Saturday, October 24, 2015

The variety of Italian wines

Wine Writing Challenge
Here we go! Second monthly of participating in the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #20 run by Jeff at the Drunken Cyclist.  This month's theme, variety, was selected from last month's winner, Frank Stero. Being an Italian wine blogger there is plenty of variety to talk about when it comes to Italian grapes. You would think with a person like me who doesn't make decisions easily, why would I write about one of the top winemaking countries in the wine world that has so much variety? Even a better reason for blogging. There's always something to write about it, but it obviously goes way deeper than that. Variety is one of the reasons why I developed a huge love for the wines of Italy. Italy has hundreds of native indigenous varietals, plus international grapes as well.
Italy and its native grapes
Every where you turn in Italy are vineyards

Overwhelmed by variety?
Of course to the average consumer wine can be completely overwhelming when it comes to navigating yourself through a wine shop, nevermind navigating through the Italian wine section. At least with California, for example, folks whom want a chardonnay can walk over to the bottle, see chardonnay listed on the label and grab it. What they don't realize they are missing are the bottles of white burgundy from France, some of the best chardonnay in the world, all because chardonnay is not written on the label and is just implied by it's geographical indication. Labels are part of the reason why variety can be deceiving or tricky. Italy is definitely one of those culprits that might tell you it's a Rosso from the Valle d'Aosta region of Italy, but what does that mean? What grapes are in it? The label may state it's a Barolo from Cannubi, but what grapes make up a barolo wine? Nebbiolo of course, but maybe not that obvious to the average consumer. My parents used to be oblivious to that for example, but I've got them trained up quick!

The many grape varieties of Italy
Of course everyone knows many of the main varietals in Italy like pinot grigio, prosecco (even more so now-a-days), sangiovese (although sometimes it seems people don't reazlie chianti is made of this grape) and maybe even the nero d'avola grape. What about varietals like susumaniello, verdicchio, pigato, pelaverga,arneis, catarrato or garganega? You may have had many of these wines already if you've experimented with Italian wines and don't even know it.
2004 Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto
Made of Merlot and Cabernet
San Cassiano Valpolicella Superiore
Made of corvina, rondinella and molinara grapes

What is the best way to learn about all these different wines?
Don't panic! Embrace the wide variety of grapes offered to you and you may be surprised that you come across a grape that you've never heard of that you love. I'm a big fan of wine tastings. I do them as much as possible myself when I have the opportunity. It's the perfect way to sample as little as 3-10 wines and as many as 50+ wines at one event. If you don't like it dump or spit and move on to the next one. These events are geared to get people to try variety and to find what you like. One of the best things about wine is that it's all subjective. As long as you're not rude about it to a wine vendor or even worse a winemaker himself then it's impossible to feel about your feelings and personal preferences. As they always say drink what you like!
Wine tastings are the best way to learn about wine
I'm always here to offer any Italian advice so don't hesitate to drop me a mail, leave a comment or subscribe to my newsletter and learn about the variety that Italy has to offer.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

What makes Carignano special in Sardinia with Agricola Punica

Unfortunately I haven't written about Sardinian wine too much on my blog. I love to talk about the native grapes that many of us are unfamiliar with that don't get the coverage they deserve, but I don't often get the chance to taste some of the grapes that I'd love to write more about. 

The Kobrand Tour d'Italia

Last month I had the opportunity to attend the Kobrand “Tour d'Italia” event tasting their icons of Italian wine. Kobrand is an importer and marketer or wines from all around the world and this event highlighted some of their Italian wine portfolio. It was an east coast road show where winemakers and representatives of the wineries shared their stories and wines with those in the trade.

Intro to Agricola Punica

Agricola Punica, established in 2002, is located on the island of Sardinia,also known as Sardegna. The winery is a joint venture between majority owner Sebastiano Rosa and one of the largest wine cooperatives of Sardinia, Cantina di Santadi. It's also partially owned by wine consultant Giacomo Tachis, Tenuta San Guido and the President of Santadi, Antonello Pilloni.

