Friday, June 24, 2016

The Prosecco Project and a Passion for the Sparkling Wines of Italy

One of my favorite parts of blogging is meeting folks virtually around the world and even better if I get to meet them in person.  I came across the "Prosecco Project" run by Maree Church some time back and thought she'd be the perfect person to share her knowledge and recommendations on the sparkling wines not only including prosecco, but those around Italy that she has fallen in love with.

Where are you originally from and what brought you to Italy?
The Prosecco Project for Italian sparkling wine lovers

I grew up outside of Philadelphia, but moved to California as a young adult living in Los Angeles and later near San Francisco. My husband, son, and I lived in a small (by California standards) town called Danville in the east bay for nearly 25 years before my husband and I moved to Italy. Growing up in an Italian American family, I was in love with the thought of Italy from a very young age. In 2000, I finally had the opportunity to make my first trip there, and I knew that my love was not misguided. On the first trip, we sat in Saint Mark's Square drinking Prosecco. I loved Prosecco, and I could not get enough of it. When we returned to California, I introduced everyone I knew to Prosecco, but sadly, back in 2000, it was not so easy to find good Prosecco in California. So, it was my love of Prosecco that sparked the initiation of a wine import business a few years later.

What made you choose Le Marche to settle down in?

My husband and I first visited Le Marche in about 2004 in search of some wines to import. We had met a wine maker at the San Francisco Fancy food show, and scheduled a visit to see his winery and taste his wines. Our first introduction to the region was staying in the beautiful area of Portonovo, south of Ancona, where the mountains meet the sea. I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the setting. The next day we drove inland to visit the winery near Cingoli, a hill town nicknamed the balcony of Le Marche. After driving through the rolling hills dotted with olive groves and vineyards, I was sure this was the place that I wanted to call home. Once we started to look for a house, however, it took us 5 years to find the one. After five years of living in Le Marche, I am more convinced than ever that I choose the right area to live. The people are kind, friendly, and always willing to go out of their way to help you. The views are spectacular with the Apennine mountains on one side and the Adriatic on the other and beautiful panoramas of hill towns in between. Of course, I can't forget the wine. I did not really know anything about Verdicchio until my fist trip to Le Marche, and since then it has become one of my favorites. It makes an amazing metodo classico.

Are you currently still involved in the wine industry?

Starting a wine import business grew out of my love for Prosecco and my inability to find the same quality of Prosecco in the US that I drank in Venice. That truly was what drove me to get into the business. My professional background is in a totally different industry, and I continue to do management consulting for US clients even from my home in Italy. When my husband and I moved to Italy, we gave up our American import license. So, my involvement in the wine industry at the moment is mostly as a consumer, and I do like to consume it. While we are back in the states, however, we are hoping to help find importers for the wines of a couple of our friends. And, someday soon, I am hoping to take the sommelier courses and improve my wine knowledge.

What sparked your love of Prosecco?

Ah, Prosecco. I have always loved sparkling wine. It is my passion. When I first tasted Prosecco, of course, the setting was perfect, a Cafe in St.Mark's square. Music playing. A perfect May evening. What was not to like? I think I spent that entire trip searching for the next glass of Prosecco. It did take a couple of years, however, before I actually made the pilgrimage to Valdobbiadene in search of a Prosecco to import. There, through serendipity, we were directed to a small, third generation family winery, Zucchetto. It took a while to go through the label approval process, and our first shipment to the states ended in a disaster and never made it to us. But we persisted and finally, we had Prosecco to sell, and just as importantly, to drink. It was a very big hit with our customers as it has always been made with less sugar than most prosecco. While we cannot import the Zucchetto Prosecco anymore, we still go to visit the family and buy Prosecco to take home to Le Marche. It remains one of my favorites. Unfortunately, there is not a major importer of Zucchetto in the US at the present time.

Any particular favorite prosecco producers?

As I stated earlier, Zucchetto remains one of my favorites. It is still a small, family run winery producing about 60,000 bottles per year of extra dry, brut and cartizze and a still wine. I have come to appreciate the wines of Bisol in my time in Italy and I search them out when I am looking for a Prosecco here in the states. They have a very nice metodo classico from the glera grape, but I have not found it in the US. Ruggieri's Guistino Bisol is also an amazing Prosecco. You may notice that all of these are from Valdobbiadene. I definitely prefer the wines from the original Prosecco area of Valdobbiadene and Conegliano to the newer wines from the Treviso area. There is just a different quality to the wines in my opinion. I will even go so far as to say that in general, I really am partial to wines grown around the village of Fol in the Valdobbiadene area. There is just something in the terroir there that sets these Prosecco's apart.
cartizze prosecco of the valdobbiadene
Cartizze of the Valdobbiadene wine region
Why are the Proseccos in the US not up to par with Italy?

