All posts tagged: Italy

Sea change in Maremma: a dinner with Podere Sapaio Bolgheri DOC

Let’s be upfront, there have been a few Sassicaia wannabes when it comes to Bolgheri DOC: ambitious wines made with high extraction, high alcohol and a high use of new oak – and lashings of Merlot. Although, only established in 1999, Podere Sapaio could not be mistaken as just another one of these wines.  Attending a dinner hosted by Walter Speller, and tasting through a vertical of Podere Sapaio’s past vintages, I tasted a winery that has been allowed to develop and experiment rather than be another cookie-cutter super Tuscan. Before we turn to their main wines – Volpolo and Sapaio – here is a wild card wine to give you an insight of the owner’s open philosophy. Not many wineries in this area are experimenting with orange wines made of Ansonica (Inzolia) and aged in amphora.  But back to the main story – the reds. Bolgheri DOC is a relatively new region, coming to prominence in the 1990s on the back of a string of excellent Sassacaia releases, and wineries piled into the area to take …

Viva Vermentino di Gallura DOCG

With most of my days spent in front of a screen lately – for work and study – it felt great to be back amongst the vines. This time in Sardinia. After judging at the Concorso Enologico Nazionale “Vermentino” alongside the very talented, Susan Hulme MW, we visited the only DOCG on the island: Vermentino di Gallura DOCG.  About Vermentino di Gallura DOCG A little bit of background. Vermentino is grown across Sardinia, but the grapes used for the production of Vermentino di Gallura DOCG must come from the territory of Gallura, in the north of the island, which includes the municipalities: Aggiues, Aglientu, Arzachena, Badesi, Berchidda, Bortigiadas, Budoni, Calangianus, Golfo Aranci, Loiri Porto San Paolo, Luogosanto, Luras, Monti, Olbia, Oschiri, Palau, S. Antonio di Gallura, S. Teodoro, S. Teresa di Gallura, Telti, Tempio Pausania, Trinita d’Agultu, in the Province of Olbia-Tempio, and Viddalba in the Province of Sassari.  This is quite a list. Yet Sardinia is an island with a long viticultural history. The Sardinian people I met had an intense sense of their locality and …

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 …

5 favourites from Armit Wines Annual Tasting 2015

Armit Wines is fortunate to have some big agencies on their books – Ornellaia, Gaja, Rioja Alta, Giacosa, Huet, the list goes on – but here are the 5 wines which stood out for me at the Armit Wines Annual Tasting 2015 for no other reason than pure crazy fabulousness:   1. Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Haut-Lieu Demi Sec 2009 (Loire) Masterful. As you would expect from one of the last vintages by Noël Pinguet – legendary winemaker and son-in-law of Gaston Huet. This is a wine where taste moves faster than the speed of thought. Pure and light, sweet and savoury, weightless and gravity. And it all just comes together so effortlessly. I saw a friend who is an expert on the Loire do a beeline for it when he entered the room. It’s pretty much like that. Everything else disappears. RRP £17.oo duty paid ex vat 2. Domaine Gourt de Mautens Rosé 2010 (Rhone) On a buzz feed listicle, 24 Bizarre Japanese Ice-Cream Flavours, you’ll find ice-cream comes in whitebait, shark fin and cactus flavours. This Rosé is not exactly your classic strawberry pink, …

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 …

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 …

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).

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. Despite my best attempts to be cynical, I could not help but love the slightly debauched characters of licorice, smoke and dark fruits. Before long, I was singing the same love song, too. Amarone is unique and intimate, deep and sometimes sweet. Like a good love song, it sometimes has a slightly bitter edge. What I suspect is part of the appeal of Amarone is the way in which it is made. Even if an ardent Amarone fan knows nothing about the passito method of drying grapes on straw mats for months and then extracting the juice, there is shock of recognition in finding this out, like hearing the real story behind a favourite lyric. …

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. …