Agricola Punica winery
Sourced from Agricola Punica 
Located in southwestern Sardinia, Agricola Punica focuses on two native grapes of the island, the red grape Carignano and the white grape Vermentino.  You can sample their Carignano in their wines Barrua and Montessu, and their Vermentino is used in their wine Samas. Agricola Punica also uses other grapes for blending. The climate has mild winters and hot summers with the hot winds of Africa, known as the scirocco winds, blowing in off the sea.
Agricola Punica of Isola dei Nuraghi Sardinia

Agricola Punica Kobrand Tour d'Italia
About Sabastiano Rosa

One of the stakeholders in the company, Sebastiano Rosa, was running behind on his flight so I met his son at the tasting. Sabastiano has a long history in the wine world participating in the 1991 harvest of Chateau Lafite Rothschild as a cellar assistant. He was also General Manager at Tenuta di Argiano in Montalcino from 1992-2002 where he worked with winemaker and consulting enologist Giacomo Tachis. He led winemaking for Le Difese and Guidalberto from 2002-2012 at Tenuta San Guido, the famous winery known for producing Sassicaia. Today he is now the Director of Marketing and Sales for Agricola Punica.

The Wine

2005 Agricola Punica Montessu Isola dei Nuraghi
My favorite wine of the three I sampled (Montessu, Barrua and Samas) was the 2005 Agricola Punica Montessu Isola dei Nuraghi IGT.  Mostly composed of 60% Carignano with the rest split evenly between Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. It's matured up to 10 months in French oak and blended in cement for 30 days and filtered before bottling for 3 months. A balanced, full-bodied wine with silky rich ripe fruit and jam with a nice finish.

What is the significance of the name Isola dei Nuraghi of the IGT?
This is the largest encompassing DOC of Sardinia encompassing the whole island and smaller islands.  The Nuraghi are stone structures found throughout the island that were used as defense during what they call the Nuragic Age, which took place after the Bronze Age.  You can still view and visit these nuraghi today and they have even become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Agricola Punica of Sardinia
Sourced  by Agricola Punica winery 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Umbrian delight: Strozzapreti with 2011 Perticaia Montefalco Rosso

In light of the Italian food, wine and travel group (#ItalianFWT) that I hosted last week on Umbria and my article on Immersion into Sagrantino, I wanted to share a food and wine pairing with one of the bottles I found to be quite a value with great quality.

In my preview on the region of Umbria I discussed the food of the region consisting of pork and various beans, but I made a discovery in one of my favorite authentic Italian recipe books, Italy The BeautifulCookbook, a typical Umbrian dish known as strozzapreti. Strozzapreti are dumplings with meat sauce, but it's really a thicker style spaghetti with yeast. I'd love to say I had the time to prepare homemade pasta, but I cheated and actually used bucatini as a replacement. It states that this pasta is also known in the Campanian region as strangolapreti meaning priest strangler. Quite the interesting name for a pasta dish don't you think?
Pasta of strozzapreti by Fugzu
Ingredients of Strozzapreti:
Extra virgin olive oil
Small onion diced
1-2 stalks of celery diced
2-3 cloves of garlic
3-4 carrots diced
1lb of ground beef
1 bay leaf
28oz can of peeled tomatoes
Thyme, salt and pepper
Shaved parmesan

