All posts filed under: Italy

Breakfast wine: Moscato d’Asti on Sundays

It is not often you find a wine with a sense of humour, but this lightly sparkling, lightly sweet wine is the vinous equivalent of being overpowered by tickling. Logic says, don’t give in, but the frizzante, well – it is hardly bubbles, and 5.5% alcohol is hardly wine, and it is as sweet and light as a hazelnut meringue or biting into a fresh mille–feuille pastry on a first time visit to Paris. Something monumental is born from the entirely fun and frivolous. Oscar Wilde once said, “Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast”, and most times I agree wholeheartedly with this statement, which is why Moscato d’Asti is the perfect antidote for lazy Sunday breakfasts.

Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino to be sold? Rumours from Montalcino

Rumours from the hills of Montalcino today is Colle Massari is acquiring Piero Palmucci’s Poggio di Sotto. An elderly gentleman with no offspring interested in taking over the vineyard, it could soon be in the hands of Claudio Tipa, winemakers from Maremma, part of the family who are also patrons of Alinghi team in the America’s Cup. The tiny 8ha of vineyard (12 ha in total) produce some of the most mystical and benchmark expressions of Brunello in Montalcino. To say this a favourite wine of mine is an understatement. Not only is the flavour burned in my memory as perfect expression of Sangiovese in Montalcino, and I use it as a complete reference point, but it was also

Notes from Parma: What is quality Lambrusco?

Parma is VIOLETS. Aged hams, dark chocolate, profumo, the fizz of Lambrusco. Violets became popular under Maria-Luiga, the Duchess of Parma and second wife of Napoleon, whose presence can be felt everywhere walking along the prosciutto-coloured streets. The smell of violet has three distinct parts: candy-sweet, violet flower and violet leaf. In my opinion, this can be seen as the spectrum of quality of Lambrusco. The worst being confectionary and the best redolent of violet leaf. A good, refreshing Lambrusco has a violet leaf dryness with a violet fizz that immediately dissipates into an ecstasy of violet perfume. After my last post, I had some rather strong reactions to my assertion there could even be a possibility of quality Lambrusco. Think of it this way. Rose was also once considered a sweet and cheap drink. Look at it today. Over the past 10 years it has become one of the most versatile and food-friendly wines on the menu. What do you think? Can you recommend anything good? Or is Lambrusco a hopeless case?  

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

A Tale of Two Vineyards: Giacomo Conterno dinner at Zucca

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, which is why I was pleased to have an informal dinner at Zucca Restaurant in London to taste the latest releases. 

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

Top 5 Italian White Wines from Waitrose Spring Collection 2011

Here are my top 5 white Italian wines from the new Waitrose Spring Collection 2011. This year Waitrose is bang-on trend with wines everybody wants to drink right now and at fair prices. They have also sourced some new, quirky regions which are destined to be future classics. Not an easy feat for a supermarket with over 250 branches. N.B. My system for recommending Italian wines from a supermarket is based on whether the wine has bella figura. That means it must show character, regional story and style. In other words, not turgid, non-descript industrial or bland. Top 5 Italian White Wines for Spring from Waitrose: 

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

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 deeply unmodern wine, yet made in a highly technological way, that seethes tension and speaks the vocabulary of the volcano. Brava.

Giro d’Italia Wine Tour 2011 with Vinissima

Join me on my Wine Tour with the Giro D’Italia 2011 as the Tour races through the wine regions of Italy. At each stage, we will match the wines from the area the Tour is travelling through. There are maps, clips of the race, wine and food and more maps. Updated throughout the day. Drop in, anytime over the next 3 weeks. Finishes Sunday May 29. www.GiroWine.tumblr.com 2011 Giro d’Italia – List of Stages and Quick Links to Main Posts:

Piedmont Report: Langhe Nebbiolo & Nebbiolo d’Alba

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. But no, I stand humbly corrected. The true meaning I am told, by every winemaker I met while I was there, 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. Does it have to be this way? Some may 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 vineyards, as Barolo and Barbaresco (see map above).  They …

Drawing the Line: Barolo, Barbaresco & Langhe Nebbiolo

  Barolo may be the wine everyone knows, but the grape that makes Barolo – Nebbiolo – is the chalk line that draws the character of Piemonte. This line has its moments of frustration. Particularly when Nebbiolo is only recognised by winelovers and winemakers alike as the King and Queen of Piemonte, Barolo and Barbaresco.However, like any character who hopes for a continuous line, there is good news for Langhe: a distinct picture is emerging.

