Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A good value Super Tuscan from Tenuta Santo Pietro

There is nothing like getting an email during the day from your local wine shop, Pairings, advertising an overstock on behalf of the distributor and that a super tuscan wine is being discounted to only $15.99 for today only at the tasting. Of course after a long day of work I ran right over to try it out. I can't ever pass down a good Italian wine tasting. The wine was a 2007 Super Tuscan called “Viper” from the Tenuta Santo Pietro winery in Tuscany.  

Tenuta Santo Pietro Pienza, Italy

This wine comes from the small town of Pienza, which I actually visited years ago driving through the gorgeous Tuscan hills. I had decided to stop for some lunch at a small salumeria, somewhat similar to our deli's in the US. Nothing like a fresh pecorino and prosciutto sandwich on crisp tuscan bread. Simple, but the flavors were delicious. Sitting on the wall overlooking the landscape, what more could I ask for. I digress.......back to the wine.

2007 Tenuta Santo Pietro Super Tuscan Viper This wine is made up of 80% sangiovese, 15% merlot and 5% syrah. To remind all, sangiovese is the primary grape that makes up chianti so it had a lot of the typical characteristics of sangiovese, including nice ripe cherry and red fruit, but it had a great balance between the acidity and tannin in the wine and good body. This wine was drinking well now. 

Why the viper you ask?  It definitely jumps out at you on the shelves. When the owners bought the estate over 10 years ago in Pienza they revamped the vineyards and upon doing so the vipers that are indigenous to the area were underneath the vines.  I'm glad I didnt know about the vipers from all my visits there.

What does the name super tuscan mean? No it is not the superman of italian wines. The name super tuscan was created because wineries of the area started to experiment with the sangiovese grape and wanted to add other grapes as well like cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah. Unfortunately due to the DOC and DOCG standards this wasn't allowed, so the IGT, Indicazione Geografica Tipica, status was established in 1992. Some of the top wines of this region are IGT wines like Ornellaia, Tignanello and Sassicaia. 

If you want to experience a Super Tuscan, this wine at retail price around $20 is a good way to do so.

Monday, April 28, 2014

White nebbiolo from Caven Camuna and dolcetto from Anna Maria Abbona

Over the weekend I attended a grand tasting at a new wine shop I had never been to called Pairings. A cozy wine shop where owners Laurie & Ray travel the world meeting meeting with lesser known wineries whom produce quality wines that they hand select to sell in their shop. They also have a great selection of artisan cheeses and meats as well as fresh breads and many other gifts and products throughout the store.

There were a couple of highlights of the tasting that I enjoyed including a white nebbiolo (that I believe was the first I have ever had as it is pretty rare) and a fantastic dolcetto. The others I will share with you this week include a comparison of a still Arneis wine against an Arneis dessert style wine from the same producer, a Barolo, Super Tuscan, Chianti Classico Riserva and a Franciacorta.

2012 Pietro Nera La Novella white nebbiolo If you go back to my previous post when I discussed Nebbiolo, you will understand that this is a red grape and is the principal grape in producing the prized wines of Italy: Barolo and Barbaresco, but here it is produced as a white wine, obviously not coming in contact with the skins. It was a 2012 Pietro Nera “La Novella” Bianco from the Caven Camuna winery in Lombardy, in particular in the Valtellina area. The Nera winery started back in 1940 by Guido Nera and his son, Pietro, later took it over in the 50's. Now it is owned by two brothers, Stefano and Simone Nera, as of 1982 and is known as the Azienda Agricola Caven. This wine is made up of about 90% nebbiolo and 10% chardonnay, rossola and incrocio manzoni. I found the wine to be very light to medium bodied with nice green apple and some tropical hints. I'm not sure what I was expecting with the nebbiolo grape being present in this wine, but I found it so interesting how different the wine becomes and the flavor profiles it develops when it's not being macerated with the skins. It's a great way to see the true expression of the fruit separate from all the other aspects during the winemaking process.