Preparations of Strozzapreti
Heat extra virgin olive oil in pan and once ready add diced onions and garlic.
Once onions and garlic are translucent add diced celery and carrots along with spices. Cook for about 10 minutes.
Add ground beef and cook until brown.
Add peeled tomatoes and bay leaf and simmer for about an hour.
About 10 minutes before begin to boil your water with added salt in preparation for the pasta.
Once pasta and beef are fully cooked combine in pan.
Add shaved parmesan as topping to your dish and I drizzled mine with some white truffle oil.
Buon appetito!
strozzapreti, an umbrian dish paired with sagrantino
A couple weeks ago I was able to sample some wonderful wines made with the sagrantino grape in Umbria provided by the Consorzio of Montefalco and Colangelo & Partners. One of the wines that was a fantastic value retailing at only $25 was the 2011 Perticaia Montefalco Rosso. If you've never experienced the sagrantino grape due to it's pricing at $40+ with the 100% sagrantino produced Montefalco Sagrantino, the Montefalco Rosso is a more affordable way to get a sampling of the grape. Although the Rosso Montefalco is not purely sagrantino as it's a blend of primarily sangiovese and sagrantino.
Perticaia winery in Montefalco
Perticaia by Umbria Lovers
Alessandro Perticaia, winemaker at Perticaia, spoke on the panel discussion a week ago about his 2011 Perticaia Montefalco Rosso. The grapes for the 2011 harvest were matured well and didn't face any stress. Perticaia isn't in favor of using wood so this wine is completely aged in stainless steel. I could totally appreciate the non-use of wood as it demonstrated a purer expression of the fruit and with the power and structure behind the sagrantino grape it had plenty of body and complexities.
2011 Perticaia Montefalco Rosso
Tasting of 2011 Montefalco Rosso
The 2011 Montefalco Rosso is a blend of 70% sagrantino, 15% sagrantino and 15% colorino. The colorino helps smooth out the acidity of the sangiovese grape. Crystal clear ruby red in color it showed ripe red fruit and cherries on the nose. It's a medium-bodied, dry wine with moderately crisp acidity and firm tannins with a persistent finish.

If you're a lover of sangiovese it would be fun to try this wine with the addition of sagrantino and the unique addition of colorino. I would happily grab another bottle of this wine again and recommend if you're never had an Umbrian wine this may be one you want to start with.

Compliments of Perticaia - The Colors of Perticaia

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Merlot pairings with Polenta, Sausage and more

So we all know that my main focus is on Italian wine, but I'm involved in some bloggers groups and occasionally I'll write about wines from other countries of the world as it's important to understand the world of wine in its totality. I do my best to still relate it to Italian grapes to still educate folks on the correlation of how grapes around the world may be related to Italian grapes and wines. This month our Wine Pairing Weekend (#Winepw) group received merlot samples from a number of different producers for #MerlotMe month. Yes, there is a whole month dedicated to the merlot grape and this grape probably could use the recognition as it's been shunned, especially after the wine movie “Sideways”. It's not one of my most favorite grapes, but I have definitely had merlots that I enjoy and this month is to encourage folks to help merlot reemerge. All we need to do is just give merlot a chance people.

I sampled the following bottles of merlot this month to share with you:
MerlotMe month with California Merlot

Merlot is a grape that originates out of the Bordeaux region of France where it's highly present in the wines of France on what is known as the “right bank”. The well-known areas of the right bank are St. Emilion and Pomerol. As Jancis Robinson states in her book “How to Taste Wine”, “Merlot is to St. Emilion and Pomerol what Cabernet Sauvignon is to Medoc and Graves” on the left bank of Bordeaux. Merlot is a thin skinned grape that produces wines that are softer, rounder with fruit, but this depends on where it's coming from. Today there are many producers that are producing single varietal merlot wines, but it's been used a lot as a blending grape.

All the wines presented today are from California, specifically Napa Valley and Sonoma County. Of all the wines I sampled I enjoyed the 2012 Duckhorn Merlot the most with the polenta and sausages. I made a couple dishes and played around with the pairings including a rib eye steak with parmesan encrusted baked potatoes and an Emilia-Romagna side dish of asparagus with parmesan cheese. Another night I made polenta with sausages, a typical dish of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, aka Tre Venezie. To say the least I had lots of leftovers when it came to wines and food, but who can complain about these types of problems in life. As you'll see later in this post, merlot is found in Italy within this region so it was interesting to pair a dish typical of Italy with the merlot of California. It's been awhile since I've had a merlot from Italy. I would've loved to have done a side by side comparison.

Duckhorn Merlot with polenta and sausages

Folie A Deux merlot pairing with rib eye
2012 Peju Merlot pairing with Tomato Bisque

Top choice overall

The 2012 Duckhorn Merlot of Napa Valley was my main pick. It's made primarily of 88% merlot with the rest being cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec.

Rated 90 points by James Suckling, “a fresh style of Merlot with light chocolate and blueberry character. Medium body, firm tannins and a crisp finish.”

I found this wine to be rich, with lush red and dark fruit. A rather round wine with notes of vanilla and some spice. Not an everyday wine though retailing about $50. I don't always judge a wine by it's price, but in these selections it was my pick of the litter.

