Stealing the New Year’s Eve Show: Sagrantino

A quick check of our local weather forecast feels as if mother nature will set the tone heading into New Year’s Eve weekend: “Accumulating snow across the high terrain…overspreading the region…”.

No complaints. Firewood is split and stacked. And anyway, I’m in the mood for a cozy winter night of celebration to welcome in 2017.

Top of mind, a warming, hearty menu full of savory rich flavors seems apropos and the wine should follow suit.

img_6503From the Montefalco region of Umbria in central Italy, the Sagrantino grape is not only indigenous to the area, but has a rather ancient record of growing there according to knowers of local tradition. The name Sagrantino, some believe, derives from the Italian sagra, meaning feast, a fact that resonates during the festive time of New Year celebrations. The variety produces a wine of the same name, known to be Italy’s most tannic wine and with a quality of tannin that is remarkably polished, a distinction making the wines of Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG (made with 100% Sagrantino grapes) truly unique.

Combining power and elegance, Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG wines show good complexity and sturdy tannins and have the stuffing to cut the richness of, say, a tender filet mignon, to create a harmonic blend of flavors. Pairing classic sides such as creamed spinach and truffle mashed potatoes with of a glass of Sagrantino will surely not disappoint.

img_6507To ring in the New Year with a proper toast of good bubbles is tradition, no doubt. But, for the main event at table – a decadent, celebratory menu featuring roasted meats with all the trimmings – Sagrantino’s power, elegance, and beautifully tannic personality will steal the show.

Broccatelli Galli Montefalco Sangrantino 2010

Loads of bramble-berry fruit, notes of savory herb, balanced spice, plenty of smooth, luxurious tannins to finish.

Note: Wine sample provided.

Donnafugata Ben Ryé

In some strange and decidedly unscientific way, there are two kinds of wine.

There are those wines that make you forget; streets you’ve walked down, dirty, wide or narrow, unique as they are, houses you’ve lived in and how you were rich or poor in them, stones you’ve thrown into the water as a barefoot child, what is real and what is false.

Then there are the wines that make you dream; visions of great cities and palaces, sailing routes across ancient seas, golden mosaics, secret passageways, the ruined and the glorious.

Every once and a while, you find a wine whose emotional impact makes you do both.

Ben Rye, Donnafugata, Jose Rallo

Such is the case with Ben Ryé, a naturally sweet white wine from the island of Pantelleria, produced by Donnafugata.

Named from Arabic for “Son of the Wind”, in reference to the constant wind sweeping Pantelleria’s grape clusters, Ben Ryé is produced from the native Italian wine grape known as Zibibbo or Moscato di Alessandria.

Grown in volcanic, mineral rich soil at altitudes between 20 and 400 meters, grapes are selected and hand-harvested into crates, and undergo a period of withering. Fermentation is carried out in temperature controlled stainless steel tank. Dried grapes, de-stemmed and hand-selected, are added to fresh must in batches. The wine is aged in stainless steel for 7 months followed by an additional 12 months in bottle.

I’ve been fortunate to experience Ben Ryé on many occasions, and recently, while in Verona at Vinitaly 2016, I had an opportunity to taste Ben Ryé poured by José Rallo of Donnafugata, with time for a photo as well.

Tasting Note:

Honeyed fig and apricot, orange peel, citrus, caramel and pistachio nut, Mediterranean scrub bush. Remarkably balanced, penetrating harmony and unique freshness. Insanely long finish. An excess of deliciousness.

Enjoy Ben Ryé with desserts like ricotta-filled cannoli or as an accompaniment to quiet time … reading, listening to music, falling in love … and certainly … to forgetting and dreaming 😉

Fattoria Fibbiano: A Star Rising

After a busy day at SLOW WINE 2016, I met up with wine producer Matteo Cantoni to settle back in a friend’s New York City apartment and taste some new vintages along with a new wine from his estate Fattoria Fibbiano, a rising star among wineries from the hills around Pisa.

“The only rule is that there are no rules”, explained Cantoni partway through the tasting about producing good wine.

fibbiano, cantoniRuminating on that bit of vino philosophy, I paused to again fill my nose with the scent of *Fonte delle Donne 2014, Fibbiano’s new white wine, striking in its aromatic complexity for a white wine from Tuscany – mineral, savory, saline, detailed, wafting scents of apple, marvelously fresh. The wine is produced from 50% Colombana, 50% Vermentino. Cantoni explains that the vine roots go deep into sandy soil enriched with sea shells conferring to the grapes body and aromatic complexity.

We tasted new vintages of Fibbiano’s reds, too, wines I admire and have written about before: the estate’s Le Pianette 2013 IGT, a 70/30 blend of Sangiovese and Colorino impressed with easy, elegant drinkability; Casalini 2013 Chianti Superiore, with its arousing bouquet, is a unique take on Sangiovese with an addition of 20% of Ciliegiolo, full in the mouth, delicious acidity; L’Aspetto 2012 IGT, 50/50 Sangiovese and Canaiolo, is energetic, deep, intense, yet smooth in the mouth and final tannins, remarkably fresh; red, rich and ripe, Fibbiano’s Ceppatella 2011 IGT is a 100 percent Sangiovese mouthful of warm velvet finishing with persistent recollections of cherry, leather and tobacco.

fibbiano fonte delle donneWe tasted more. Talked more. As the evening wore on, I slowly got my brain around what Cantoni meant by the “only rule is no rules” comment: mindless repetition of what was done last year doesn’t necessarily achieve good wine results this year. A producer needs to be open to finding the best way to meet the current vintage, to be in the ‘moment’ of that vintage, to work without being limited by formula.

I haven’t yet met Nicola Cantoni, Matteo’s brother and obviously talented winemaker at Fibbiano, but it will be fun to perhaps hear his take on that conversation at some point.

In any case, whatever the approach at Fibbiano, it is clearly on target as the wines are … astonishingly good.

*Fonte delle Donne is a great introduction to the area and to the estate. Planned availability, I’m told, is for early March in Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.

You can read more about Fibbiano and find more detailed tasting notes in my recent article Expressive Sangiovese from the Hills of Pisa.

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