2011 Anna Maria Abbona Dogliani DolcettoNext, which was my favorite Italian wine of the day, was the 2011 Dogliani Dolcetto Superiore DOCG from Anna Maria Abbona Maioli. This wine is made of 100% dolcetto aged in steel for 22 months. The Maioli vineyard, where this wine comes from, was planted back in 1936. Anna Maria left her job in 1989 to continue the dream of her great grandfather and father and saved the vineyards that her father was ready to uproot. Both her and her husband with their children made it their goal to take on this endeavor and produce quality wines. This wine was a fine example of a dolcetto and due to it being produced in Dogliani the quality was much higher than some of those of the Dolcetto DOC wines that I have tried in the past that were lighter and didn't have as much complexity. It was dry and very aromatic with great structure, nice dark fruit, black raspberry profiles. It had a good meatiness to the wine with nice tannins that I found very enjoyable.

Dolcetto is one of the top grapes of the Piedmont region behind Nebbiolo and Barbera. It's a grape that grows well in cooler climates, so in the Piedmont region it grows best on the slopes with the grapes can retain their acidity. It's typically an easy grape to grow and it ripens weeks before the nebbiolo grape. The areas that are noted for producing the DOCG wines of Dolcetto that were granted this status in 2005 are Dolgiani, Ovada and Diano d'Alba and you can find some of the DOC Dolcetto's from Asti, Alba and Acqui. These wines are typically soft, fruity wines with low acidity.

I look forward to sharing the other wines from my tasting with you this week.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Traditional balsamic vinegar from Acetaia di Giorgio of Modena

Outside of Bologna, and only then having visited for the day, this past October for my honeymoon was the first time I spent a few days exploring the Emilia-Romagna. I can understand why they call this the food capital with all the fresh prosciutto, parmigiano-reggiano, balsamic and salami. I'm going to focus on the region including both their wine and food as the wine of this region. Plus, I have a special visit to an acetaia (Acetaia di Giorgio), where traditional balsamic vinegar is produced.

Acetaia di Giorgio Modena

Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale/Traditional Balsamic Vinegar with Acetaia di Giorgio

The Sunday I was in Parma, my husband and I ventured out to find a place to do tastings of the traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena, that is also produced in Reggio. There is a big difference between this that they call Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale and the kind that many use in the United States. Most of the ones that we find in the supermarkets will say Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, which are wine vinegars that are thickened with a grape must, known as saba, and then colored with caramel and are not even aged. After experiencing the traditional balsamic vinegars of this region you must splurge one day in your life if you can't make it to Emilia-Romanga and order one online or go to a specialty shop and buy one. It will open your eyes to what true balsamic really is.

I had read online about Acetaia di Giorgio so when we pulled up it was just a house, but I saw the plaque with the name so I rang the bell and the owner, Giovanna, answered and invited us in for a tasting. Her husband was out hunting for porcini mushrooms. Once we got up to the top floors of their house as we climbed the stairs the strong aromas of balsamic was amazing. The air was saturated with these smells. I couldn't believe that such history was sitting on the top floor of their house in multiple rooms with barrels lining the walls in multiple rows. There are big barrels leading down to smaller barrels, with the smaller barrels being the oldest. They refill them from big to small so the newest batch is always in the larger barrels when they top them off. 
Giovanna Acetaia di Giorgio Modena
Me and Giovanna
Acetaia di Giorgio traditional balsamic vinegar
Tasting room at Acetaia di Giorgio

The husband, Giorgio, took over the business from his mother 40 years ago. Prior to that they kept the balsamic for personal consumption, as many others do in this region as well, but it had been going on in this family for 120 years. The barrels they used were originals and they continue to reuse them due to the saturation and seasoning. The barrels they used were cherry, juniper and mixed wood. The minimum aging they had was 15 years with the oldest being 25-35+ years. When they had their daughter Carlotta in 1986 they started making a balsamic named after her and just bottled it for the first time last year. This one in particular was written about in the NY Times. I thought the bottle was empty when she poured it as there was a 10 second delay due to the thickness and consistency. The flavors and depth of these balsamic vinegars that we tried were nothing I had ever experienced.

Carlotta tradtional balsamic vinegar Acetaia di Giorgio
storage room
Like the DOC and DOCG of wines they have here the DOP, Denominazione di Origine Protetta. These balsamics are tested for color, taste and acidity. The label can change, but not the bottle, which was designed by Ferrari. Giovanna mentioned that there are 46 producers making about 95,000 bottles and they themselves sell 2,500.

