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Wine, starting at the ground up

terroir-nf-valley

The view across the North Fork Valley is one of diverse terrors, all producing a sense of place in the agriculture and people of the region.

 

One of the most-revealing ways to visit a winery is to walk its vineyards. This long has been popular as a way to get close to the very land that grows the grapes. You may smell, touch and even taste what it is winemakers are talking about when promoting the importance of terroir, “minerality”, and the like.

The concept of “terroir” can encompass many variants but it has been best served by several writers as the “somewhereness” of a wine, meaning the sum of those factors contributing to a sense of place from which a wine comes.

I’ve spent hours in vineyards with grape growers explaining the differences in soil texture, color and mineral/chemical content and then retiring to tasting rooms where all the strands converge and are revealed in the glass.

If, as it often is, the grape grower and the winemakers are the same person (or work closely together), the message you received in the vineyards is the same message speaking to you from the glass.

However, with the recent discovery of the vine-devastating phylloxera louse in Colorado’s vineyards, the opportunity is gone to walk vineyards (the louse can spread from one vineyard to another by the soil on your shoes) but you still you can look from a distance and, of course, talk to the winemakers about the most-basic of the tools they work with.

luca-formentini-selva-capuzza

Luca Formentini of Podere Selva Capuzza in Brescia, Italy, explains to visitors the importance of the soil to his wines.

While the type and condition of the soil is a common topic of discussion in other winemaking regions, I’ve rarely heard the topic presented in Colorado tasting rooms. Maybe the hosts and hostesses just don’t get asked, or maybe there’s a feeling that the audiences may quickly go glassy-eyed at the very mention of soil chemistry.

And, indeed, some wine critics are skeptical of the concept of terroir or that a vine’s roots can absorb and transfer flavor-enhancing compounds from the soil to the roots.

There’s an interesting article (at least to the stone-suckers among us) about the role of soil to terroir and wine flavors on the wineanorak.com site. The New York Times’ wine critic Eric Asimov recently wrote about the “many variables” that go into “making a wine from a particular place can often be overwhelmed by grape-growing and winemaking decisions.”

This, he argues, loses the “intricacies of terroir” that one finds in wines from, say, Burgundy where that expression “has been raised to a high art.”

He does emphasize, terroir not withstanding, that “the human element” remains uppermost in winemaking. A talented winemaker (the human element) can make good wines no matter where the grapes come from, that’s a given. And that same winemaker learns to use the flavors of the terroir to the wine’s best advantage.

Now let’s return to Colorado wines. I’m often asked (it’s the nature of the job) for my favorite Colorado wine and over the years I’ve discovered there isn’t one, only favorite winemakers.

I’m a firm believer in the role of terroir (I wrote about it here) and this valley and the North Fork Valley have immense ranges of terroir. The Grand Valley has sandy terraces on the west and heavy clay soils on the east, with a few ancient riverbeds, floodplains and long-dry lakebeds thrown in.

The most-obvious example might be in the North Fork, where the Gunnison River divides the landscape into distinct geological regions, volcanic on one side, lots of Mancos Shale across the river, and the wines reflect those differences.

The wines might not taste exactly alike, depending on their origin (part of the terroir). Even grapes from within the same vineyard can taste differently, which is what French winemakers learned centuries ago.

You can test this: Find a winery that makes estate-grown wines and also makes wines from purchased grapes and see if you can distinguish place-of-origin (estate grown) vs. winemaker’s touch theory.

It’s certainly not a bad thing that the human element has a determining role in a wine’s finished product, and you may find it’s not the place or the grape but the winemaker that lifts your spirits.

– Story and photos by Dave Buchanan

Winter nights warmed by memories of Etruscan vineyards.

January 13, 2017 Leave a comment
tommasi-rompicollo

The Tommasi Family’s Poggio al Tufo vineyards near Pitigliano, a historical Etruscan city in the Maremma an hour or so north of Rome. Photo courtesy Tommasi Family Estates.

 

Sometimes, when the days are short and cold and summer is but a memory, I spend winter hours looking for wines that remind me of warmer times and sunnier climes.

I recently found two wines that took me back to a few days late last spring spent wandering the vineyards of the Veneto and Tuscany. Both wines are from Tommasi Family Estates, the 115-year old company now in its fourth generation of winemakers with its base in the heart of the Valpolicella Classico region of the Veneto.

