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.