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 velvety 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

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

New Italian wines at The Wine Society: bella figura!

The concept of ‘bella figura’ or good image is important to Italians. Bella figura is more than dressing well. It extends to the aura you project too – i.e. confidence, style, demeanour, etc. (From Italy – Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette) The Wine Society UK has found its Members wines that not only speak of the place but also have an extra flourish of bella figura. You’ll find nearly all of The Wine Society’s Italian wines for Spring have personality and speak of its place and history; in particular, the white wines. At these prices, and in these quantities, that is quite an achievement. Here is the line up for Spring: 

New Italian Wine range at Marks & Spencer

“What is it? Why does he have to shout? Why!” The Queen turned to say to noone in particular at the G20 Conference in 2009. The collective groan could be heard all the way from Italy after President Berlusconi shouted across The Throne Room in Buckingham Palace to introduce himself to the new US President Obbammmmaaa. Which brings me to the Marks & Spencer Spring Tasting. One word came to me while walking away:

The Territory is Not The Map – Italian Wine and Social Media

In photo: Laura Gray and Marco (Il Palazzone), Chiara and Christiano (Cascina Gilli, Piedmont), Vittorio (tirebouchon), Susanna Crociani (Crociani, Montepulciano – holding bottle), Tartetartin. This year commemorates 150 years of Italian Unification. Before 1861, Italy was a collection of kingdoms rather than a modern idea of a nation. Perhaps it still is.

Letters from Montalcino: appeals on proposed changes to Rosso di Montalcino

The Brunello di Montalcio producers are meeting to vote and decide whether to change the law: to allow Rosso di Montalcino to become a blended wine, like other wines in Tuscany, (and in other parts of the world) or to remain as 100% Sangiovese. What do producers see as the problem with changing Rosso di Montalcino from 100% Sangiovese to 85% Sangiovese? A few days ago one of the bigger producers wrote an open letter to the consortium from one of the larger producers, Mastrojanni owned by Francesco and Andrea Illy (yes, the same Illy as the coffee): 

Go a little crazy Arneis

In local Langhe-Piedmont dialect, the name of the white grape Arneis means “crazy, weird, introverted, whimsical, bizarre”. But what’s really crazy here is that Arneis is not more well-known as a white wine. In a similar way to Viognier, its individuality was once blended away into red wines and production was limited to a small parcel of land. Reminiscent of Viognier with its hint of apricot, good Arneis has an unmistakeable note of delicate white flowers and great Italian texture on the palate. Good humoured, light and original, I won’t say I have never seen crazy-as-in-psychotic examples of Arneis before

Marks & Spencer Barbera d’Asti

Warning: the label says Barbera d’Asti but there is nothing much Barbera nor Asti about this wine from Marks & Spencer. The natural acidity of the Barbera grape jars with the American oak (yes, I said American oak) which gives the wine as much pleasure as chewing on tin foil while watching good food being thrown away.

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.

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 back into the top of the mountain, overgrown with herbs, cool as graphite and purring, velvet and deep, as if nothing had happened. The consensus amongst wine lovers is that Aglianico is due for a spectacular resurge any day now. There are two major Aglianico styles in the South of Italy, Tuarasi DOCG and Aglianico del Vulture DOC (why this is not a DOCG is one of those cruel twists of Italian law^) a 100% Aglianico style grown on the side of the volcano, Mount Vulture. At the core of the wine is a complex profile of black fruit, licorice, firm tannins and good acidity with a perfume of violet, sour cherry and leather. The vineyards are high on the mountain which gives the wine an uplifting freshness. The large personality reminds me of a Barossa …

