Friday, February 27, 2015

Day 3 touring the Valpolicella: San Cassiano, Corte Figaretto, Massimago, Corte Sant'Alda

The journey continues with my last day of winery visits within the Valpolicella wine region in celebration of the Anteprima Amarone event in Verona. If you have been following my journey it started with a tour of Bolla and a dinner with the winemaker as well as another full day of winery tours.  My 3rd day I toured:
  • San Cassiano
  • Corte Figaretto
  • Massimago
  • Corte Sant'Alda
San Cassiano
Mirko Sella was not only a wonderful and host, but also the owner and winemaker of San Cassiano located on 14 hectacres (35 acres) at about 380 meters (1250 feet) in Mezzane di Sotto in the Mezzane Valley, which is a comune in the province of Verona. Mirko started producing wine in 2001 along with his father from 2 hills on the estate mostly consisting of limestone. Their production is about 60-70k bottles. Mirko's style of winemaking is to make the wine as natural as possible using less and less chemicals over time at about 50% less currently. Many of the wines we tasted here were great, but my favorite was the 2009 San Cassiano Valpolicella Superiore. It's aged 2 years in oak with a hint of vanilla along with some spiciness and darker fruits. In additional to wine Mirko also produces olive oil from their land with the grignano olive variety on about 8 hectacres. The San Cassiano winery is a perfect example of why I am proven time and time again of my love for smaller to medium sized wineries for not only the quality wines that they are capable of producing, but the overall experience you get when visiting them.
San Cassiano winery
Mirko Sella of San Cassiano winery
Mirko Sella
Azienda Agricola San Cassiano
Corte Figaretto
Owner and winemaker Mauro Bustaggi of winery Corte Figaretto had always made wine for the social cantina in the past, but stopped in 2002 in wanting to produce his own wines. In 2004 he built his current wine cellar and has been producing wines since making about 75,000 bottles annually on 8 hectacres of land in whats known as the “cru” of the valpolicella wine region in the land of the Valpantena. For Mauro it's important to “respect and maintain the history of the grape”. Inside of the wine cellar are holes in the floors where the grapes are brought into to avoid the grapes breaking from gravity and are vinified into stainless steel. The Corte Figaretto wines were enjoyed over a wonderful multi-course luncheon served by Mauro's father. 
Mauro Bustaggi of Corte Figaretto
Mauro demonstrating hole for emptying grapes into fermentation tanks
Amarone grape drying
Crates for drying Amarone grapes during harvest
Mauro Bustaggi of Corte Figaretto
Mauro Bustaggi
Corte Figaretto in Valpantena
Also located in the Mezzane Valley is the winery, Massimago. In 1883 the Cracco family went to the countryside during WWII and settled down where Massimago is currently located. The vines of the estate were planted in the 30's and 40's, but were never used until the winery was opened in 2003 by Camilla Rossi Chauvenet whom had studied egronomy. The Massimago winery consists of 20 hectacres (49 acres). With limited space for wine production they keep the best resulting in 40,000 bottles and the rest of the grapes are sold off with 80% of the wine being exported. The youngest vines of the winery are 10 years old. Some interesting and different wines that I experienced at other wineries including the Massimago Garganega Milleduecento that is aged 5 months in oak, which is not quite a soave since its close but not exactly in the soave zone. Also, I sampled their Massimago Rosae Saignee, a rose' made of the valpolicella blend with 65% corvina, 20% corvinone and 15% rondinella.
Vineyards of Massimago in Mezzane Valley
Massimago winery in Mezzane Valley
Massimago winery of Valpolicella
Corte Sant'Alda
Last winery of the day, Corte Sant' Alda, and a great way to end as well. Marinella Camerani, the owner and winemaker, was welcoming and greeted us cheerfully upon arrival. Her father bought the property in Mezzane di Sotto in the Mezzane Valley in the 70's as an investment, but enjoyed the wine for himself and amongst friends as a hobby. Deciding to give it a hand at winemaking, in the 80's Marinella took over winemaking, revamping the vineyards, building the wine cellar and furthering her knowledge of winemaking from others. During renovations Roman artifacts were founds as an ancient Roman road had existed where the property resided. Corte Sant'Alda also was the first guyot in the valley 26 years ago. The Corte Sant'Alda estate consists of 19 hectacres (46 acres) of land in addition to 20 hectacres of olives and cherry trees. Marinella also built a new cellar in 2001. She enjoys experimenting with cement and amphora with rose'. Marinella's favorite wine in the world in Burgundy pinot noir and wants to imitate this with valpolicella. I enjoyed many of the wines during the tasting, but my favorite was the 2010 Corte Sant'Alda Mithas Valpolicella Superiore, which is actually only produced in the best vintage. It's aged two years in oak and you get that hint of oak and vanilla on the palate with some nice spices and ripe, juicy fruit.
Vineyards of Corte Sant'Alda
Cement tanks in winemaking at Corte Sant'Alda
Cement tanks at Corte Sant'Alda
Wine cellar of Corte Sant'Alda
Clay amphora winemaking at Corte Sant'Alda
Clay amphora
Marinella Camerani of Corte Sant'Alda
Marinella Camerani
Overall I had wonderful winery visits while traveling throughout the Valpolicella. Of course I have preferences of one winery over another and the wines produced, but one of the reasons why I love Italian wine is my personal connection to the land and the country itself and all the wonderful winemakers I have met over the years. I appreciate every winery's history, traditions and style of winemaking and enjoy exploring the terroir of each particular region and the results produced in the final product. My neverending journey and I'm loving every minute of it. Stay tuned to the final event of the Anteprima Amarone event to be shared next week.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

