The Grandi Marchi Experience: Symphonic

The Grandi Marchi – visionary winemakers from across Italy – are here today at Del Posto Restaurant in New York City to lead attendees through a seminar and guided wine tasting of some of Italy’s best terroirs.

Like the Philharmonic minutes before a concert, the “orchestra” Grandi Marchi, is tuning up.

As Grandi Marchi members take their seats, tasting glasses clink and jangle, papers rustle, polite chatter and excuse me’s whispered one after another.

Audience iPhone camera shutters clllick away.


What follows is to be an immensely informative seminar, with each producer/representative speaking with subject matter expert authority about their respective regions, production methods, and unique terroirs.

I won’t kid you – the tasting segment is ridiculously pleasant. And massively instructive. The elegance, vigor, joy and pleasure of Grandi Marchi wines is remarkable.

But, for anyone who is familiar with the Grandi Marchi – member names that include the likes of Gaja, Masi, and Antinori – icons of fine Italian wine – that much is not unexpected.

What has so impressed me at this Grandi Marchi tasting – more so than any single wine or producer – is that, as a group, the wines braid together 13 different appellations and 15 wineries in a way that speaks so vividly, so sonorously, of Italy’s rich and diverse wine tradition.

To put it another way, perhaps in musical terms, the Italian wine tradition is composed not of a single tone, but from many different tones which, as in good music, allow us to experience the symphony.

There are no short cuts to understanding Italian wine. There are, however, some very good places to begin the Sassicaiajourney. Grandi Marchi wines represent a point of departure that grant you exposure to a highly relevant cross-section of Italy’s most important grape varietals and regions, act as model reference points for what wines ought to be like within their respective categories, and help to communicate the cultural values and traditions that unite them.

For more information about the Grandi Marchi, I recommend you to follow the link to Grandi Marchi Institute of Fine Italian Wines.

Nusserhof Tyroldego 2006

Nusserhof Tyroldego 2006

Nearly forty years have found their way by me since I walked with my dog Storm through the forests surrounding my boyhood home in New England.

Warm days of skunk cabbage, lady slippers and princess pine, watching the ground for specimens to add to my pine cone collection, hands all pine pitch and never once thinking beyond what might be on for suppertime.

nusserhof-tyroldego-2006-1Tonight, I remain somehow connected to those days, brought back courtesy of this fine Tyroldego by Nusserhof.

Heinrich Mayer-Nusser produces his Tyroldego (yes, with a “y”, in this case) from a small amount of Teroldego grown on the family estate of 2.5 hectares at Bozen / Bolzano in Italy. Viticulture is certified organic.

Tasting Notes / Impressions:

The breath of woodlands lifts up and out of the glass, permeates my consciousness with recollections of forest berries, pine sap, cocoa and coffee. Waves of juicy, tart berry rise up onto the palate, spice in the undertow. Soft in the mouth and super clean. Finishes long, letting me hold on long enough to hear Storm barking as we come back home 😉

Food Pairing Suggestions:

Enjoy Nusserhof Tyroldego with pork roast, bread dumplings with speck or bacon, vegetable casseroles au gratin, dishes of hearty polenta with meat or mushroom sauces, stews / goulash, cheeses


Kofererhof Kerner 2008

Kofererhof Kerner 2008, DOC

A Volvo blows by me, an Audi following inches behind. I downshift and pull the performance-tuned GTI in behind them. Over Sirius radio, musician Sting reminds me of how Fragile we are and the Massachusetts Turnpike opens up wide out in front of me. The leather covered stick shift feels good in my hand grip. I’ve thought about a lot of wines in this car. Today, my mind is busy with a white from Alto Adige that is decidedly not fragile.

kofererhof-kerner-2008The Kofererhof estate finds its home in Italy’s Alto Adige, just 5 hectares of vines at the base of the Dolomite mountains. Acquired by the Kerschbaumer family around 1940, the Kofererhof estate had existed as part of South Tyrol for 850 years beforehand. Kofererhof transitioned away from selling grapes around 1995 when it began bottling its own wines for sale. Today, Kofererhof produces an interesting array of wines that includes Gewurztraminer, Gruner Veltliner, Muller-Thurgau, Sylvaner, Riesling, and their superb Kerner.