Tommassi, named after founder Giacomo Tommasi, has vineyards in four regions: Veneto; Olto Pavese in Lombardy; Tuscany (Montalcino and Maremma); and Manduria, in Puglia. From each of these regions come wines as distinct and unique as the vineyards where they grow.

The event was a simple gathering of good friends for a holiday dinner and talk, a simple yet warm get-together so remindful of previous dinners spent at the homes of winemakers around the world, where formality drops away and the talk turns to the state of wine in general along with family, current politics and wherever the mood take us.

Tommasi Ripasso DOC Valpolicella Classico Superiore 2013 – As we all know, the story of Ripasso wines is intertwined with the story of Valpolicella and Amarone. Briefly, a Ripasso is made by refermenting Valpolicella on the skins left after Amarone is fermented. The result is a wine that’s darker and more intense in flavor than the original Valpolicella and goes well with winter-style comfort foods or even a grilled steak in the summer.

You could call a Ripasso a “baby Amarone” because the former uses the same grape varieties that go in Amarone (Corvina, Rondinella and, in this case, Corvinone) and you get some of the same aromas: dark cherries, dried cranberries, heather, and spice.

But it’s less-expensive, generally in the $20-25 range.

We had this wine with grilled chicken, fresh green salad and homemade bread. You would have thought it was July until the wind howled and snow blew past the windows.

Tommasi Poggio al Tufo Rompicollo Toscana IGT 2013 – We opened this wine for the cheese course and while there’s nothing overwhelming about the wine, it brought a smile to everyone’s face. Maybe that’s the key – it’s not overwhelming, it just goes well with food and good company.

Plus, it’s one of those rare finds that is affordable, very tasty and pairs well most lighter meats, pastas and cheeses. And, if you’re into this sort of thing, you can close your eyes, take a sip and imagine you’re in the Tommasi vineyard in the historic Etruscan area of sunny Maremma in southwestern Tuscany, midway between the Tyrhennian Sea and Rome.

The wine is a blend (60 percent Sangiovese, 40 percent Cabernet Sauvignon) from a sun-drenched vineyard on volcanic soil. The word “tufo” is Italian for the volcanic tuff found in the Maremma and a common building stone for Rome. The wine has bright flavors of dried Montmorency cherries, currants and hints of sage and white pepper. $12-$15.

Both wines are imported by Vintus Wines, Pleasantville, N.Y.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heading into the New Year with three winter-worthy wines

December 29, 2016 Leave a comment
sagrantino-on-the-vine

Sagrantino grapes are grown primarily in and around the commune of Montefalco in the central Italian region of Umbria. Fewer  than 1,700 acres are planted to the grape, according to the local consortium.

With the New Year upon us and winter settling in, it’s nice to find some sunshine in a bottle. A brief flurry through some unopened boxes revealed these three bright notes for what may be a dreary political season.

2010 Arnaldo-Caprai Collepiano Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG – On those austere winter nights when temperatures plummet and the grill is working overtime providing steaks for a hungry post-ski holiday crowd, nothing says warmth like the full-bodied warmth of a Montefalco Sagrantino. The history of Sagrantino the grape goes back at least 400 history in the Montefalco region of Umbria and probably more, if some of the oldest texts are correct about vineyards existing in the area prior to 1100.

The Montefalco area was designated DOCG (denominazione di origine controllata e garantita) in 1992. The DOCG area includes the commune (municipality) of Montefalco along with parts of Bevagna, Guild Cattaneo, Castle Ritaldi and Giano dell’Umbria.

You don’t need to be a historian to enjoy this ruby-dark wine from Arnaldo-Caprai, with its velvety mouthfeel, smooth plum and blackberry notes with hints of spice (a seasonal mix of clove and nutmeg). It’s a wine made for red meat and hearty meals, with assertive, chewy tannins and even six years after release still capable of further aging. $54, sample.

2013 Kit’s Killer Cab – Think of Clif Bars and the image most people get is of the high-energy bars found in backpacks, briefcases and lunchboxes around the world.

Today, though, there’s a whole ‘nother Clif world, thanks to the efforts of Clif Bar founders Gary Erickson and his wife Kit Crawford, also happen to be the CEOs behind Clif Family Winery, the duo’s high-energy Napa Valley winery.

