The Pumpkin Assault Is On

The pumpkin assault is on.

Pumpkin flavored coffee. Pumpkin pancakes. Pumpkin risotto. Pumpkin hummus, for God’s sake.

In other words, the autumn / winter holiday season is in full swing.

Time-honored wine wisdom gives guidance for breaking out the big reds during cold weather months.
But, that’s not the only way to roll, friends.

Sparkling wines, particularly Prosecco, bring elegance and food-pairing versatility to a wide variety of holiday meals.

And guess what? Prosecco’s profile of apple, pear, and citrus pairs wonderfully with the season’s ubiquitous pumpkin flavors.

So gather your tarts, pies, cookies and crisps, friends. Let the pumpkin flavor flow. The season’s pumpkin-y delectables deserve to be enjoyed with some good Prosecco.

Prosecco Brut is dry, light, refreshing, the more modern, international of the Prosecco styles. The fruit-forward quality of this style will balance out the richness of most pumpkin-based desserts. It is also exceptional with most savory holiday dishes.

Extra Brut (Extra Dry) is a good complement to the natural sweetness of pecan and apple which often accompany pumpkin. Not as dry as Brut, Extra Brut Prosecco can balance out the sweeter desserts (generally speaking, your wine should match the sweetness profile of the dessert). It also pairs well with cheeses, pasta, seafood and meat, especially poultry.

The Dry style of Prosecco is sweetest of all and your best ticket for hot and spicy holiday dishes.

It’s no wonder Prosecco has become an increasingly popular pairing partner year-round, not just for holidays or special celebrations.

Note: Pictured wines received as samples.

For Those Who Haven’t Given Up On Great Barolo at a Reasonable Price

If ye are of sufficient faith to be holding your spend for great Barolo at an affordable price, then you would do well to navigate yourself in the direction of the nearest bottle of Luigi Einaudi Barolo Cannubi 2013. One of the great young Barolo wines I’ve come across of late, Luigi Einaudi Barolo Cannubi 2013 lives up to praise bestowed upon the 2013 Barolo vintage as one that will be remembered for wines of great finesse. Aromatic and textured, showing good depth, along with expected notes of tar and roses, finishing with graceful, silky tannins. The wine is pure pleasure even now. This is one that neither the Nebbiolo-curious nor Barolo junkies will want to miss.

*provided as sample

All Aboard: Ciù Ciù

The somewhat unfamiliar denominations of (Rosso) Piceno DOC and Marche IGT undoubtedly present a an upstream paddle in terms of consumer recognition for a couple memorable Italian wines I tasted recently.

The producer name Ciù Ciù – yep, like the train sound – on the other hand, may issue enough memory-provoking power to generate eons of consumer recall.

Ciù Ciù, a family run winery located in Italy’s Marche, works with indigenous red varieties Montepulciano, Sangiovese and Lacrima, as well as international grapes Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Ciù Ciù also has a white wine catalog based on the likes of home team white grape varieties such as Passerina, Verdicchio, Pecorino, and Trebbiano, and a couple of the usual white international grape suspects. The estate’s red and white varieties also lend their particular respective talents to Ciù Ciù’s rose and sparkling bottlings.

Interestingly, Ciù Ciù’s press sheet indicates that winery is vegan certified. From the 2014 vintage, the press sheet states, their wines bear the Vegan logo on the back label, indicating that the wines are suitable for vegans. The certification warranties that during the entire production cycle no ingredients, agents, manufacturing related products, etc., of animal origin or tested on animals are used. Nor does the winery use Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), according to the press sheet.

Ciù Ciù also carries an organic certification. Again, according to the press sheet, the “…protocol excludes the use of artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides and rely on low yield per acre as well as on ripening curves to establish the right harvest time. Through a strong use of the “cold” technology, we manage to keep our grapes healthy and can avoid adding sulfites until the very end bottling process.”

The certifications are good stuff, providing the wines are, well, something to write about.

And they are.

I put a couple of bottles (note: received as samples) through their paces in a technical tasting and at table.

Ciù Ciù’s Bacchus, a bottling under the Piceno DOC, is simply joyous, full of harmony, and performs exceedingly well at table. A blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese, the wine is full-bodied enough for cheesy eggplant parmigiana, yet, the wine’s gentle tannins pair well with more delicate food plates as well. Bonus: it’s affordable. The kind of wine one wishes retail shops would make more broadly available.

The winery’s Oppidum, a deep, voluptuous red produced as Marche IGT Rosso, is lush with layers of ripe black cherry, herb, coffee, cigar smoke, and cocoa. Finishes with rich, sweet tannins and a savory lick of salty minerality. 100% Montepulciano, 30% of the wine is aged in barriques, 70% in 10 HL barrels.

Three Attention-Grabbing Wines from Castello Gabiano

One of the most interesting wines that have come my way of late hails from one of Italy’s smallest DOCs. Indeed, some sources note Gabiano DOC as Italy’s smallest, in fact.

Castello Gabiano’s “A Matilde Giustiniani”, a wine dedicated to Princess Matilde Giustiniani, who last century restored the castle to its former glory, communicates with emotion and personality. The wine is 95% Barbera with 5% addition of Freisa, and speaks in a language of ripe dark berry fruit with notes of spice and baker’s chocolate. The wine is soft in the mouth, with impressively supple tannins and a finish that is in no hurry to leave you.