I don’t believe the estate is certified “organic” at this time, however, Kofererhof does adhere to organic production practices using organic fertilizers, manure, cover crops, etc., to improve soil nutrients. Copper and sulfur based treatments are applied as agricultural controls. And S02 is used in very low dose to preserve the wines.

Kofererhof’s Kerner is made from Kerner grapes, a white grape developed from a cross between Riesling and Trollinger (aka Schiava Grossa), bred earlier this century. Grapes are grown in soil of loam / sand / gravel on vines averaging 5 – 20 years old. Production vineyards are south-facing at approximately 650 meters altitude.

Kofererhof’s Kerner harvest is carried out in three stages: an early harvest intending freshness and perfume, a regular harvest for general balance, and a late harvest seeking richness and body. Each is vinified separately with fermentation carried out in stainless steel, aging on the lees for about six months.

Tasting Notes / Impressions:

Straw yellow color refracted with green highlights. An absolutely panoramic palate with notes of lime, orange creamsicle, honey and mint. In the empty glass, subtle hints of ginger emerge. Wearing its 13.5 – 14.0 degrees alcohol super well, this wine is no light weight, offering generous structure and ample body. Love the overall harmony and focused minerality / acid / ripeness. A long, flavor-filled finish.

Food Pairing Suggestions:

This is a great white to pair with hearty foods where a white wine profile is desired:

MEATS / FISH: pan fried veal or pork prepared weiner schnitzel style; pan fried fish fillets; mild sausages served with pan fried potatoes; kielbasa; NOODLES / PASTA: egg noodles or egg pasta served with mushroom flavored brown sauce; spaetzle with cheese and onions ; pierogi; VEGETARIAN: baked, stuffed mushrooms; large boiled or poached bread (or potato) dumplings (known as knodel in German or Canerderli in Italian) served with brown mushroom sauce (Canerderli can be served in soup broth); potato pancakes; spaetzle with cheese and onions; potato and cheese pierogi; CURED MEATS / CHEESES: try with thin slices of speck and a mountain cheese !


Cantina Terlan Alto Adige Pinot Grigio 2008

Cantina Terlan Alto Adige Pinot Grigio 2008, DOC

Tonight, my wife caught me with my hands all over Fiona. That’s what we call our refrigerator. Fiona Frigidaire, actually. At that point, there was no turning back: we had to make it a threesome.

At first, it was all hands and lots of clumsy grabbing. But, nature eventually took its course and, given the situation, we found what we were after:

thin sliced speck, a wedge of cave aged Gruyere cheese, Normandy butter, and a tin of smoked oysters from the cabinet.

cantina-terlan-alto-adige-pinot-grigio-20082008’s Terlan Alto Adige Pinot Grigio spilled from bottle into big Bordeaux glasses and, for a moment, connected both with a pretty trail of straw yellow.

Born in the sandy soil around Terlano, Italy, Terlan Pinot Grigio is produced by the spectacular Alto Adige cooperative of Cantina Terlan. Approximately 100 growers and 150 production hectares comprise the Terlan cooperative whose wines could model a “what’s unique about Alto Adige” wine study. And please…don’t worry about the cooperative thing… well known as one of Italy’s top producers, Cantina Terlan will not let you down in the quality department.

The melon fruit character of Terlan’s Pinot Grigio played deliciously well against the speck. Notes of peach, pear and apple were super counterpoint to the Gruyere, with a hint of almond echoing the Gruyere’s nuttiness. The wine’s round, creamy palate made mad harmony with Normandy butter on French bread creating a super-sensual mouthfeel, while crisp acidity and minerality were appreciated with bites of smoked oyster.

Anyway, I looked around the room now, suddenly aware of us in it, a nearly snapshot effect: leather sandals on the floor, her ankle socks, the candle burning on a low marble and wood table, stacks of books, the Beatles playing in the background. We laughed about always being a bit short of money and about the $163.00 dollar speeding ticket she had gotten today.

I poured a bit more for both of us. I felt lucky.


Lights out.

[ Fiona humming softly ]


A Moon and a Sun: Pairing Italian Wine with Chinese Food

A moon and a sun inhabit our home. One is called Italy, the other called China. Which is which, you may ask? They take turns playing moon and sun, balancing momentum and gravity, constantly in need of the other’s orbit.

chinese-mealWhen I first mentioned to my Italian mother that I was thinking of marrying a woman from mainland China, her first question was this: “Oh my God, what will you eat ? “

15 years later, my wife and I still enjoy exploring each other’s food traditions, figuring out what we’ll eat. There is more in common between the great culinary traditions of Italy and China than you might think.