In terms of what Prosecco is available in the US, I do believe that much of it is inferior to what I would find in Italy. I believe a lot of importers and their clients here in the wholesale and retail markets are motivated by price, and generally, the DOC wines are going to be available for a significantly lower price than the DOCG wines. And if you look at the wines in your local liquor store or in the supermarket you will most likely find they are from Treviso. However, that said, I have noticed in my last visit to Valdobbiadene that it is becoming like Napa, with more vines everywhere. Since the demand for Prosecco has grown, producers are planting more in an effort to keep up. One producer told us that the prevalence of the newer vines has changed the nature of the Prosecco and even many wines from Valdobbiadene are not what they once were. As long as the American consumer is happy with the mediocre Prosecco generally available, which in my experience is the case, I don't think there will be any movement to improve the quality of the imports any time in the near future.

Other thoughts on the other sparkling wine of Italy?

Living in Le Marche, I have had the opportunity to taste many wonderful sparkling verdicchios. The grape is being used to make both the charmat method and metodo classico. If I had to choose one sparkling verdicchio as a favorite, it would be the Colonnara Ubaldo Rosi, a wine aged in the bottle for five years. This wine has been declared the third best sparkling wine in Italy and the best south of the Po River. It is amazing! Unfortunately, it is not yet available in the US, but I am optimistic that it will be soon. 
ancient ways to create sparkling wines in Italy
100 year old machine Maree discovered at the Colonnara winery to infuse carbon dioxide to produce sparkling wines
I am also a fan of Franciacorta, the champagne of Italy, however, it is priced much higher than the sparkling verdicchio and on a price/quality value scale I would choose the sparkling verdicchio. After a trip to Franciacorta last year, I came back a big fan of the Barrone Pizzini organic Franciacorta which is now available in California and Bella Vista. Gavi has been one of my favorite white wines for a very long time, and there are also some very nice sparkling wines made from this grape variety as well. 

In Italy there are so many wonderful grape varieties and many more sparkling wines made throughout the country from a great variety of grapes. In Le Marche, for example, they are also making sparkling wine from the Pecorino grape. Yes, Pecorino is a wine variety not just a cheese. I still remember the time several years ago when I asked for a bottle of Pecorino in a very well known Venice restaurant and they brought me cheese and not the wine. When I voiced my surprise and reiterated that I wanted wine, the sommelier admitted that he never heard of Pecorino wine. I think the most distinctive and particular, as the Italians say, sparkling wine I have tasted came from Piemonte. It is from the Erbaluce grape, an ancient grape variety grown in the area of Caluso. The nose of this wine is not of citrus or flowers, but the earth and sage and rosemary. It is quite interesting, but I must admit it is not on my list of favorite wine varieties. 

Of course, no discussion of Italian sparkling wines would be complete without mentioning Ferrari. Since arriving back in the states, the Ferrari Brut Rose has become a favorite, and I am sure to order it whenever we go out to dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant.

Pictures compliments of Maree Church.


Friday, June 17, 2016

The many styles of Lambrusco

In preparation for Lambrusco Day June 20th I thought no better time to talk about the variety of Lambrusco offered by the Emilia Romagna region than now.

What is Lambrusco?
You may be familiar with Lambrusco as the cheap Riunite sparkling sweeter red, but gosh is there much more to it than that. Lambrusco hails from the Emilia Romagna region and more specifically from the flatlands of Modena and Reggio Emilia. Here it is produced best since the vitis rupestris vines survive better than those of the vitis vinifera vines in the Romagna part of the region where sangiovese rules.
the different types of lambrusco
Grapes for Lambrusco by Caspar Diederik
There are many more styles to lambrusco than the sweeter styles we previously mentioned including  dolce (sweet) and amabile (semi-sweet).  There are also dry styles of lambrusco best known to this area that pairs well with the cuisine. Plus, lambrusco is typically known as more of a frizzante style wine than sparkling.

