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.

Barolo
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.

Anticipation.

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.

Vistamare
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.



Vigne Surrau: Winery Fusing Nature, Art, Hospitality

*Observations from a sponsored press trip to the region during September 2015

Travel is a bit like making love: you can read about it, but to receive the entire message, you’ll need to get personally involved.

Which is why I recently packed a bag and headed for Sardegna, destination Gallura, a region that sits on Sardegna’s northeast coast and the exclusive Costa Smerelda, famous for its exceptional wine, food, and fun.

On the road from Arzachena to Porto Cervo, I visited the Vigne Surrau winery and although Vigne Surrau does indeed produce some of the most uniquely delicious wines that will ever pass your lips, you don’t have to be a wine lover to appreciate a stop at the winery campus: Vigne Surrau is very much a destination in its own right.

Vigne Surrau Winery, Sunset

The architect-designed Vigne Surrau facility functions not only as a workplace but also as a meeting place that offers tourists and locals an opportunity to attend educational wine and cooking classes, tastings, art exhibitions, film showings, music concerts and professional conferences. Or to just sit, relax with friends and enjoy the stunningly beautiful landscape.

Vigne Surrau Winery, Tasting Room

The facility’s design is executed in a manner that provides visitors incredible transparency to everything that is going on, in or out of the space. Sitting in the tasting room, for example, one cannot help but experience a profound connection to the magnificent natural surroundings just outside.

Vigne Surrau Winery, Tasting Room

Permeating the Vigne Surrau experience is an overwhelming sense of the proprietor family’s genuine love for community, hospitality, and beauty.

Travel is an opportunity to hear a place speak in its own voice, experience an untranslated version of its smells, flavors, rhythms, understand the life of it. At Vigne Surrau, one finds an environment where “place” speaks without distortion.

Vigne Surrau Winery, Tasting Room

Visitors who appreciate beauty come year round from all over the world to the area of Costa Smerelda. Whether unwinding after a summer swim in the Mediterranean, relaxing with a good book during winter months, or enjoying an aperitivo with friends, a stop at Vigne Surrau is sure to prove both beautiful and inspiring.

And, oh, by the way … yes, here in Gallura, the ocean really is that emerald color.

A Visit to Vigne Surrau in Sardegna’s Gallura Region

*Observations from a sponsored press trip to the region during September 2015

First, there is the stone, the granite.

It commands the landscape.

Silent.

Mysterious.

It sinks into you, permeates consciousness, overseer of the primal bond between land and man.

vigne surrau granite2

On Sardegna’s northeast coast, in the area known as Gallura, granite hills play host to an especially profound expression of Vermentino known as Vermentino di Gallura. The region’s granite soils contribute to the wine’s complexity, body, minerality and beguiling perfume.

And, in Gallura, if you stand still just long enough, you will feel that the wind, too, is there with you.

Always.

Keeping the vines dry, preventing disease.

Its antediluvian whispers carry the subtle scent of Mediterranean Sea, a deliciously salty grace note that can be tasted in the region’s wines.

Stone. Wind. Sea.
Holy trinity in which Vermentino di Gallura finds it identity under the Sardinian sun.

Vermentino is grown widely in Sardegna and along Mediterranean coastlines. When cultivated in Gallura, however, Vermentino expresses itself in a truly exceptional manner. In fact, Vermentino di Gallura is the only of Sardegna’s wines designated DOCG status, a nomenclature at the top of Italy’s appellation hierarchy, and is surely one of Italy’s most important white wines.

vigne surrau winery1

Vigne Surrau, a young winery founded in 2004 located in the area of Porto Cervo / Arzachena, is producing high quality Vermentino di Gallura wines of massive personality and charisma, made in a clean, elegant, and balanced style. The winery owns over 40 hectares of vineyards and produces a stunning line of wines guided by innovative, forward thinking oenologist Mario Siddi, who interprets tradition in a way that links yesterday and today, and points toward a relevant tomorrow. I recently had the good fortune to taste the Vigne Surrau lineup while visiting at the winery. Let’s focus on the winery’s Vermentino wines here (I will cover their reds in a subsequent post):

Tasting Notes

Branu – An exceedingly splendid example of the sublime freshness and minerality that typify Vermentino di Gallura. Fermented in stainless steel, Branu is a wine of youthful personality, medium body, vitality on the palate, richly textured in the mouth. Vivid flavors and scents of ripe yellow fruit, florals, citrus, minerals, grace notes of salty mint. With fish, shellfish, first and main courses, or alone as an aperitif.