Working in the Italian wine business has had its advantages: it’s not uncommon to have 10 wines open at once with the opportunity to taste all of them against the many dishes from Italy, China, and elsewhere that we cook at home.

Italian wines are exceptionally adept at table – and not just the Italian table. There are many, many gorgeous pairings of Chinese / Asian dishes and Italian wines which we’ve discovered.

Here is a multi-dish, home cooked Chinese meal we enjoyed along with recommended pairings of Italian wines. You may not cook or order these EXACT dishes, but you’ll get the idea. Click the suggested wine name for more information about the wines / producers:

chinese-chickenChicken with leeks, bell pepper, spicy pepper from the garden, and onion.

Wine Pairing Suggestion:

    Roero Arneis


Buns stuffed with pork, chives, fresh bamboo and five spice powder.

Wine Pairing Suggestion:

    Bolgheri Rosso


Bitter vegetable stuffed with tofu, pork, water chestnut.

Wine Pairing Suggestion:

    Pinot Grigio Dolomiti

Buon Appetito ! OR…. Hao Chi !!!! 🙂

P.S. My mother now loves Chinese food !

Zeni Sorti 2007

Zeni Sorti 2007, Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT

After seeing photos of grandfather Roberto Zeni and grandson Roberto Zeni – and I say this with great affection – 4 generations in the wine business remain connected both in name and moustache !

What began in the late 1800’s when Roberto Zeni secured a tavern license and poured Teroldego from a first vineyard harvest has, since the mid-1970’s, been transformed by the brothers Zeni, Roberto and Andrea, with great attention to tradition, innovation and quality. The brothers were educated at the distinguished San Michele School of Wine. Today, Azienda Agricola Zeni specializes in wines made from the rather unusual, but exciting grape varietals found native to Trento.

Geography: let your mind reach north at Verona and look as the crow flies toward Innsbruck and Munich. Zeni is located in Grumo, a hamlet of the municipality San Michele all’Adige, about 15 km north of Trento, in a tradition-rich region of Italy called Trentino-Alto Adige where local customs blend Tyrol and Italian influences.

zeni-sortiZeni Sorti 2007 is produced from predominately Pinot Blanc and Riesling harvested from Guyot pruned vines planted in rocky, alluvial soil with a layer of river silt. The winemaking is unique and masterfully carried out: the Pinot grapes are harvested and allowed to dry naturally for about 4 weeks, bringing about a concentration of aroma and flavor; the Riesling is allowed maximum time on the vine and harvested late. For Pinot, fermentation is carried out in oak barrels at low, controlled temperature, with time allowed on the lees; the Riesling is done separately in steel tanks. Blended in the Spring, the wine is bottled and allowed a brief rest.

Tasting Notes / Impressions:

Don’t let the grape-drying process – normally associated with “dessert” wines – through you off track: this wine is gorgeously dry and complex. The wine’s warm, glowing shade of straw yellow color is as inviting as a light in the window. Hints of vanilla and cinnamon that seem to linger for a moment, vanish, and then return provide intrigue to a perfume of tropical fruit, pear and mountain herbs. The wine’s good weight and rich mouth-feel are a nice counterpoint to its delicate layers of fruit. Note of lightly toasted bread. Delicious acidity and minerality set up for a dry, persistent, elegant finish.

Food Pairing Suggestions:

APPETIZERS: especially that include prosciutto, speck, pate, white or green asparagus; SOUPS: rich, hearty soups, such as with “Canerderli”(like dumplings) flavored with porcini or liver; RISOTTO: try this wine with apple risotto scented with cinnamon; FISH: most kinds of fish and seafood will work, but lake fish, prawns and sea bass will be especially nice; PASTA: dressed with light cream sauces flavored with mushrooms, speck, prosciutto, or seafood. CHEESES: younger, Alpine style cheeses


Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio Dolomiti 2007

Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio Dolomiti 2007, IGT

Sometimes, things which are innately different combine to create a new experience. Mother Nature knows this. Every morning, she rolls up her sleeves and busily glues together Alpine and Mediterranean landscapes, ergo uniting a collection of German and Italian traditions that create the geo-cultural experience known as Alto Adige.

