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Do you think about the place where your bottle of Italian wine came from, who made it, how it was made?  If you stop to consider these things you will begin to taste the unique cultural message which Italian wine offers.  The wine will tell you about the land where it was created.  It will invite you to drink the traditions and histories of the people that made it. That is good wine.  It’s always been like this, more or less.

Some would have you believe that understanding Italian wine is a technical undertaking.  It’s not like that, believe me.  It is impossible to understand Italian wine without an awareness of the culture, people and place that created it.   Only after we have a sense of these things does the technical stuff add value.

That its wine regions are beautifully different, distinct and many is Italy’s strength and its difficulty.  Her dazzling array of wines will both charm and bewilder you.  I suggest one approach: get to know Italian wine by your own sensory perceptions and experiences: you will create a real, personal wine culture independent of the professional wine press.

Don’t worry;  the wines have their own way of deciding the itinerary for you…  Are you coming?

Getting to Know Prosecco Col Fondo

Although the bubbly libation from Italy’s Veneto known as Prosecco has been steadily rising in popularity among consumers, you may not yet have had occasion to meet Prosecco Col Fondo, a frizzante style of Prosecco that is winning fans of its own.

Prosecco Col Fondo stands apart from Prosecco wines produced using the more widely adopted Charmat method, as good as they are, not only for its unique flavor and aromatic profile, but also for its particular method of production.

Col fondo means ‘with sediment’ …. that is to say, Prosecco Col Fondo is bottled on its own yeasts, i.e., sur-lie, undergoing a second fermentation in bottle. Yeasts consume sugars, slowly creating carbon dioxide gas and … voilà… bubbles. Spent yeasts remain in bottle, a part of col fondo goodness. The result is an intense, complex Prosecco with a decidedly unique personality.

(Charmat method fermentation is carried out in stainless steel tank, leaving spent yeasts behind.)

It has been said that col fondo is a process likely discovered by chance as sugars from still-bottled Prosecco unexpectedly caused second fermentation while resting in the cellar. That may or may not be, but no matter. In any case, col fondo is reflective of an important piece of Prosecco tradition and culture, linked to a time before modern Charmat became the most popular method of production in the territory.

Prosecco Col Fondo

To be clear, Prosecco Col Fondo provides a different sensory experience than does Charmat produced Prosecco. If you’re used to the extreme clarity of the latter, don’t be surprised by the beautifully pale Prosecco Col Fondo, resulting from its retention of sediment in bottle.

Do expect from Prosecco Col Fondo complexity and exquisite texture, notes of bread crust, yeast, ripe fruit and bright acidity.

As is true of Prosecco in general, Prosecco Col Fondo is not just for celebratory quaffing. Speaking broadly, Proseccos are great food wines, cleaning the palate, leaving it refreshed and ready to fully taste next bites.

Prosecco Col Fondo

Food pairing … enjoy Prosecco Col Fondo with anything from gourmet burgers to pasta with prosciutto, peas and cream, to fish, to spicy Asian cuisine.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that you transition from drinking DOCG Charmat produced Prosecco to Prosecco Col Fondo. Rather, I am pointing out that Prosecco Col Fondo is a style of Prosecco to be appreciated and enjoyed from time to time, one that can that can bring depth to the Prosecco experience.

By the way, interesting tasting tips on enjoying Prosecco Col Fondo include this one, found on the company website of producer Malibràn:

“FOR A BETTER TASTING
Before the tasting ,the Sur-lie should rest for a few days, in a vertical position, so that yeasts can fall down to the bottle’s bottom; it should be poured into a decanter and we suggest pouring the remainings yeasts into a glass, so that you can have a taste of the prosecco’s heart, the heady refermentation scent and the memory of a past that still lives in the moderns sparkling’s making process technologies.”

Still other producers recommend gently turning bottle upside down and then right side up to disperse the sediment.

Perhaps there is a good opportunity here for a self-directed educational experience … buy two bottles and try it both ways.

A Few Notable Small Producers Offering Prosecco Col Fondo:

Bele Casel
Ca’ dei Zago
Malibràn

Expressive Sangiovese from the Hills of Pisa

Admittedly, when thinking of terroir driven Sangiovese, Pisa has not been on my short list of territories.

But, that all changed upon meeting wine producers Matteo Cantoni and Luca Tommasini of Fattoria Fibbiano and Azienda Agricola Sangervasio, respectively, whose wines have rather opened my eyes to the great potential of Pisa.