Sciala – Produced from the best grapes selected from Surrau valley’s finest vineyards. Rests on lees for several months. Focused peachy fruit set as background for more exotic notes of jasmine, ginger, sage, mint, saline, underlined with stony minerality, round and pleasingly fat in the mouth. A tremendously interesting wine, Sciala presents a more intense, structured side of Vermentino, with good longevity. The 2008 vintage which I tasted showed gorgeous notes of petrol reminiscent of cellared Riesling and gave good testimony to Vermentino di Gallura’s potential for aging.

Sciala Late Harvest – Made with the same grapes as Sciala, picked 10 days later. 50% of the must ferments in non-toasted French barrels, the other 50% in steel. Big bodied and voluptuous, this late harvest version of Sciala calls out with scents of peachy ripe yellow fruit, herb, delicate florals. Peach flavors transfer to a soft, seductively viscous palate to join tastes of tropical fruit, orange peel, flecked with delicious licks of seasalt. Wonderfully supple, complex, with great persistence.

Surrau Brut Millesmato – With many months spent on lees and a second fermentation in bottle, this 100% Vermentino is intense, complex, structured, in the most refined of ways. Fragrant scents of bread crust typical of “metodo classic” production intermingle with delicate notes of flowers, apple, and herb. Dry, with fine bubble perlage and delicious mineral acidity that enlivens an impeccably fresh palate. Elegant and aristocratic. Excellent with shellfish, first courses, or as an aperitif. But, be good to yourself: enjoy this wine with fresh oysters 

Sole di Surrau – So luminiscently golden honey is the color of this Passito di Vermentino that it seems to radiate light from inside to out. As a “Passito”, Sole di Surrau is produced from 100% Vermentino grapes dried open air on mats for one month after harvest. Intense, honeyed notes of caramel, hazelnut, candied orange peel, the wine rolls across the palate with gorgeous syrupy liquidity. Excellent with desserts, seasoned cheeses, or quiet time 🙂

Sardinia: Scenes from Sulcis, Wine, Food, Producers & Friends

NOTE: I traveled as a guest of Consorzio Carignano del Sulcis on an educational press trip to experience the Carignano wines of Sardegna’s Sulcis region.

The following is part of a series of planned posts featuring the region of Carignano del Sulcis, its producers and wines:

The entire time we drove through Sardinia’s Sulcis region, Pat Metheny’s “Last Train Home” played in my head, as if it were somehow the soundtrack for exploring the Sulcis territory, its famous Carignano wines, food and culture.

In gathering some trip photos to share, it seems fitting that you might experience it that way, too 🙂

* Song snippet from “Last Train Home”, a cut from the album “Still Life (Talking), by Pat Metheny Group, released 1987 by Geffen Records.

Jankara Vermentino di Gallura Superiore

Note: Jankara Vermention di Gallura Superiore was provided to me as a tasting sample. If interested, see Vintrospective policy about wine samples here.

May I suggest you to locate a writing pen, and with it, write on the palm of your hand the following:

JANKARA

Upon arriving at your favorite wine shop, open your palm to show the salesperson what you’ve written.

jankara-vermention-di-gallura-superiore-2If you have with you any luck at all, you may, at that point, be quite nearer to a taste of some astonishingly good Vermentino.

Vermentino di Gallura, to be precise.

Plenty of Vermentino grows elsewhere in Sardinia and on Italy’s mainland, too – Tuscany and Liguria come to mind – to produce what are, in most cases, impressively good wines. But, Vermentino from Sardinia’s Gallura production zone is an especially rich expression of that grape varietal.

The production zone for Vermentino di Gallura is located in Sardinia’s northeast. And though I haven’t yet personally visited the area, I understand it to be characterized by granite mountains, well-drained granite soils and the salty, Mediterranean wind, all of which together contribute to the particular taste and aroma of Vermention di Gallura.