History of Banfi with Flight of Banfi Brunello di Montalcino 1995-2010

Last week I attended an event at one of my local favorite Italian restaurants, the Tuscan Kitchen, that hosted an event with Banfi Vintners, the importing company of the Banfi brand from Tuscany.  Co-CEO, Cristiani Mariani May, shared the upcoming 2010 Banfi Brunello di Montalcino release along with a comparison of older vintages. Cristina is 3rd generation of the Banfi family. As some may say she lives the life residing in Long Island and traveling often to Tuscany with years of tradition of the Banfi brand behind her as part of her family history.

Banfi Vintners with Cristina Mariani May
Cristina Mariani May, Joe Comforti of Tuscan Kitchen and myself
Banfi History
Banfi was established in the 19th century by Cristina's great great aunt Teodolinda Banfi. Teodolinda was the first woman to live amongst the Vatican walls and was head of the household of Pope Pius XI. Cristina's father, John Mariani, grew up actually in Greenwich Village, NY, but his parents around the age of 10 years old sent him to Italy to be raised by his aunt until he was about 20 years old. Starting in 1919, John and his brother, Harry, started their own business where they served as negociants. They partnered with enologist, Ezio Rivella, whom had served as 2 times President of the DOC committee and also being the 1st non-Frenchman to do so. Their vision was to elevate the standards of winemaking in Italy at a time when the image of chianti was bottled in the fiascos and quantity reigned over quality.

Banfi wine estate Tuscany
Banfi Wine Estate - Property of Jolisoleil

From being a negociant in his career, Cristina's father John had an unbelievable wine cellar of first growths from the 60's and 70's, but he could never found the right occasion to drink them. Cristina was quite comical in the fact that it took her having the first grandchild and naming it after her father to get him to start opening bottles and then the wine was flowing.

Banfi Winery
The 7,100 acres of Banfi's vineyards are located in the town of Montalcino, in the south western part of Tuscany. The Banfi winery is situated 900-1100 feet above sea level near the mountains, Monte Amiata and Apennines, where they are blocked from the northernly winds as well as the scrirocco winds of Africa as they are only 20 miles from the coast. Montalcino is known for producing some of the top wines of Italy including Brunello di Montalcino. Cristina shared with us how much the Montalcino area has developed so much over the years that in 1967 there were 41 members with 175 acres producing Brunello in the area and as of 2014 there are now 209 members with 5,189 acres.

2013 Banfi San Angelo Pinot Grigio
Banfi 2013 San Angelo Pinot Grigio
An interesting discovery unveiled in the Banfi vineyards was a 5 million year old whale fossil completely intact 30 feet in length. This shows the sea bed, marine sediments and fossils that provide nutrients and minerals to the soils made of limestone and calcium producing distinct wines.

