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.

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

Marisa Cuomo Fuore Bianco Costa D’Amalfi 2011

Marisa Cuomo Fuore Bianco Costa D’Amalfi 2011

If you are drinking the right wines, it changes you. You come out on the other side of something, with new insights, new attitudes.

Some wines question you. The important ones may define you.

Skin and blood, bottle and wine, it is in our respective containers that we and wine share an intimate space, a state of being. Try to possess it, and it is gone.

Unexplained. Mystic.

When it happens, leave it alone. Some things deserve to be left untranslated.

marisa-cuomo-fuore-bianco-costa-damalfi-2011Perhaps it is some primordial power of extreme rock and sea that imbues Maria Cuomo’s Fuore Bianco Costa D’Amalfi with an ability to enter so deeply into the personal. Or maybe, with the passing of time, vines soak in its mystery, secrets, wisdom. In whatever language this wine is speaking, it keeps me incredibly aware of itself. Mesmerized, I can ask no more of it: I know to let it be.

Cantine Marisa Cuomo is located in Italy’s south on the Amalfi Coast in Fuore. Owners Andrea Ferraioli and Marisa Cuomo use a pergola style vine cultivation system in order to deal with the seacoast terraces and nearly vertical rock face. A cellar has been dug into dolomitic limestone to house the estate’s wooden barrels where wines rest in ideal atmospheric conditions.

Marisa Cuomo Fuore Bianco Costa D’Amalfi is produced from hand harvested Falanghina (60%) and Biancolella (40%) grapes grown on coastal terraces 200-250 meters above sea level in soil composed of dolomitic limestone rock. Fermentation is carried out over 20-30 days. 4 months in stainless steel before bottling.

Tasting Notes / Impressions:

Fresh aromas of grapefruit, citrus, delicate notes of minerals, honey. A sense of roundness in the mouth, light but rich, nicely balanced with acidity that excites while allowing the wine’s more delicate aspects to be appreciated. Soft finish that stays awake on the decrescendo.

Food Pairing Suggestions:

Fish, shell fish, fresh cheeses, grilled vegetables. Loved this wine with pan friend haddock fillets. Fresh mozzarella dressed only with good olive oil was a sensational pairing. To feed your pasta craving, try thin spaghetti with olive oil, garlic and anchovy. Risotto lovers: scallop risotto. 

Related post Tre Bicchieri NYC 2013

Cantine Federiciane Monteleone Penisola Sorrentina Gragnano 2012

Cantine Federiciane Monteleone Penisola Sorrentina Gragnano 2012

“ Purple haze … all in my brain “, sings Jimi Hendrix.

Though a close description, it is not haze, exactly, which is all in my brain, but, more accurately, foam.

Purple foam, to be precise.

It is 127 miles, give or take, the distance between me and the nearest bottle of spumescent Gragnano, according to

cantine-federiciane-monteleone-penisola-sorrentina-gragnano-2012Yes, here in pizza-obsessed USA, in a corridor where pizza shops seem to outnumber people, locating a bottle of Gragnano, a wine that delivers one of the best pairings to pizza that you can imagine, is turning out to be, well, no easy task.

Go figure.

It would seem someone is missing out on a real opportunity in wine sales. If you are one of those importer / distributor / retailer types who believe the national palate is still not ready for Gragnano, well, that person may be you.

And why, by the way, is this not the case with the similar, but more easily located Lambrusco, I wonder?


Gragnano, a gently frizzante (sparkling) red wine taking its name from a town of the same name on the Sorrento Penisula, is low in alcohol with a distinct taste of grapes. It pours with a loveable purple foaminess and has the kind of acidity / effervescence that makes it a sensational partner to street food, cutting through the fat of cheese and oil, and yet, accompanies classic dishes, too, with unpretentious dignity.

And Gragnano can be an easy crossover for Lambrusco lovers, as it offers a similar drinking experience, however, Gragnano impresses me as having a somewhat larger frame, finer perlage (bubbles) and registering a different tone of earthiness.

Cantine Federiciane is located near Napoli in Italy’s Campania region. Produced under the umbrella of Penisola Sorrentina DOC, the estate’s Gragnano is made from grapes grown in the area’s volcanic soil. Back in the ‘50’s, the owners, family Palumbo, would re-ferment in heavy bottles with reinforced corks to withstand the pressure of fermentation. These days that is left to the faster and more controlled autoclave.