Spectacular Mount Etna DOC

This is what gives Mount Etna DOC wines their character. Last night, Mount Etna erupted for 2 hours. Mount Etna is Europe’s most active volcano, replenishing the region’s soil every few years with hot lava music. The black volcanic soil filters the strong flavours of grapes ripened under the Sicilian sun. This makes the wines from Mount Etna powerful, yet distinctly soft with a mineral taste. Technical information: Mount Etna DOC Red Grape Varieties: Nerello mascalese, Nerello mantallato White Grape Varieties: Carricante, Catarratto bianco Recommended wines: Red: Etna Rosso DOC 2007, Cantine Nicosia, Sicilia (80% Nerello Mascalese, 20% Nerello Mantallato) White: 2009 Planeta Carricante, Mount Etna, IGT Sicilia Image and Link: “Red Sky at Night… Mount Etna erupts in spectacular fashion” (Daily Mail, 13 Jan 2011)

How to do the new austere: a baby Barbaresco

La Maggiorina Le Piane 2009 (Colline Novaresi DOC, Piedmont) from Lea & Sandeman, £12.95 pb This is how to do the new austere well: with a light, baby Barbaresco style wine from a near-abandoned region in Piedmont. Beautiful perfumes and tight tannins somehow make austere seem rich. 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. From a once thriving wine-region 1-hour drive North-West of Milan, vineyards deserted in the 1950s for the textile industry, the Colline Novaresi DOC is in the highest and most eastern part of Piedmont. This is made near the town of Boca from the Nebbiolo grape which gives the wine a beautiful pale colour and perfume, also seen in expensive Barolo and Barbaresco, but contains up to 30% Croatina grape, a local variety which gives a violet colour and tannic …

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, 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. Currently the law stands: Brunello di Montalcino must be 100% Sangiovese and aged for 4 years (Riserva for 5 years) …

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 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, the cheap and cheerful red Montepulciano grape from the next state, Abruzzo. Not the Sangiovese wine from Tuscany, Vino Nobile. Change the name from Vino Nobile to just “Montepulciano” and suddenly the wine is something else for most people asking for it. Already there is enough confusion between these two very distinct styles because they share the word in the name: Montepulciano. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG was one of the first regions in Italy to receive DOCG status in1980, next to …

The One That Got Away

This wine had the place smelling like Christmas for a week. Can I give you a tasting note from broken bottle? At around £120 – £140 per bottle, I have to at least try… I was down on my hands and knees licking the floor. Risking shards of glass in my tongue just to have a taste.

Lunch with the Marchesi de Frescobaldi at new Harrods Wine Department

Being a family with a well-recorded ancient past must not always be pleasant, but at least, like old photos or tear-stained letters, the evidence does not require many words. True, such things as archives, documentaries, and the love and rejection which is called fashion can cause trouble over the years. And it definitely has for the Frescobaldi family at one time or another in its 700 year history. But avoiding disaster in the long-term requires a checklist as short as that for any winemaker: soil, weather, location. Looking at my notes from lunch with the Marchesi Leonardo Frescobaldi and his family, I notice most of the day’s talk concerned the “expression of the soil”. The Marchesi posed a very simple question before tasting the four wines: “What was the message received from the soil?”. The line-up: 2007 Mormoreto, 2007 Haut Brion, 2007 Cos d’Estournel and 2007 Opus One. All Cabernet-based. The Marchesi de Frescobaldi inherited Bordeaux grapes from their grandfather Vittorio in the mid-19th century. Historical facts slip into conversation as easily as tossing a few coins …

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, his love walks by completely unaware of the near cardiac arrest just caused. To be honest, I often don’t 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. His sensitivity to beautiful things means 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 …

Salice Salentino Riserva 2005

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…” Salice Salentino by Candido has an acidity like a table made only of neon light: the edges are the fluorescent bright taste of redcurrant and bilberry. The acidity frames a space filled with a perfume of prune, mushrooms and dry raspberry (must remember, real raspberries taste dry). It is a brick red with orange glints. But this is where the limit of description ends and where the music begins. Alongside the wine we enjoyed the local cheese from Puglia, scamorza (a smoky, hard mozzarella). The smokiness of the cheese became the bottom note completing the earth-fruit in the wine, pulling together …