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. 

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