The greatness of Alto Adige is found in its incredible individuality: the greatness of Alois Lageder is that he manages to capture that individuality in a bottle.

alois-lageder-pinot-grigio-dolomiti-thumbThe Lageder family wine cellar was established at Bolzano in the mid-1850’s and became well known early on for a focus on quality that today remains a guiding principle at Lageder. The business expanded in the 1930’s with an acquisition of the Löwengang estate in Magrè and afterward with purchases of other vineyards in the area. Today, the business is run by Alois Lageder and oenolgist brother-in-law Luis von Dellemann who is responsible for the winemaking.

The many asymmetric natural factors that comprise Alto Adige terrain result in local sites of varied but specific characteristics. It is part of the Lageder approach to deeply understand these nuances and to match the grape to its preferred growing conditions.

Interesting bottle label: the photograph by Elisabeth Holzl, “…shows the passage of light through a perforated surface, and thus refers to respiration, to the porosity of the soil, and the leaves of the vine, to the exchanges always taking place between the earth and the surrounding atmosphere.”*

Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio Dolomiti is produced from 100% Pinot Grigio grapes sourced from vineyards in Magrè and Salorno slightly southwest of Bolzano and from the northern part of Trentino. Soils tend to be of sand and gravel with a high limestone content. Daytime temperatures are warm with wide fluctuation between evening temperatures.

Fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks followed by maturation on the lees for 4 months. Lageder’s wines are natural and adhere to the tenets of organic wine making.

Tasting Notes / Impressions:

Core color of golden summer straw highlighted by magnificent, diffused greens. Clean citrus and flower aromas, smooth melon on the palate, notes of lime, and sexy, racy acidity. Super fresh finish.

Food Pairing Suggestions:

Generally speaking, fish, poultry, shellfish, will all be good pairings, but standouts include: Pâté & Terrines, consider liver pâté topped with bacon and sauteed mushrooms, or a smoked salmon terrine; Baccalà alla Vicentina; Chicken salad with peaches and bacon; a simple starter of smoked herring.


*Artist label quote taken from the rear label of Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio Dolomiti 2007.

Alto Adige: H. Lun Pinot Grigio 2007


Alto Adige: H. Lun Pinot Grigio 2007

Prepare for a photo.  Let’s give it a title: South Tyrolian Flavor.  Caption:  Fresh as mountain water, fruity as orchards in bloom.  Subject = H. Lun Pinot Grigio 2007.

H. Lun, South Tyrol’s longest running private winery, built its good reputation by selling only bottled wine, though they were dependent on buying quality barreled wine to do so.  Today, H. Lun is owned as a cooperative but run as private enterprise, a strategic decision that provided immediate access to 30 hectares of first rate local vineyards and the ability to make and market wines from their own grapes.

South Tyrol, officially aka Alto Adige, is Italy’s northern most wine producing region and home to some of Italy’s most exciting white wines.  H. Lun vineyards are nestled among the foothills of the Dolomites, a section of the Alps, in an area that receives approximately 1,800 sun hours per year.  Combined with an average temperature of 18°C, near perfect amounts of rainfall on well aerated soil which warms up easily, and cooling breezes entering from the Mediterranean Sea and the Alps, all factors create an ideal climate especially suited to wine growing.

Tasting Notes:

The H. Lun Pinto Grigio, a straw yellow color, is lovely to look at in the glass.  In the mouth, it is full-bodied and brisk, with crisp pear and almond components in blissful stasis.

NOTE: 2011, March… recently re-tasted this wine that has now evolved tropical fruit component to aromatics…wowWowWOW. Showing more complexity and still drinking great at the moment !

100% Pinot Grigio, harvest time for this wine is during the middle of September.  Fermentation / maturation takes place in stainless steel tank.

Food pairing suggestions:  Super with the Tyrol’s smoked bacon called “speck”, or with north Italy’s air-dried beef called “bresaola”. Try it with a cheese plate with apples, raw nuts, and dried figs; gnocchi with mountain herbs or cream; love it with the region’s large bread dumplings called “canerderli”;  fish, of course, especially lake fish, chicken dishes (no red sauce).