The 5 DOC's of Lambrusco
Like other regions of Italy there are certain terroirs, or parcels of lands, that produce very different styles of lambrusco. Depending on what your preferences are you may want to try and seek out certain lambrusco from each of the 5 DOC designations or try them all if you can get your hands on them and compare for yourself.
  • Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce DOC – known best for it's bouquet and fruitiness, it's one of the lighter styles of lambrusco. The name Salamino hails from the shape of the clusters as they are cylindrical like salami.
  • Lambrusco Reggiano DOC – this particular lambrusco is produced in high quantities and is greatly exported. It's not just sparkling, but also comes in dry styles produced from the ancellota grape.
  • Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro DOC – one of the best of the 5 DOC's producing lambrusco that are fuller bodied styles with the grasparossa varietal instilling many tannins and dark fruit flavors to this wine.
  • Lambrusco di Sorbara DOC – this lambrusco is concentrated and probably the most acidic of all pairing well with the fatty meats of the region.
  • Lambrusco di Modena DOC – the last of the DOC's to come into existence.
    Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce
    Lambrusco by Ricardo Bernardo
*I was also educated by the Lambrusco Chronicles there are 3 additional DOC's: Colli di Parma (min 85% Maestri), Mantova (in Lombardia) and Colli di Scandiano e Canossa (RE)

What to pair with Lambrusco?
When thinking about particular cuisine of this region to pair with lambrusco you'll want to think of the real parmigiano reggiano (not the imitation kinds sold in many supermarkets), prosciutto di parma, salami and pork products including zampone and a pork sausage known as cotechino.

What's your favorite lambrusco?


Friday, June 10, 2016

Interview with Artenova and the Use of Terracota Amphora in Winemaking

This Italian wine blog is all about educating others, while also educating myself.  As I mentioned before I highly encourage comments as I love to hear from my readers and I love emails as well.  This blog was inspired by one of my readers whom was asking me about glass bungs, but it also got me thinking about amphora and I thought it'd be a perfect way to talk about amphora and winemaking and tie in glass bungs as well.   

The use of Terracotta
Terracotta was used in ancient times for storing and transporting wine throughout Italy.  I've seen many terracotta artifacts from visiting the ancient ruins of Pompeii in the past as well as many other places including the Etruscan museum in Fiesole.  Let's admit it, ruins are everywhere in Italy and is part of what makes it so fascinating and unique.

But terracotta isn't only a thing of the past as you'll see many wineries still using it in Italy today as well as the rest of the world. There is such a focus on sustainability and biodynamic winemaking that producers are looking to make wine as natural as possible and using the pure clay in terracotta amphorae provides a perfect option for wine fermentation and storage.

terracota amphora used in winemaking
Wine jars of Artenova

What makes the terracotta of Impruneta so special?

Impruneta is located in Tuscany within the province of Florence, just a short jaunt outside the center of Florence on your way to the chianti classico wine country.  La Terracotta e Il Vino Artenova is the only production facilities within Italy making terracota amphora for winemaking. If there was a place to make such a product I believe Italy is the perfect place to start.

The clay of Impruneta is known for it's durability and the clay wine vessels are all made by hand. The clay is added layer by layer and compressed down using a process known as a colombino. It must be dried in stages so it takes awhile to make these pots depending upon the size. When everything is dried it goes inside the kiln at about a thousand degrees and this process is what gives it the beautiful orange pinkish color. This sort of craftsmenship is what I respect about Italy and the Italians themselves.

I virtually interviewed owner, Leonardo Parisi, of Artenova Terracota production facility of amphora located in Impruneta, Tuscany.
Leonardo Parisi owner of Artenova Terracota
Leonardo Parisi, owner of Artenova
1) What's the difference between using terracotta for wine storage in comparison to oak barrels and stainless steel?

Wine kept in terracotta undergoes a degree of oxygenation that cannot be obtained with stainless steel. Wood has an excellent capacity for oxygenation however we also have transference of tannins and aromas from the wood to the wine whereas terracotta is completely neutral, therefore, you get a higher expression of the flavors and perfumes from the grapes themselves.

2) How popular is terracotta in winemaking within Italy compared to other storage methods? 

The use of terracotta for winemaking in Italy is much less practiced compared to wood or steel but the interest of the ever growing number of bio-dynamic wine producers towards natural materials and lower (or zero) doses of chemicals for preservation is consequently increasing the demand for terracotta wine jars. Artenova has over 80 client companies in Italy who make wine in terracotta plus many foreign companies too.