Jankara is a young estate founded in 2006 by Renato and Angela Spanu, situated in the Gallura subzone known as Vena di San Leonardo or Vein of Saint Leonardo. The estate sits at 300 meters altitude and not far from Sardinia’s famed Costa Smerelda beaches. I believe 11 or so of the estate’s 20-something acres are under vine. The area around Vena di San Leonardo is said to be blessed with an especially excellent microclimate, influenced by nearby Lake Liscia and the island’s second highest mountain (Mount Limbara). Here, grapes thrive in the subzone’s cool nights and hot days, and stay exceedingly healthy thanks to the ever present wind which cools and cleans the air, keeping grapes dry and free of disease and pests.

jankara-vermentino-di-gallura-superioreI can tell you from conversations had with Renato while traveling on a bus visiting vineyards in Sardinia’s Sulcis, that his passion for Sardinia and Gallura runs deep: raised in the Gallura area, Rentato speaks about Sardina and Gallura with poetic passion as only a local boy could.

Jankara Vermentino di Gallura Superiore is produced from 100% hand-harvested Vermentino fermented in stainless steel, 6 months tank ageing, additional 2 months in bottle.

In the interest of artistic thinking, fairness, and democratic viewpoint, when writing about wines, I have avoided statements that suggest any particular wine is “the best” in its class or category. I am comfortable to keep it that way. But, I will say, with no reservation whatever, that Jankara Vermentino di Gallura Superiore … is not second best ;-).

Tasting Notes:
Intense yet mellow, with an impressive range of aromas and tastes: flowers, herbs, apricots, papaya, honey, almonds, fleeting notes of fennel and mint. Adore the rich, somewhat viscous palate. Satisfying acidity / minerality. Well-structured and nicely balanced, the wine finishes with a subtle, pleasantly bitter grace note and a delicious lick of seasalt.

Food Pairing Suggestions:
This wine was sensational with tuna steak and black sesame seeds. I am convinced this Vermentino can make a can of good octopus alongside bread and olive oil something to remember. I cannot imagine that anyone pairing the wine with sushi, sashimi, or maki cut rolls could possibly be unhappy with the result. Any shellfish I can think of at the moment alongside a glass of this Sardinian white seems an especially tantalizing idea. Crab meat on grilled buttered toast? Oh yeah. The wine’s herbal notes would bring good company to slices of mozzarella di bufala and tomato, scented with ripped basil and olive oil. In the mood for a more substantial entrée, perhaps? Jankara Vermentino di Gallura Superiore has the stuffing to be poured wherever chicken, rabbit or pork are served 😉

In Sardegna: An Afternoon with Luca Fontana of Cantina Mesa

In Sardegna: An Afternoon with Luca Fontana of Cantina Mesa

NOTE: I traveled as a guest of Consorzio Carignano del Sulcis on an educational press trip to experience the Carignano wines of Sardegna’s Sulcis region.

mesa-luca-1While in Sardegna exploring the Carignano wines of the Sulcis region, I had the good luck to come upon Luca Fontana- a man filled with an enormous energy and passion for what he is doing … and for the place where he does it.

Luca is simply an extraordinary ambassador not only for the wines of Cantina Mesa, but for Sardegna, Sulcis and Carignano as well.

Cantina Mesa – the word Mesa in both Sardinian and Spanish, means table or dinner table – is the extraordinary creation of Gavino Sanna, a massively successful Italian advertising professional. Located on the mesa-seaside1south western tip of Sardegna, Cantina Mesa, the youngest estate in the area, having been established in 2004, produces 750K bottles from 70 hectares of vineyards.

The local climate is Mediterranean with little rain, most of which comes during winter. According to Fontana, to go even six months without rain water does not threaten the vines, but notes that the vines are sensitive to humidity related disease. Thus, the persistent wind plays a key role in drying moisture, keeping vines healthy.

mesa-winery1Naturally sandy soils of the area, relates Fontana, arise from ancient seas and are rich in limestone, skeletal, mineral and organic components that have bearing on the success of the estate’s wines.

Indeed, as the afternoon in the company of Luca progressed, it became clear to me that the cornerstone of Mesa’s philosophy is a kind of maternal love married to generosity, dedication and respect: Mesa’s wines are astonishingly good for the same reason your mother’s pasta tastes better than any other.