Gabiano’s Barbera d’Asti “La Braja”, perhaps a more typical Barbera, is a wine that brings enjoyment and interest to the dinner table on any given evening. The massively food friendly “La Braja” is produced from 100% Barbera grapes and is given refining time 60% in cement and 40% in big wood. La Braja showed notes of fresh red fruit with hints of spice and tobacco, and over the course of a couple evenings, never once lost its fine balance.

“Il Ruvo”, Gabiano’s Grignolino that is produced under the Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese DOC, is an absolute gem. Made with 100% Grignolino, one of Italy’s excellent though less well-known native grape varieties, Il Ruvo is a lighter red that weighs in big with complex aromatics and flavor. It can be a great pairing for everything from blue fish to poultry to cured meats and cheeses, one reason that if I were headed out for a romantic picnic, I would be packing this bottle along in the picnic basket.
Not as widely available as an interested consumer might like, however, you can use winesearcher.com or similar to get a handle on where to locate these wines.

Note: wines provided as samples.

Donnafugata Ben Ryé

In some strange and decidedly unscientific way, there are two kinds of wine.

There are those wines that make you forget; streets you’ve walked down, dirty, wide or narrow, unique as they are, houses you’ve lived in and how you were rich or poor in them, stones you’ve thrown into the water as a barefoot child, what is real and what is false.

Then there are the wines that make you dream; visions of great cities and palaces, sailing routes across ancient seas, golden mosaics, secret passageways, the ruined and the glorious.

Every once and a while, you find a wine whose emotional impact makes you do both.

Ben Rye, Donnafugata, Jose Rallo

Such is the case with Ben Ryé, a naturally sweet white wine from the island of Pantelleria, produced by Donnafugata.

Named from Arabic for “Son of the Wind”, in reference to the constant wind sweeping Pantelleria’s grape clusters, Ben Ryé is produced from the native Italian wine grape known as Zibibbo or Moscato di Alessandria.

Grown in volcanic, mineral rich soil at altitudes between 20 and 400 meters, grapes are selected and hand-harvested into crates, and undergo a period of withering. Fermentation is carried out in temperature controlled stainless steel tank. Dried grapes, de-stemmed and hand-selected, are added to fresh must in batches. The wine is aged in stainless steel for 7 months followed by an additional 12 months in bottle.

I’ve been fortunate to experience Ben Ryé on many occasions, and recently, while in Verona at Vinitaly 2016, I had an opportunity to taste Ben Ryé poured by José Rallo of Donnafugata, with time for a photo as well.

Tasting Note:

Honeyed fig and apricot, orange peel, citrus, caramel and pistachio nut, Mediterranean scrub bush. Remarkably balanced, penetrating harmony and unique freshness. Insanely long finish. An excess of deliciousness.

Enjoy Ben Ryé with desserts like ricotta-filled cannoli or as an accompaniment to quiet time … reading, listening to music, falling in love … and certainly … to forgetting and dreaming 😉

Fattoria Fibbiano: A Star Rising

After a busy day at SLOW WINE 2016, I met up with wine producer Matteo Cantoni to settle back in a friend’s New York City apartment and taste some new vintages along with a new wine from his estate Fattoria Fibbiano, a rising star among wineries from the hills around Pisa.

“The only rule is that there are no rules”, explained Cantoni partway through the tasting about producing good wine.

fibbiano, cantoniRuminating on that bit of vino philosophy, I paused to again fill my nose with the scent of *Fonte delle Donne 2014, Fibbiano’s new white wine, striking in its aromatic complexity for a white wine from Tuscany – mineral, savory, saline, detailed, wafting scents of apple, marvelously fresh. The wine is produced from 50% Colombana, 50% Vermentino. Cantoni explains that the vine roots go deep into sandy soil enriched with sea shells conferring to the grapes body and aromatic complexity.

We tasted new vintages of Fibbiano’s reds, too, wines I admire and have written about before: the estate’s Le Pianette 2013 IGT, a 70/30 blend of Sangiovese and Colorino impressed with easy, elegant drinkability; Casalini 2013 Chianti Superiore, with its arousing bouquet, is a unique take on Sangiovese with an addition of 20% of Ciliegiolo, full in the mouth, delicious acidity; L’Aspetto 2012 IGT, 50/50 Sangiovese and Canaiolo, is energetic, deep, intense, yet smooth in the mouth and final tannins, remarkably fresh; red, rich and ripe, Fibbiano’s Ceppatella 2011 IGT is a 100 percent Sangiovese mouthful of warm velvet finishing with persistent recollections of cherry, leather and tobacco.

fibbiano fonte delle donneWe tasted more. Talked more. As the evening wore on, I slowly got my brain around what Cantoni meant by the “only rule is no rules” comment: mindless repetition of what was done last year doesn’t necessarily achieve good wine results this year. A producer needs to be open to finding the best way to meet the current vintage, to be in the ‘moment’ of that vintage, to work without being limited by formula.

I haven’t yet met Nicola Cantoni, Matteo’s brother and obviously talented winemaker at Fibbiano, but it will be fun to perhaps hear his take on that conversation at some point.

In any case, whatever the approach at Fibbiano, it is clearly on target as the wines are … astonishingly good.

*Fonte delle Donne is a great introduction to the area and to the estate. Planned availability, I’m told, is for early March in Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.

You can read more about Fibbiano and find more detailed tasting notes in my recent article Expressive Sangiovese from the Hills of Pisa.

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.