All posts tagged: Italy

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 …

Wine Fetish and the Edge of Taste

Because I like my ankles, I learned quickly stilettos are not practical on the cobbled streets of central London. Some shoes are not made for walking. The only sensible place to wear them is in bed. That said, some wines are not made for drinking. I have noticed over the years, people who become fixated on wine long enough, begin coveting the bizarre tastes, the hard-to-find, the wine-beyond-price. For the everyday olfactory worker, this fetish for strangeness can not be talked about in polite company. You can not admit too much to your own personal preferences. To the outside world, if you talk about wine, you are supposed to be objective arbiters of quality who can communicate to the largest audience possible; it is better to supress your boredom with the clean, choc-berry matrix and the desire for new kingdoms of taste by hiding the key in the cellar. The other reason is the blank look given to people who don’t understand. No one wants to be elitist. What I am talking about is a …

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

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

dark sunglasses required: sexy Sicilian wine

There’s a stuffy image to the wine industry. It’s where middle-aged men with cigars who imagine themselves out every night patting strippers on the bum between glugs of Bordeaux as they discuss wine like stock prices. Sicilian wines are not for them. There’s also the people who go to the supermarket on the way home from work, get home and perfunctorily open a bottle to watch television for a few hours before going to sleep to do it all again the next day. Sicilian wines are not for them, either. Sicilian wines are TROPPOOOO BUONNNOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! For the first time in ages, I had the Planeta Cometa Fiano and I felt about it exactly as I always did: affable, over-the-top glamorous, completely unpretentious and overall just delicious. If Dolce & Gabbana had a wine then it would be close to this. This is effortless Sicilian style. On a grey London day, I wanted to reach for my dark sunglasses to pour it. The colour is golden straw like mid-afternoon sunshine by the beach. It had a …

Amarone: This is not a love song

If logic applied, I would not love Amarone della Valpolicella. To say it’s a big style of red is an understatement; it’s dramatic, high in alcohol and generally quite expensive. It has been said, Amarone “is seductive, sexy, confounding… an aphrodisiac”. Naturally, in the face of slavish devotion, I tasted it many times with regulation thin lips and furrowed brow.

What is a ‘vino da meditazione’?

I love reading wine tasting notes in Italian. I always want to sing it back. For example, What is a vino da meditazione? It’s an intriguing term often seen in Italian wine notes. It looks like the word “meditation”, but it’s not quite. Coined by famous Italian gastronome, Luigi Veronelli, meditazione is often used to describe sweet passito wines or red wines aged for a long time such as Barolo or Brunello di Montalcino. From my Italian sources, a vino da meditazione can mean: 1. Calm, sweet wine (without bubbles); 2. Important red wines; 3. Wines with a long vinification process from vine to bottle such as Brunello di Montalcino Riserva (at least 5 years in oak), Barolo Riserva (5 years) or Vin Santo (8 years in oak); 4. A way to drink these wines with an attitude of understanding its complexity:”Stop and slow down – this wine should be approached calmly, reflectively to understand its complexity and composition”.   Holy Wine   A classic vino da meditazione is Vin Santo (holy wine), a Tuscan sweet …

the blue wines of Tuscany

At first everything seemed fine, more than fine: from left to right, older terracotta-coloured wines from Chianti to the latest bright purple wines from the Tuscan coast of Maremma. The new 2006 Coevo sat in the middle: a perfectly balanced blend of two distinct regions, Chianti and Maremma. But then out came the Michelin-star Chef, Massimo Bottura, to introduce the food.   Initially, I thought it was simply a good idea to have food with a Tuscan wine tasting, for Tuscan Sangiovese wines are often completed on the palate by food. But Massimo Bottura, from Osteria Francescana in Modena, a 2-Michelin star restaurant (Bottura himself is ranked number 6 in the world*), was not here just to cook, he was here to interpret the ideas behind 2006 Coevo wine through his food. Suddenly, the tasting shifted to a whole new level… Bottura’s ideas flew as thick as aged Balsamic yet as fast as a Ferrari (both also at home in Modena where Osteria Francescana is based). Bottura insisted, the modern chef needs to have their …

vermentino di sardegna: what’s cool in wine right now

Wines from southern Italy are absolutely huge right now. There are, of course, the Sicilian wines from Planeta, the incredible Barrua as well as anything from Campania. But unexpectedly one wine in particular, from Sardinia, has people spontaneously talking and coming back for more: it’s Vermentino di Sardegna. Just as Sardinia is a discrete, and somewhat rustic, place to take a luxury holiday, Vermentino di Sardegna has the same exotic yet quiet and relaxed feel. The volcanic soils create a thrill of minerality (which gives it a sort of edgy wit that satisfies the intellect) while the Mediterranean warmth has given it a deeply sensual character (satisfying the body). Like a good holiday it seems to satisfy mind, body and soul. And wallet. Like some other little known Italian grape varieties, Vermentino is very good value, too. Relaxing with a glass on a sunny afternoon is as comforting as finding a tax haven for the brain. One glass and a slab of Pecorino Sardo cheese and it won’t matter whether you are holed up on …

Were Dreams (now it is just wine!)

Here is an Italian white wine from Friuli-Venezia that captures my heart: Jermann’s Were Dreams, or the full title – Were Dreams (now it is just wine!).  I can hear the tut-tutting already. What a silly name for a wine! And yet, and yet… it’s precisely the playful silliness that makes me love it even more. What does he mean? All those grapes were dreams and now it just wine… I once had high ideals and now it’s all mundane reality? Or even… philosophize as much you like about the stuff, but it’s meant to be drunk and enjoyed. Whatever the name means, Jermann can afford to have the last laugh: he is one of the masters of the N-E Italian region. And it is his light-touch that give his white wines a depth of minerality and subtle sophistication to make a bottle the most entertaining dinner guest. His Were Dreams is no exception. However, don’t expect much small talk here. It’s definitely for those who love big oak in their Chardonnay (and you know who you are!). After a few hours …

Castello di Ama: chianti, architecture and art

Nestled in the commune of Gaiole in Chianti, in the province of Siena, lies one of the most beautiful modern wineries I have ever seen. The premier Chianti Classico estate, made of mirror, is a modern building, not beautiful in itself. What makes it beautiful is the idea it reflects along with the non-stop undulating olive-clad hills and vineyards. The building becomes a complete merging of the Chianti landscape into the winery. Apart from the inspired architecture, it is also home to an excellent collection of contemporary art. Owners Marco Pallanti and Lorenza Sebasti showcase their wines amongst music and art works. “An important work of art will live on through time and will always have something to relate to the viewer, just as a good bottle of wine will age with style, harmony and balance, and still communicate its unique history…” (from Decanter Magazine). Metaphorically, Chianti di Ami’s architecture is the greatest expression of terroir I have ever seen: where the land reflects itself through the winery, and finally, expressing itself in the glass. …