From the Mesa building itself which, through minimalist architecture, occupies an insanely gorgeous landscape in the hills around the estate’s principal vineyard in Su Baroni without disruption, to the tri-level winery inside, one of exceedingly modern design that cares for every aspect of the grape / wine process like a young mother caring for her infant child, the Mesa philosophy is pervasively tangible.

Although Cantine Mesa also produces wines from Vermentino, Cannonau, Syrah and Chardonnay, I will limit remarks here to Mesa’s BUIO and BUIO BUIO, the esates’s first and second label Carignano wines, respectively, and a mention of a special bottling, that of the estate’s Gavino, a wine I enjoyed tremendously:

mesa-buio1I am especially fond of Cantina Mesa’s wine BUIO – BUIO in local Italian dialect means dark – a wine that speaks with authority about its relevance and connection to “place”, a wine essential to the Sulcis experience. 100% Carignano fermented in stainless steel, inoculated with selected French yeast, followed by 2 months bottle ageing, BUIO pulls you into some kind of sublime seaside conversation with impressions of fresh berry, Mediterranean bush, and smoke.

Mesa’s first label wine, BUIO BUIO, which I adore, brings more depth to that conversation, warmer on the palate, heightened intensity, and a more structured frame. Impressions of wood and spice – though not at all overdone – find good balance against the wines richness. Rests a minimum of ten months in first / second passage barriques, followed by another four months in bottle.

A special mention for Mesa’s massively impressive Gavino, produced from a 65 year old vineyard of ungrafted alberello trained vines facing the sea. This moody, magnificent wine is, I believe, an anniversary bottling, and so may be, unfortunately, discontinued.

Mesa’s wines offer a unique, stylish, singular interpretation of Sardegna in voices that remain connected to and in harmony with Sardinian tradition.

The afternoon ended with a wish from Luca, a wish not for writing about wines or for market development, etc., but simply that we should, “come back to Sardegna, to Sulcis, to Porto Pino…with families…with dogs…whatever… but, come back”.

You can bet on that, Luca.

Related Post, The Enigmatic, Beating Heart of Carignano del Sulcis

The Enigmatic, Beating Heart of Carignano del Sulcis

NOTE: I traveled as a guest of Consorzio Carignano del Sulcis on an educational press trip to experience the Carignano wines of Sardegna’s Sulcis region.

The following is first in a series of planned articles featuring the region of Carignano del Sulcis, its producers and wines:

You might think that to understand Carignano del Sulcis wines one might simply pour some into a glass.

But, you’d be wrong.

Tasting alone doesn’t capture it.

sardegna-carignano-del-sulcis-mesa-1aTo experience something that extends beyond taste, to feel the enigmatic, beating heart of Carignano del Sulcis, is to understand the appellation in the context of four words:

Sun. Sand. Salt. Scirocco.

One doesn’t need to travel far or long in the region before concluding that the Sulcis sun is both tireless and intense. Light-colored, sandy soils reflect the already strong sunlight back at Carigano vines for intensified effect. It is the amount and quality of Sulcis sunlight that is perhaps the most influencing factor to the zone’s Carignano clusters reaching optimal ripeness as they do, contributing to the high quality and richness of flavor achieved by Carignano wines produced in the region.

sardegna-carignano-del-sulcis-mesa-2a Adding to the region’s heat are Scirocco winds that blow from Africa and across the Mediterranean Sea into Sardegna’s southwest corner where the Sulcis area is located. Here, winds also act as important protectors of vine health, providing all important drying to counter moisture and humidity that, if left unchecked, could lead Carignano’s tight clusters to disease.