During an educational “meet the producers” luncheon at Lupa in New York City, I had an opportunity to taste the wines of Cantoni and Tommasini and talk at length with the producers whose wineries are located in the hills around Pisa.

Fibbiano wines

Although similarly located, the Fibbiano and Sangervasio estates see very different micro-climates. In the hills around Sangervasio, for example, says Tommasini, “…the wind is more fresh and we get less rain…”, than the more southerly Fibbiano location which experiences a hotter wind. The two estates, however, are linked at a fundamental level by shared similarities in basic soil composition – the area used to be under sea water and thus the sand and clay soils are enriched with marine shell material. The strong presence of minerals in the soil confers savory characteristics upon the wines.

Both Fibbiano and Sangervasio are working with a pervasive natural agriculture mentality, with Sangervasio being certified organic and Fibbiano working “biologico” (Cantoni). After some extended conversation with both Cantoni and Tommasini, it’s my sense that the choice for natural agriculture is a passionate one, not merely marketing tactic but rather committed, lifestyle decisions.

Sangervasio wines

Both producers employ some form of cement in raising their wines, a format I have long appreciated as it helps the wines to better develop, and this is especially true for Sangiovese. Cantoni mentioned that Fibbiano is experimenting with a vertical roto-fermenter. The process separates seeds and thus avoids green tannins. At Sangervasio, says Tommasini, they apply great attention and effort to working clean, eschewing chemical products, using only natural yeasts present on the grape skins to start fermentation. Tommasini notes, too, that sulfite doses are kept very low.

Both producers’ wines drink with a unique elegance characterized by minerality underlined with a sense salinity, well-balanced wines that speak of Tuscany, of Sangiovese, yet present something different, something more.

As for me, I left the luncheon with a sense for rediscovery: rediscovery for Sangiovese from an area that had fallen off my radar; rediscovery that Pisa can be … is … more than a Leaning Tower.

Much thanks to luncheon host Charles Scicolone for getting these wines/producers on my radar.

PS Visitors to Fibbiano and Sangervasio can explore the Pisa area enjoying accommodation at either estate’s agriturismo.

TASTING NOTES

Matteo Cantoni, Fibbiano

Fattoria Fibbiano

Le Pianette 2011 IGT Toscana
Sensations of warmth and berry spice on the nose, Le Pianette has an agreeable Pinot Noir-like weight that swallows easy to a satisfying, smooth finish. Gorgeous to hold in the mouth. 70% Sangiovese 30% Colorino.

Chianti Superiore “Casalini” 2011
Intermingling scents of red and black cherries are seductive as a woman wearing two alluring perfumes. Big presence on the palate, smooth ripe tannins. 80% Sangiovese 20% Ciliegiolo.

L’Aspetto 2010 IGT
Complex aromas of ripe fruit, savory herbs and spice, underlined with a sense of saline, round and mouth-filling, silky finish. 50% Sangiovese %50 Canaiolo.

Ceppatello 2009 IGT
Intense notes of ripe fruit, tobacco, saddle leather, velvety rich palate, generous and persistent finish. 100% Sangiovese.

Luca Tomassini, Sangervasio

Sangervasio

Chianti 2014
Exceedingly fresh impressions of berries and violets, minerals, pleasantly grippy tannins, nicely structured and massively drinkable. 100% Sangiovese.

Sirio 2011
Another of the day’s wines that is just gorgeous to hold in the mouth, forest berries, herb, spice, big, supple palate. 95% Sangiovese 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.

I Renai 2008
Perhaps the more international in style, with a discernable ripeness of fruit, notes of tobacco, toasty spice, baker’s chocolate, and a big structure to wear it all very well. 100% Merlot.

Vin Santo 2014
Rich, complex aromas and tastes of almond, hazelnut, dried fig and apricot, honey, crème brulee. Glorious. 70% Trebbiano 15% San Columbano, %15 Sangiovese.

Viva Veneto: Wines of Great Excellence

Of the many great things at which Italians excel – design, craftsmanship, all things aesthetic, to name a few – most Italians will admit that cooperation is not among them.

But, that did not prevent a varied collection of Veneto wine producers and their respective consortiums from delivering a brilliant presentation demonstrating the depth and breadth of the region’s wine and food culture at United Wines of Veneto Food & Wine Master Class, December 2nd, in New York City.