Whether you are interested in tasting off-beat, indigenous varietals – Piedirosso, Sciascinoso, Aglianico – or just want to lay your lips onto something new and delicious, give Gragnano a try. Be sure to give it a chill before serving. And if you don’t find Gragnano on the bottle shelf of your local wine shop, be sure to politely inform your retailer of the oversight.

Tasting Notes / Impressions:

Intense, deep hues of purple are echoed in lively, pomegranate-toned froth. Aromatic, bright, notes of grape and berry, earth, hint of spice, a touch of residual sugar. Rich and caressingly soft in the mouth with effervescence that really becomes a structural element here. The wine finishes a little smokey with lip-smacking, delicious dryness, gentle tannins. Fun, fresh and festive, a wine we should all be drinking more of.

Food Pairing Suggestions:

Pizza, of course, but please, let us not speak here of toppings like pineapple 😉 Recommend pizza margherita or white pizza, perhaps with salami or prosciutto; cecina / farinata (chick-pea flour “pizza”); the always comforting mozzarella in carrozza (Italian grilled cheese) is a simple and sensational pairing; sausages with mascarpone, a favorite dish of Italian cyclist Marco Pantani, may he rest in peace, I imagine to be insanely good company to Gragnano; calzone stuffed with salami and ricotta ( how many of these I made for my kids’ school lunch !); peppers and egg panino; cheeses like provolone, smokey scarmorza, mozzarella di buffalo; cured meats like salami, capicola, prosciutto cotto; Gragnano is perfect for the ever classic eggplant parmigiana; meat lovers will not be disappointed when pairing this wine to a good roast; spaghetti with mussels in light marinara sauce; a slam-dunk winner with fried seafood like squid, octopus, fried fish, especially pan-fried bacala.


Monte di Grazia Campania Bianco 2009

Monte di Grazia Campania Bianco 2009

Enjoying a vintage New York City vibe we pass through Washington Square, meander into the West Village then SoHo, making our way down to Chambers Street Wine shop where I am lucky enough to meet Marco Melzi at the tasting table.

[ I can’t recall ever having mentioned a retail wine shop on this blog before, but I have consistently found so many outstanding, unique wines at Chambers Street Wines that I think they deserve the plug 😉 ]

monte-di-grazia-campania-bianco-2009Marco introduced me to Monte di Grazia Campania Bianco 2009, a wine of character, unpretentious generosity and distinction.

The estate of Monte di Grazia is perched high above the Amalfi coast of Italy’s Campania in Tramonti, founded in 2004 by local physician Dr. Alfonso Arpino who has taken over the family vineyards.

Monte di Grazia lays claim to ancient vines and ungrafted rootstock – apparently unaffected by the great wine blight phylloxera – some more than a century old and producing naturally low yields.

The estate has approximately 2.5 hectares under vine in 4 or 5 vineyards situated in terraced terrain with soil of clay, sand and volcanic rock fragments.

Monte di Grazia Campania Bianco is produced from Pepella – whose clusters include only a few large grapes among many small ones – along with varietals Ginestra and Bianca Tenera. Vines are cultivated organically, grapes hand-harvested into crates. The wine is fermented and aged in stainless steel.

Tasting Notes / Impressions:

Luminous yellow-gold color with streaks of emerald, striking clarity. A cheery, upbeat nose opens with generous scents of lemon peel, pear, mandarin orange, hints of musk and rock, traces of hazelnut. On the palate, the wine shows the smooth power and lean muscularity you associate with an Olympic swimmer. Finishes with delicious, subtlely bitter recollections of citrus, nuances of wild herbs and licorice. An arrestingly soulful, unique wine.

Food Pairing Suggestions:

We loved this wine paired with wild caught calamari; boiled potatoes dressed with olive oil, sun-dried tomato and capers; mixed salad greens with hard boiled egg and avocado.

Left open in the refrigerator, Monte di Grazia Campania Bianco the next night drank with unwavering personality and flavor … we enjoyed it again with fresh home-made spring rolls.

I imagine this wine as being totally delicious with room temperature whole wheat pasta, mozzarella, sun dried tomato, fresh basil, tossed in balsamic vinaigrette. Oh well, next time 🙂

Related posts: Verdicchio Meets Chun Juan

See the grand trunks of the Monte di Grazia vines in a slideshow on the estate’s website.


Rocca del Principe Fiano di Avellino 2006

Rocca del Principe Fiano di Avellino 2006

A beautiful expression of Time:
Early morning light slowly fills space between leaves of Fujian Tea bonsai.

Wonderfully evolved Rocca del Principe Fiano di Avellino 2006.