Most Napa winemakers rated the 2013 vintage as “ideal” and this Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from the family’s Croquet and Cold Springs vineyards on Howell Mountain reflect those near-perfect growing conditions. Lush and smooth, with dark fruit balanced by even tannins and a bright future. Drink it now or hold it for a few years. $75, sample.

2015 Pessimist – This affordable red blend (Syrah, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Tannat, Grenache) is a second label from the much-respected Daou Vineyards of Paso Robles. The Daou team of winemakers makes this very much a first-tier wine, with dark berries, vanilla bean and black pepper notes tucked around smooth, seductive tannins. Your friends will guess you spent much more. $20, purchased.

 

 

 

 

Francesco Drusian: Preserving the heritage of Prosecco DOCG

Prosecco DOCG hills

The steep hills of the unique Valdobbiadene-Conegliano Prosecco Superiore DOCG rise abruptly from the Venetian plain. The border separating the DOCG from Prosecco DOC lies at the base the hills. Story and photos by Dave Buchanan

BIGOLINO di Valdobbiadene (TV) – Standing amidst rows of spring-fresh vines climbing the razorback hills rising steeply to of the pre-Alps of northeast Italy, Francesco Drusian smiles at the thought of this region becoming a UNESCO World Heritage site.

“We did everything we could to preserve our heritage,” Drusian says, reaching out to a light-green shoot just opening to the April sun. “Now, it’s up to others to decide if we did enough.”

It’s only a few days past VinItaly and I’ve called on Francesco Drusian in hopes of learning more about Prosecco and Drusian’s place in the narrative of Italy’s popular yet oft-underappreciated sparkling wine.

I’ll post more about our discussions in the future.

Few people would argue Francesco Drusian has done as much as anyone to preserve his heritage and that of Prosecco.

Drusian Brut

Born in the hills of Valdobbiadene-Conegliano and 100-percent Glera grapes. Photo courtesy Drusian FaceBook

According to Francesco, he’s the fourth generation of his family (the fifth, his daughter Marika, already is producing Prosecco DOCG under her own label) to make wine from these geometrically perfect vineyards overlooking the village of Bigolino, which itself lies on the north bank of the Fiume Piave near where the river cuts through the famed Valdobbiadene hills.

The winery began in the mid-19th Century with grandfather Giuseppe Drusian and then his son Rino making still wines. Francesco took over in 1984 and today the name Drusian connotes Prosecco Superiore DOCG, one of the best versions of the iconic Italian sparkling wine now soaring on a crest of popularity.

Francesco introduced sparkling wine to his winery in 1986, shortly after the autoclave afforded a way to control the secondary fermentation that gives Prosecco its sparkle and shortly before the world’s love affair with everything Italian became the tsunami we see today.

The advantages of the pressurized autoclave – including preserving bubbles and fresh flavors and reducing the labor and cost involved with metodo classico – suddenly made it possible for lovers of sparkling wine worldwide to enjoy a wine that is light, refreshing, food-friendly and surprisingly affordable.

“Prosecco DOC is the ultimate simple but sophisticated wine which personifies the unique Italian lifestyle” says the Prosecco DOC Consorzio website.

However, the international rush to adopt elements of the “Italian lifestyle” had its expected result: a flood of Prosecco, much of it poorly made and of dubious background (google “Paris Hilton prosecco”), hitting the market.

Even the very existence of a Prosecco DOC gives voice to the expansion, some say uncontrolled, of Prosecco as an industrial product.

By the mid-2000s, Prosecco, as with many other great things, had to be saved from its own success. Read more…

It’s the weather – Late freeze hits Europe’s wine regions

SCHWEIZ FROSTKERZEN

 Anti-frost candles burn April 28 in a vineyard in Flaesch, in the Swiss canton of Grisons. The candles provide some protection to young grape shoots from unseasonably usual low temperatures. (Photo: KEYSTONE/Gian Ehrenzeller) Article by Dave Buchanan

Spring brings constant change to Colorado wine country.

We’ve already seen temperatures ranging from the 30s to the 80s, high winds, and daily weather ranging from scorching sun to rainy stretches reminiscent of winegrowing in the Northwest.

One thing we’ve dodged so far is temperatures below freezing affecting grape buds.