Moderated by the inimitable Gloria Maroti Frazee, Director of Video and Education, Wine Spectator, the event was held under the auspices of Consorzio Vini Veneti, a sort consortium of consortiums, if you will. (Note: Italy’s wine consortiums protect and promote the quality of wine and wine production in their specific territories.)

Veneto Food and Wine Master Class

A land of ancient wine tradition, Veneto is also one of Italy’s foremost wine producing regions and home to some of Italy’s most important wines. You likely already recognize at least some of the Veneto wine brands such as Prosecco or Amarone. But, there are too, other perhaps lesser known brands that contribute to Veneto’s rich wine tradition. And, whether famous or less famous, the wines all have a unique story to tell:

Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G.

You may have a bit of a challenge saying Conegliano Valdobbiadene … but I assure you that any effort will be worth the pleasure of tasting the elegant, fresh wines from the steep hillsides of this Prosecco Superiore denomination in Italy’s northeast.

(Tip: actually, you can just ask your retailer for Prosecco Superiore.)

For its production of high quality Prosecco, the hilly area between the towns of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene 50km or so from Venice in the province of Treviso was awarded D.O.C.G. status in summer 2009, becoming a controlled and guaranteed appellation producing one of Italy’s premium class wines.

Prosecco Superiore is made from a minimum 85% of Glera grapes with a maximum 15% of other indigenous varietals such as Verdiso, Bianchetta, Perera, Chardonnay, Pinot.

At table, the Prosecco Superiore wines proved especially wonderful, cleaning the palate with each sip, preparing the mouth to fully taste the next bite of food.

The trio of wines Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. wines were intensely aromatic with clear notes of fruit, scents of flowers, showed complexity along with fine, silky perlage and strong identity.

Tasted:
Valdobbiadene D.O.C.G. Superiore Di Cartizze Brut Vigna La Rivetta (Villa Sandi)
Valdobbiadene D.O.C.G. Prosecco Superiore Millesimato (Mionetto USA)
Valdobbiadene D.O.C.G. Prosecco Superiore Extra Dry (Astoria)

Soave Classico D.O.C.

If ever there was a wine for the entire meal, Soave is likely it. From appetizer to dessert, Soave wines complimented every course.

The Soave Classico designation is restricted to Soave wines produced in the volcanic soils around the municipalities of Soave and Monteforte.

The main varietal used in production of Soave Classico is Garganega, minimum 80%, I believe, with allowable addition of Trebbiano di Soave. Garganega contributes structure and density and as Garganega is not overly acidic, the lively Trebbiano di Soave when added can bring a certain tangy verve to the blend.

While true that Soave wines can be cellar aged for ten or so years in good vintages, it was noted by Arturo Stocchetti, President of Consorzio Soave, that it is, in fact, youthful, ready to drink Soave wines that more represent the territory and Soave identity.

The group of Soave Classico D.O.C. wines were all well-structured with ripe, focused fruit, delicate floral / almond scents, and mineral notes. Supple in the mouth, the wines showed finesse and were wildly pleasant to drink, bringing pleasure to each food course.

Tasted:
Soave Classico D.O.C. “Monte De Toni” 2014 (I Stefanini)
Soave Classico D.O.C. “Pressoni” 2013 (Cantina Del Castello)
Soave Classico D.O.C. “Casette Foscarin” 2012 (Monte Tondo)

Gloria Maroti Frazee, Veneto Food and Wine Master Class

Lugana D.O.C.

Lugana production territory is to be found in the southern part of Lake Garda, a plain area with clay based, limestone rich soil. Director of Consorzio Lugana, Carlo Veronese, notes that the more the clay, the better the Lugana wine.

It is Turbiana that is the principal varietal in Lugana wines, not less than 90% being required. The remaining 10% allows additions of Trebbiano di Lugana, Garganega, or Chardonnay, however, many producers opt to use 100% Turbiana. Direttore Veronese explained that Turbiana, in fact, “…is twin brother to Verdicchio from the Marche.” Apparently, the scientific testing has proven DNA is the same.

Immensely aromatic, Lugana wines are meant to be enjoyed young and fresh. The wines typically have a big presence in the mouth although the alcohol is relatively low at ~ 13%.

