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.

Getting to Know Prosecco Col Fondo

Although the bubbly libation from Italy’s Veneto known as Prosecco has been steadily rising in popularity among consumers, you may not yet have had occasion to meet Prosecco Col Fondo, a frizzante style of Prosecco that is winning fans of its own.

Prosecco Col Fondo stands apart from Prosecco wines produced using the more widely adopted Charmat method, as good as they are, not only for its unique flavor and aromatic profile, but also for its particular method of production.

Col fondo means ‘with sediment’ …. that is to say, Prosecco Col Fondo is bottled on its own yeasts, i.e., sur-lie, undergoing a second fermentation in bottle. Yeasts consume sugars, slowly creating carbon dioxide gas and … voilà… bubbles. Spent yeasts remain in bottle, a part of col fondo goodness. The result is an intense, complex Prosecco with a decidedly unique personality.

(Charmat method fermentation is carried out in stainless steel tank, leaving spent yeasts behind.)

It has been said that col fondo is a process likely discovered by chance as sugars from still-bottled Prosecco unexpectedly caused second fermentation while resting in the cellar. That may or may not be, but no matter. In any case, col fondo is reflective of an important piece of Prosecco tradition and culture, linked to a time before modern Charmat became the most popular method of production in the territory.

Prosecco Col Fondo

To be clear, Prosecco Col Fondo provides a different sensory experience than does Charmat produced Prosecco. If you’re used to the extreme clarity of the latter, don’t be surprised by the beautifully pale Prosecco Col Fondo, resulting from its retention of sediment in bottle.

Do expect from Prosecco Col Fondo complexity and exquisite texture, notes of bread crust, yeast, ripe fruit and bright acidity.

As is true of Prosecco in general, Prosecco Col Fondo is not just for celebratory quaffing. Speaking broadly, Proseccos are great food wines, cleaning the palate, leaving it refreshed and ready to fully taste next bites.

Prosecco Col Fondo

Food pairing … enjoy Prosecco Col Fondo with anything from gourmet burgers to pasta with prosciutto, peas and cream, to fish, to spicy Asian cuisine.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that you transition from drinking DOCG Charmat produced Prosecco to Prosecco Col Fondo. Rather, I am pointing out that Prosecco Col Fondo is a style of Prosecco to be appreciated and enjoyed from time to time, one that can that can bring depth to the Prosecco experience.

By the way, interesting tasting tips on enjoying Prosecco Col Fondo include this one, found on the company website of producer Malibràn:

“FOR A BETTER TASTING
Before the tasting ,the Sur-lie should rest for a few days, in a vertical position, so that yeasts can fall down to the bottle’s bottom; it should be poured into a decanter and we suggest pouring the remainings yeasts into a glass, so that you can have a taste of the prosecco’s heart, the heady refermentation scent and the memory of a past that still lives in the moderns sparkling’s making process technologies.”

Still other producers recommend gently turning bottle upside down and then right side up to disperse the sediment.

Perhaps there is a good opportunity here for a self-directed educational experience … buy two bottles and try it both ways.

A Few Notable Small Producers Offering Prosecco Col Fondo:

Bele Casel
Ca’ dei Zago
Malibràn

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.

Domaine Hubert Chavy Bourgogne Rouge La Taupe 2008

Narrative does provide and communicate context around wine. That’s important, at least at certain stages of appreciation. But, ultimately, you have to turn the volume down on narrative and decide for yourself if the wine is real or not, if it’s really there for you in the way you want to enjoy it.

domaine-hubert-chavy-bourgogne-rouge-la-taupe-2008One of the most real wines to land on my table of late is Domaine Hubert Chavy Bourgogne Rouge La Taupe 2008. The wine possesses remarkable epicurean utility and an air of romance, qualities that are becoming antique in the current wine market.

That’s not to suggest that this Bourgogne Rouge is out of step: I mean that style and fashion are two different things.

Rock beats scissors.
Style beats fashion.

You leave certain things to the glam and trophy wines.

Elegance, romance, real life?
Leave those things to wines like this one.

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.

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 😉