The wine cellars of the Banfi estate have interesting fermentation tanks that are a hybrid of stainless steel and oak tanks.  The estate wines produced are aged in wood that is hand selected and seasoned by Banfi themselves for 2-3 years and all other wines that utilize wood are purchased by Italian producer, Gamba.

Banfi Research Project
Banfi is a winery that had conducted extensive research with other scholars for 30 years on the 650 clones that exist for sangiovese resulting in the optimal clonal selection for the production of Brunello di Montalcino. The book published, “Pursuit of Excellence” also discusses their winemaking practices. Banfi was the 1st winery to receive triple ISO sustainability.

Pursuit of Excellence with Banfi
Pursuit of Excellence - Property of Jolisoleil

Vintages of Banfi Wines
According to Cristina, the highly acclaimed vintages from Brunello di Montalcino were the '90, '97, '04, '06, 07, and lastly the '10. Antonio Galloni of Vinous Media stated that the “2010 will go down as one of the great all-time vintages in Tuscany...Stylistically, the 2010s remind me of the 2004s, but with more fruit and overall depth. The finest wines should age gracefully for years, and in some cases, decades.” The 2010 Banfi Brunello di Montalcino was rated 95 points by Wine Spectator and the 2010 Banfi Brunello di Montalcino Poggio Alle Mura rated 97 points by Wine Spectator.

Banfi Brunello di Montalcino
Flight of Banfi Brunello di Montalcino
Below you'll find the wines from the tasting with some of my notes. As you'll see the 2004 Banfi Poggio alla Mura Brunello di Montalcino was the highlight for myself, but I enjoyed the fruit on the upcoming release of the 2010 and I look forward to experiencing this wine in years to come.

2010 Banfi Brunello di Montalcino

The 2010 vintage had a cool spring with a relatively stable summer that cooled down around harvest. The 2010 was elegant and smooth with integrated tannins and good fleshy red fruits of cherry and plum and toastiness. It reminded me of roasted marshmallows. It was aged 2 years 50% in large slavonian oak casks and 50% French oak barrique. This wine is being released to the market in March.

2009 Banfi Brunello di Montalcino

The 2009 climate conditions started with abundant rainfall in the spring that lasted until mid-July with cooler temperatures than normal followed by dry conditions up through harvest. This wine in comparison to the 2010 had more firm tannins, bright cherry and tobacco notes along with good acidity with the 2010 showing riper fruit. It was aged 2 years 50% in large slavonian oak casks and 50% French oak barrique.

Castello Banfi in Montalcino
Property of Randy OHC

The next couple wines are labeled with the Poggio Alle Mura name, meaning “walled hilltop”. This is what Castello Banfi was initially known as back in the 13th century. Serving as a fortress during time of attack and war it was almost destroyed in WWII, but was fully restored in the 20th century by the Banfi family.

2006 Banfi Poggio Alla Mura Brunello di Montalcino

2006 provided adequate rainfall in the spring followed by a hot summer with a good exchange of temps between day and night and a warm harvest. This wine has a beautiful bouquet on the nose with deeper cherry and vanilla. A round, good structured wine with supple tannins. This was barrel aged 2 years in 10% slavonian oak casks and 90% in French oak barriques.

2004 Banfi Poggio Alla Mura Brunello di Montalcino

Definitely the highlight for me and many others of the group for the evening. An overall complex wine with good structure, fruit with a little spice. An overall elegant and silky wine showing still a good acidic backbone. This was barrel aged 2 years in 10% slavonian oak casks and 90% in French oak barriques.

1995 Banfi Brunello di Montalcino

The conditions were typical of the spring and summer with adequate rainfall and temps. August had more rainfall than normal and lower temps, but balanced out during harvest. It's hard to believe that this wine is already 20 years old. A very different experience from the previous vintages mentioned. It was overall a softer and silky wine with sweeter tannins with earthiness and hints of mushrooms. I thought it was drinking well now. The wine was aged 2.5 years in slavonian oak casks. 