Somewhere in the province of Avellino in Italy’s Campania region there is a town called Lapio where 5 very special hectares of vineyard offer the Fiano vines of Rocca del Principe an apparently ideal terroir.

Husband and wife producer team of Aurelia Fabrizio and Ercole Zarrella released a first vintage only a few years back in 2004 and have already arrested the attention of many, including Gambero Rosso, which has taken notice of multiple vintages of this lovely wine produced from Campania’s indigenous Fiano varietal.

Rocca del Principe vineyards are of varying exposure at approximately 600 meters altitude. With differing soil/s – clay, generally, with changing degrees of richness, sand, rock sediment – each vineyard surely tends toward a unique character. The estate’s guiding production philosophy of low yield / minimal intervention eschews both chemical pesticides and synthetics fertilizers.

Tasting Notes / Impressions:

I nearly swooned at the complex aromatics rising up from this 5 year old Fiano: apricot, fig, hints of pear liqueur, candied ginger and minerals transfer to a rich, full palate that conveys both power and refinement. Minerality and acidity introduce delicious tension and contrast on the palate, leading to a long, flavorful finish marked with subtle hazelnut.

Food Pairing Suggestions:

You will not be disappointed pairing Fiano di Avellino with fish or seafood as it is ideal with either: but, this is familiar territory, so I will make only one suggestion in that category -consider crabcakes with remoulade sauce. Let’s work up a few more unusual ideas: goat cheese and black olive bruschetta; penne with grilled tomato and zucchini; for a Middle East experience, serve this wine with a plate of hummus, baba ghanoush (smokey eggplant dip), black olives and pita; perhaps an appetizer or first course of dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) accompanied by cubes of feta cheese marinated in oregano, red pepper flakes and olive oil.

Related posts:

Fiano di Avellino: Changing Gears
Feudi di San Gregorio Fiano di Avellino


Three Italian Whites That Get It Right

Three Italian Whites That Get It Right

As Spring makes its appearance where I like to walk along Frog Hollow Road, yellow flowers bloom, tractors cough awake from their winter rest, the season’s first bicyclists spin past coloring the landscape with bright, eye-catching outfits.

Spring also brings with it a gradual shift from hearty cold weather fare to lighter warm weather eating.

italian-white-barberani-pra-casaIn anticipation of summer’s bounty, mealtimes al fresco and leisurely aperitifs on the terrace, I recently road-tested a field of Italian whites: here are three that will not fail to appear on my warm weather wine list 😉

A Casa Falanghina 2007

Produced from 100% Falanghina grown in soil hosting deposits of sandstone and clay, vinified in stainless steel. This Campanian white shows aromatics of apple, pear, pineapple and papaya with traces of licorice and mint on the finish, vibrant acidity and good structure. A superb partner to shell fish or seafood – served either alone or in pasta or risotto – classic caprese salad, grilled vegetables, poultry, red or white pizza. $$.

Pra Soave Classico 2009

This 100% Garganega Soave hails from 30 year old vineyards and is vinified in stainless steel. With spectacular aromatics and super articulation, this Veneto white exudes terroir and personality showing honeydew melon, apple, pear, and flowers underscored by delicious minerality. Finishes with subtle whispers of citrus and almond. You’ll want this bottle close at hand wherever and whenever you find yourself with a picnic basket in hand: pair it with chicken or potato salad, dishes that feature eggs or cream such as classic quiche, savory pastry –Greek spanikopita will be a certain winner – grilled vegetables, certainly pasta primavera and, of course, seafood. This wine is a great entrée to Italian wines for lovers of French or West Coast Pinot Gris. $.

Barberani Orvieto Classico Superiore Castagnole 2009

A blend of typical Umbrian varietals – Procanico, Verdello, Grechetto, Malvasia, Drupeggio, (and, I believe, a splash of Chardonnay) – this Orvieto from Barberani is grown in distinctively chalky soil. Aromas of fresh hay, lime, and minerals are followed by flavors of pear, apple and lemon that rise with smokey minerality on a lively palate. Concludes with grace notes of almond and basil. A massively refreshing and harmonic wine that pleases with its natural softness and good structure. Fish, poultry, light pastas – try a satisfying plate of capellini with almond basil pesto – and vegetarian dishes will all rock with this wine, but this bottle is so full of nuance and class that it will play a good solo paired with elegant summer salads. $.

Note: A Casa, Pra, Barberani … imported by Vinifera Imports, Ltd., Ronkonkoma, NY