My second runner up was the 2012 Peju Merlot from Napa Valley paired with tomato bisque and a side of some bruschetta brushed with extra virgin olive oil and garlic and topped with a goat cheese spread.  It was my first time making tomato bisque so I would make some changes to my recipe, but I enjoyed the Peju much more paired with the tomato bisque and once it was aerated.  

Is Merlot used in Italy?

Merlot is found in many countries of the world including the US, France, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa as well as Italy. One of the things that folks love most about Italian wines are the hundreds of varieties of native grapes found throughout Italy. Surprisingly, merlot is actually the 5th most planted grape in Italy. In Italy you'll see it used as a blending grape, most notably in the wines known as Super Tuscans of Tuscany. Merlot is also known for being grown in nothern Italy in the Tre Venezie where it produces a very different style merlot that is leaner.

Merlot is a grape that varies much from producer to producer so try it from country to country and seek out some of the top producers to get a sense of Merlot's true potential.

See what our bloggers have cooked up!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Top 6 Italian wines at Cru Artisan of Banfi

Lately I've been finding myself immersed in lots of wonderful wines. Such wine problems in the life of a wine blogger. The more the merrier and the more great wines to share with you. I was invited to an all Italian wine tasting hosted by Cru Artisan wines in downtown Boston and I was there with bells on. A tasting of over 25 Italian wines with many that were enjoyable, but I tried to pick some of the highlights for myself to share with you. Here were my favorites for all different reasons that I'll explain:
  • 2012 Maschio dei Cavalieri Rive di Colbertaldo Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG
  • 2011 Fontana Candida Luna Mater Frascati Superiore DOCG
  • 2011 Banfi Cuvee Aurora Rose Alta Langhe DOC
  • 2008 Sartori Corte Bra Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG
  • 2009 Palari Faro DOC
  • 2009 Cantine Florio Malvasia delle Lipari DOC
Cru Artisan wines are the luxury selections of the Banfi portfolio of wines. The wines I selected to share with you today I chose because they were some firsts for me and I appreciated their quality and characteristics from the areas of Italy that they represent. I think it's always important to share different wines throughout Italy and to get folks to think outside the box and realize the variety and potential of different Italian wine offerings throughout Italy.

2012 Cantine Maschio: Maschio dei Cavalieri “Rive de
Colbertaldo” Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG
Yes that's a mouthful for one wine. I've never been a big fan of sparkling, but I have found certain ones that have pleasing to drink and this one in particular was very satisfying. This wine originates from the DOCG of the Veneto in the areas of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene. Known for producing some of the top quality prosecco of Italy. It's made of 100% of the glera grape, aka prosecco. This is considered the “Grand Cru” of Cantina Maschio. My favorite aspect of this wine was the elegance and creaminess of the bubbles. Very soft with nice citrus fruit.

2011 Fontana Candida Luna Mater Frascati Superiore DOCG
I've discussed frascati in the past when discussing the wines of the Lazio wine region. It's typically known as a more simple, white wine, but this particular Frascati, Luna Mater, is not your average frascati. Meaning “mother moon”, this wine was very aromatic with lush fruit and a smooth, balanced medium bodied wine. It's a blend of 50% malvasia di candia, 30% malvadia del lazio, 10 %greco and 10% bombino. The vineyards where these grapes grow are 50 yaers old and it's within the Frascati Superiore DOCG designation in the areaa of Frascati and Monteporzio Catone.

2011 Banfi “Vigne Regali” Cuvee Aurora Rose Alta Langa DOC
Alright not a fan of sparkling, but 2 favorite sparklings at the same tasting? This is why you never judge wines until you've had a variety as quality can change so much from producer to producer. The Alta Langa is located in southern Piedmont and known as the sparkling wine area of Piedmont. This wine is made of 100% pinot noir grapes that are produced using the classic method. This wine is 90% from the current vintage and 10% of the previous vintage that is also aged in French oak and is in contact with the yeast for 2 years. Pale pink in color it had a silkiness with notes of apple and vanilla. A fun and different sparkling rose to try.