3) What makes the terracotta production of Impruneta different than other areas within Italy?

It is the particular type of clay found only in this area, which makes the terracotta of Impruneta different from any other type of earthenware produced in Italy. It has unique physical characteristics making it extraordinary for its imperviousness and breathability. It is a material that provides excellent thermal insulation, protecting the wine from excessive temperature changes during storage. Furthermore, its porosity allows a good passage of oxygen enabling optimal maturation, particularly important for red wines. Impruneta clay has been well known since ancient times for its characteristics of resistance and durability (Brunelleschi used it for the roof tiles of the Duomo of Florence) and for its unique rose-pink color, a great enhancement for any wine cellar! It is a unique and unalterable type of clay.
Artenova in Impruneta making terracota amphora
The workshop of Artenova in Impruneta (Tuscany, Italy)

Incidentally, always attentive to innovation and willing to experiment new ideas, Artenova has recently begun a collaboration with the University of Florence to investigate the structure of Impruneta clay and its reactions with wine on a scientific level. To this end the Department of Chemistry of the University of Florence will carry out a study, the first of its kind, of the physical-chemical and sensorial parameters of wine during its processes of fermentation and maturation inside terracotta jars. The initial results will probably be presented on the 19th – 20th of November 2016 in occasion of the second edition of the International Convention "Terracotta and Wine" which, like the first edition, will be held in Impruneta (Tuscany) in the magnificent 18th Century terracotta workshop “Fornace Agresti”.

4) On average how long does it take to produce an amphora?

It takes about two weeks to mold a terracotta wine-jar, after which, a further 30 days are necessary for drying. If you wish to “speed” things up a little, the jar can be placed in a special drying room, called a "Seccatoio". In general it takes between a maximum of 90 to a minimum of 60 days before the jar is ready. In some cases, weather permitting, you can reduce this to 45 days. “Patience” is the production philosophy of Artenova!

Amphora production for winemaking
Craftsmen working in the Artenova's workshop

5) How are the amphora typically sealed and what's the benefit of the glass bung?

The jars are fitted with a special stainless steel lid complete with seal, a necessary piece of modern technology to prevent the passage of air. The glass “bung” is an airlock and its sole purpose is to allow the wine maker to monitor the level of the wine without opening the lid, again to prevent air getting in. Even if a small quantity of air gets into the wine, the whole lot is ruined.

All pictures copyright of Sergio Bettini.
Source: La Terracotta e Il Vino Artenova


Saturday, June 4, 2016

Wine & Sunshine on the Italian Riviera

Welcome to our 20th Italian Food, Wine & Travel (#ItalianFWT) event where we're finally completing our first circle around all 20 regions in Italy finishing with the region of Liguria this month.  
Gulf of Poets / Golfo dei Poeti
Gulf of Poets by Susan Nelson
As I passed through Liguria headed for the French Riviera, Costa Azzurra, for my honeymoon, the stunning views from the autostrada entice you to make a stop and explore this wonderful place they call the Italian Riviera. It may be a narrow arching region up in the northwest of Italy, but it's the perfect place for some sunshine, relaxation and a little vino of course.
Visiting the Italian Riviera, Liguria
View of Liguria from the autostrada.  Not too shabby!
Where is Liguria?
Following the western Italian coastline it's the last region before you cross into France. Coming from Tuscany or maybe the Emilia Romagna, it's the perfect place to get a taste of the Ligurian Sea. Along this bright, gorgeous coastline are plenty of beaches dotted with colorful picturesque towns. It's the perfect place to getaway and escape the craziness of everyday life. The popular towns are Portofino, Sanremo, Genoa, Ventimiglia and the hikers destination known as the Cinque Terre.

Liguria is easy to get to by flying into the capital of Liguria, Genoa, with it's international airport and central train station. You can also approach the Italian Riviera by boat as well.

The Wines of Liguria
As you travel from west to east you start with the area known as the Riviera di Levante and on the eastern side is the Riviera di Ponente. In Liguria you'll find some grapes you've probably never heard of like pigato, albarola, bosco, rossese and ormeasco. Is it surprise to you we're discovering more native grapes of Italy unknown to many? That's why we're here right?!