If you'd love to experience Tuscany for yourself please inquire with me at vinotravels @ hotmail dot com.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Day 2 in the Valpolicella: Albino Armani, Cesari, Guerrieri Rizzardi, Monte Zovo & Tenute Ugolini

Last week I featured day 1 of my arrival to Verona including my winery tour, tasting and dinner with the Bolla winery. Today I'm sharing my 2nd day when I really get immersed in the land of Valpolicella with 5 winery visits:

  • Albino Armani
  • Cesari
  • Guerrieri Riccardi
  • Monte Zovo
  • Tenuta Ugolini

Albino Armani

I toured the Albino Armani winery and headquarters in the town of Dolce with export manager, Laura, and the winemaker's wife, Egle Armani.  The Albino Armani winery was established back in 1607 when Albino's ancestors transferred the land to him. Their wines are vinified in the areas of Trentino where they have 2 wineries, Friuli, and the Veneto where they have 3 wineries and have been producing Valpolicella wines since 2003.  All of their wines are bottled at the Dolce headquarters in the valley over the Montelissini mountains. They're in the process of also building a new winery in Camporal in the hills of Marano that are all terraced slopes of 400 meters. 
Albino Armani winery in Dolce, Italy
Albino Armani wine tasting
Right: Egle, Left: Laura
A project of note, “Foja Tondo”, that the Albino Armani winery is engaged in is focused around the planting of old indigenous grapes that were facing extinction.  Albino Armani is the 1st in the Valpolicella to do this. They have produced 40,000 bottles of these older indigenous grapes like the grape itself, foja tondo, also known as casetta, and it has even become its own DOC, Casetta DOC Terra dei Forti.  
Albino Armani project on autoctone grapes
Albino Armani project with grapes facing extinction
Due to the variety of areas where Albino Armani grows and harvests grapes it allows them to provide a wide variety of wines of which I only sampled a small portion including those of the Valpolicella and an interesting unfiltered organic prosecco, Casa Belfi Colfondo Prosecco DOC. It's an interesting winery with a wide variety of wine offerings to explore and I appreciate their efforts in protecting ancient grapes before they go extinct. 
I've written about Cesari wines in the past and discussed a few wines from their portfolio. Giacomo and Vivian were our tour guides of the winery and it was followed by an enjoyable luncheon and sampling of many of their wines with Deborah Cesari, whose grandfather, Gerardo Cesari, started the winery in 1936.  This winery is located in the heart of the Classico region of Valpolicella in Cavaion Veronese.
Wines of Cesari winery in Valpolicella

2006 Cesari Bosan Riserva
My favorite wine that we tasted was definitely the 2006 Cesari Bosan Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva which was a blend of 80% corvina and 20% rondinella aged 8 months in barrique. This is the winery's prized wine and was actually one of the wines as well from the blind tasting revealed at the Anteprima Amarone. It was the 1998 Cesari Amarone della Valpolicella Bosen that had nice acidity to support the tannins with juicier, fresh fruit. This is a well recognized winery name in the states making the wines easily accessible to us consumers and worth exploring.
Cesari winery

Cesari wines of the Valpolicella

Wine cellar of Cesari winery

Guerrieri Rizzardi
The Guerrieri Rizzardi winery , located in Bardolino close to Lake Garda, was established in 1914 when the Guerrieri and Rizzardi families joined forces, but the vineyards had been in the families well before from the 15th and 17th centuries. Their are 3 main estates all in the Classico zone of Valpolicella that are all within 10 minutes of the headquarters to preserve the freshness of the fruit during harvest. The winery produces about 400,000 bottles itself with about 13,000 of those for Amarone production. The current winemaker, Guiseppe Riccardi, aims to produce wines that are expressive of the soil. 
Daniel Stewart of Guerrieri Rizzardi
Daniel Stewart guiding us through Guerrieri Rizzardi
My top favorite wines from the tasting were the 2013 Guerrieri Rizzardi Costeggiolo Soave Classico, 2012 Guerrieri Rizzardi Bardolino and lastly the 2009 Guerrieri Rizzardi Calcarole Amarone della Valpolicella Classico which was awarded the 2014 Gambero Rosso “Red Wine of the Year”. 

