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.

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 😉

Chianti Classico NYC 2015: Cement and Me

Chianti Classico NYC 2015: Cement and Me

At yesterday’s Chianti Classico 2015 wine event in NYC, I was able to confirm something that I have long suspected about myself:

I’m a bit of a cement head.

You can take that to mean that I appreciate – and indeed at times adore – wines vinified or aged in cement.

Which, I guess, leads one to wonder what the heck is so special about wines raised in cement anyway?

bibbiano-chianti-classico-event-nyc-2015With a little digging, I was able to gather a couple of insights which make sense to me:

Cement (using the term interchangeably with concrete) fermentation vessels, I’m told, manage to keep a very consistent temperature. And as we know, that is a very good thing. Fluctuating temperature does not reside on the top ten list of things good for wine ;-).

Consequently, fermentation in cement is slow and gradual and that can mean a tendency toward vibrancy of fruit, clean, pure flavors and a marked degree of freshness.

The porosity of cement, too, according to sources, enables the wine to breathe, allowing the wine to evolve in a favorable way, preserving the expressive aspects of fruit, softening tannins, etc., and thus making cement a viable format for ageing as well.

Based on my appreciation of cement raised wines, I won’t argue.

castello-la-leccia-chianti-classico-event-nyc-2015Cement-raised wines often strike me as having a certain richness of mouthfeel which, for me, is important: holding wine in one’s mouth is such an intimate experience that the sensation of doing so should be pleasing in its own right.

At yesterday’s Chianti Classico event, during the walk around tasting segment, the wines of producers Bibbiano and Castello La Leccia captured my tasting attention. I wasn’t entirely surprised to learn that both producers utilize cement in raising their Chianti Classico wines which, by the way, were showing beautifully. And though not present at the event, I’ll mention here too the Chianti Classico of producer Monteraponi, another fine example of cement raising and a wine of which I’ve long been a fan.

Francesco Daddi of Castello La Leccia helped me to understand, too, that cement fermentation vessels, tanks, etc., can also provide a few challenges on the production side of the house: they are not the easiest things in the world to clean and maintain. And they can be heavy, as one might imagine, and thus difficult to transport.

To be clear, I am not here to say that cement as part of the vinification / ageing regimen alone churns out gorgeous wines. Only that I’m learning that cement can bring something to the finished wine that is attractive to my palate. And perhaps, too – still learning here – that Sangiovese seems to respond beautifully to its time in cement.

Two Wines, Snow, Hungry Birds

Given the recent weather, I am pretty certain, no matter where in the great New England outdoors you may be standing at the moment, that you are quite knee deep in snow. In my particular case, thigh deep, actually, and trudging through to fill a bird feeder with seed for our local fine-feathered friends.

I am thinking to introduce you to a couple of wines that, back indoors, brought some much appreciated sunshine – however virtual it may have been – to an otherwise snowy weekend:

vinarija-dingac-plavac-peljesac-2012-1Dingac Vinarija Pelješac 2012
I adore this somewhat geeky wine from the Pelješac (pell-yuh-shatz) Peninsula on Croatia’s rugged Dalmatian Coast. Produced from 100% head-trained Plavac Mali or Little Blue, Plavac is apparently a varietal cousin of California Zinfandel. Savory herb components are in good unison with the wine’s sweeter notes of wild berry, plum, and dried fig, underlined with delicious salinity, a taste / aroma profile calling to mind that of Carignano del Sulcis. Come to think of it, both do share a certain wildness of spirit. That humid conditions do not exist in the vineyard(s) has allowed the producer to forego spraying vines for mold. A flourishing yeast population kick-starts a wild fermentation conducted in stainless steel. Aged for one year in used oak.

vajra-barolo-albe-2009G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe 2009
Vajra’s Barolo Albe conferred a fitting level of refined drinking to a family sit down of rare-cooked lamb t-bone cuts, butternut squash risotto, and roasted asparagus, dinner taken by the woodstove on a recent and cold ass New England evening. On the feminine side of the Barolo gender-meter, this lovely wine gives up delicate notes of dried flowers, herbs, underbrush, hints of anise and cocoa, pleasantly ripe tannins. Blended from sustainably farmed grapes sourced from three different vineyards at altitudes of 400-440 meters, undergoes 30 – 40 day fermentation. The wine is aged ~36 months in Slavonian oak.

As an aside, both these wines, in their respective price ranges, bring serious value for money to the table. Poseur wines with inflated price tags: take notice. But, that’s a discussion for another day.