The threesome of Lugana D.O.C. wines were delicately scented with alluring notes of spice, showed lip-smacking freshness with excellent balance of acidity and sweetness. The wines were great companions to the day’s food courses.

Tasted:
Lugana D.O.C. 2014 (Ca’ Lojera)
Lugana Riserva D.O.C. “Le Coete” 2014 (Otella)
Lugana D.O.C. “Mandolara” 2014 (Le Morette)

Bardolino D.O.C.

If you’re old enough to remember the Bardolino of 15 or even 10 years ago, you are in for a pleasant surprise: Bardolino has a new personality, one that is lighter, more elegant, more closely resembling Pinot Noir or Beaujolais Village in style and weight. Franco Christoforreti, Consorzio Bardolino President, notes that the new style Chiaretto debuted in 2014 is closer to what one might find in France, and not at all like a Cerasuolo from south Italy.

Bardolino’s production area can be found along the Verona side southern quadrant of Lake Garda. The territory’s glacial soil is high in sodium conferring a certain salinity to the wines. I’m told that Bardolino summers are not too hot, neither is winter too hard. In fact, says Mr. Christoforreti, so unique is the area’s northern Italian micro climate that lemon trees are notably grown in the region.

Grape varietals used in the production of Bardolino wines are prominently Corvino, Corvinone, with allowable additions of Rondinella and Monlinara, although I understand from Mr. Christoforetti that Molinara is rather disappearing from use.

The Chiaretto offers a really different perspective as the wine is not a white nor a red, and different still from Valpolicella wines, showing a great counterpoint to Amarone, as was pointed out by Mr. Christoforetti.

Generally speaking, Bardolino wines can be consumed from one year after production up to perhaps five or six years.

Worth mentioning, too, is that the super fresh bouquet of Chiaretto can, in a good way, be closer to that of a white wine than a red.

The Bardolino D.O.C. wines were vibrant with freshness, fruity, with notes of spice, and a rather typical pleasant bitter note, showing impeccable balance.

Tasted:
Bardolino Chiaretto Classico D.O.C. 2014 (Delibori)
Bardolino Chiaretto Classico D.O.C. “Vigne Alte” 2014 (Zeni)
Bardolino Classico D.O.C.”Vigne Morlongo” 2013 (Villabella)

Glasses, Veneto Food and Wine Master Class

Valpolicella D.O.C.

Valpolicella Ripasso and Amarone, wines generally recognized as styles of Valpolicella, are produced in the Veneto on land located on the northern side of Verona.

The speaker for Valpolicella, one Mr. Vicenzi, I believe, explained that the contour of the land is one of “…several hills, like a hand, and in between fingers, some valleys.” An apropos description of the region’s fan shaped territory formed by a series of valleys and hills that originate in Verona and develop northward.

Varietal protagonists in use in Valpolicella, as in Bardolino, are Corvina, Corvinone, Rondinella, and Molinara.

Legend suggests that Valpolicella, one of Italy’s oldest wine regions, may derive its name from the Latin Vallis-polis-cellae …. meaning “land of many cellars”.

Valpolicella Ripasso has affectionately yet unfairly been compared at times to one of Italy’s most important wines, Amarone, being called “baby Amarone”. A wine with a strong identity of its own, Valpolicella Ripasso is today getting its due, as market popularity and recognition for this wine is on the upswing.

Food-wise, the Ripasso and Amarone wines suggest a pairing with more important dishes and work especially well with winter courses.

Valpolicella D.O.C. wines were lavish and rich on the nose, dark cherry, chocolate and warm spice, sensuously round, silky and warm in the mouth, generously long on the finish.

Tasted:
Valpolicella Ripasso D.O.C. Superiore Rocca Sveva 2011 (Cantina di Soave)
Amarone Della Valpolicella Classico D.O.C. 2008 (Villabella)

All in all, United Wines of Veneto Food & Wine Master Class highlighted the remarkable diversity and quality of Veneto wines. No matter what one’s wine preferences may be, among the wines of Veneto there is, simply put, something for every wine lover. And while there exists a certain shared identity across the flight of wines, each D.O.C./G. presented wines of originality and great typicity. Veneto’s wines showed their prowess at table, too, being wines very much about food pairing, allowing food to remain center stage, and making clear the link between the region’s wine and culinary traditions.