Guerrieri Rizzardi wines
2009 Guerrieri Rizzardi Calcarole Amarone

Wine cellar of Guerrieri Rizzardi

Guerrieri Rizzardi in Bardolini
Old vintages of Guerrieri Rizzardi wines
Monte Zovo

Our 4th stop of the day was Monte Zovo, located in Tregnano in the Val d'Ilasi northeast of Verona, which is run by the Contini family and contains 4 brands producing about 1.5 million bottles in total production on about 140 hectacres, 345 acres, including vineyards in Bardolino, Soave, Lugana and Valpolicella, which consists of the most acreage. We briefly met the owner Diego whom is also the winemaker and is 4th generation along with his 2 sons. The winery consists of 3 levels with bottling and fermentation on one floor, storage on the other and the underground cellar where the temperature remains steady.

Wine cellar of Monte Zovo

Wine cellar of Monte Zovo in Valpolicella
Another flight of tastings with my favorite being the 2007 Monte Zovo Amarone della Valpolicella.
Monte Zovo wines of the Valpolicella
Tenute Ugolini

The Tenute Ugolini winery located in the hills of San Michele close to the town of Fumane, is aesthetically a beautiful winery with owners, Giambattista along with his two brothers, that have an interest in art where you can find Vinart, an art gallery within the winery where art is displayed for sale as well as a private collection of Andy Warhol paintings. The art changes every 3 months so it's always worth a revisit. Giambattista's father passed away 20 years ago and at this point he decided to renovate the winery. The family used to sell their grapes off from their 22 hectacres, 55 acres, but in 2014 he bottled his own with about 25% of his production, but the rest still remains sold. The wines are organically treated and next year will also be biological treated. My favorite of the tasting was the 2011 Tenuta Ugolini Amarone Classico where the fruit is sourced from 4 different vineyards so not expressive of a specific cru or area of terroir, but the nicest wine from the tasting.

Owner of Tenute Ugolini
Giambattista Ugolini & myself
Tenute Ugolini winery & art gallery

Art gallery of Tenute Ugolini
Works of Art inside Tenute Ugolini
Wine storage of Amarone at Tenute Ugolini
I could go on and on about these wineries and at one point will readdress them in further detail, but it gives you a taste of some of the wineries of this fine region and the history behind them.  If you have any questions from my visits I'm always happy to share information.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The terroir of Italy and the wines it produces

It's hard to easily convey the terroir of Italy or any particular country since there are so many elements that make up the terroir of a specific territory nevermind the whole country. 

What is terroir? 
Terroir is everything in the natural environment where vineyards are located and where wine is produced. It includes everything from the different climates, soils and topography. Some major factors affecting the wine regions throughout Italy are the lakes (i.e. Lake Garda, Lake Iseo), the mountains (the Alps to the north and the Apennines that run the whole country of Italy), soils (morainic glacial soil and volcanic soil especially in the south), oceans and seas (Tyrhennian, Adriatic and Ionian) the topography (plains, hills and mountains) and the climate that varies consistently throughout.
Lakes of Italy with Lake Como
Lake Como
All these different elements take part in affecting the wines produced in every wine region and it's all in how the winemakers manage and deal with these elements that affect the outcome of the grapes and ultimately the wine that is produced. By understanding each individual terroir of a particular wine region the winemaker can judge which grapes would grow best and succeed or that will show a true expression of the grape or even a unique quality. These decisions are what can make one wine stand out from another. You can have one terroir, but have multiple winemakers make different wines based off of that one terroir due to their evaluations and choices made in not only the vineyard itself, but during the winemaking process itself.
Alps and mountains of Italy in Valle d'Aosta
Valle d'Aosta
It has been said that the Italians base their food around the wine in each region. If you have been fortunate enough like myself to visit most regions in Italy you will understand as you get to try the local traditions in food and wine how well they go together. For example, sangiovese in Tuscany, as discussed in my recent article, is produced in many ways including Chianti Classico to Vino Nobile di Montepulciano or Brunello di Montalcino.  In Tuscany it pairs very well with some Tuscan specialties like bistecca alla Fiorentina or wild boar, cinghiale. What about Liguria, located along the coastline of the Ligurian Sea, or the island of Sardinia where there is a lot of shellfish? Makes sense that one of the local grapes, Vermentino or pigato, would do well in this area with it's minerality, raciness and citrus. If we think of other regions like Piedmont with their rich dishes including porcini mushrooms and truffles, it's understandable that there are earthy and rustic wines like Barolo and Barbaresco in this region to complement the dishes.
Meat markets of Italy

