and smoothly in balance. I long to see this wine, or any

Take a bite: Aglianico del Vulture DOC

Aglianico del Vulture dei Feudi di San Gregorio 2007 The first taste of Aglianico is like a volcanic eruption in rewind: a hundred blasts, shreds of mineral rock followed by a fierce lava cooling down into black smoke puffing backwards into the top of the mountain, overgrown with herbs, cool as graphite and purring, velvet and deep, as if nothing had happened.

How to do the new austere: a baby Barbaresco

This is how to do the new austere well: with a light, baby Barbaresco style wine from a near-abandoned region in Piedmont. A fabulous wine yet with an honest country heart: violet, roses after rain, stewed cherry, and fresh-smelling wet forest twigs and gun shop, the expansive feeling of the perfume slowed down by refined tannins, like stopping on a mountain path to take photos of a richly-coloured sunset with a super-sharp lens.

Changes in Rosso di Montalcino DOC race ahead

The red colour of Italian cars is not just any red. It comes from a long history of rules, mostly developed between the World Wars, from when car racing began. Different countries were assigned different colours: blue for French cars, white for German cars and, of course, British cars were racing green. Red was assigned for Italian race cars and now, the red colour of Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Ferrari is instantly recognisable as a “race red” (or Rosso Corsa). All these rules have a history, which gain sense from the time, but most people today know what is meant by Ferrari Red. Just as with Italian car colours, and a lot of things in Italy, Italian wines have many rules. So it is worth considering what the proposed changes in the rules mean, especially when on the 15th December, the 15 board members proposed to change Rosso di Montalcino from 100% to 85% guaranteed Sangiovese.

Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG vs European Union

Some headache! The morning after the party to celebrate 30 years of DOCG status in the ancient Tuscan town of Montepulciano, winemakers were making their way to Brussels to confront the European Union’s decision to change Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG to simple “Montepulciano”. What’s the problem? Montepulciano has 6 syllables already, that is enough for a name isn’t it? And isn’t Montepulciano just a cheap red wine found in most supermarkets for around £5? What’s the problem with shortening it? The problem is this: say Montepulciano and most people think

Laughter in the Dark: Salice Salentino Riserva 2005 (and some tips on enjoying Italian wine)

Last night I tasted the Salice Salentino 2005 Riserva by the Candido family in Puglia. Salice Salentino is the name of a style of wine made from the Italian grape, Negroamaro, found on the Salentino plain located in Puglia, the heel of the “boot” of Italy. As Nabokov puts it, “This is the whole of the story and we might have left it at that had there not been profit and pleasure in the telling…”