Red wine from Emilia-Romagna

The Emilia-Romagna region has about 20 DOC zones, with four of them Lambrusco DOC zones: Lambrusco Reggiano, known for its Riuniti, Lambrusco Salamino, Lambrusco Sorbara and Lambrusco Grasparossa. The wines of this area have long been known due to lambrusco, but many may think of Riuniti, which is not a classic representation of the Lambrusco of this region as they have dry versions as well. Lambrusco, if you aren't familiar, is typically knows as sweeter and bubbly wine, known as amabile. There are other sparkling wines (frizzante or spumante) also produced from this region from the grapes albana, trebbiano, malvasia as well as chardonnay and pinot noir grapes, especially in the Colli Piacentini area. So get the image of the old lambrusco from the 60's and 70's out of your mind and try some of the others from this region.

In addition to lambrusco, this region also has a history producing sangiovese. Here it differs from that of the Chianti Classico region because it's juicier, but doesn't have the backbone of the tannin and acidity as Chianti Classico does. One of the best areas to explore here for sangiovese is the Sangiovese di Romagna DOC. Outside of sangiovese, other areas like those of Colli Bolognese are producing wines with cabernet sauvignon and Colli Piacentini that are producing a lot of bonarda and barbera.

White wine from Emilia Romagna

Whites of this region in general are typically used as more bulk wine. The main grape widely grown is trebbiano, but there is also albana and pagadebit. Pagadebit tends to be a chalkier wine with a strong acidity and albana, outside of their passito style version, isn't a wine you would rush right out to buy. Although, the Colli Bolognese and Colli Piacenti are experimenting and having some success with chardonnay and sauvignon blanc because of their continental climate.

If you are visiting this region you'll have the opportunity to try many of these wines that may not be so accessible to us here in the states, but you should be able to seek out some lambrusco that I mentioned above. It's worth trying to changing the image that many have of this grape. I wish I had more time in the Emilia-Romagna as there is so much to explore. The food is phenomenal and I cant wait to open my bottle that I brought back from Acetaia di Giorgio and maybe grab some fresh parmigiano-reggiano to add some droplets to it. Yummmm!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Rosé wines in the regions of Italy

We're coming upon some warm days ahead we hope and one of the wines that are overlooked are rosé wines due to the bad reputation of White Zinfandel in the United States. There are plenty of high quality rose wines around the world that are not even comparable to these white zins that we associate them with. Today we explore those from different regions throughout Italy.

Rosé wines in Italy are known as rosato. These wines came about years and years ago when Italians were trying to produce deep colored wines, but they didn't have the temperature control methods that we have today, therefore, the heat would stop the process of maceration. So instead they started the process earlier in order to get the results of the rosé wines. The rosé of northern Italy, Fruili Venezia Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige in particular, are typically more delicate and lighter than those of the south, that are discussed below, that are deeper with fuller body.

One of the top regions for producing quality rosé wines are those along the coast of southern Italy in the Abruzzo region. The Montepulciano D'Abruzzo Cerasuolo DOC wine is what to look for in this area. Montepulciano is the grape, but be careful not to associate this with Montepulciano, the town in Tuscany, that is known for producing Vino Nobile di Montepulciano made from sangiovese. The Montepulciano here made in the rosato style is known as cerasuolo, meaning cherry red, due to the deeper than normal color of the rosé wine.

Another popular region in the south known for their  rosé production are those of Puglia, or known in Italy as Apulia, but more specifically Salento within Puglia. It's located in the south eastern tip of Italy, the heel of the boot, and also borders the coastline. The climate is very hot here and the soil is fertile. This area is mostly populated with red wines and the Italians created rosé to have something lighter to match their seafood cuisine. Here the rosé wines are primarily produced with the grapes negroamaro, primitivo or nero di troia.