2008 Sartori Corte Bra Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG
Reminiscing back to my trip over to Italy earlier this year to visit the Valpolicella region of the Veneto it was nice to revisit an Amarone and this single vineyard was definitely pleasing to my palate. This wine is produced with 50% corvina veronese, 30% corvinone, 15% rondinella and 5% oseleta. These grapes were dried for about 3-4 months, further fermented in stainless for 30 days and finished in Slavonian and French tonneaux for 4 years and 6 months in the bottle. As you can imagine with the appasimento, drying of the grapes, it produces concentrated fruit and this was a full bodied, powerful wine that is well structured, velvety with loads of ripe red fruit. This is Sartori's crown jewel of their wines and it's no wonder why after having tasting it.

2009 Palari Faro DOC 
I just shared this wine in a recent article hosted by Snooth sharing summer fall transitional wines under $20. I was more excited to talk about the wines I was excited to switch over to from summer to fall that I forgot it must be under $20. None-the-less you can read about wine that is grown at Mt. Etna in Sicily with the nerello mascalese and nerello cappuccio grapes combined with nocera.

2009 Florio Malvasia delle Lipari DOC 
This was my first time having a Malvasia delle Lipari and it was a unique experience. This wine is part of the Aeolian Islands just off the coast of Sicily. Lipari is largest of the Aeolian Islands and the terrain here made of volcanic soil and sand. The grapes that make up this wine are Malvasia delle Lipari and Corinto Nero are dried on mats after being harvested for about 15-20 days. Golden in color with notes of honey and dried apricots, this is a full bodied, high alcohol but smooth, sweet way to end your meal. A unique dessert wine indeed.

I hope you enjoyed my unique selections of wines. There were others that were notable and I'm happy to share those with you also if you're interested. Drop a comment and I'll provide the others. If you've had any of these I'd love to hear your thoughts or if you've tried others of the same variety that you prefer more. I'm always open to hearing about other producers that I maybe haven't had exposure to yet.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Immersion in Umbrian wine with Sagrantino

Ciao!  Welcome to our 12th Italian Food, Wine & Travel group as we travel to central Italy to the region of Umbria.  Earlier this week I shared a preview of Umbria with an overview of the region.  

Early this spring I wrote a comprehensive guide to the grape sagrantino from Umbria and a food pairing with sagrantino.  Today I'm sharing with you an wine tasting I attended this week with a panel of winemakers from Montefalco with the Consorzio Tutela Vini Montefalco.  I’m always honored when I get offered wine to sample.  It’s not only an opportunity for me to taste new wines from producers, but it’s all about education and learning the ins and outs of the grapes themselves, the regions they come from, the cuisine and the culture of that region.

The winemakers that attended the presentation virtually with their wines to match were:
Wines of sagrantino montefalco and rosso montefalco

Even though you may have missed the virtual tasting you can still view this presentation on sagrantino live and I highly recommend it.  It was very well conducted and led by Filippo Bartolotta of Le Baccanti.  It gives you the opportunity to hear one-on-one from the winemakers while the bloggers online asked questions.  You’ll hear some questions from Vino Travels as well ; )  

The vines in Montefalco are rather young and only about 15 years old.  The traditional version of sagrantino was more of a passito, dried grapes, style, which is still produced today.  These wines are sweeter in style, but due to the strength of the tannins it doesn't produce a cloying wine.  A lot has changed in the area from 15 years ago when there were only 100 hectacres and today there are about 700 hectacres and 70 producers.  
Consorzio Tutela Vini Montefalco wines
Region of Montefalco courtesy of Consorzio Tutela Vini Montefalco
Here are some highlights from the panel discussing sagrantino. 

Marco explained that they just started harvesting the sangiovese and merlot grapes.  Sagrantino, the flagship wine of Umbria, is harvested later in the first days of October this harvest.  Colpetrone produces more than 200,000 bottles with majority of the wines under the Montefalco Rosso label so it's a very important wine for them.  Their '11 Montefalco Rosso is made up of 70% sangiovese, 15% merlot and 15% sagrantino.  The choice of the grapes blended on the Montefalco Rosso is the particular style of the winery and the grapes they choose for the blends.  Retails for $14 and the importer in the USA is Vias Imports.