Presence of the surrounding sea is announced by a seemingly ever-present scent of saline hanging in the Sulcis air – sometimes mixed with the perfume of Mediterranean herbs growing wild on hillsides – providing unforgettable sensorial information that can be detected in Sulcis Carignano. The sea, a powerful moderator of the region’s heat, plays no small role in bringing a special and unique equilibrium to Sulcis climatic conditions.

sardegna-carignano-del-sulcis-sardus-pater-1aBut, it is the sandy, Sulcis soil which allows ungrafted Carignano vines an opportunity to grow old and safe from phylloxera, a grapevine pest (phylloxera, I’m told, cannot crawl well in the loose, sandy soil.) In fact, Carignano vines trained in the bush or alberello style – a training technique employed to deal with the area’s extreme climatic conditions – can reach to 50, 80, even 100 plus years old in Sardegna’s Sulcis. As poor, sandy soils induce a state of restricted vigor in the vines and old vines have naturally reduced yields, vine nutritional energies are directed to fewer grapes resulting in fruit quality (improved flavor concentration, nuance, etc.) that is astonishingly high.

While traveling in the region, I found Carignano del Sulcis wines I tasted to be wines of harmony showing a remarkable richness of flavor, well-structured wines capable of smoothness, finesse and elegance. Anyone who appreciates the craftsmanship of Burgundy, aromatics and flavors that recall wines of southern France, the intensity of Super Tuscans or the power of California Cab, will find something to love about Carignano del Sulcis.

sardegna-carignano-del-sulcis-sardus-pater-2aAnd I might add to that, anyone who appreciates value: Carignano del Sulcis brings to the market one of the best quality to price ratios in Italian wine today.

It must be said, though, that Carignano del Sulcis is not simply a metaphor for wines of more famous appellations. Like the landscape from which it comes, there is something mysterious, a wildness about Carignano del Sulcis that thrills, an element of personality that is uniquely, deliciously, Sardinian.

Most of the Carignano del Sulcis wines I tasted on this tour would typically best be enjoyed in the short to middle term, say, within five years of vintage. However, there was an impressive example or two of older Carignano del Sulcis wines reaching back eight or ten years that were drinking superbly.

You don’t need to travel to Sardegna to enjoy Carignano del Sulcis. But, understanding something of Carignano del Sulcis in the context of the zone’s incredibly unique terroir and the unique influences of sun, sand, salt and scirocco upon the wines, you are fully prepared – from the rim of your wine glass – to gain a deeper appreciation for the unique expression of Carignano from Sardegna’s Sulcis and its ability to convey nuances of the absolutely fascinating Sulcis terroir.

Recommended Producers Whose Wines Exemplify Sulcis Terroir:

AgriPunica
Calasetta
Mesa
Santadi
Sardus Pater

Look for more about Carignano del Sulcis, specific wines, their producers and food pairings on Vintrospective in the weeks and months to come.

Related Article, Sardinian Passion

Santadi Villa Solais Vermentino di Sardegna 2009

Santadi Villa Solais Vermentino di Sardegna 2009

A piece of consumer “wisdom” recently offered to me – a suggestion that Italy’s cooperatives produce wines of inferior quality – I find to be rather démodé bullshit.

Once upon a time…perhaps. But, as Bob Dylan once wrote, “The times, they are-a changin’.

santadi-villa-solais-vermentino-di-sardegna-2009In fact, I continue to be impressed by the quality standard set by certain of Italy’s co-op producers, finding their wines at times superior to many single estate bottlings. One recent and delicious surprise I totally enjoyed is Santadi Villa Solais Vermentino di Sardegna.

A producer co-op on the island of Sardegna founded during the ‘60’s, Cantina Santadi sources their Villa Solais Vermentino di Sardegna from vineyards in five municipalities of the lower Sulcis district located on the southwestern coast of the island.

A blend of Vermentino and Nuragus, the wine is produced from hand-picked grapes grown in a medium mix volcanic soil with clay and sand. Fermented in stainless steel and left in contact with the lees for several months before bottling.

Tasting Notes / Impressions:

Stunningly fresh aromas of pear, apple, cantaloupe and orange blossom transfer well to a sensuously round and delicately viscous palate that is set alive by piquant impressions of sea salt and crisp minerality. Simply delicious.

Food Pairing Suggestions:

You will not be disappointed when pairing this wine with fish, white meat, or alone as an aperitivo. As a first choice, let the wine’s luscious palate flatter the rich flesh of fish like tuna, sword fish, or blue fish, its saline notes providing good, balancing counterpoint.

Vegetarians might consider serving this wine with an entrée salad of couscous or quinoa flecked with sliced cashew and almond, mango, papaya, minced shallots and tempeh dressed with a favorite vinaigrette.

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