Anyway, yesterday brought another fourteen inches of snow. And I hear that Punxsutawney Phil, America’s weather forecasting Groundhog, on February 2nd 2015, the 129th North American Groundhog Day, predicted another six weeks of winter. Best I should pull on boots and thick wool trousers and head out to top off the feeder.

Chateau Lilian Ladouys 2009 Bordeaux-St. Estephe

It’s not particularly difficult to remember the beautiful things one comes by on equally beautiful, rainy fall days, when the city looks monochromatic against the grey drizzle.

lilian-ladouys-2009But, I am struck by the fact that I am still thinking about the Chateau Lilian Ladouys 2009 which I had tasted on just such a day during a recent and rather lovely tasting of Bordeaux wines held in an intimate space at Beautique on Manhattan’s west side.

With history dating back to 1654 when it was named Chateau La Doys, ownership of the St. Estephe property known today as Chateau Lilian Ladouys passed during the 18th century to the Barre family before being purchased in recent years by French businessman Jacky Lorenzetti, who also owns full or significant stakes in several other Chateau in the Medoc.

Host Hortense Bernard, Millesima USA
Host Hortense Bernard, Millesima USA
This elegant Bordeaux is produced from the property’s 47 hectare vineyard planted to 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc in a gravely, clay, limestone soil mix typical of St. Estephe. Average age of vines is 40 years.

Vinification is carried out in stainless steel, malolactic fermentation done in barrel on 10% of the fruit, 90% in tank. The wine rests in 40% new French oak for 14-16 months.

Tasting Notes:

Dense, velvety palate full of ripe red and black fruit, notes of pencil lead, earth, tobacco and spice. Harmonic, with well-integrated wood toast. Good grippy tannins and a finish that goes on for miles.

Tasting hosted by Millesima USA.

Event coordinated by Vigneto Communications, great job as always, a pleasure to taste in a venue whose character so well fit the personality of the wines.

Aglianico: Do-It-Yourself

Aglianico: Do-It-Yourself

For those of you pursuing an indie do-it-yourself wine education (Really, who else can do it for you?), you might like to take time to explore one of the great and most important grape varietals of Italy’s south, Aglianico.

You’ll probably notice pretty quickly two confounding things about Aglianico: a) that you won’t find it in every wine shop and, b) that when you do, you will likely encounter Aglianico wines from varied regions such as Campania, Sicily, Molise, Puglia, and Basilicata to name a few.

tenuta-del-portale-le-vigne-a-capanno-2009-1All the aforementioned regions produce noteworthy expressions of Aglianico and you must try them eventually. But, do yourself a favor: begin your exploration with Aglianico from Basilicata, Aglianico del Vulture to be specific (takes its name from the region’s dormant volcano Monte Vulture), or from Campania’s Taurasi appellation (named for one of the production area communities), as those two expressions of Aglianico generally set the bar for important Aglianico reference points.

Brief geography: Basilicata is that part of the Italian peninsula that forms the ankle on the boot. You can locate that pretty easily. With only slightly more effort, to find the area for Taurasi, zero in on the Province of Avellino in Campania and you’ll have the place (Hey, don’t complain, I did say “brief” geography, remember? It is do-it-yourself, afterall). Separated by just 40 or so miles, the very common denominator relating the del Vulture and Taurasi production zones is the volcanic soil on which they are situated and in which Aglianico seems to thrive.

I can offer a thumbnail sketch of how the Vulture and Taurasi wines compare: well, actually, I hate doing this kind of broad brush thing, because there are always exceptions, but as you force me:

Aglianico del Vulture wines tend to be wines of complexity and detail, with dark and red fruit tones underlined by mineral character (volcanic, right?) and firm, often dusty tannins, while Taurasi – again, generally speaking – is perhaps the more structured of the two, also has the mineral thing going on, a wine that can show incredible depth and a finish that can go on forever. When cellared, Aglianico wines from either del Vulture or Taurasi areas will reward your patience.

Descriptors for wines from either zone could include red cherry, black cherry, plum, violets, smoke, meat, leather, vanilla, cocoa, menthol and tobacco, and no, that is not a definitive list. Foodie’s will appreciate that Aglianico’s naturally high acidity makes it a great food wine (and also balances alcohol levels that can be north of 14%).

Recommended, reasonable price points and pretty good trade distribution as far as I know:

Bisceglia Aglianico del Vulture
Tenuta Portale Le Vigne a Capanno Aglianico del Vulture
Mastroberardino Radici Taurasi
Terredora di Paolo Taurasi Fatica Contadina