Terre de la Custodia
Unfortunately we weren't able to sample their wine due to shipping issues.  This winery is not currently present in the USA with their wines, but only with their extra virgin olive oil which they started producing in the early 1960’s.  Last year was a tough year for Umbria as well as many other regions within Italy and 80% of the olive harvest were lost.  They started producing wine in 2000. 

The '11 Perticaia Montefalco Rosso blends with their sangiovese the colorino grape, which is used a lot within the region of Tuscany in the wines of Chianti. It helps smooth out the sangiovese.  Perticaia uses stainless steel for their wine production.  Balance is important for Perticaia to extract the sweetness of tannin as well as extraction of flavor and color.  Alessandro stated that a short maceration doesn’t reduce tannins because they macerate some of their wines for over 60 days.  Many factors come into play including how many times a day they do pumpovers as well as the temperature of the maceration.  This wine retails for $25 and their importers vary state to state with Ideal Wines (MA), Artisan Wines (CA), Zigzigando

Filippo described sagrantino as a grape that has good structure and a good quality of tannins.  Tannins that aren't drying, but ripe tannins that help with ageability.  They are the muscles in the wine. A request to change the laws within the appellation to increase the amount of sangiovese and sagrantino allowed in the wines of this area.  This allows producers to use native varieties at higher percentage levels.  I had questioned him about the different of sagrantino today vs. the past.  Filippo mentioned that in the past smaller barrels were used that extracted more where today larger barrels are used that extract less. Per Antonelli in the last decade the best vintages of sagrantino were '04,, '06, '08 and '10.  This wine retails for $40-45 and their importers are Omni Wine (NY), Grappoli (DC), Cream Wine (Chicago), Tosca Wines (CA).

The 2008 that Liu shared was a traditional vintage for them.  It was first fermented in big oak with a long maceration.  This wine was aged 24 months in big oak barrels and 24 months in small oak barrels.  It retails around $40 and the importers vary with Selected States (NY), Vinity Wine Company (CA), Vino Vero (TX), Down EastSelections (WA), Volio Vino (CO).

Tenuta Lunelli
Lucca offered food pairings suggestions with sagrantino with meat being the best option.  Sagrantino is a great wine to experience the changes in the glass throughout the meal.    Their wine retails $35-40 and their importer is Palm Bay.

Arnaldo-Caprai is one of the most popular wineries of this region with 130 hectacres.  Marco stated that sagrantino can age for more than 20-30 years as well as the rosso montefalco.  His food suggestions were steak, rack of lamb and matured cheeses. Per Marco the best vintages of sagrantino were '09, '10, '11.  His wine retails for $60 and the importer is Folio Wines (CA).

Food pairing with sagrantino
Stated by Filippo Bartolotta sagrantino has igh acidity and tannins that are "screaming for juicy meat".  I paired my sagrantino with a beef stew served over pappardelle and plan on preparing another Umbrian dish known as strozzapreti.  Strozzapreti are dumplings with meat sauce.  Alessandro of Perticaia also had with his rosso sagrantino before this meal another Umbrian dish, strangozzi that is very similar served with pieces of sausage and black celery from the nearby town of Trevi.
Wine and food pairing with sagrantino
Continue on our Umbrian journey with other fellow bloggers.  Don't forget to join our live chat on Twitter at #ItalianFWT at 11am EST.  We can't wait to her about your Umbrian experiences.

The Palladian Traveler - Marcello's Big Fat Italian Christening
Orna O'Reilly -  Castelluccio di Norcia: On the Rooftop of the Apennines
Culinary Adventures with Camilla - Roasted Flank Steak with Zucchini Mint Pesto with an Umbrian Merlot
Italophilia - Visiting Assisi in the Enchanting Umbrian Hills
Flavourful Tuscany - Umbrian Cuisine and Fun Facts
Rockin Red Blog - Beauty and the Beast
Enofylz Wine Blog - Umbria's Sagrantino: Call It a Comeback
Food Wine Click - Orange is the New Red: Paolo Bea Santa Chiara & Umbrian Steak on FoodWineClick
The Wining Hour - Taste Umbria - Black Truffle Linguini with Shrimp & Montefalco Sagrantino
Cooking Chat - Rigatoni with Collard Greens & Sausage with Wine from Umbria