To end without making note of Gloria Maroti Frazee’s excellent work in moderating the Food & Wine Master Class would be remiss. Additionally, applause for the Del Posto team … service and food courses were impeccable. Finally, at an event where a million things could have gone wrong, flawless execution from team IEEM made it a first class food and wine education affair.

Ciaoooo for now … :-)

Tasting Cannonau at Vigne Surrau

* Observations from a sponsored press trip to the Gallura region of Sardegna, September 2015

Sardegna is full of things that draw you into the island’s untamed wildness.

Shepherd dogs herding sheep in the moonlight.

Age-old nuraghi, megalithic structures from ancient Nuragic civilization.

Cork forests where time seems to stand still.

Granite stone curiously shaped by wind, eyes of the island, watching everything.

Gallura, nuraghe

Absorbing Sardegna’s poem of powerful, mysterious, untamed wildness, goes a long way in listening for … and understanding … what Cannonau has to say.

On a recent trip to Gallura in Sardegna’s northeast corner, my visit to Vigne Surrau winery helped with the quality of that process.

Gallura, cork forest

Let’s begin by getting something sorted:

Cannonau is a synonym for Grenache, or Garnacha, if you are among the folks who believe that the vine was brought to Sardegna by the Spanish. The grape is also known as Alicante elsewhere in Italy. Cannonau is grown far and wide in Sardegna. In fact, the Cannonau di Sardegna DOC production zone covers most of the island, the vine having adapted well to the heat and dryness.

Now, how shall I say this politely … I have on other occasions tasted Cannonau that played second fiddle to the more preeminent wines of certain areas. So, regarding Cannonau in Gallura, one might naturally fear its role to be as an ornament in service to what many see as Gallura’s star DOCG attraction, Vermentino di Gallura.

Not so.

Gallura, granite

I found Vigne Surrau’s Cannonau wines to be neither self-conscious nor derivative alongside Gallura’s Vermentino tradition, able to communicate that dimension of untamed wildness and the island’s natural environment. The wines drank with an appreciated rusticity controlled with a dose of modern polish, rich, earthy, with evocative Mediterranean notes.

Surra Sincaru Sole Ruju

Sincaru 2013
Produced from Cannonau grown in decomposed granite soils. After vinification in stainless steel the wine spends several months in concrete tanks. Rich scents of wild berries, spice and black pepper, notes of Mediterranean bush. Svelte in the mouth, with a big yet supple structure, mineral sensations and great length. Sensational.

Sincaru Riserva 2011
Made only in the best vintages, after long maceration, spends 24 months in large oak. Powerful, intense, yet very smooth, this Riserva shows more nuance than Sincaru normale, a more jammy quality to the fruit, sense of forest floor, roasted meat, and a long, persistent finish. A stunning bottle of wine that sets a serious varietal benchmark.

Barriu 2012
A blend of Cannonau, Carignano, Bovale Sardo (Muristellu) and Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged in French oak for twelve months and several more months in bottle. Full bodied and expansive with tons of plummy berry fruit, scents of Mediterranean bush, balanced notes of vanilla. Elegant, supple on the palate, and a persistent finish that ends with a pleasantly bitter note, courtesy, I suspect, of the Muristellu. Big personality.

Surrau 2013
A blend of Cannonau, Carignano, Bovale Sardo (Muristellu) and Cabernet Sauvignon. Vinified and aged in steel, three weeks maceration on skins. Spice and Mediterranean herbs against a bright, juicy core of fresh red berry fruit. Easy to drink.

Surrau Brut Rose 2010
100% Cannonau grapes produced using metodo classico, Surrau Brut Rose is held at constant temperature for 24 months for second fermentation, another 2 months in bottle after disgorgement before release. Light rose color like you’d see at sunset, elegantly perfumed, precise on the palate, with fine perlage. A classy, sophisticated wine.

Sole Ruju 2013
Produced with Cannonau and Muristellu (Bovale Sardo), grapes for this passito are picked during the last days of October and left to dry on trays. After fermentation is carried out in stainless steel, the wine is the aged in 500 litre oak barrels for several months. Deep ruby color, rich aromas of forest berries, fragrances that evoke the Mediterranean, and a finish that echoes on and on. A thought provoking wine of emotional intensity.

Related posts:
A Visit To Vigne Surrau in Sardegna’s Gallura Region
Vigne Surrau Winery: Fusing Nature, Art, Hospitality