Food markets of Italy
I could go on and on about local specialties, wine pairings, and how one grape in one region greatly differs when produced in another region, but there are twenty regions and we'd be here all day. Plus, it's gets you a little hungry with all this food talk. It's always important to me when visiting different regions in not only Italy, but elsewhere, to experiment with local cuisine and wines since this really is the true reason we travel, to immerse ourselves in another culture. Italy couldn't be a more perfect place to do so with so much variation in traditions and terroir.

To navigate the wine regions of Italy I find these maps to be of great use.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Italian Valentine sweets: Sbrisolana & Recioto della Valpolicella

This past week I spent a week in the Valpolicella wine region of the Veneto in northeastern Italy where I experienced the L'Anteprima Amarone event, which was the release of the 2011 Amarone vintage of 64 producers. Thanks to the Consorzio della Valpolicella our foreign press group traveled to over 10 wineries tasting through many of their wines including a number of meetings with winemakers and wine dinners as well as the big Anteprima Amarone event culminating my week.

Arena in Piazza Bra Verona
The Arena in Verona
Four 9th Wine Pairing Weekend #WinePW I thought this trip to Verona was a perfect way to celebrate our Valentines theme with a perfect pairing from the region with Recioto della Valpolicella and Sbrisolana. Verona, according to its well-known home of Romeo and Juliet, is a city of love. Although the story of Romeo and Juliet is a fable, traces of love are found in the city, especially at Juliet's balcony in the city center, where folks right letters to pin on the wall. In light of Valentine's Day I was in that same boat back in 2009 when I first started dating my husband and left my own note on the wall as corny as it sounds and I guess all dreams do come true!  Awwwww!

Juliet's balcony Verona
My note at Juliet's balcony Oct 11, 2009
While in Verona I was introduced to a special dessert of the Veneto region called sbrisolana. It originates from the verb sbricolare, which means to crumble. According to Accademia Barilla sbrisolana was “created around the 16th century in the Northern Italian countryside, outside of Mantua.....a popular dessert among poor families. In order to save money, they would prepare the tart by mixing cornmeal, hazelnuts and lard, instead of butter.” It was also enjoyed by the nobile families made with finer ingredients including almonds and sugar. Sbrisolana is a hard, crunchy, yet crumbly type of large cookie. The top resembles a crumb cake top and the texture itself is reminiscent of a sugar/shortbread cookie with almonds. It's easily enjoyed by breaking it up into pieces and enjoying with some wine.

Sbrisolana of Veneto region
My experience of sbrisolana was paired with the dessert wine of the region, Recioto della Valpolciella. If you aren't familiar with Recioto della Valpolicella it is a red dessert wine that derives from the same region of Amarone in the Valpolicella and consists of the same grapes: corvina, corvinone and rondinella, but only comes from the ear of the grape cluster known as the recie. This part of the cluster receives the most sunshine and is therefore the ripest with a higher sugar content.

Recioto della Valpolicella
Flight of Recioto della Valpolicella
I was such a fan I made sure to bring some home myself and look forward to making it myself as well in the future. There is nothing like enjoying typical products of the region especially when they pair so well together. Hopefully you will top off your Valentines Day with this sweet finish and enjoy it as much as I did.

You can follow me on Vino Travels as I take you day by day of my recent return from the Valpolicella wine region meeting winemakers and sharing with you the true meaning of what represents producing wine in the Valpolicella.  I started this week with my first day at Bolla so join me!
Sunset in Verona from Scaligero bridge
My last night in Verona

Wine Pairing Weekend # 9 Bloggers: Be sure to check out what my fellow bloggers have come up with for the February Wine Pairing Weekend!

If you're reading this early enough, you can join us for  a live Twitter chat on our theme "It's All About Romance" on Saturday, February 14, from 11 a.m. to noon Eastern Time.
You can also visit our group Pinterest board to pin some great pairing ideas for later! Stay tuned for the March Wine Pairing Weekend, which will be on Saturday, March 14, 2015