Orchardists haven’t been so lucky and several times this spring they’ve been rousted out of bed by the frost alarm going off.

Up to now winemakers count themselves lucky, and if things continue this way we may see a repeat of last year’s bountiful harvest, which was the largest so far seen and came at a time many winemakers’ reserves were running bony following several lean years.

One of the global impacts of climate change seen in fruit- and grape-growing regions from western Colorado to the Rhine and Burgundy is earlier bud breaks, which puts most stone fruits at a severe disadvantage because their young flowers are susceptible to late frosts.

Grapes break bud later than tree fruit, which normally puts grape buds still tightly wrapped and mostly unaffected during late frosts.

This year, however, the shoe dropped in some of the world’s most-famous wine regions, including Burgundy and elsewhere in Europe where a late frost on April 26-27 brought temperature below freezing.

A report issued by the Bourgogne Wine Board (BIVB) said the “extremely rare” frost affected vineyards across Burgundy.

Among the vineyards most affected were the higher vineyards in Chablis and the Grand Auxerrois, the north of the Côte de Beaune (Savigny, Chorey and down to Meursault, Pommard and Volnay) and the Côte de Nuits.

Early reports came too early to provide detailed analysis of the damage but this week its was reported nearly half (46percent) of the vineyards – covering 13,453 hectares (33,234 acres) – suffered damage to at least 30-percent of the young buds with 23 percent of the vineyards reporting losses of more than 70 percent.

The remaining 54% – 15,797 hectares– received less than 30% damage.

There also have been reports of equally severe frosts in the Loire and Languedoc regions of France and in the Abruzzo in Italy.

It’s not like Abruzzo, which borders the Adriatic Sea about midway along the east side of the Italian “boot” and perhaps more remembered for the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake, hasn’t suffered setbacks before.

But like many of the smaller wine regions in Italy, the last 40-50 years have seen a renaissance in Abruzzo, where winemaking dates back to the sixth century B.C.

Large cooperative wineries concentrated in the Chieti province produce vast amounts of wine, which then is sold in bulk to other Italian wine regions such as Tuscany, Piedmont and the Veneto for blending.

The region is famed for its Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, which in the late 20th and early 21st centuries became one of Italy’s most-exported wines.

 

 

 

Vino 2016: Italian winemakers looking to increase share in U.S. market

April 23, 2016 Leave a comment
Vino 2016 crowd shot

Vino 2016 in New York City offered a two-day immersion into the world of Italian wine. Article and photos by Dave Buchanan

NEW YORK – Romano Baruzzi took a breath and looked out at the sea of faces in front of him.
“Buona sera a tutti, welcome everyone,” said Baruzzi, deputy trade commissioner for the Italian Trade Commission in New York City. “Welcome to the biggest event promoting Italian wines in the U.S.”
It’s opening night for Italian Wine Week/Vino 2016 and the featured panel discussion is titled “On the Bright Side: What’s Ahead for 2016.”
This first-night talk offers the attending producers, importers and the occasional journalist insights into what lies ahead for the next two days of concentrated immersion into Italian wine.
More than 160 Italian wine makers and their representatives are here, some of them plying their wares to almost that many importers and buyers while other winemakers, nearly one-third of those present, simply are seeking someone trustworthy in whom to entrust their wines. Read more…

Heading to VinItaly? Seven, make that eight, tips to keep in mind

Verona Ponte della Vittoria

Ponte di Castelvecchio Vecchio spanning the Adige River in  Verona, Italy. On the night of 25 April 1945, together with all the bridges of Verona, it was blown up by retreating Germans. Photo and story by Dave Buchanan

As sure as the swallows return each spring to the old mission at San Juan Capistrano, Italian winemakers each spring pack up their road show and head to Verona for the annual return of VinItaly, which bills itself as the world’s leading wine trade fair.

This year’s event (April 10-13) marks VinItaly’s 50th anniversary and understandably the buzz has been in the air for months, since no one can outdo the Italians when it comes to celebrating big events, especially one that attracts an international audience (last year more than 150,000 attendees from 30 countries) of wine buyers, importers, critics and wine lovers.

It can be a bit overwhelming – this year’s fair is expected to feature more than 4,100 exhibitors covering an impressive 100,000 square meters (that’s about 1.07 million square feet) of exhibition space. That’s big.

Read more…