I recommend always drinking  rosé within a year of purchasing it for the freshness, fruit and acidity to stay in tact. Cheers to the warm weather!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Easter/Pasqua traditions in Italy

Easter growing up as a kid was always an exciting time to get up in the morning and hunt down all the eggs the “easter bunny” hid for you, but now as an adult I'm always wondering what we're eating and drinking. Gosh how times change, but these are very important decisions in life, right? Until I have little ones of my own one day this will continue to be the main focus. Today I wanted to focus on Easter, Pasqua in Italian, as this is one of the biggest holidays celebrated in Italy. Italians celebrate throughout the Easter weekend and also Monday, which is a holiday known as la Pasquetta, where many folks from the town gather to enjoy each others company, play games, listen to concerts, etc.. Easter is celebrated differently throughout every region and city, but most have processions through town where statues are carried or displayed in the city center.

Colomba Italian Easter bread
Colomba Easter bread

Food traditions vary throughout the country, but there are some food staples that can be found in every region. Colomba Pasquale is a dove shaped bread that contains candied fruit and is covered in almonds and sugar. One of the most common treats that are shared are hollow chocolate eggs with surprises contained inside. For the main course lamb is the most preferred. Growing up in an Italian household we always had a couple Italian specialties that my mom and grandmothers made. One was pastiera, which is a cake made mostly of ricotta and wheat. The other food my mom made that I loved to just sit there in pop in my mouth were struffoli. These are little balls of dough that are fried covered in honey and my mom always put little confetti balls on top. These are more typical of the Naples (Napoli) region, where my dad's side of the family is from.

Italian Struffoli
Italian chocolate easter eggs
Italian Chocolate Easter Eggs

Wine pairings with your Easter meal
Many Italians love to celebrate drinking the local wines of their region, but being from the United States and not having the true pride in being from a particular homeland, unless you hold true to the roots of your ancestors, we can select from a wide variety throughout the country. If you're celebrating Easter the true Italian way with lamb, due to the richness you will want something that can complement the meal. You could more high end like a Barolo or Barbaresco, but if you'd rather spend less and still enjoy a quality wine go for something different like a Sagrantino, Taurasi or Gattinara. 

Don't go to your usual wines. Think outside the box. It's a holiday so try something different. I'm sure you're drinking more than one bottle so if you don't like it others probably will so it won't go to waste. I don't think you'll be let down. Let me know the traditions in your family and what you enjoy. Buona Pasqua! Happy Easter!

Friday, April 11, 2014

First Alto Adige, now the Trentino wine region. Go to the Dolomites!

Earlier this week I covered wines from Alto Adige and now I'm going to talk briefly about some of the highlights of the Trentino wine region.

As discussed in the previous blog,Trentino has always had a large amount of cooperatives with MezzaCorona and Cavit being two of the more well known establishments that you can easily find here in the states, but independent wineries have been showing up on the scene changing the image.

Wine region of Trentino

With Alto Adige having German as the primary language despite it's location in Italy, Trentino mostly speaks Italian. You won't see as many german grape influences as in Alto Adige. Trentino produces mainly nosiola, pinot grigio and chardonnay for whites and reds that include teroldego, lagrein, marzemino, schiava, merlot and cabernet sauvignon. The grapes grown in Alto Adige are on hillsides, with some steep slopes, where Trentino grapes are produced mostly on lowlands. This region of Italy is also known for sparkling wines from the Trento DOC and one of the most notable producers is Ferrari.

Now you have some baseline information on the Trentino-Alto Adige to get you started and as I taste wines from this region and continue to explore all regions of Italy further we will break down further some of the grapes and producers. In the meantime, if you explore any yourself let me know what you tried and what are your favorites if you are already familiar with this region.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Wines of the Alto Adige wine region

It's getting to be that time of year where the weather is warming up and days out in the sun and  I don't know about you, but I typically drink mostly whites once warm weather hits, including rose', which I will cover soon in another blog. 

Wine map of the Alto Adige region from the Consorzio
Today I'm going to focus on one of the regions that makes up the so called “Tre Venezie”, which include the Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia and what I'm focusing on today, which is the Trentino-Alto Adige.  Trentino-Alto Adige is located in the northeastern part of Italy.  Trentino is in the southern part of this region with Alto Adige in the north bordering Austria.  In this area you encounter multiple influences from the surrounding countries in regards to the language, food and winemaking.   