The Riviera di Ponente (Western Riviera)
West of Genoa is the Riviera di Ponente.  This is the sunniest part of the region for grape growing. You'll find bigger, bolder reds grown here. Here you'll also discover the whites: Pigato and Vermentino, but the reds of this area are ormeasco, also known as dolcetto from the region north in Piedmont, and rossese. Rossese is a lighter, soft wine than ormeasco with less tannins than ormeasco.

Riviera di Levante (Eastern Riviera)
East of Genoa is the Riviera di Levante.  This is the cooler part of the region, is more shaded, and produces more mineral driven wines. The most prevalent area for winemaking here is that of the Cinque Terre. I plan on sharing this region more in depth in future articles as there is much history here and the way the grapes are cultivated are very intriguing due to it's steep vineyards. Here whites are the focus on the wine scene including the grapes bosco, vermentino and albarola. These are lighter style wines with a beautiful fragrance and crisp acidity. Perfect after the hikes between the 5 towns of the Cinque Terre: Manarola, Vernazza, Riomaggiore, Monterosso al Mare and Corniglia. 
Making wine in the Cinque Terre
Winemaking in the Cinque Terre by Mark Goebel

A special wine also hails from this area of the Cinque Terre known as schiacchetra, which is a sweeter style wine where the grapes are dried out on ventilated racks resulting in high sugar concentration and alcohol.

So the next time you want to escape to the beach consider Liguria and immerse yourself in the sunshine with a glass of vino in hand!

Join us this Saturday June 4th on Twitter live at 11am Est @ #ItalianFWT to chat about everything Liguria has to offer. 


Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Preview into the Food, Wine & Travel of Liguria

We did it! Our Italian Food, Wine & Travel group has circled all 20 regions of Italy wrapping up the tour with Liguria this month. To give you a sense of place, Ligura, also known as the Italian Riviera, is a coastal region located in northwestern Italy. It borders Piedmont to the north, Tuscany and the Emilia Romagna to the southeast and if you follow the coastline you'll end up in the French Riviera. With the sun glistening off the Tirreno Sea the landscape is beautiful as it's terraced land with rocky mountains. The climate here is rather mild as well. Liguria is also home to the capital and large port of Genoa.

The Cinque Terre by Margie Miklas

The Food of Liguria

As you can imagine from a region that is situated along the coast, seafood is the main protein of this region. Although, one of the most popular culinary items that you'll discover from this region is pesto, in particular pesto alla genovese. It's one of my favorite things to make and enjoy in the summer time. Made of extra virgin olive oil, salt, pine nuts, garlic and parmigiano reggiano. A perfect accompaniment to the unique pastas of Liguria such as trenette (flat and thin) and fidelini (long and thin) as well as ravioli. You'll also find many vegetables, soups including ciuppin originating from Genoa and very similar to what we know as cioppino. Lastly, breads are also popular including farinata, bread made of chickpea flour, and the popular focaccia, unleavened flatbread made with many flavorings including olives, herbs, cheese, etc.

Pesto alla Genovese by Thomas Ulrich

Wines of Liguria

A very challenging terrain Liguria provides when it comes to winemaking. This region is mostly comprised of smaller sized wineries and it's known for it's mineral driven whites including white grapes such as pigato, bosco, albarola and vermentino. The reds of the region are ormeasco di pornassio, which I'll be writing about later this month, and rossese di dolceaqua, a lighter, fruity wine with some spice. Finish off your meal or enjoy some midday sipping along the sea with the sweeter style wine of the region, schiacchetra. The well traversed Cinque Terre is one of the unique wine producing areas of the region that must use a monorail system in order to tend to their vineyards and harvest due to the steep lay of the land.

wine region of Liguria
Wine map of Liguria ~ Copyright of Federdoc

Join us this Saturday on Twitter live at 11am Est @ #ItalianFWT to chat about everything Liguria has to offer. Here is a preview of what's to come from our Italian blogging group.

Vino Travels – Wine & Sunshine on the Italian Riviera

Cooking Chat – Ligurian Pesto Pasta with Wine Pairing

Food Wine Click – Trofie al Pesto with Cinque Terre DOC

Girl's Gotta Drink – A Cinque Terre Alternative? 5 Less Touristy Italian Riviera Destinations

Rockin Red Blog – Two Hours in Ligura with #ItalianFWT

Avvinare– Liguria – Home to a Host of Unsung Wines

L'Occasion – Life is Good in Liguria
The Wining Hour - Ligurian Pigato with Pesto Focaccia and Shellfish
Culinary Adventures with Camilla - Carciofi Crudi