In this region there are influences from the Adige river, the second longest in Italy, that runs through the middle, the Dolomite mountain ranges and in the south near Trentino is Lake Garda.  I'm going to break up these two regions this week and the grapes from them.  There are a lot of similarities, but I think it's important to give each its own attention.   We have plenty of time on this journey to cover everything.

Alto Adige vineyards

Alto Adige was part of Austria until 1919 and World War I when they handed it over to Italy, but the German and Austrian influences remained.  Here the grapes resemble those of Germany since German is the primary language of this area and the names on the bottles are sometimes written in both Italian and German to make things more confusing.  Just when you were trying to figure out what the Italian ones mean right?  For example, Alto Adige is also written and known as Suditrol in German. 

There are a very high percentage of cooperatives in both Trentino and Alto Adige.  Most cooperatives in Italy have been driven by the government, but in the Alto Adige they were already producing wines when they were established so it's more driven by the producers of the region.

Whites that are produced from Alto Adige include pinot grigio, pinot bianco, chardonnay, sylvaner, muller-thurgau, riesling and gewurtzraminer.  This region also has many apple orchards so some of the wines like pinot bianco will display apple characteristics in the wine.  Reds in this region are abundant though and you will find your international varieties like merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, but worth seeking out that you will be able to find in the states are some indigenous varieties like lagrein, teroldego and schiava, also known as vernatsch.

There are 8 DOC zones in Alto Adige to look for that include (both in Italian and German):
Santa Maddalener or St. Magdalener
Alto Adige or Sudtiroler
Lago di Caldaro or Kalterer
Valle Isarco or Eisacktaler
Meranese di Collina or Meraner
Valle Venosta or Vinschgau
Colli di  Bolzano or Bozner Leiten
Terlano or Terlaner

If you want a vacation that is perfectly tranquil and where you will be surrounded with beauty you must visit this region.  While you dream about monstrous Alps hanging over many of the vineyards, grab a bottle and a glass to help put you there in the meantime.  As always I love to hear of your explorations so please share.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Some like it hot in the wine region of Sicily

Sicily is an island off the southern part of Italy and it can be a world unto itself as I have  friends that don't claim to be italians, they are sicilian. Still to do this day I don't understand that justification, but to each his own. Sicily is the hottest and driest region in Italy and mostly has a mediterranean climate, with a varying climate around the famous Mt. Etna volcano. Part of the Appenine Mountains also run through part of the island.

Wine map of Sicily wine region
Sicily has always been famous for their Marsala wine and its history has been known for producing bulk wines and focusing on quantity over quality. A lot of this was created around the 50's when the landowners distributed parts of their land to the peasants that worked on the land. The peasants began growing grapes on the land and as much as they could so that they could sell it off to cooperatives. It was more about producing as much as possible and making money than focusing on quality. Eventually many of these cooperatives failed due to the withdrawal of funds from the government that were subsidizing these businesses. Eventually more private wineries were established that were intrigued in increasing the quality of the grapes produced from there.
Vineyards in Sicily
Sicilian Vineyard
Despite the high quantity of wines in Sicily, only a small percentage in the single digits is allowed the DOC status. The acreage in Sicily is dominated by whites, in particular the grape, Catarratto, which is indigenous to Sicily and can be found as the primary grape in Alcamo and it's also blended into Marsala. Other whites of Sicily include grecanico, inzolia, which is also known as ansonica, and in more recent years chardonnay. The whites here are known to be better blended than serving as a single varietal.

Despite the lower amount of reds that come out of Sicily there are a couple reds known to the area including nerello mascalese and one of the more well known reds is nero d'avola, which is best compared to syrah. Nero d'avola has a deep, rich color and typically has expressions of dark fruits. I have seem some good values for this wine and think it's worth exploring if you start off drinking anything in Sicily. International varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah are also planted here.

This may be one of the biggest wine producing regions, but it has a long way to go from its roots and where it came from. Checking out some of the more well known producers of the area and maybe starting off by seeking out nero d'avola, which I recommend, is a good place to get a start by exploring the wines of Sicily.